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 28, 2017

Lila's Sketchbook

My sketchbook is worn.

All of its pages are torn.

It is so tired
From being rubbed the wrong way
In between the heavy load
Of all of my other books.

You make me sit in a chair and tell me
how things are
how things were
how things will be.

Maybe I don’t like the world I live in.

I am making world’s that defy these
Restrictive laws
Of science
Of society.

I make things that could happen
If man could only be
Open to the possibilities
That lay on this page.

So, if you would be so kind
As to let me be.

I am trying to make a better world for me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Vor Sonnen-Aufgang (Before Sunrise)

Hast thou a charm to stay the morning-star
In his steep course? So long he seems to pause
On thy bald awful head, O sovran BLANC,
The Arve and Arveiron at thy base
Rave ceaselessly; but thou, most awful Form!
Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines,
How silently! Around thee and above
Deep is the air and dark, substantial, black,
An ebon mass: methinks thou piercest it,
As with a wedge! But when I look again,
It is thine own calm home, thy crystal shrine,
Thy habitation from eternity!
O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee,
Till thou, still present to the bodily sense,
Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer
I worshipped the Invisible alone.

Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody,
So sweet, we know not we are listening to it,
Thou, the meanwhile, wast blending with my Thought,
Yea, with my Life and Life's own secret joy:
Till the dilating Soul, enrapt, transfused,
Into the mighty vision passing—there
As in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven!

Awake, my soul! not only passive praise
Thou owest! not alone these swelling tears,
Mute thanks and secret ecstasy! Awake,
Voice of sweet song! Awake, my heart, awake!
Green vales and icy cliffs, all join my Hymn.

Thou first and chief, sole sovereign of the Vale!
O struggling with the darkness all the night,
And visited all night by troops of stars,
Or when they climb the sky or when they sink:
Companion of the morning-star at dawn,
Thyself Earth's rosy star, and of the dawn
Co-herald: wake, O wake, and utter praise!
Who sank thy sunless pillars deep in Earth?
Who filled thy countenance with rosy light?
Who made thee parent of perpetual streams?

And you, ye five wild torrents fiercely glad!
Who called you forth from night and utter death,
From dark and icy caverns called you forth,
Down those precipitous, black, jagg
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni"

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Progressives Who Would Kill Don Trumpote

What I take you to say, and what I should have said myself if I had had the wit or the depth, is that the one thing which no utilitarian paradise, no promise of eternal harmony in the future within some vast organic whole will make us accept is the use of human beings as mere means--the doctoring of them until they are made to do what they do, not for the sake of the purposes which are their purposes, fulfillment of hopes which however foolish or desperate are at least their own, but for reasons which only we, the manipulators, who freely twist them for our purposes, can understand. What horrifies one about Soviet or Nazi practice is not merely the suffering and the cruelty, since although that is bad enough, it is something which history has produced too often, and to ignore its apparent inevitability is perhaps real Utopianism--no; what turns one inside out, and is indescribable, is the spectacle of one set of persons who so tamper and "get at" others that the others do their will without knowing what they are doing; and in this lose their status as free human beings, indeed as human beings at all.

When armies were slaughtered by other armies in the course of history, we might be appalled by the carnage and turn pacifist; but our horror acquires a new dimension when we read about children, or for that matter grown-up men and women, whom the Nazis loaded into trains bound for gas chambers, telling them that they were going to emigrate to some happier place. Why does this deception, which may in fact have diminished the anguish of the victims, arouse a really unutterable kind of horror in us? The spectacle, I mean, of the victims marching off in happy ignorance of their doom amid the smiling faces of their tormentors? Surely because we cannot bear the thought of human beings denied their last rights--of knowing the truth, of acting with at least the freedom of the condemned, of being able to face their destruction with fear or courage, according to their temperaments, but at least as human beings, armed with the power of choice. It is the denial to human beings of the possibility of choice, the getting them into one's power, the twisting them this way and that in accordance with one's whim, the destruction of their personality by creating unequal moral terms between the gaoler and the victim, whereby the gaoler knows what he is doing, and why, and plays upon the victim, i.e. treats him as a mere object and not as a subject whose motives, views, intentions have any intrinsic weight whatever--by destroying the very possibility of his having views, notions of a relevant kind--that is what cannot be borne at all.

What else horrifies us about unscrupulousness if not this? Why is the thought of someone twisting someone else round his little finger, even in innocent contexts, so beastly (for instance in Dostoevsky's Dyadyushkin son [Uncle's Dream, a novella published in 1859], which the Moscow Arts Theatre used to act so well and so cruelly)? After all, the victim may prefer to have no responsibility; the slave be happier in his slavery. Certainly we do not detest this kind of destruction of liberty merely because it denies liberty of action; there is a far greater horror in depriving men of the very capacity for freedom--that is the real sin against the Holy Ghost. Everything else is bearable so long as the possibility of goodness--of a state of affairs in which men freely choose, disinterestedly seek ends for their own sake--is still open, however much suffering they may have gone through. Their souls are destroyed only when this is no longer possible. It is when the desire for choice is broken that what men do thereby loses all moral value, and actions lose all significance (in terms of good and evil) in their own eyes; that is what is meant by destroying people's self-respect, by turning them, in your words, into rags. This is the ultimate horror because in such a situation there are no worthwhile motives left: nothing is worth doing or avoiding, the reasons for existing are gone. We admire Don Quixote, if we do, because he has a pure-hearted desire to do what is good, and he is pathetic because he is mad and his attempts are ludicrous.

For Hegel and for Marx (and possibly for Bentham, although he would have been horrified by the juxtaposition) Don Quixote is not merely absurd but immoral. Morality consists in doing what is good. Goodness is that which will satisfy one's nature. Only that will satisfy one's nature which is part of the historical stream along which one is carried willy-nilly, i.e. that which "the future" in any case holds in store. In some ultimate sense, failure is proof of a misunderstanding of history, of having chosen what is doomed to destruction, in preference to that which is destined to succeed. But to choose the former is "irrational," and since morality is rational choice, to seek that which will not come off is immoral. This doctrine that the moral and the good is the successful, and that failure is not only unfortunate but wicked, is at the heart of all that is most horrifying both in utilitarianism and in "historicism" of the Hegelian, Marxist type. For if only that were best which made one happiest in the long run, or that which accorded with some mysterious plan of history, there really would be no reason to "return the ticket." Provided that there was a reasonable probability that the new Soviet man might either be happier, even in some very long run, than his predecessors, or that history would be bound sooner or later to produce someone like him whether we liked it or not, to protest against him would be mere silly romanticism, "subjective," "idealistic," ultimately irresponsible. At most we would argue that the Russians were factually wrong and the Soviet method not the best for producing this desirable or inevitable type of man. But of course what we violently reject is not these questions of fact, but the very idea that there are any circumstances in which one has a right to get at, and shape, the characters and souls of other men for purposes which these men, if they realised what we were doing, might reject.

We distinguish to this extent between factual and value judgement--that we deny the right to tamper with human beings to an unlimited extent, whatever the truth about the laws of history; we might go further and deny the notion that "history" in some mysterious way "confers" upon us "rights" to do this or that; that some men or bodies of men can morally claim a right to our obedience because they, in some sense, carry out the behests of "history," are its chosen instrument, its medicine or scourge or in some important sense "Welthistorisch"--great, irresistible, riding the waves of the future, beyond our petty, subjective, not rationally bolsterable ideas of right and wrong. Many a German and I daresay many a Russian or Mongol or Chinese today feels that it is more adult to recognise the sheer immensity of the great events that shake the world, and play a part in history worthy of men by abandoning themselves to them, than by praising or damning and indulging in bourgeois moralisings: the notion that history must be applauded as such is the horrible German way out of the burden of moral choice.
- Sir Isaiah Berlin, "Letter to George Kennan" (2/13/51)
And coming soon to a theatre near you...
(Note - scenes above are from a film version started many years ago but was never completed)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Art Break

Pablo Picasso, "Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas)" (1901)
The cause of Picasso’s stylistic transformation is well documented. The suicide of his close friend Casagemas in 1901 deeply affected him, and he began to move towards a more reflective account of human existence. Paintings such as Absinthe Drinker (1901) explore the relationship between innocence and experience, purity and corruption. These themes found their expression in his large-scale Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas – 1901). The secular altar piece dominates the second room and depicts Casagemas ascending to heaven on a white stallion, surrounded by naked prostitutes, playful children, mourners and a Madonna and child. It is testament to Picasso’s genius that this piece, which challenged the conventions of religious art in the twentieth century, was produced when the artist was only 19 years old. The painting suggests the ambition and radical vision that Picasso was to invest into his work. It was this challenging and restless youthful energy that Picasso never lost...

Friday, July 14, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Light in Babylon

Of sand and secrets

Which is revealed among the sands
The fall of my youth
The outgoing
Dancing in the wind
And voices
Born from the desert
Even if the sky is white
Will rise
I will not sit or rest
My lips would not dry

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ah, Life 2.0!

"The destructive character lives from the feeling, not that life is worth living, but that suicide is not worth the trouble."
--Walter Benjamin
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause. There's the respect
that makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
the Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely, [F: poor]
the pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay, [F: disprized]
the insolence of Office, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his Quietus make
with a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear, [F: these Fardels]
to grunt and sweat under a weary life,
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
no traveller returns, puzzles the will,
and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
and thus the native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, [F: pith]
with this regard their Currents turn awry, [F: away]
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remember'd
--William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On We Go!

The Fear of SIlence

I have not heard silence
more than in music

the hollow of a bell
the harmony of a singer
the puncturing of a drum

excavates a sanctuary
inside my skull, there I capture
strains of music that belong
to a realm without sound
desert where silence performs for silence

when I no longer have thirst
I will be able to stay there
a symphony of deafness will congregate
I will hear nothing
but the absence of myself
- Author Unknown

Monday, July 10, 2017

On Slavoj Zizek's "Violence"

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek enjoys a good joke. Here's one of my favourites: two men, having had a drink or two, go to the theatre, where they become thoroughly bored with the play. One feels a pressing need to urinate, so he tells his friend to mind his seat while he goes to find a toilet. "I think I saw one down the corridor outside," says his friend. The man wanders down the corridor, but finds no WC. Wandering further, he walks through a door and sees a plant pot. After copiously urinating into it, he returns to his seat. His friend says, "What a pity! You missed the best part. Some fellow just came on the stage and pissed in that plant pot."

This gag perfectly describes the argument of Zizek's new book on violence. Drunkenly watching the boring spectacle of the world stage, we might feel an overwhelming need to follow the call of nature somewhere discreet. Yet, in our bladder-straining self-interest, we lose sight of the objective reality of the play and our implication in its action. We are oblivious to the fact that we are pissing on stage for the world to see.

So it is with violence. Our subjective outrage at the facts of violence – a suicide bombing, a terrorist attack, the assassination of a political figure – blinds us to the objective violence of the world, a violence where we are perpetrators and not just innocent bystanders. All we see are apparently inexplicable acts that disturb the supposed peace of everyday life. We consistently overlook the objective or what Zizek calls "systemic" violence, endemic to our socio-economic order.

The main ambition of this book is to bring together subjective violence with the objective violence that is its underside and precondition. "Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious 'dark matter' of physics," Zizek writes: invisible to naked eye. Zizek offers a rather cool and at times cruel analysis of the varieties of objective violence. He asks tolerant multicultural Western liberals to suspend our outraged responses to acts of violence and turn instead to the real substance of the global situation. In order to understand violence, we need some good old-fashioned dispassionate materialist critique.

At the heart of Zizek's book is an argument about ideology that has been a powerful, constant feature of his work since he burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1980s. Far from existing in some post-ideological world at the end of history where all problems can be diagnosed with neo-liberal economics and self-serving assertions of human rights, ideology completely structures our lived reality. This ideology might be subjectively invisible, but it is objectively real. Each of us is onstage, pissing in that plant pot. The great ideological illusion of the present is that there is no time to reflect and we have to act now. Zizek asks us to step back from the false urgency of the present with its multiple injunctions to intervene like good humanitarians.

His diagnosis of this ideology is quite delightful, producing counter-intuitive analyses that overturn what passes for common sense. Zizek rages against the reduction of love to masturbatory self-interest, the multiple hypocrisies of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the supposed liberal philanthropy of Bill Gates and George Soros. There is a fascinating analysis of the scenes of torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which display, Zizek rightly contends, nothing more than the obscene underside of American culture.

But whither all this dialectical brio? Ay, there's the rub. Zizek concludes with an apology for what he calls, following Walter Benjamin, "divine violence". The latter is understood theoretically as "the heroic assumption of the solitude of the sovereign decision". Practically, Zizek illustrates this with the Jacobin violence of Robespierre in France in the 1790s and the invasion of the dispossessed, a decade or so ago, descending from the slum favelas in Rio de Janeiro to disturb the peace of bourgeois neighbourhoods. But, in a final twist, Zizek counsels us to do nothing in the face of the objective, systemic violence of the world. We should "just sit and wait" and have the courage to do nothing: "Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do".

True enough, but what can this possibly mean? At the core of Zizek's relentless, indeed manic, production of books, articles and lectures is a fantasy, I think: what psychoanalysts would call an obsessional fantasy. On the one hand, the only authentic stance to take in dark times is to do nothing, to refuse all commitment, to be paralysed like Melville's Bartleby, the true hero of this book and others by Zizek. On the other hand, Zizek dreams of a divine violence, a cataclysmic, purifying violence of the sovereign ethical deed, something like that of Sophocles' Antigone.

But Shakespearean tragedy is a more illuminating guide here than its ancient Greek predecessor. For Zizek is a Slovenian Hamlet, utterly paralysed but dreaming of an avenging violent act for which, finally, he lacks the courage. In short, behind its shimmering inversions, Zizek's work leaves us in a fearful and fateful deadlock: the only thing to do is to do nothing. We should just sit and wait. As the great Dane says, "Readiness is all". But the truth is that Zizek is never ready. His work lingers in endless postponement and over-production. He ridicules others' attempts at thinking about commitment, resistance and action (we have crossed swords recently) while doing nothing himself. What sustains his work is a dream of divine violence, cruelty and force. I hope that one day his dreams come true.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Brighton Beach Blues

Because the people I love don't believe in heaven
we take the train to Brighton. Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street. The ocean

is always the ocean, so we take the Q. Seventh Avenue, Prospect Park.
It's hard to explain. The tide rises, and we drink all the beer we brought.

Before the restaurants, before the boardwalk, crackheads slept in dunes
and girls turned tricks, or so we hear from a guy we met. He grew up here

and for a living now he installs in bars electric chandeliers. In these waves,
when he was young, his sister drowned, and because she's gone

he takes the Q to Brighton. Church Avenue, Beverly Road. We don't speak
the language spoken. At a loss to say what we mean, we take the Q

to get there. And because the sun dies in Brighton, we know the day
can end, and because the sky can't help but darken, we go home again

to Boerum Hill. Cortelyou Road, Avenue J. In these waves, one night,
one summer, I kissed someone. We walked through sands and bottle glass

so we could touch the ocean the way the water can't help but touch the land,
and in the end we couldn't help but touch, so we took the Q, that year,

to Brighton. I didn't believe in heaven. It's hard to explain. Take the train,
touch the sea, walk the sand. Kings Highway, Sheepshead Bay.

Along the shore lie those who know there is no heaven, and no answers
to our questions, and that ships leaving piers look like distant chandeliers.
- Sarah V. Schweig, "Brighton Beach"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Resist the Hubris of Media Driving Elites!

Does Neil Young realize that he's not a regular Joe, that he's an elite fighting to preserve the "powers that be"?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

External Authority Begins Where Internal Enjoyment Ends...

After the secret agent Louis Bernard is shot, in the 1934 version of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, his English acquaintance Bob Lawrence hastens to pass Bernard’s message containing vital political intelligence to the British consul in St Moritz. (In the 1956 remake James Stewart will take over this role as Dr McKenna.) He accosts the gendarme in the local police station asking him in English if the British consul is ‘here’. The Italian-speaking gendarme however keeps translating this here as the German Herr, losing Lawrence precious time – precisely the time that it takes the international terrorists to kidnap the Lawrences’ child and thus secure the parents’ silence. This triggers off all that subsequently emerges as the story of the film. The episode captures succinctly an important aspect of Hitchcock’s cinema: if the here of his films indeed never fails to invoke law, norm and authority (Herrschaft?), this happens only at the expense of the norm not coinciding withwhat the film organises as its here. Therein lies also Hitchcock’s appeal to readings in the vein of Lacanian psychoanalysis, notably to Slavoj Zizek. In Zizek, Hitchcock’s cinema is a privileged point of access not merely to Lacan’s take onFreud and the project of psychoanalysis, but to the overall engagement of Lacanian psychoanalysis with philosophy. Incidentally, it is in the chapter in which he focuses on the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much that Zizek touches on this positionality. He comments that the Cartesian God (the Cartesian Herrschaft) is ‘the correlate of the cogito’, which in turn is ‘none other than Lacan’s “big Other”, the place of the supposed symbolic knowledge’, also the place of law. And then continues: ‘Cogito ergo sum is thus to be translated as: I think where enjoyment was evacuated’ (1992a: 127). Of course: if I think where enjoyment is evacuated, and the ego with its here is by definition contaminated with enjoyment, then the ego cannot but invoke the law, but always at the expense of the law not coinciding with what the ego organises as its here.

If the above scene from The Man Who Knew Too Much demonstrates the logic of Hitchcock’s appeal to Lacanian readings, it captures as aptly the figure Zizek cuts for critical theory. Zizek is not merely renowned internationally for his work on the junctures of philosophy and psychoanalysis, cast against political theory; he has also come to constitute what defines critical theory today. He therefore participates in what critical theory organises as authority, to the extent that critics are now referring to the ‘Zizekification’ of Lacan (see Zizek et al., 2010: 418). It is for this reason that Zizek organises a point of access to what constitutes the logic of the international today and to how the international is constructed for and in recent critical writing. In order to provide such access however he needs to remain exempt from any particular here, even though it is only from a here that this Herrschaft can be summoned. Further, his massive work has by now registered shifts of accent and perspective. Consequently, one cannot approach it synoptically, in a single take. This is true of most herrschaftlich figures in critical theory; Zizek points out that Lacan too registers similar shifts and departures (Zizek et al., 2010: 419). One therefore cannot engage with the Lacanian – or the Zizekian – view of fatherhood, symptom or the symbolic unless one relinquishes synoptic ambitions and an aspiration to panopticise the knowledge of psychoanalysis, which in turn displaces authority from man onto knowledge stripped of the vestiges of the auctorial. Once again the herrschaft-lich (the authoritative) emerges as that which is not here or else as that which cannot be figured (out) as here.

This of course reflects the propositions of the quoted Hitchcock scene, but in yet another way. As Zizek underlines, The Man Who Knew Too Much is, alongside Saboteur and North-by-Northwest, a remake. He argues though that there is no proper way to remake a Hitchcock film, because the narratives may be similar, but ‘the underlying libidinal economy is wholly different in each of the subsequent remakes, as if the sameness serves the purpose of marking the Difference’ (2004a:268).

Still, one could argue that, by remaking The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock assembles around these two films the position which effectively precludes that the knowledge of film be derived from any cinematic here, any one version, even though it is only from a here that knowledge and authority can be summoned. On the one hand, this means that Hitchcock’s cinema itself reflects the narrative predicament of Bob Lawrence, even that the story of The Man Who Knew Too Much is the specimen story of the Hitchcock cinema, the way the story of Oedipus, as Felman puts it, is the specimen story of psychoanalysis (Felman, 1983). On the other, insofar as Hitchcock’s cinema betrays the same Oedipal value for Zizek, The Man Who Knew Too Much emerges as the privileged point of access for analysing Zizek. After all, when calling for the detection of Lacanian sinthoms in Hitchcock – of formulae which fix ‘a certain core of enjoyment, like mannerisms in painting’ – Zizek claims that ‘[t]he first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) is perhaps the film which most directly calls for such a reading’ (1992b: 126, 127).
- Tatjana Jukic, " The Man WHo Knew Too Much: Zizek and the Balkans"

Saturday, July 1, 2017

In Praise of "Deep State" Socialism

"The problem with Stalin's bureaucracy is that it wasn't bureaucratic enough!"

How to Organize a Left-Wing Coup...

Have and widely communicate a 5-Step coup plan to take advantage of the next crises, but justify your coup planning on the moral inadequacy of the existing government. Make sure that your followers believe that ANY opposition they might meet in resisting the 5-Step coup is evidence of nefarious intent by the existing government to establish an authoritarian dictatorship.

The parasitic Left impatiently await's it's next opportunity to usurp a crisis...