- Robert William Service, "On the Boulevard"
Oh, it's pleasant sitting here,
Seeing all the people pass;
You beside your bock of beer,
I behind my demi-tasse.
Chatting of no matter what.
You the Mummer, I the Bard;
Oh, it's jolly, is it not? --
Sitting on the Boulevard.
More amusing than a book,
If a chap has eyes to see;
For, no matter where I look,
Stories, stories jump at me.
Moving tales my pen might write;
Poems plain on every face;
Monologues you could recite
With inimitable grace.
(Ah! Imagination's power)
See yon demi-mondaine there,
Idly toying with a flower,
Smiling with a pensive air .
Well, her smile is but a mask,
For I saw within her muff
Such a wicked little flask:
Vitriol -- ugh! the beastly stuff.
Now look back beside the bar.
See yon curled and scented beau,
Puffing at a fine cigar --
Sale espèce de maquereau.
Well (of course, it's all surmise),
It's for him she holds her place;
When he passes she will rise,
Dash the vitriol in his face.
Quick they'll carry him away,
Pack him in a Red Cross car;
Her they'll hurry, so they say,
To the cells of St.
What will happen then, you ask?
What will all the sequel be?
Ah! Imagination's task
Isn't easy .
let me see .
She will go to jail, no doubt,
For a year, or maybe two;
Then as soon as she gets out
Start her bawdy life anew.
He will lie within a ward,
Harmless as a man can be,
With his face grotesquely scarred,
And his eyes that cannot see.
Then amid the city's din
He will stand against a wall,
With around his neck a tin
Into which the pennies fall.
She will pass (I see it plain,
Like a cinematograph),
She will halt and turn again,
Look and look, and maybe laugh.
Well, I'm not so sure of that --
Whether she will laugh or cry.
He will hold a battered hat
To the lady passing by.
He will smile a cringing smile,
And into his grimy hold,
With a laugh (or sob) the while,
She will drop a piece of gold.
"Bless you, lady," he will say,
And get grandly drunk that night.
She will come and come each day,
Fascinated by the sight.
Then somehow he'll get to know
(Maybe by some kindly friend)
Who she is, and so .
Bring my story to an end.
How his heart will burst with hate!
He will curse and he will cry.
He will wait and wait and wait,
Till again she passes by.
Then like tiger from its lair
He will leap from out his place,
Down her, clutch her by the hair,
Smear the vitriol on her face.
(Ah! Imagination rare)
he takes his hat to go;
Now he's level with her chair;
Now she rises up to throw.
God! and she has done it too .
Oh, those screams; those hideous screams!
I imagined and .
How his face will haunt my dreams!
What a sight! It makes me sick.
Seems I am to blame somehow.
Garcon, fetch a brandy quick .
There! I'm feeling better now.
Let's collaborate, we two,
You the Mummer, I the Bard;
Oh, what ripping stuff we'll do,
Sitting on the Boulevard!
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Friday, December 30, 2016
In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers. Valley denotes a dip in the human observer's affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica's human likeness. Examples can be found in robotics, 3D computer animations, and life-like dolls among others.
- William Blake, "Ah! Sun-flower"
Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
- Meghan O’Rourke, "Ophelia to the Court"
My shoes are unpolished, my words smudged.
I come to you undressed (the lord, he whispers
Smut; that man, he whispers such). I bend
My thoughts, I submit, but a bird
Keeps flying from my mind, it slippers
My feet and sings—barren world,
I have been a little minx in it, not at all
Domestic, not at all clean, not at all blinking
At my lies. First he thought he had a wife, then
(of course) he thought he had a whore. All
I wanted (if I may speak for myself) was: more.
If only one of you had said, I hold
Your craven breaking soul, I see the pieces,
I feel them in my hands, idle silver, idle gold...
You see I cannot speak without telling what I am.
I disobey the death you gave me, love.
If you must be, then be not with me.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Friday, December 16, 2016
-Siegreid Kracauer, "The Mass Ornament"
Lad and Bull
A STUDY IN MOVEMENT
Aix-en-Provence, Mid-September, 1926
"A lad kills a bull." This sentence out of a school primer appears in a yellow ellipse in which the sun is boiling. Everyone is gazing down into the oval from the stands and trees, where the locals hang like overripe bananas. The bull careens through the arena in a stupor. Facing the drunken mass, the lad stands alone.
He's an orange point with a pinned-up braid. Thirteen years old, with the face of a boy. Other youths his age sweep across the prairie in magnificent costumes and rescue the white squaw from a martyr's death. Confronted with a bull, they'd have run away. The lad stands there and smiles ceremoniously. The animal succumbs to a marionette.
The marionette goads the gale according to the rules of the ritual (hat magnifies it. Even a little puppet could dangle the red cape that the bull recognizes as its counterfetish. It tries to assault it, but the cape floats away, transformed into an arabesque by the little puppet. A thing of nature could be gored, but powers wane when confronted with the weightlessness of the flowing pleats.
The marionette turns into an orange lass, who lures the oafish creature. She approaches it with swaying steps, her hands hoisting two small colorful lances. The upright heroine's theatrical laugh announces the start of the love battle. The bull falls into the snare of the cleverly calculated rhythm. But the web is elastic, and before you know it the tiny wizard has thrust the small lances into its flanks. Three pairs of lances adorn the patch, knitting needles in a ball of yarn, with waving ribbons. The bull tries to shake them off, but in vain: the geometry is firmly set in the bulges.
The lad unfolds a cloth as red as a cock's comb. The dagger he conceals behind the curtain is so long that he could use it to climb up into the air. The characteristics of the plane and the line indicate that the end is drawing near. The marionette makes the cloth scintillate and draws ever narrower circles with the dagger. The bull is seized by a trembling in the face of the ornaments' power. Those who earlier hovered about like rings of smoke and then struck it in numerous places now close in upon it ever more threateningly, so that it will expire on the scene.
Up to this point, it is still a game. The dagger could still pull back; the redness would not necessarily have to encounter itself in blood. It is a single stab, a rapid stabbing sparkle, that surges through the barrier. The dagger darts forth from the marionette; it was not the lad who wielded it. The astonished element recoils and glares. The curving of the sinking mass triumphs over the line of the dagger. Now colors and sweeping movements dominate the scene.
Caps and bags fly into the air as the miniature victor runs a lap, bouquets of jubilation. The sun glows in the ellipse. The lad stands there and smiles ceremoniously.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
-Pindar, "Nemean (7.61–63)"
ξεῖνός εἰμι· σκοτεινὸν ἀπέχων ψόγον,
ὕδατος ὥτε ῥοὰς φίλον ἐς ἄνδρ᾽ ἄγων
κλέος ἐτήτυμον αἰνέσω
I am a guest-stranger. Keeping away dark blame [ psogós ]
and bringing genuine kléos , like streams of water, to a man who is phílos,
I will praise [verb ainéō ] him.
in Sparta, the law was based on two fundamental principles, namely épainos 'praise' and psógos 'blame'. The social function of this antithesis can be seen from the objects of praise and blame respectively: kalôn épainos 'praise of the noble' compared to aiskhrôn psógos 'blame of the base' (Plutarch Lycurgus 8.2, 21.1, 25.2; also 14.3, 26.3). Furthermore, the prime medium of praise and blame was poetry.- Plutarch, "Lycurgus"
“In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.”- Franz Kafka
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Sunday, December 4, 2016
- Palas Kumar Ray
Yesterday and today
I thought very differently.
I thought I was
becoming too wise.
I thought I was
becoming almost unwise.
I thought I was trapped
in a labyrinth of calculations.
Everyday weighing everyone
With a measuring stick
of past deeds, misdeeds
I found no one was perfect.
Everyone I found defective
Thinking this way everyday
I found I was becoming lifeless.
I thought I needed people to talk,
People to have a chat.
They need not be very perfect
They need only be people.
I felt an urge to meet a friend,
a relative or just anyone
Just someone to talk to me.
So keeping away all reasons aside
day before yesterday
I visited a friend
To day again visited a relative.
Now I'm feeling comfortable
now I feel I'm
coming back to my life again.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Metaxy (Greek: μεταξύ) or metaxu is defined in Plato's Symposium via the character of the priestess Diotima as the "in-between" or "middle ground". Diotima, tutoring Socrates, uses the term to show how oral tradition can be perceived by different people in different ways. In the poem by Socrates she depicts Eros as not an extreme or purity; rather, as a daimon Eros is in-between the divine Gods and mankind. Diotima thus exposes the flaws of oral tradition; it uses strong contrasts to express truth, thus revealing vulnerability to sophistry. This portion of the dialogue points to the idea that reality is perceptible only through one's character (which includes one's desires and prejudices and one's limited understanding of logic). Man moves through the world of Becoming, the ever changing world of sensory perception, into the world of Being—the world of forms, absolutes and transcendence. Man transcends his place in Becoming by eros, where man reaches the Highest Good, an intuitive and mystical state of consciousness. Neoplatonists like Plotinus later used the concept to express an ontological placement of Man between the Gods and animals. Much like Diotima did in expressing that Eros as daemon was in-between the Gods and mankind. Love (Ἔρως Eros) as the thing in between or child of Poverty (Πενία Penia) and Possession (Πόρος Poros).
Monday, November 28, 2016
There has been a lot of digital ink spilled over the recent paper on the reactionless thrust device known as the EMDrive. While it’s clear that a working EM Drive would violate well established scientific theories, what isn’t clear is how such a violation might be resolved. Some have argued that the thrust could be an effect of Unruh radiation, but the authors of the new paper argue instead for a variation on quantum theory known as the pilot wave model.
One of the central features of quantum theory is its counter-intuitive behavior often called particle-wave duality. Depending on the situation, quantum objects can have characteristics of a wave or characteristics of a particle. This is due to the inherent limitations on what we can know about quanta. In the usual Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, an object is defined by its wavefunction. The wavefunction describes the probability of finding a particle in a particular location. The object is in an indefinite, probabilistic state described by the wavefunction until it is observed. When it is observed, the wavefunction collapses, and the object becomes a definite particle with a definite location.
While the Copenhagen interpretation is not the best way to visualize quantum objects it captures the basic idea that quanta are local, but can be in an indefinite state. This differs from the classical objects (such as Newtonian theory) where things are both local and definite. We can know, for example, where a baseball is and what it is doing at any given time.
The pilot wave model handles quantum indeterminacy a different way. Rather than a single wavefunction, quanta consist of a particle that is guided by a corresponding wave (the pilot wave). Since the position of the particle is determined by the pilot wave, it can exhibit the wavelike behavior we see experimentally. In pilot wave theory, objects are definite, but nonlocal. Since the pilot wave model gives the same predictions as the Copenhagen approach, you might think it’s just a matter of personal preference. Either maintain locality at the cost of definiteness, or keep things definite by allowing nonlocality. But there’s a catch.
Although the two approaches seem the same, they have very different assumptions about the nature of reality. Traditional quantum mechanics argues that the limits of quantum theory are physical limits. That is, quantum theory tells us everything that can be known about a quantum system. Pilot wave theory argues that quantum theory doesn’t tell us everything. Thus, there are “hidden variables” within the system that quantum experiments can’t reveal. In the early days of quantum theory this was a matter of some debate, however both theoretical arguments and experiments such as the EPR experiment seemed to show that hidden variables couldn’t exist. So, except for a few proponents like David Bohm, the pilot wave model faded from popularity. But in recent years it’s been demonstrated that the arguments against hidden variables aren’t as strong as we once thought. This, combined with research showing that small droplets of silicone oil can exhibit pilot wave behavior, has brought pilot waves back into play.
How does this connect to the latest EM Drive research? In a desperate attempt to demonstrate that the EM Drive doesn’t violate physics after all, the authors spend a considerable amount of time arguing that the effect could be explained by pilot waves. Basically they argue that not only is pilot wave theory valid for quantum theory, but that pilot waves are the result of background quantum fluctuations known as zero point energy. Through pilot waves the drive can tap into the vacuum energy of the Universe, thus saving physics! To my mind it’s a rather convoluted at weak argument. The pilot wave model of quantum theory is interesting and worth exploring, but using it as a way to get around basic physics is weak tea. Trying to cobble a theoretical way in which it could work has no value without the experimental data to back it up.
At the very core of the EM Drive debate is whether it works or not, so the researchers would be best served by demonstrating clearly that the effect is real. While they have made some interesting first steps, they still have a long way to go.
Freaky, huh! ;)
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
"Close to Zero" is the tale of a Russian publisher operating in a murky political system featuring paid-off media, corrupt officials, dubious politicians and law enforcement agencies on the take.
The short novel was published last month and passed unnoticed until Thursday, when a newspaper reported that its author was none other than the Kremlin's chief political strategist Vladislav Surkov, writing under a pseudonym.
Surkov, a shadowy figure who rarely speaks in public, wields immense influence. His role as deputy head of the Kremlin administration for the past 10 years under both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev puts him at the center of political power.
In the novel, which advertised itself as "gangsta fiction," the main character Yegor Samokhodov orders a poet to write verse in the name of the regional governor to make the official look clever and win an award.
Samokhodov, a publisher who does a sideline in political public relations, then tries to bribe a female journalist at an opposition newspaper to "correct" stories about damage to children's health from a toxic chemical factory owned by the governor's relative.
Fact or fiction ?
The events portrayed are everyday fare in Russia, where local media sometimes take money in return for favorable coverage and those in power believe they can bribe or bully their way to victory in almost any situation.
A source at the Russky Pioner magazine which published the novella confirmed to Reuters that the story was Surkov's work.
"Yes, it was him," the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Kremlin denied that Surkov had authored the novel. "He definitely didn't write it," said a spokesman.
But media reports pointed out that the pseudonym used -- Natan Dubovitsky -- is almost identical to the name of Surkov's second wife, Natalya Dubovitskaya.
The author of Russia's doctrine of "sovereign democracy" which touts a strong, organized state at the center of the political machine guarding against chaos and foreign meddling, Surkov often rails against Western "lies" in portraying Russia.
"Our partners ... tell us about democracy while thinking about our hydrocarbons," he told foreign journalists in his last news conference with them in 2006.
Andrey Kolesnikov, the editor-in-chief of Russky Pioner and also Russia's best-known political correspondent, told Reuters he had decided to publish the work because of its artistic quality, despite not knowing who wrote it.
"I received the text by email with a request from the author that he was interested in my opinion," Kolesnikov said.
"I really liked the novel. I am convinced it is a work of quality ... for the author, it was an act of self-discovery."
Kolesnikov said the author had told him he had previously contributed to the magazine. Surkov has authored an column in Russky Pioner.
In one revealing part of the story, the opposition journalist Nikita Mariyevna tells Samokhodov she hates those in power -- a "greasy crowd" of governors, deputies, ministers, security service officials and police.
But the book's hero replies: "It's not those in power that you hate, but life." He goes on to explain that unfairness, the use of force and stagnation are just part of life and urges her to live with this rather than try to destroy it.
Analysts speculated that Surkov might have written the book as a signal to the main pro-Kremlin party United Russia that times could be changing and they might face greater political competition in future.
Surkov worked as a public relations and advertising consultant in the 1990s before joining the Kremlin. Among his patrons were the Alfa Group owned by key oligarch Mikhail Fridman and the now disgraced oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Sunday, November 13, 2016
- Amy Lowell, "In Darkness"
Must all of worth be travailled for, and those
Life's brightest stars rise from a troubled sea?
Must years go by in sad uncertainty
Leaving us doubting whose the conquering blows,
Are we or Fate the victors? Time which shows
All inner meanings will reveal, but we
Shall never know the upshot.
Ours to be Wasted with longing, shattered in the throes,
The agonies of splendid dreams, which day
Dims from our vision, but each night brings back;
We strive to hold their grandeur, and essay
To be the thing we dream.
Sudden we lack
The flash of insight, life grows drear and gray,
And hour follows hour, nerveless, slack.
Content from PoetrySoup.com. Read more at: http://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poem/in_darkness_6006
Copyright © PoetrySoup and Respective Poets.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
José Saramago’s Seeing tells the story of the strange events in the unnamed capital city of an unidentified democratic country. When the election day morning is marred by torrential rains, voter turnout is disturbingly low, but the weather breaks by mid-afternoon and the population heads en masse to their voting stations. The government's relief is short-lived, however, when vote counting reveals that over 70 percent of the ballots cast in the capital have been left blank. Baffled by this apparent civic lapse, the government gives the citizenry a chance to make amends just one week later with another election day. The results are worse: Now 83 percent of the ballots are blank.
Is this an organized conspiracy to overthrow not just the ruling government but the entire democratic system? If so, who is behind it, and how did they manage to organize hundreds of thousands of people into such subversion without being noticed? The city continues to function near-normally throughout, the people parrying each of the government's thrusts in inexplicable unison and with a truly Gandhian level of nonviolent resistance. The lesson of this thought-experiment is clear: the danger today is not passivity but pseudo-activity, the urge to “be active,” to “participate,” in order to mask the vacuity of what goes on. People intervene all the time. People “do something.” Academics participate in meaningless debates, and so on. The truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw. Those in power often prefer even a “critical” participation, a dialogue, to silence, because just to engage us in dialogue, is to make sure our ominous passivity is broken. The voters’ abstention is thus a true political act: it forcefully confronts us with the vacuity of today’s democracies.
This, exactly, is how citizens should act when faced with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. When Stalin was asked in the late 1920s which deviation is worse, the Rightist one or the Leftist one, he snapped back: They are both worse! Is it not the same with the choice American voters are confronting in the 2016 presidential elections? Trump is obviously “worse.” He enacts a decay of public morality. He promises a Rightist turn. But he at least promises a change. Hillary is “worse” since she makes changing nothing look desirable.
With such a choice, one should not lose ones nerve and chose the “worst,” which means change—even if is a dangerous change—because it opens up the space for a different more authentic change.
The point is thus not to vote for Trump—not only should one not vote for such a scum, one should not even participate in such elections. The point is to approach coldly the question: Whose victory is better for the fate of the radical emancipatory project, Clinton’s or Trump’s?
Trump wants to make America great again, to which Obama responded that America already is great. But is it? Can a country in which a person like Trump has a chance of becoming president be really considered great? The dangers of a Trump presidency are obvious: he not only promises to nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court; he mobilized the darkest white-supremacist circles and openly flirts with anti-immigrant racism; he flouts basic rules of decency and symbolizes the disintegration of basic ethical standards; while advocating concern for the misery of ordinary people, he effectively promotes a brutal neoliberal agenda that includes tax breaks for the rich, further deregulation, etc., etc.
Trump is a vulgar opportunist, yet he is still a vulgar specimen of humanity (in contrast to entities like Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum whom I suspect of being aliens).
What Trump is definitely not is a successful productive and innovative capitalist—he excels at getting into bankruptcy and then making the taxpayers cover up his debts.
Liberals panicked by Trump dismiss the idea that Trump’s eventual victory can start a process out of which an authentic Left would emerge. Their favorite counterargument is a reference to Hitler. Many German Communists welcomed the Nazi takeover in 1933 as a chance for the radical Left as the only force which can defeat them. As we know, their appreciation of Hitler’s rise was a catastrophic mistake. The question is: Are things the same with Trump? Is Trump a danger that should bring together a broad front in the same way that Hitler did, a front where “decent” conservatives and libertarians fight together with mainstream liberal progressives and (whatever remains of) the radical Left? Fredric Jameson was right in a November 4 interview to warn against the hasty designation of the Trump movement as new fascism: “People are now saying—this is a new fascism and my answer would be—not yet. If Trump comes to power, that would be a different thing.”
(Incidentally, the term “fascism” is today often used as an empty word when something obviously dangerous appears on the political scene but we lack a proper understanding of it. No, today's rightwing populists are NOT simply Fascists!) Why not yet?
First, the fear that a Trump victory would turn the United State into a fascist state is a ridiculous exaggeration. The United States has such a rich texture of divergent civic and political institutions that their Gleichschaltung (the standardization of political, economic, cultural and social institutions as carried out in authoritarian states) cannot be enacted. Where, then, does this fear come from? Its function is clearly to unify us all against Trump and thus to obfuscate the true political divisions that run between the Left, as resuscitated by Bernie Sanders, and Clinton who is the establishment’s candidate supported by a rainbow coalition that includes neocon Iraq War advocates like President George W. Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and interventionists like Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard Armitage.
Second, the fact remains that Trump draws support from the same rage out of which Bernie Sanders mobilized his partisans. The majority of his supporters view him as the anti-establishment candidate. And one should never forget that popular rage is by definition free-floating and can be re-directed. Liberals who fear the Trump victory are not really afraid of a radical Rightist turn. What they are really afraid of is actual radical social change. To repeat Robespierre, they admit (and are sincerely worried about) the injustices of our social life, but they want to cure them with a “revolution without revolution” (in exact parallel to today's consumerism which offers coffee without caffeine, chocolate without sugar, beer without alcohol, multiculturalism without conflict, etc.): a vision of social change with no actual change, a change where no one gets really hurt, where well-meaning liberals remain cocooned in their safe enclaves. Back in 1937, George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier wrote:We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.Orwell’s point is that radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious token that should achieve the opposite, i.e., prevent the only change that really matters, the change in those who rule us, from occurring. Who really rules in the United States? Can we not already hear the murmur of secret meetings where members of the financial and other “elites” are negotiating about the distribution of the key posts in the Clinton administration? To get an idea how this negotiations in the shadows work, it suffices to read the John Podesta emails or Hillary Clinton: The Goldman Sachs Speeches (to appear soon by OR Books with an introduction by Julian Assange).
Hillary’s victory would be the victory of a status quo overshadowed by the prospect of a new world war (and Hillary definitely is a typical Democratic cold warrior), a status quo of a situation in which we gradually but inevitably slide towards ecological, economic, humanitarian and other catastrophes. That’s why I consider Ian Steinman’s “Leftist” critique of my position extremely cynical. He writes:Yet while we can do little to predict how the pieces will fall, we know that to intervene in a crisis the left must be organized, prepared and with support among the working class and oppressed. We can not in any way endorse the vile racism and sexism which divides us and weakens our struggle. We must always stand on the side of the oppressed, and we must be independent, fighting for a real left exit to the crisis. Even if Trump causes a catastrophe for the ruling class, it will also be a catastrophe for us if we have not laid the foundations for our own intervention.True, the left “must be organized, prepared and with support among the working class and oppressed”—but in this case, the question should be: Which candidate's victory would contribute more to the organization of the Left and its expansion? Isn’t it clear that Trump's victory would have “laid the foundations for our own intervention” much more than Hillary’s?
Yes, there is a great danger in Trump's victory, but the Left will be mobilized only through such a threat of catastrophe. If we continue the inertia of the existing status quo, there will for sure be no Leftist mobilization. To quote the poet Hoelderlin:“Only where there is danger the saving force is also rising.”In the choice between Clinton and Trump, neither “stands on the side of the oppressed,” so the real choice is: abstain from voting or choose the one who, worthless as s/he is, opens up a greater chance of unleashing a new political dynamics which can lead to massive Leftist radicalization. Think about Trump’s anti-establishment supporters who would be unavoidably upset with Trump’s presidency. Some of them would have to turn towards Sanders in order to find an outlet for their rage. Think about the disappointed mainstream Democrats who would have seen how Clinton’s centrist strategy failed to win even against an extreme figure like Trump. The lesson they would learn would be that sometimes, to win, the strategy of “we are all together” doesn’t work and we should instead introduce a radical division.
Many poor voters claim Trump speaks for them. How can they recognize themselves in the voice of a billionaire whose speculations and failures are one of the causes of their misery? Like the paths of god, the paths of ideology are mysterious. When Trump supporters are denounced as “white trash,” it is easy to discern in this designation the fear of the lower classes so characteristic of the liberal elite.
The title and subtitle of a Guardian report of a recent Trump electoral meeting puts it this way: “Inside a Donald Trump rally: good people in a feedback loop of paranoia and hate. Trump’s crowd is full of honest and decent people—but the Republican’s invective has a chilling effect on fans of his one-man show.” But how did Trump become the voice of so many “honest and decent” people? Trump single-handedly ruined the Republican Party, antagonizing both the old party establishment and the Christian fundamentalists—what remains as the core of his support are the bearers of the populist rage versus the establishment, and this core is dismissed by liberals as the “white trash”—but are they not precisely those that should be won over to the radical Leftist cause (this is what Bernie Sanders was able to do).
One should rid oneself of the false panic, fearing the Trump victory as the ultimate horror which makes us support Clinton in spite of all her obvious shortcomings. Although the battle seems lost for Trump, his victory would have created a totally new political situation with chances for a more radical Left—or, to quote Mao: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.”
Sunday, November 6, 2016
- Rudyard Kipling, "The Bees and the Flies"
A Farmer of the Augustan Age
Perused in Virgil's golden page
The story of the secret won
From Proteus by Cyrene's son--
How the dank sea-god showed the swain
Means to restore his hives again.
More briefly, how a slaughtered bull
Breeds honey by the bellyful.
The egregious rustic put to death
A bull by stopping of its breath,
Disposed the carcass in a shed
With fragrant herbs and branches spread,
And, having well performed the charm,
Sat down to wait the promised swarm.
Nor waited long.
The God of Day
Impartial, quickening with his ray
Evil and good alike, beheld
The carcass--and the carcass swelled.
Big with new birth the belly heaves
Beneath its screen of scented leaves.
Past any doubt, the bull conceives!
The farmer bids men bring more hives
To house the profit that arrives;
Prepares on pan and key and.
Sweet music that shall make 'em settle;
But when to crown the work he goes,
Gods! What a stink salutes his nose!
Where are the honest toilers.
gravid mistress of their care?
A busy scene, indeed, he sees,
But not a sign or sound of bees.
Worms of the riper grave unhid
By any kindly coffin-lid,
Obscene and shameless to the light,
Seethe in insatiate appetite,
Through putrid offal, while--above
The hissing blow-fly seeks his love,
Whose offspring, supping where they supt,
Consume corruption twice corrupt.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
- T.S. Eliot, "Gus: The Theatre Cat"
Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,
Is really Asparagus.
That's such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.
His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,
And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.
Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats--
But no longer a terror to mice and to rats.
For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime;
Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time.
And whenever he joins his friends at their club
(Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,
With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
For he once was a Star of the highest degree--
He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree.
And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.
"I have played," so he says, "every possible part,
And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.
I knew how to act with my back and my tail;
With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,
Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.
I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell;
When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell.
In the Pantomime season I never fell flat,
And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat.
But my grandest creation, as history will tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."
Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin,
He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne.
At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat,
When some actor suggested the need for a cat.
He once played a Tiger--could do it again--
Which an Indian Colonel pursued down a drain.
And he thinks that he still can, much better than most,
Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost.
And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire,
To rescue a child when a house was on fire.
And he says: "Now then kittens, they do not get trained
As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.
They never get drilled in a regular troupe,
And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop."
And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,
"Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.
These modern productions are all very well,
But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
That moment of mystery
When I made history
As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
- Pablo Neruda, "Enigmas"
You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You enquire about the kingfisher's feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?
Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?
I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.
I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.
I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Friday, October 21, 2016
- Brian Vrepont, "The Crabs"
The crabs are lunching;
An hour I’ve watched, and still they eat,
Pincering microcosms from the scaly rocks,
Time to split-second mouth shutterings
Link Chinamen with chop-sticks;
No disrespect, but Asian they look,
And I on an overleaning rock am humbled.
Such industry is not mine,
Such battering I could not suffer.
The waves hiss and bury the feeders three feet deep,
Avalanches fall on their apparent frailty,
The rock bares, the sea sucks back,
And I laugh to see the crabs uninterruptedly feeding;
The little baby crab holds miraculously rock fast,
Centuried to sea-wash,
Insolently safe, insolently chop-stick lunching
Against the might of the sea.
I laugh, knowing crabs wiser than man;
When man, suicided from his home, the earth
Shall see no lord sun spray gold on wave,
Nor moon come like vespers, go in full song,
Crabs still will ply their chop-sticks,
Knowing nor caring that man is dust.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Two important papers on capitalism by Richard Smith were published in the last few years explaining how capitalism, due to its structural mechanisms, cannot be reformed in any way to make it “sustainable”. In Smith’s papers, Green Capitalism: the God that Failed and Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism, four primary dictates of capitalism illustrate that no matter how herculean the effort to “green the economy”, whether through energy or other areas, the end result of inexorable environmental destruction as well as incredible social inequality are inevitable.Source: Collapse of Industrial Civilization ~ Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram"
1.) “Grow or die” is a law of survival in the marketplace:
In capitalism most producers… have no choice but to live by the capitalist maxim “grow or die.” First, as Adam Smith noted, the ever-increasing division of labor raises productivity and output, compelling producers to find more markets for this growing output. Secondly, competition compels producers to seek to expand their market share, to better defend their position against competitors. Bigger is safer because, ceteris paribus, bigger producers can take advantage of economies of scale and can use their greater resources to invest in technological development, so can more effectively dominate markets. Marginal competitors tend to be crushed or bought out by larger firms. Thirdly, the modern corporate form of ownership, which separates ownership from operation, adds further irresistible and unrelenting pressures to grow from owner-shareholders. And shareholders are not looking for “stasis”; they are looking to maximize portfolio gains, so they drive their CEOs forward.
“…relentless and irresistible pressures for growth are functions of the day-to-day requirements of capitalist reproduction in a competitive market, incumbent upon all but a few businesses, and that such pressures would prevail in any conceivable capitalism. Further, I contend that, given capitalism, the first result of any serious reduction in economic output (GDP) to get production back down to some reasonably sustainable level, would be to provoke mass unemployment. So here again, there will never be mass public support for de-growth unless it’s coupled with explicit guarantees of employment for redundant workers, which are unacceptable to capital and would require a socialist economy…”
2.) Maximizing profit and saving the environment are inherently in conflict:
“…Corporations can embrace pro-environmental policies but only so long as these boost profits. Saving the world, however, would require that profit-making be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…”
“Most of the economy is comprised of large corporations owned by investor-shareholders. And shareholders, even those who are environmentally-minded professors investing via their TIAA-CREF accounts, are constantly seeking to maximize returns on investment. So they sensibly look to invest where they can make the highest return. This means that corporate CEOs do not have the freedom to choose to produce as much or little as they like, to make the same profits this year as last year. Instead, they face relentless pressure to maximize profits, to make more profits this year than last year (or even last quarter), therefore to maximize sales, therefore to grow quantitatively…
In the real world, therefore, few corporations can resist the relentless pressure to “grow sales,” “grow the company,” “expand market share”– to grow quantitatively. The corporation that fails to outdo its past performance risks falling share value, stockholder flight, or worse… And if economic pressures weren’t sufficient to shape CEO behavior, CEOs are, moreover, legally obligated to maximize profits — and nothing else…”
3.) Consumerism and overconsumption are built into capitalism:
“…consumerism and overconsumption are not “dispensable” and cannot be exorcised because they’re not just “cultural” or “habitual.” They are built into capitalism and indispensable for the day-to-day reproduction of corporate producers in a competitive market system in which capitalists, workers, consumers and governments alike are all locked into an endless cycle of perpetually increasing consumption to maintain profits, jobs, and tax revenues. We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. The global ecological crisis we face cannot be solved by even the largest individual companies. Problems like global warming, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction, the changing ocean chemistry are even beyond the scope of nation states. They require national and international cooperation and global economic planning. This requires collective bottom-up democratic control over the entire world economy. And since a global economic democracy could only thrive in the context of a rough economic equality, this presupposes a global redistribution of wealth as well.”
4.) The masses are dependent on the market:
“Capitalism is a mode of production in which specialized producers (corporations, companies, manufacturers, individual producers) produce some commodity for market but do not possess their own means of subsistence. So in a capitalisteconomy, everyone is first and foremost, dependent upon the market, compelled to sell in order to buy, to buy in order to sell, to re-enter production and carry on.”
To illustrate a case study in how impossible it is for even an “environmentally conscious” corporation to be sustainable, Smith discusses Ray Anderson and his company Interface, Inc.
Saint Ray Anderson and the limits of the possible:
“…CEO Ray Anderson has probably pushed the limits of industrial environmentalism as far as it’s humanly possible to go in an actual factory operating within the framework of capitalism. Ray Anderson is everybody’s favorite eco-capitalist and he and his company Interface Inc. have been applauded by virtually every eco-futurist book written since the 1990s as the eco-capitalist example to emulate. But what Ray Anderson’s case really shows us is the limits of the possible, especially under capitalism. For after almost two decades of sustained effort, the goal of “zero pollutants” is still as unreachable as ever at Interface Inc. It is not in the least to diminish Ray Anderson’s sincerity, his passionate dedication, his efforts or his impressive achievements. But the fact is, according to The Interface Sustainability Report of 2009, Interface has “cut waste sent to landfills by more than half while continuing to increase production,” “reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30%,” “reduced energy intensity by 45%,” while “over 25% of raw materials used in interface carpet are recycled and biobased materials in 2007,” and non-sustainable materials consumed per unit of product have declined from 10.2 lbs/yd2 in 1996 to 8.6 lb/yd2 in 2008. Read that last sentence again. Make no mistake: These are impressive, even heroic industrial-environmental achievements. But if after more than fifteen years of sustained effort, the most environmentally dedicated large company in the United States, if not the entire world, can only manage to cut non-sustainable inputs from 10.2 to 8.6 pounds per square yard of finished product, to inject a mere 25% recycled and biobased feedstock into its production process, so still requiring 75% of new, mostly petroleum-based nonsustainable feedstock in every unit of production, then the inescapable conclusion must be that even the greenest businesses are also on course to “destroy the world.” So if the reality is that, when all is said and done, there is “only so much you can do” in most industries, then the only way to bend the economy in an ecological direction is to sharply limit production, especially of toxic products, which means completely redesigning production and consumption – all of which is certainly doable, but impossible under capitalism.”
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
- Popol Vuh (The Creation)
Here is the story of the beginning,
when there was not one bird,
not one fish,
not one mountain.
Here is the sky, all alone.
Here is the sea, all alone.
There is nothing more
–no sound, no movement.
Only the sky and the sea.
Only Heart-of-Sky, alone.
And these are his names:
Maker and Modeler,
But there is no one to speak his names.
There is no one to praise his glory.
There is no one to nurture his greatness.
And so Heart-of-Sky thinks,
"Who is there to speak my name?
Who is there to praise me?
How shall I make it dawn?"
Heart-of-Sky only says the word,
and the earth rises,
like a mist from the sea.
He only thinks of it,
and there it is.
He thinks of mountains,
and great mountains come.
He thinks of trees,
and trees grow on the land.
And so Heart-of-Sky says,
"Our work is going well."
Now Heart-of-Sky plans the creatures of the forest
-birds, deer, jaguars and snakes.
And each is given his home.
"You the deer, sleep here along the rivers.
You the birds, your nests are in the trees.
Multiply and scatter," he tells them.
Then Heart-of-Sky says to the animals,
"Speak, pray to us."
But the creatures can only squawk.
The creatures only howl.
They do not speak like humans.
They do not praise Heart-of-Sky
And so the animals are humbled.
They will serve those who will worship Heart-of-Sky.
And Heart-of-Sky tries again.
Tries to make a giver of respect.
Tries to make a giver of praise.
Here is the new creation,
made of mud and earth.
It doesn't look very good.
It keeps crumbing and softening.
It looks lopsided and twisted.
It only speaks nonsense.
It cannot multiply.
So Heart-of-Sky lets it dissolved away.
Now Heart-of-Sky plans again.
Our Grandfather and Our Grandmother are summoned.
They are the most wise spirits.
"Determine if we should carve people from wood,"
They run their hands over the kernels of corn.
They run their hands over the coral seeds.
"What can we make that will speak and pray?
asks Our Grandfather.
What can we make that will nurture and provide?"
asks Our Grandmother.
They count the days,
the lots of four,
seeking an answer for Heart-of-Sky.
Now they give the answer,
"It is good to make your people with wood.
They will speak your name.
They will walk about and multiply."
"So it is," replies Heart-of-Sky.
And as the words are spoken, it is done.
The doll-people are made
with faces carved from wood.
But they have no blood, no sweat.
They have nothing in their minds.
They have no respect for Heart-of-Sky.
They are just walking about,
But they accomplish nothing.
"This is not what I had in mind,"
And so it is decided to destroy
these wooden people.
Hurricane makes a great rain.
It rains all day and rains all night.
There is a terrible flood
and the earth is blackened.
The creatures of the forest
come into the homes of the doll-people.
"You have chased us from our homes
so now we will take yours,"
And their dogs and turkeys cry out,
"You have abused us
so now we shall eat you!"
Even their pots and grinding stones speak,
"We will burn you and pound on you
just as you have done to us!"
The wooden people scatter into the forest.
Their faces are crushed,
and they are turned into monkeys.
And this is why monkeys look like humans.
They are what is left of what came before,
an experiment in human design.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Philip Freneau, "Columbus in Chains"
Are these the honors they reserve for me,
Chains for the man who gave new worlds to Spain!
Rest here, my swelling heart! — O kings, O queens,
Patrons of monsters, and their progeny,
Authors of wrong, and slaves to fortune merely!
Why was I seated by my prince's side,
Honor'd, caress'd like some first peer of Spain?
Was it that I might fall most suddenly
From honor's summit to the sink of scandal?
'T is done, 't is done! — what madness is ambition!
What is there in that little breath of men,
Which they call Fame, that should induce the brave
To forfeit ease and that domestic bliss
Which is the lot of happy ignorance,
Less glorious aims, and dull humility? —
Whoe'er thou art that shalt aspire to honor,
And on the strength and vigor of the mind
Vainly depending, court a monarch's favor,
Pointing the way to vast extended empire;
First count your pay to be ingratitude,
Then chains and prisons, and disgrace like mine!
Each wretched pilot now shall spread his sails,
And treading in my footsteps, hail new worlds,
Which, but for me, had still been empty visions.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Ameriphobia - A fear of the United States of America. Because America is arguably the most powerful country with the widest influence in the world, many people fear their power. This fear is usually unprovoked, since America is a democracy and any idiots in power who screwed up (for all you Bush haters) will be gone by the next election, unlike dictators.from the Urban Dictionary
Because of this fear, people with Ameriphobia tend to become anti-American. These anti-Americans can form into groups, ranging from the typical radical muslim Al-Queda; to communist radicals, although they have lost power since the end of the Cold War.
You will never see a "Britiphobia" or a "Chinaphobia". The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and they will obviously receive the most criticism from around the world. Yet, the United States is also arguably the best country in the world, with a thriving economy and one of the highest standards of living in the world. They also commit to spreading democracy worldwide, so communist dictator shitholes like Cuba and North Korea cease to exist. So fuck off America haters.kid 1: "Who's that one kid with Ameriphobia who went to the 'School of the Americas protest'?"
kid 2: "Oh, you mean John?"
kid 1: "Yeah, where is he, I thought they were supposed to be back a few weeks ago?"
kid 2: "I heard he went to some place called 'Guantanamo'..? It must be another protest location."
Saturday, October 8, 2016
- Danniel Schoonebeek, "A Woman in the Sun"
Edward Hopper, "Cobb's Barns, South Truro 1930-1933"
The shed behind the barn behind the red cottage I wait
for her in the fescue grass the rye I hear it grow over me
Wait for my friends in the distance on fire their full heads
of rust (I love how the clothing drips off them I hear myself say)
If the beekeeper doesn’t come chasing behind with a hatchet
I’ll wait behind Cobb’s barn watching the distant houses
She will come down this road my shadow is paving for her
a stalk of honey and the rye grass grows from her arms
(She was raised in these hills looking down on Elk Creek)
and behind her the bluegrass it’s reaching to touch her ankle
Friday, October 7, 2016
The philosopher and cultural critic [Slavoj Zizek] recently made a foray into drama when he reworked Sophocle’s Antigone—not out of admiration for the original, but to examine the “stupid and morally problematic” character at its heart. Here he selects five plays he admires—but declines to see performed.Interview by Liza Thompson on October 3, 2016, Source
Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen each of these plays?
At first, the five plays look like a jumbled heap lacking any common feature—what could they have in common? The bitter end of the old Oedipus who cannot reconcile himself with his fate; Richard II’s descent into madness after he is deprived of royal prerogatives; the meaningless self-sacrifice of a woman married to a man she despises; the ruthless killing of a young Communist who has shown too much compassion; and the confused mumbling of an old senile Irish woman?
To each of these plays, one can easily substitute another piece by the same author which deserves much more our attention. For example, is the ethical fidelity of Antigone not much easier to identify with than the vicissitudes of the old Oedipus? Are the doubts and procrastinations of Hamlet not infinitely more interesting than the endless narcissistic complaints of Richard II? Does the terrible burden imposed on the heroine of Claudel’s Annunciation of Marie not touch us much more directly than Sygne’s eccentric act in Hostage? How can the minimalist staging of the Stalinist meanders in Measure Taken even compare with the wealthy texture of Brecht’s Galileo? And, last but not least, does the sheer wit of Waiting for Godot not immediately eclipse the rather boring monologue of Not I?
You’ve given us reasons not to read these plays! Is there something that pulls them together? A theme, perhaps?
I clearly see a feature they all share: they all push our subjective experience to its extreme, they all enact what Lacan calls “subjective destitution.” In every play, the hero is pushed beyond a certain limit, out of the domain in which rules of normal human existence apply; he or she finds him or herself in what Lacan called “between-the-two-deaths”: dead while still alive. Oedipus is thrown out of human community, wandering around as an excremental/sacred outcast with no place in any polis—he has seen too much. Richard II is gradually deprived of his royal symbolic identity and authority, reduced to a point of madness with nothing to rely on. Sygne de Coufontaine first sacrifices everything for a higher, Catholic, cause, and is then forced to sacrifice this cause itself, so that she finds herself in an existential void.
In a homologous way, Brecht’s anonymous hero has to sacrifice sacrifice itself, to disappear and to accept the disappearance of his very disappearance. Last but not least, the speaking mouth in Beckett is directly deprived of personality and reduced to a “partial object,” something like the smile of the Cheshire Cat which survives the cat’s disappearance. The underlying premise of all five plays is that this extreme limit-position is not just a point of total annihilation or destruction but, simultaneously, the unique chance of a new beginning.
‘The chance of a new beginning’ is an interesting point. I’m not sure these plays are usually characterised as hopeful! Is there a strand of hope and possibility running through each one, then?
I am well aware that all five plays are usually perceived as dark, if not hopeless—how can one imagine a more desperate situation than that of their heroes? What I try to do is not to simply turn around their predicament and discern a hidden optimist reversal, but something more subtle, a minimal subjective change, a change of the hero’s innermost stance which, while not making the situation in any sense less desperate, executes a kind of transfiguration opening up a new space. Towards the end of Oedipus at Colonus, the blind hero calls for Theseus and tells him that it is time for him to give the gift he promised to Athens; filled with new strength, he stands up and walks, inviting for his children and Theseus to follow him—the play ends with a gift as a political gesture. At the end of Richard II, the hero finds unexpected solace in music, fully identifying himself with its rhythm. In The Hostage, after losing everything, even the justification of her loss, Sygne enacts her resistance with a weird tic of her face. A weird spirit of calm concludes The Measures Taken, the hero dies reconciled with his fate, tenderly embraced by his comrades. And even in Not I, what then happens in the final shift of the play is that the speaker accepts her trauma in its meaninglessness and thereby gets rid of the entire topic of sin and punishment; there is no longer despair in the Mouth’s voice, the standard Beckettian formula of persistence is asserted (“no matter. . . keep on”). Such moments continue to fascinate me, one finds them also in other works, say, at the end of Coetzee’s Disgrace. It seems to me they can all be described as religious conversions for those who remain total atheists.
Do you think all great writing has to have the potential for a (non-)religious conversion? The writing, in order to be good, has to be able to change the reader?
Yes, but this conversion is profoundly atheist—it is not a discovery of transcendence, but of the void obfuscated by the mirage of transcendence. The best definition of this conversion was provided by Shakespeare in his Midsummer Night’s Dream, act 5, scene 1, where Theseus says:The lunatic, the lover and the poetShakespeare proposes here a triad: a madman who sees devils everywhere; a lover sees sublime beauty in an ordinary face; a poet who “gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” In all three cases we have the gap between ordinary reality and a transcendent ethereal dimension… This happens in art, and this happens exemplarily at the end of all five plays I listed: at the end, each of its heroes finds a relief in assuming the void.
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing.
This sense of simultaneous relief and dread must be difficult to communicate to an audience. Have you seen any truly great productions of any of the plays you’ve listed and have any of them captured that sense of relief at the end?
Now comes the big surprise: I haven’t seen on stage any of my favourite five plays – with the exception of a totally irrelevant, bad staging of Brecht’s The Measures Taken in Berlin.
Why haven’t you seen any of your favourite plays?!
It’s not just the empirical fact that I am not aware of any great performances of these plays in the last decades (although I was told that, a decade or so ago, there was a good staging of Richard II with Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre in London). I want to keep these plays free for my imagination – whenever I re-read them, I always try to imagine some key scene in cinematic terms.
“At the end, each of its heroes find a relief in assuming the void”
Dorothy Sayers wrote a wonderful essay on Aristotle’s Poetics as a theory of detective novel—since Aristotle didn’t have at his disposal detective fiction, he had to refer to minor theatre pieces. I claim the same goes for Sophocles: since he didn’t have at his disposal cinema, he had to deal with theatre in all its clumsiness. Can one imagine anything more cinematic than the scene of Oedipus’s death—in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm, the blind Oedipus walks towards the abyss, and then we pass to a flashback, the messenger reports: “We couldn’t see the man—he was gone—nowhere! And the king, alone, shielding his eyes, both hands spread out against his face as if some terrible wonder flashed before his eyes and he, he could not bear to look.”
Similarly, is the finale of Richard II not calling for a crazy psychedelic combination of reality and cartoons, with Richard turning into a gigantic clock? When, in Hostage, Sygne intercepts the bullet aimed at her worthless husband and then dies with an obscene tic on her face, can this scene work without a cinematic close-up? The same goes for The Measure Taken: the finale (the young comrade accepts his death) only works when the declamatory dialogue is contrasted by the young comrade’s subtle bodily signs of distress and uneasiness? And, to conclude, how can Beckett’s Not I work without a close-up of the gigantic lips as an autonomous partial object?
Do you also “protect” other pieces of art—like film adaptations of favourite novels and the like—so that your imaginative responses can remain unfettered by other people’s interpretations? Or is it only plays?
In a strange way, I am not protective in the same way about novels—I always want to see the cinema version of a novel that I love, if there is one, for a simple and stupidly naïve reason: I want to see how the people I’ve read about really look and act! Furthermore, I am always in search of a movie that is better than the novel it is based upon, which is quite often the case. For example, although I admire Russell Banks, I think Atom’s Egoyan’s cinema version of The Sweet Hereafter is much better than Banks’ novel. But what really interests me are those rare cases when both the novel and its cinema adaptation can be worse—how can this be? The cinema version of Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the spectre of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed—this is not the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition — of a failed novel in the failed film — thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. The film does not repeat the novel on which it is based; rather, they both repeat the unrepeatable virtual x, the ‘true’ novel whose spectre is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality: it is the absolute point of reference of the failed real attempts.
“This virtual point of reference, although unreal, is in a way more real than reality”
There is another similar case, The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick’s alternative history classic from 1963. It takes place in 1962, fifteen years after an alternative ending to World War II, in which the war lasted until 1947, when the victorious Axis Powers—Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — rule over the former United States. The novel features a “novel within the novel” which describes an alternate history within this alternate history wherein the Allies defeat the Axis… We can read this double reversal as a dark allegory of our own time in which, although Fascism was defeated in reality, it is more and more triumphing in fantasy.
However, such a reading neglects the fact that the alternate reality described in the novel-within-the-novel is not simply our reality but differs from it in many crucial details. If we follow Lacan’s claim that the ‘real’ as a rule appears in the guise of a fiction-within-a-fiction, we should thus conceive alternate reality—depicted in the novel—and our reality as two realities, two variations of reality, while the ‘Real’ is the fiction—the novel-within-the-novel, or, in the TV series version, the film-within-the-film—which is neither of the two realities; our reality is one of the alternate realities with reference to the Real of the truth-fiction.
In order to understand our reality, we should first imagine the possible alternate realities, and then construct the ‘impossible real’ which serves as their secret point of reference, as their hard core. What we have here is a kind of Freudian version of phenomenological eidetic variation: in Husserl, we vary the empirical content of, say, a table in order to arrive at what unites all empirical variations, the absolutely necessary and invariable components that make a table what it is, the eidos of table; in psychoanalysis, one collects all variations in order to reconstruct their “absent centre,” a purely virtual (inexistent in reality) form negated (distorted, displaced, et cetera) in a specific way by every variation given in reality.
Just to go back to your reluctance to see performances of the plays you love, you have actually written a play—Antigone—but considering you tend to see things more filmically than theatrically, are there any obvious cinematic affinities with your version of Antigone you can tell us about?
I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it. It’s too much part of me, and it’s obscene for me to love oneself. The ideal version of my play would have been a weird impossible combination of minimalist theatre and big spectacular cinema, superficially akin to Olivier’s version of Henry V.
Most of the action would take place on an almost barren stage, with just some half-abstract objects (a large rock, a small bamboo forest…), and with all actors dressed in simple ordinary contemporary clothes (old jeans, faded T-shirts). There would just be some details strangely sticking out—say, Ismene’s mouth would be painted by an extremely strong and fluorescent red lipstick. In one of his reflections about the stage, Brecht ferociously opposed the idea that the background of the stage should render the impenetrable depth of the ‘All of Reality’ as the obscure ‘Origin of Things’ out of which everything we see and know appear as fragments. For Brecht, the background of a stage should ideally be empty, white, signalling that, behind what we see and experience, there is no secret ‘Origin’. This in no way implies that reality is transparent to us, that we know all; of course there are infinite blanks, but the point is that these blanks are just that, blanks, things we simply do not know, not a substantial “deeper” reality.
“I have no problem with eventually seeing my play being performed—for the simple reason that I don’t love it”
Furthermore, this minimalism should also affect the way actors perform their roles. I think Elfriede Jelinek’s advice to theatre writers is not only aesthetically correct, but has a deep ethical justification: “Characters on stage should be flat, like clothes in a fashion show: what you get should be no more than what you see. Psychological realism is repulsive, because it allows us to escape unpalatable reality by taking shelter in the ‘luxuriousness’ of personality, losing ourselves in the depth of individual character. The writer’s task is to block this manoeuvre, to chase us off to a point from which we can view the horror with a dispassionate eye.”
This is what I want: people reduced to their ideologico-political stance, no depth of the real person behind.
Only in a couple of passages, this minimalism should be interrupted by a mega-spectacular cinematic mise-en-scene. For example, the final minutes of the second version of the denouement, the desperate Antigone wandering around Thebes in ruin, should be done with thousands of extras, gigantic sets of the town and special effects of fire and destruction, all these epic shots combined with extreme close-ups of the details of Antigone’s face—trembling lips, et cetera. The final killings should also be done in a pseudo-authentic ancient surroundings, with old swords, etc.
The message of this contrast is clear: reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream.
You say you don’t love your play—because it’s somewhat tainted by being associated with yourself—and so I wonder why you wrote it? Why a play? Why now?
The reason I wrote it is a simple one: the topic haunted me for years, and I just wanted to get it out, to get rid of it. What lurked in the back of my mind was Glenn Gould recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas, sometimes characterized as “wilfully idiotic”: he recorded it to demonstrate how bad the sonatas are, how low they stand compared to Bach’s piano works. I had the same idea with Antigone: I wrote it to show how stupid and morally problematic the girl is.
“Reality is flat, ‘realism’ is a kitschy dream”
And why a play? The reason is again a simple and straight one: it’s easier to write, it’s just dialogue, there is no need for descriptive passages—brief stage indications suffice—plus there is no first person voice of the writer: only others talk, never me. I find terrifying the idea of disclosing my emotions in first person, there is something obscenely exhibitionist in it, not unlike masturbating in public. No decent person can recite his or her poetry in public. The only poetry I can tolerate is the minimalist one, with no overflow of emotions or experiences—think of someone like Paul Celan.
Plato’s reputation suffers because of his claim that poets should be thrown out of the city—a rather sensible advice, judging from the post-Yugoslav experience, where ethnic cleansing was prepared by poets’ dangerous dreams. True, Milosevic manipulated nationalist passions—but it was the poets who delivered him the stuff which lend itself to manipulation. They—the sincere poets, not the corrupted politicians—were at the origin of it all. To put it in a brutal way, behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet.
“Behind every ethnic cleansing there is some poet”
And, last but not least, why now? It’s politics, of course. It would be very depressing to see the recent revival of the Left end up in another quagmire like the previous ones, in another missed opportunity. One can effectively say about the Left in the last decades that it never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity, so it is very important to delineate the basic ethico-political choices this revival faces. That’s why I wrote in the introduction to my Antigone that it’s not a work of art but an ethico-political exercise.
Are the five plays you’ve selected also ‘ethico-political exercises’? Or are they about ‘never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity’?
The five plays are precisely not about missing an opportunity, the ‘suicidal’ gesture with which they close is an authentic act—in contrast to Sophocles’s Antigone which, I think, is about a missed opportunity, and the point of my rewriting is to reintroduce into it the dimension of authentic act, with direct relevance to our contemporary predicament.
We live in times of pseudo-conflicts: Brexit[‘s] yes or no; in Turkey, military or Erdogan; in Eastern Europe, new Baltic-Polish-Ukrainian fundamentalists or Putin; in Syria, Assad or Isis…
“There is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin”
In all these cases, although one might slightly prefer one side to the other, the ultimate stance should be the one of indifferences: there is no worse choice, both choices are worse, to paraphrase Stalin. And it is here, at this formal level, that I see the ethico-political relevance of my rewriting of Antigone. The conflict between Antigone and Creon is for me also a pseudo-conflict: the only way to resolve it is to change the terrain and introduce another dimension (the intervention of the Chorus in my version). Exactly the same thing is needed in today’s struggle for emancipation: to move beyond our pseudo-conflicts—liberal permissiveness versus religious fundamentalism, et cetera—and to draw the coordinates of the true conflict which is, to put it bluntly, today’s form of what once was called class struggle. Who will be today’s Chorus? Refugees? Unemployed? A Chorus that I have in mind already appeared in what I consider the theatrical event of the 20th century, the Chereau-Boulez staging of Wagner’s Ring in Bayreuth [1976-1980]. What remains on stage after the twilight is the human crowd silently observing the cataclysmic event, a crowd which is left staring into the spectators when the music ends. To quote Chereau:The Redemption motif is a message delivered to the entire world, but like all pythonesses, the orchestra is unclear and there are several ways of interpreting its message… Doesn’t one hear it, shouldn’t one hear it, with mistrust and anxiety, a mistrust which would match the boundless hope which this humanity nurses and which has always been at stake, silently and invisibly, in the atrocious battles which have torn human beings apart throughout the Ring? The gods have lived, the values of their world must be reconstructed and reinvented. Men are there as if on the edge of a cliff—they listen, tensely, to the oracle which rumbles from the depths of the earth.There is no guarantee of redemption here: redemption is merely given as possible. Everything rests on them, the anonymous Chorus, without any guarantee in God or any other figure of the big Other—it is up to them to act like the Holy Spirit, practicing agape, or political love, as Terry Eagleton proposed to translate this term.
* In this case, Zizek's "desire" is really "Jacques Lacan's" (Antigone/The Hostage)