Sunday, October 31, 2004

flagged

As the sun threatens to rise he goes finally to bed, perhaps to awake to a new President, or perhaps not for some time. The democrats are making a statement at ten O'clock. A sad and fragile day, so far. Without wishing to strike a hysterical or conspiratorial tone, as I think there's a good chance this nail-biting election's results do reflect a political reality (or call it fiction) fine-tuned by unprecedentedly fierce (and destructive) competition of instant polls and market-tested slogans, this story may nevertheless be worth following:
BLACKBOXVOTING.ORG is conducting the largest Freedom of Information action in history. At 8:30 p.m. Election Night, Black Box Voting blanketed the U.S. with the first in a series of public records requests, to obtain internal computer logs and other documents from 3,000 individual counties and townships. Networks called the election before anyone bothered to perform even the most rudimentary audit.

(Indymedia has more)



Bush Crime Family Flow Chart (courtesy of here)

Chris Smithers

Last night Chris Smithers played a disturbingly beautiful concert at a small Northampton pub. However the scene was such an overload of white-washed, liberal yuppies that I immediately went out and purchased these two albums:

What was the name of that comedian who did a bit on the British complaining about all their crime? "Yesterday, some hooligans knocked over a dustbin in Shaftsbury...Yes, I'd like to see a brawl between the Hooligans and the Bloods..."
Which is not to not recommend Chris Smithers.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

light listening, heavy reading (or perhaps the other way around)

For anyone else who can no longer smoke pot without going fucking nuts, this is simply brilliant (writer and performer Deborah Margolin on the days when she was doing battle with cancer and other demons - Show#509). Elsewhere, something penned by Habermas, on Derrida:
Comme la dialectique négative d'Adorno, la déconstruction de Derrida est aussi et avant tout une pratique...Derrida n'a jamais rencontré Adorno. Mais lorsqu'il reçut le prix Adorno de la ville de Francfort, il prononça à la Paulskirche un discours de réception qui, du geste de la pensée jusque dans les replis secrets des thèmes oniriques propres au romantisme, ne pouvait pas avoir plus d'affinités avec l'esprit même d'Adorno.

Libération: Présence de Derrida (via Habermasians, which has also brought to my attention an extremely rich article: "Bombing Without Moonlight: The Origins of Suicidal Terrorism", although I do not agree with its final conclusions).

Lastly, on WAMC, an interesting interview with Ralph Nader.

on the so-called 100,000 deaths in Iraq

Lenin's Tomb has some excellent coverage. There are many reasons why the figures at sites such as iraqbodycount.net are so extremely conservative. There is a difference, of course, between counting verifiable death certificates and surveying the communities themselves. And neither of these studies begins to tally the damage done (or about to be done) by depleted uranium, unexploded ordinanances, etc. As Jon Stewart likes to say, "Freedom is on the march!" Matthew Ygelsias has plenty more.

The Limits of a "Reality-Based Community"

It may be somewhat untimely to raise this question, but why are folks so thrilled that the progressive blogging community is suddenly sounding a lot like Francis Fukuyama...?

In “The Neoconservative Moment,” Fukuyama turns a heat lamp on the cogitations of one thinker in particular, Charles Krauthammer, whose “strategic thinking has become emblematic” of the neo-conservative camp that envisaged the Iraq invasion. Krauthammer, one of the war’s most vociferous advocates, had somewhat famously fancied the end of the cold war as a “unipolar moment” in geopolitics – which, by 2002, he was calling a “unipolar era.” In February 2004 Krauthammer delivered an address at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington in which he offered a strident defense of the Iraq war in terms of his concept of unipolarity, or what he now calls “democratic realism.”

Fukuyama was in the audience that evening and did not like what he heard.

Krauthammer’s speech was “strangely disconnected from reality,” Fukuyama wrote in “The Neoconservative Moment.” “Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression that the Iraq War – the archetypical application of American unipolarity – had been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated.” “There is not the slightest nod” in Krauthammer’s exposition “towards the new empirical facts” that have come to light over the course of the occupation.


Now, clearly there are cold hard facts, and Bush is fanatically oblivious to them, like all good "born again" zealots. "Reality-Based" is a good little slogan because it subverts the neo-cons' greatest source of pride and reclaims a terrain traditionally held by conservatives. There's no denying that. My point, however, is simply to remember the following observation (Derrida is here sort of mid-way through ripping Fukuyama and his infamous "end of history" thesis a new a**hole):

No one, it seems to me, can contest the fact that a dogmatics is attempting to install its worldview hegemony in paradoxical and suspect conditions. There is today in the world a dominant discourse, or rather one that is on the way to becoming dominant, on the subject of Marx's work and thought, on the subject of Marxism (which is perhaps not the same thing), on the subject of the socialist International and the universal revolution, on the subject of the more or less slow destruction of the revolutionary model in its Marxist inspiration, on the subject of the rapid, precipitous, recent callapse of societies that attempted to put it into effect at least in what we will call foor the moment, citing once again the Manifesto, "old Europe," and so forth. This dominating discourse often has the manic, jubilatory, and incantatory form that Freud assigned to the so-called triumpant phase of mourning work. The incantation repeats and ritualizes itself, it holds forth and holds to formulas, like any animistic magic. To the rhythm of a cadenced march, it proclaims: Marx is dead, communism is dead, very dead, and along with it its hopes, its discourses, its theories, and its practices. It says: long live capitalism, long live the market, here's to the survival of economic and political liberalism!

If this hegemony is attempting to install its dogmatic orchestration in suspect and paradoxical conditions, it is first of all because this triumphant conjuration is striving in truth to disavow, and therefore to hide from, the fact that never, never in history, has the horizon of the thing whose survival is being celebrated (namely, all the old models of the capitalist and liberal world) been as dark, threatening, and threatened...

Electoral representivity or parliamentary life is not only distorted, as was always the case, by a great number of socio-economic mechanisms, but it is exercised with more and more difficultry in a public space profoundly upset by techno-tele-media apparatuses and by new rhythms of information and communication, by the devices and the speed of forces represented by the latter, but also and consequently by the new modes of appropriation they put to work, by the new structure of the event and of its spectrality that they produce (both invent and bring up to date, inaugurate and reveal, cause to come about and bring to light at the same time, there where they were already there without being there: it is the relation of the concept of production to the ghost that is the question here). This transformation does not affect only facts but the concept of such "facts." The very concept of the event. The relation between deliberation and decision, the very functioning of government has changed, not only in its technical conditions, its time, its space, and its speed, but, without anyone having realized it, in its concept. (Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, 51-79, my emphasis in bold)


...A warning, then. Which is all to suggest, quite simply, that perhaps the distinction between a slogan or a tactic on the one hand, and a philosophy or a self-critical thinking on the other, is important to bear in mind during these times of mounting ribaldry and clattery.



[UPDATE: Some related thoughts are here.
And on a slightly different note, in case you missed it, the generous and Happy Tutor recently submitted a call for trolls from the PBA, and he got a few.]

Friday, October 29, 2004

poets [still] against the war

Sometimes descriptions risk prescribing...
On George W. Bush—A Haiku

Fear the lesser son
who, desperate to burn bright,
incinerates all.

Susan Anthony
San Francisco
Poets Against the War

And from NPR this evening...Voices of Iraq (All Things Considered, October 29, 2002)
Iraqis received 150 video cameras and were asked to film whatever they wanted. The result is a rare look at daily life in Iraq -- the tragic, the joyful and the mundane.

Shocking News - Bush gives even less of a shit about securing weapons than he does about museums.

Lovely how the clone media decides to do its job four days before the election...
"We weren't really sure what we were looking at, but we saw so much of it. And it didn't appear that this was being secured in any way..."
Red Harvest: alQaQaa: Debunking the debunkers. Mirror video clip at the PBA.
Right now watching the hour-long bit of Jon Stewart on C-Span (of all places)..."it's really not that bad, being reviled." And just for Cove A., in case he hasn't seen it: Eminem's already overplayed Bush-bashing "Mosh."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Big Bad Wolf and other myths


This little piece of shameless drivel reminds us why the interpretation of myths should never be left to market-tested political sloganeers. However neither is revising the history of a so-called "traditional left" into universalist, class-less myth a very productive or self-critical liberal agenda.

Democracy Not Marching



This is a post to plug these folks. From Greg Palast:

CONGRATULATIONS, MR. PRESIDENT!
FLORIDA'S COMPUTERS HAVE ALREADY COUNTED THOUSANDS OF VOTES FOR GEORGE W. BUSH

Before one vote was cast in early voting this week in Florida, the new touch-screen computer voting machines of Florida started out with a several-thousand vote lead for George W. Bush. That is, the mechanics of the new digital democracy boxes "spoil" votes at a predictably high rate in African-American precincts, effectively voiding enough votes cast for John Kerry to in a tight race, keep the White House safe from the will of the voters.

Excerpted from the current (November) issue of Harper's Magazine
by Greg Palast

To understand the fiasco in progress in Florida, we need to revisit the 2000 model, starting with a lesson from Dick Carlberg, acting elections supervisor in Duval County until this week. "Some voters are strange," Carlberg told me recently. He was attempting to explain why, in the last presidential election, five thousand Duvalians trudged to the polls and, having arrived there, voted for no one for president. Carlberg did concede that, after he ran these punch cards through the counting machines a second time, some partly punched holes shook loose, gaining Al Gore160 votes or so, Bush roughly 80.

"So, if you ran the 'blank' ballots through a few more times, we'd have a different president," I noted. Carlberg, a Republican, answered with a grin.



So it was throughout the state - in certain precincts, at least. In Jacksonville, for example, in Duval precincts 7 through 10, nearly one in five ballots, or 11,200 votes in all, went uncounted, rejected as either an 'under-vote' (a blank ballot) or 'over-vote' (a ballot with extra markings). In those precincts, 72 percent of the residents are African-American; ballots that did make the count went four to one for Al Gore. All in all, a staggering 179,855 votes were "spoiled" (i.e., cast but not counted) in the 2000 election in Florida. Demographers from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission matched the ballots with census stats and estimated that 54 percent of all the under- and over-voted ballots had been cast by blacks, for whom the likelihood of having a vote discarded exceeded that of a white voter by 900 percent.

Votes don't "spoil" because they are left out of the fridge. Vote spoilage, at root, is a class problem. Just as poor and minority districts wind up with shoddy schools and shoddy hospitals, they are stuck with shoddy ballot machines. In Gadsden, the only black-majority county in Florida, one in eight votes spoiled in 2000, the worst countywide record in the state. Next door in Leon County (Tallahassee), which used the same paper ballot, the mostly white, wealthier county lost almost no votes. The difference was that in mostly-white Leon, each voting booth was equipped with its own optical scanner, with which voters could check their own ballots. In the black county, absent such "second-chance" equipment, any error would void a vote.

The best solution for vote spoilage, whether from blank ballots or from hanging chads, is Leon County's: paper ballots, together with scanners in the voting booths. In fact, this is precisely what Governor Bush's own experts recommended in 2001 for the entire state. His Select Task Force on Elections Procedures, appointed by the Governor to soothe public distrust after the 2000 race, chose paper ballots with scanners over the trendier option -- the touch-screen computer.

Although the computer rigs cost eight times as much as paper with scanners, they result in many more spoiled votes. In this year's presidential primary in Florida, the computers had a spoilage rate of more than 1 percent, as compared to one-tenth of a percent for the double-checked paper ballots.

Apparently some Bush boosters were not keen on a fix so inexpensive and effective. In particular, Sandra Mortham - a founder of Women for Jeb Bush, the Governor's re-election operation - successfully lobbied on behalf of the Florida Association of Counties to stop the state the legislature from blocking the purchase of touch-screen voting systems. Mortham, coincidentally, was also a paid lobbyist for Election Systems & Strategies, a computer voting-machine manufacturer. Fifteen of Florida's sixty-seven counties chose the pricey computers, twelve of them ordered from ES&S which, in turn, paid Mortham's County Association a percentage on sales.

Florida's computerization had its first mass test in 2002, in Broward County. The ES&S machines appeared to work well in white Ft. Lauderdale precincts, but in black communities, such as Lauderhill and Pompano Beach, there was wholesale disaster. Poll workers were untrained, and many places opened late. Black voters were held up in lines for hours. No one doubts that hundreds of Black votes were lost before they were cast.

Broward county commissioners had purchased the touch-screen machines from ES&S over the objection of Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant; notably, one commissioner's campaign treasurer was an ES&S lobbyist. Governor Bush responded to the Broward fiasco by firing Oliphant, an African-American, for "misfeasance."

Even when computers work, they don't work well for African-Americans. A July 2001 Congressional study found that computers spoiled votes in minority districts at three times the rate of votes lost in white districts.

Based on the measured differential in vote loss between paper and computer systems, the fifteen counties in Florida, can expect to lose at least 29,000 votes to spoilage-some 27,000 more than if the counties had used paper ballots with scanners.

Given the demographics of spoilage, this translates into a net lead of thousands for Bush before a single ballot is cast.

---

For the full story, read "Another Florida" in the November issue of Harper's, out now. Mr. Palast, a contributing editor to the magazine, is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. See the film of his investigative reports for BBC Television, "Bush Family Fortunes," out now on DVD. Watch a segment at www.gregpalast.com/bff-dvd.htm

To sign up to receive Greg's writings click here:
http://www.gregpalast.com/contact.cfm

For media contact media@gregpalast.com


Now check this project out: www.votervideo.org

[Update: or here: vidvote.com (via boingboing)]

Never Cry Wolf



But what if crying wolf is all one ever does? What if one is as dependent on the wolves as on your overprotective daddy, who calls to you and says with mexed missages in his eyes, "remembernow , never cry wolf, Georgie." There always seems a performative ambiguity with this phrase, never quite so simple as the altruism, "prohibition creates desire." The prohibition is already desiring - desiring itself!? Rendered trite by outmoded moralists and insincere usage, sure, but this phrase also now functions as a strange sort of echo, as simulacrum and self-parody.

To say that Dubya is an idiot is the truth but not the whole truth. It is obvious maybe, but simply worth noting that much of his allure comes from a parading of his greatest weaknesses as strengths. (Not unlike all good dictators maybe.) As Zizek has pointing out holds true in an age of "postpolitics" - the means are here simultaneously the ends. What matters is that you harness the public imagination with whatever outrageous images and lies you can muster. And, as in Iraq, it's a reckless strategy that can easily - and perhaps only ever - backfire. But to willfully ignore the "it's just so crazy it might actually work" appeal of the neocon project is still something of a lapse. What I mean is, despite claiming to be moralists, the folks of Bush Inc. are in fact remarkably freed by their inherent crookedness to shape the rules of the game, and in this they are more visionary and creative than the DNC. Granted, it doesn't take much.

But integrity simply goes out the window. Things like voter intimidation and crooked electronic voting machines are entirely justified because this is, after all, a "whole new war." What matters is not so much that one's arguments are coherent, but that one preemptively defines the terrain, and precisely by changing it, and often. Such tactics depend on your opponent being continuously duped into responding to every new absurdity with woodern, outmoded appeals to integrity. You cannot continuously dignify the very conditions you wish to critique! Kerry has far too much of the choir boy, suck-up in him to mount an effective counter. (He also cannot speak without first taking a huge breath and concluding with fucking sermon.) So but maybe it is no wonder that Bush is now looking upbeat, thoroughly enjoying his monkey self, while Kerry often sounds....tired.

The neocon logic is of course perverse in the extreme. Iraq is now brimming with terrorists? That's why we have to bomb them, stupid! Permanent revolution? Domino! Such tactics are also entirely dependent upon the conditions of permanent war, which is what we got, and what we'll get (yes, that's the clip of pious Bush giving a "one finger victory salute" -- get the animated GIF here) unless a few thousand Americans go watch "Going Upriver: the Long War of John Kerry" this weekend (it's free - go watch it).

But maybe crying wolf is ultimately not such a bad thing, given a system increasingly run by wolves, and seeking world domination. That is, Nader is not simply stroking his damaged ego and trying to get attention. The sheep themselves are wolves, as are the parents.

'Terror' after all is not something ever purely external or other; its origins are within us or they are not at all. The terror of Dubya Inc. is a cancerous disease in the banal sense, if disease is understood as some foreign body infecting, converting cells and spreading its malicious poison. But such would be a misdiagnosis as 'terrorism' - in the Derridian sense - is something inescapably linked to the condition of possibility of any ethics whatsoever. Terrorism in this sense is neither the invading force of some contamination whose origins are external, nor a military tactic assumed, inevitably, in the face of overwhelming (and unjust) force. Rather terrorism would be that tension of thought that doesn't shy away from the possibility of the very worst. In that, on some level, it refuses to take anything for granted, this "good" terrorism does indeed share affinities with the "postpolitical" spirit of the neocons. However it is diametrically, uncompromisingly opposed. Instead of simply abusing and manipulating these conditions (of postpolitics) for cowardly personal gain and grandiose delusions, "deconstructive" terrorism would seek to advance a new ethics beyond ethics, to confront and so finally negotiate the deepest contradictions at the heart of our uncollective darkness. Or so a Derridian might argue anyway.

If only John Kerry didn't take himself so goddamn seriously. Americans despise that. Still, pas au-delà hearby endorses the fucker, may our country look on itself more honestly yet, and rejuvenate the turn he courageously, if a bit presumptuously, once proclaimed.

soft white damn

XIX

i will cultivate within
me scrupulously the Inimitable which
is loneliness, these unique dreams
never shall soil their raiment

with phenomena: such
being a conduct worthy of

more ponderous
wishes or
hopes less
tall than mine" (opening the windows)

"and there is a philosophy" strictly at
which instant(leaped
into the

street)this deep immediate mask and
expressing "as for myself, because i
am slender and fragile
i borrow contact from that you and from

this you sensations, imitating a few fatally

exquisite"(pulling Its shawl carefully around
it)"things i mean the
Rain is no respecter of persons
the snow doesn't give a soft white
damn Whom it touches


-e.e. cummings, Viva, 27

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

oh...radio

Old Rottenhat (Oct. 26, 27) has some thoughtful stuff on John Peel, whom she calls "the original blogger." Chuck D[?], Juan Cole, Atrios and Chris Bowers are on Air America Radio tonight.

E Return

From The Gay Science
341. The greatest stress

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: "You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine." If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, "Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?" would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?


A haunting scene in Bergman's Hour of the Wolf. The one where Johan murders the child (maybe "slaughters" is a better word) and drops the body into the pool where he has been fishing. We watch, with Johan, the body slowly sinking. And then it rises again. Ever so briefly the boy's hair becomes matted to the surface, before sinking again. A resurrection, of sorts - we are left with little ambiguity about the lingering force of this experience in Johan's life. A beautiful, disturbing scene. Perhaps not so much a sacrifice as a founding murder? But the child has attacked him, with almost superhuman strength, and after stealing Johan's sock from his boot...without a doubt I am missing something (from the Bible, stupid, she helpfully suggests).

What might be at stake in a psychoanalytic reading of Nietzsche's eternal return? Someone else has apparently asked this question too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

on Homeland Insecurity and Ralph Nader

The offbeat literary magazine, The Sun, may sometimes be plagued by sentimental, new-age, confessional, depressingly mediocre pieces of writing desperately attempting to be "raw," but every once in a while an issue comes along worth reading, at least for the political pieces. Two articles then: the first an interview with Stan Goff, 22-year veteran of the Special Forces, eloquent dissident and activist (member of BringThemHomeNow.org) and author of Hideous Dreams: A Soldier's Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti, as well the new book Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century. In short, he seems to be in the same parrhesiastic league as Christian Parenti and Scott Ritter.
An excerpt from the interview:

During the Clinton administration, when Hugh Shelton was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he began what Donald Rumsfeld calls the "revolution of military affairs," which is the complete restructuring of the U.S. military. The shorthand for it is "full spectrum dominance." This refers to dominance in three dimensions: technology, the full spectrum of conflict (from street riots to thermonuclear war), and geography. The belief that we can achieve such dominance is quite likely the most grandiose delusion in human history. It simply is not possible. It's amazing and worrisome to me that people who hold the reins of power would actually believe in something like this.

[...]

I have at least grudging respect for those on the Right who openly admit that if we don't crush the will of people all over the Third World, then we can't live the way we do. The Left often wants to soft-pedal it and tell people that we can live even better without the use of military power, but that is a grotesque misrespresentation.

[...]

For such an "advanced" society, the U.S. has the most indoctrinated citizens in the world...[Bertolt Brecht] said, "Within the contradiction lies the hope." It means that periods of instability create opportunities. Stability creates inertia. It's when things get shaken up by contradictions that inertia can no longer be sustained. We can use instability as an opportunity to shape the future, and we are entering a period of extreme instability in this country: economic, political, and otherwise.


The second article, a personal meditation on Ralph Nader, is written by the editor himself. Bear in mind, this is someone whose life's work has been profoundly inspired by Nader, who happens to be a contemporary of Nader's in the deepest sense:

Nader was an inspiration to me...[but] I never tried to emulate all of [his] habits -- better to walk barefoot on hot coals for the love of a woman, it seemed to me, than to pad around alone in cheap socks -- but there was no one in public life who inspired me more.

[...]

However, Nader didn't change his tune even after studies showed that if he hadn't run, roughly half of his nearly 3 million supporters would have voted for Gore and only 25 percent for Bush, with the rest sitting out the election. This year, not only does Nader continue to ignore these numbers, but a few months ago he told "the liberal establishment" to "relax and rejoice" over his candidacy, as he'll draw more Republican than Democratic voters. When I read this, I wondered whether Nader was delusional or, like most polititians, simply ignoring whatever he chooses. Either conclusion was discouraging.

One prominent progressive after another urged Nader to stay out of the race this year, but Nader insists on his right to run with all the aggrieved innocence of a neighbor who reminds you, when you ask him to turn down his music, that we live in a free country. He's sorry about your sick kid who can't fall asleep. It's too bad your puppy trembles when the bass shakes the walls. Did he mention it's a free country? Besides, this isn't just any music; he's marching to the beat of a different drummer.

[...]

Ralph Nader was once my hero, and his intelligence and accomplishments still merit my respect. Maybe great men make great mistakes. Maybe there should be a twelve-step program for men who love their country too much. Sadly, Nader reminds me these days of a guy who shows up uninvited at his ex-girlfriend's wedding and ruins the moment for everyone. As he loudly insists he has the bride's best interests at heart, she cringes: Ralph, the intense one. All these years, he's kept a picture of her, certain that one day she'd come to her senses. And now, she's about to marry someone who isn't right for her. Only Ralph understands what she really needs.

[...]

I woonder, as Nader approaches the end of his life, whether the stubborn determination that once served him -- and us -- so well hasn't calcified. I wonder if he's become bitter as his former enemies grew stronger, not weaker. Powerful corporations became even more powerful multinational corporations, government itself began turning into a corporate oligarchy. Mabye he thinks he's failed. Certainly he thinks his old allies have failed him. Maybe, as Yeats once wrote, "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart."

Like many others, I want to see the emergence of a strong progressive movement in this country. Maybe Nader could play a key role in it -- as long as he remembers that until we have real electoral reform, a third party's greatest influence will come through grass-roots organizing, not another unsuccessful presidential bid. In 2004, at least, voting for Ralph Nader isn't like picking up a brick and laying the foundation for a revitalized progressive movement. It's like picking up a brick and hitting ourselves in the head.


Full articles (in pdf). One may wonder why neither party seems to share Nader's sudden conviction that he is only helping Kerry. Maybe the unprecedented number of newly-registered voters are truly all former Republicans suddenly feeling inspired to vote for that seatbelt guy? The plot thickens...(On the other hand, claims that Kerry is about to smell sweet empire's victory in a landslide are probably naive and, for many reasons (such as, um, baseball games?), exaggeratedly euphoric. For a more biting and witty appraisal see here. For more tired appeals to the alleged "reasoning" powers of Republicans, see Garrison Keillor's latest. Meanwhile Seymour Hersh seems to think a second Bush term would be "very interesting" for the way it may finally unite the European bloc against us.

from the Christian Science Monitor

Giving new meaning to the phrase, "callous numerics of voting:" Election 2012 - Sponsored by Pepsi?. Capitalist minds hard, hard at work. And an old-school liberal pops up his head: George McGovern discusses, well, things.

Monday, October 25, 2004

cointelpro reloaded

Welcome back to the 1960s, America. This time with "compassionate" scowls and frowns, Freudian slips, and endless, inappropriate humor. Oh, that even a cursory look at the twin deficits might instill in USians some humility. Righteous indignation, you say? No, merely boredom:

DeLillo's meshuggener

I struggle on (gently), with Don DeLillo's Underworld. It's a novel rendered at least triply nostalgic in light of recent events (not only with respect to (the archetype of) 'baseball' - the cover also sports an image of the twin towers engulfed in smog, and the silhouette of a lonely...is it a bird?) Nostalgia...is this the word? A bit weary of these archetypes all the time, I admit. But for all its pretenses of layering and distances removed, perhaps DeLillo's prose is simply not abstract enough. Perhaps DeLillo, as far as writers of fiction go, is a bit sloppy and pretentious. It doesn't stop me entirely from feeling a sort of communion with the suffering figure of John Edgar Hoover (that is, a communion with his inability to feel a communion). Anyway, I liked this passage:

And the crowd is also in this lost space, the crowd made over in that one-thousandth of a second when the bat and the baseball are in contact. A rustle of murmurs and curses, people breathing soft moans, their faces changing as the play unrolls across the grassy scan. John Edgar Hoover stands among them. He is watching from the wide aisle at the head of the ramp. He has told Rafferty he will remain at the game. No purpose served by his leaving. The White House will make the announcement in less than an hour. Edgar hates Harry Truman, he would like to see him writhing on a parquet floor, felled by chest pains, but he can hardly fault the President's timing. By announcing first, we prevent the Soviets from putting their own sweet spin on the event. And we ease public anxiety to some degree. People will understand that we've maintained control of the news if not of the bomb. This is no small subject of concern. Edgar looks at the faces around him, open and hopeful. He wants to feel a compatriot's nearness and affinity. All these people formed by language and climate and popular songs and breakfast foods and the jokes they tell and the cars they drive have never had anything in common so much as this, that they are sitting in the furrow of destruction. He tries to feel a belonging, an opening of his old stop-cocked soul. But there is some bitter condition he has never been able to name and when he encounters a threat from outside, from the moral wane that is everywhere in effect, he finds it is a balance to this state, a restoring force. His ulcer kicks up of course. But there is that side of him, that part of him that depends on the strength of the enemy.
Look at the man in the bleachers who's pacing the aisles, a neighborhood crazy, he waves his arms and mumbles, short, chunky, bushy-haired - could be one of the Ritz brothers or a lost member of the Three Stooges, the Fourth Stooge, called Flippo or Dummy or Shaky or Jakey, and he's distracting the people nearby, they're yelling at him to siddown, goway, meshuggener, and he paces and worries, he shakes his head and moans as if he knows something's coming, or came, or went - he's receptive to things that escape the shrewdest fan.


My important question is, what the hell is a "meshuggener?"

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Music of War: One for the Conscientious Yahoos

On the screen: Film Review: "Soundtrack to War" - Spirit in the heart of darkness

On the radio: The Next Big Thing: War is Heavy Metal.

(update: a simple polemic, written by myself, and posted somewhere else)

Pop-porn

He was being squeezed tight, in a vacuum, with a clank. His ears poppped,and cold metal walls pressed up against him hard. It was all vaguely comforting. In a comatose sort of way.

Are dreams pornographic by their very nature? Flat worlds populated by simulacra? Simulacra with a singular, dictatorial source? But there was also a tension, something unresolved, in the way he responded to her questions (too lewd to be reproduced here). The eerie hesitancy of dreaming, of seducing oneself, or wishing to believe. But not only this.

The video game mind is infiltrating our subconscious like never before. As is our conflicted desire to "break free" of the simulacra, to be wounded by the Real. Soldiers in Iraq dream of exploding computers, and conversations with Bin Laden. In these conversations, Bin Laden is rational, human, and strikingly banal. Almost a sort of father figure, even. Mumia writes of the father-hunger among his fellow prisoners. But back in the tanks and Humvees, musical mantras provide a pre-emptive emotional shield, a necessary immunization against the horrors of the Real. Pre-emptive mourning. Eminem as modern day opera.

A pornographic gaze - what might this mean? A gaze that constructs the other as the same? As somehow flat, voyeuristic, or parasitic? A surreal glaze that strips the other of some crucial element of unpredictability. A sovereign gaze. Perhaps a gaze oblivious to and ignorantly devoid of genuine terror.

One thing that has always irked me about W: he has not the slightest appreciation for real terror. Terror, incidentally, is not a nation-state but a profound philosophical condition or sensitivity to which Dubya is hopelessly and willfully oblivious. Dubya for instance, would not begin to grasp the subtleties of a film like Berman's Hour of the Wolf, much less the allegorical significance and complexity of the Bible.

There is a scene in Bergman's film where Johan - the brooding artist haunted by his past - refuses to watch a puppet show being put on for the benefit of an inebriated, malicious, bourgeois gathering. The scene is of a solitary figure, arms raised, in front of temple steps. The music, I believe, is Mozart's "Magic Flute." While the other guests gaze in utter rapture - suddenly silenced into pious awe - the camera pans to Johan's face and ever so briefly zooms in a notch. His eyes are closed, his gaze cast downward. He is listening. The camera shifts to the puppeteer, who is intensely watching the watchers. The only gaze that is not pornographic is Johan's.

Afterwards, when pressed by the puppeteer, Johan gives a little speech, which has perhaps the ring of (Bergman) autobiography or manifesto to it:

"I call myself artist for lack of a better name. In my creative work nothing is implicit...except compulsion....I've felt megalomania waft about my brow...but I think I'm immune. I've only to consider the utter unimportance of art...in the world of men...and I come back to earth with a bump. But the compulsion remains."


The guests respond immediately with gushing applause - that time-honored pre-emptive bourgeois weapon against painful truth. One of the women hangs about Johan's neck. Her fingernail catches in his cheek or neck and makes him bleed. She uses the charade of repentence, wiping the blood away, to remain lecherously hanging about his neck. (A gesture, we later learn, deeply entwined with another quite Biblical, founding murder scene that I won't go into here.)

Finally, recall the look on Veronica Vogler's face, when Johan's Hitchcockian dream is interrupted by the recurring sinister laughter of the (now quite vampirish) crowd.

As David Foster Wallace puts it: "It's the sort of expression that looks devastating in a photograph but becomes awkward when it's maintained over time" (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, 62).

Friday, October 22, 2004

Thursday, October 21, 2004

more on J.D.

From The Reading Experience. Although I happen to disagree with the recommendation for Christopher Norris who, as I remember, admits to having misunderstood Derrida in the notes at the end of his book...Perhaps Caputo would be a better choice? Or Timothy Clark? (The contrasting assessment of Pale Fire and House of Leaves is however spot-on, as the British like to say.) Is this letter of protest vaguely disingenuous? Perhaps, but it's also a good-thing-in-the-world, if one understands such gestures as the simple yet important -- and indeed necessary -- affirmation of solidarity and refusal they represent. That is, the signatories are neither claiming to have a monopoly (over reading/interpreting the signature of Derrida), nor to agree with each other without condition. Except that they are simply affirming, symbolically, an incalculable debt, and a refusal to stomach "official" obituaries written by people who clearly have not bothered to read. Such a gesture is as much an affirmation of the work, hard work, yet to be done, as it is anything else.

In other news (blogs should not be a news source), a fittingly brief and dismissive review of The Seduction of Unreason. Derrida's complex relationship to psychoanalysis will undoubtedly remain controversial for some time, but those claiming the two are "enemies" ought to consider re-reading, or reading. Stephen Mitchelmore has written a subtle and provocative post, Pornography: on insensitivity to Derrida." An excellent and accessible recent radio program on Derrida, featuring Michael Naas and Francoise Meltzer may be found here (many thanks to Anthony Smith.)

Elsewhere, a review of Agamben's The Open: Man and Animal.

Robert Fisk, whose early coverage of the Iraq war for The Independent I always admired, writes movingly on the recently kidnapped Margaret Hassan.

And how about supporting these folks:
The Project for the OLD American Century (www.oldamericancentury.org) is a non-profit grass-roots organization that strives to protect and strengthen our democracy through disseminating truthful and unbiased independent news stories untainted by corporate ownership.

The Project was founded in 2002 in response to a rigged election, reduced civil liberties, a high-jacking of our domestic and foreign policies by the energy/defense industries, and a compliant corporate media that refused to make these problems prominent in our national consciousness. All while claiming the evils of a non-existent "liberal media". Our country had been taken over in a peaceful coup by the energy and defense industries and the American Media barely raised a peep.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Cloud Cleaner


Breathing Machine

The beautiful work of Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison absolutely recalls the films of Denis Lavant (especially Tuvalu). Anyone else see this?

"In order to hear a bare sound we have to listen away from things, divert our ear from them, i.e., listen abstractly."

-Heidegger, Poetry, Language Thought

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

LA exiles

I would like to thank wood s lot for bringing Miguel Angel Asturias to my attention. Asturias, it so happens, once lived in exile with Pablo Neruda. An interesting article on "Being as Refusal: Melville’s Bartleby as Heideggerian Anti-Hero" may be found here.

Parrhesia


Upon listening carefully, and being quite moved by a speech by Chalmers Johnson this morning on alternativeradio.org, a recollection of this passage from Michel Foucault:
The last characteristic of parrhesia is this: in parrhesia, telling the truth is regarded as a duty. The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be exiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so.
[...]
Parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy. That then, quite generally, is the positive meaning of the word parrhesia in most of the Greek texts where it occurs from the Fifth Century B.C. to the Fifth Century A.D (Fearless Speech, 19-20).


Foucault goes on to distinguish between two versions of the "parrhesiastic game." The first involves the telling of the truth to others, and the second the courage to practice a telling of truth to oneself (askesis).

Chalmers Johnson speaks of the tentative 'hope' to be found not in the Democratic Party, which is already too far gone down the path of militarism and empire, but rather in the unprecedented global movement whose origins are signified by the placename 'Seattle.' He also mentions Robert C. Byrd, a man who continues to make impassioned and eloquent speeches to a very empty Senate, as well as an important article by Arundhati Roy, "Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?" Unfortunately, the Alternative Radio webpage offers only limited free material, but a January 2004 conversation with Chalmers Johnson I have found here.

Perhaps of further interest, for those genuinely concerned:
AFFLICTED POWERS: The State, the Spectacle and September 11(New Left Review) (via stray reflections).

But it is still not enough to know that the truth-teller is old enough, rich enough, and has a good reputation. He must also be tested. And Galen gives a program for testing the potential parrhesiastes. For example, you must ask him questions about himself and see how he responds to determine whether he will be severe enough for the role. You have to be suspicious when the would-be parrhesiastes congratulates you, when he is not severe enough, and so on.
[...]
But the Greek conception of askesis differs from Christian ascetic practices in at least two ways: (1) Christian asceticism has as its ultimate aim or target the renunciation of the self, whereas the moral askesis of the Greco-Roman philosophies has as its goal the establishment of a specific relationship to oneself - a relationship of self-possession and self-sovereignty; (2) Christian asceticism takes as its principal theme detachment from the world, whereas the ascetic practices of the Greco-Roman philosophies are generally concerned with endowing the individual with the preparation and the moral equipment that will permit him to fully confront the world in an ethical and rational manner...(Fearless Speech, 142-144).


Needless to say, these are potent points of departure for considering the likes of Heidegger or Giorgio Agamben. And I am not saying that I agree with Foucault without condition.

nude info shitpost



Dissent on the Net: Cultures of Electronic Resistance in the United States, by Henning Ziegler (via Yazdanpour). Also Swerve Left has brought to my attention yet another eloquent soldier's blog: At Ease. Dead Men Left comments on the recent European Social Forum, and PhilosophyNow has released a long-awaited exposé on the philosophical connection between Sartre and Charlie Brown.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

(post)politics of info(matics)



As a recent article in PMC argues, the coming politics will be one of a battle over 'infomatics' like never before. The Center for the Digital Future has released a new study that includes the following:
"2. The Media Habits Of The Nation Have Changed, And Continue To Change

For the past 50 years, Americans’ time at home has been dominated by television. Increasingly over the last 10 years, Internet users have “bought” their time to go online from the time they previously spent watching television. And, the more experience users have with the Internet, the less television they watch.

“The social impact of such dramatic change could be extraordinarily deep,” Cole said. “What will happen as a nation that once spent an extremely large portion of time in a passive activity (television) transfers increasingly large portions of that time to an interactive activity (the Internet)? This continuing shift will have a broad range of ramifications, probably affecting every aspect of American culture, the economy, politics, and social behavior.”

3. The Credibility Of The Internet Is Dropping

The credibility of information on the Internet was high among users through the first three years of the Digital Future Project, and that credibility remains generally high in Year Four. However, the project found that the high level of credibility for online information began to decline in the third year of this study, and dropped even further in Year Four.

Year Four of the Digital Future Report shows that most users trust information on the Web sites they visit regularly, and on pages created by established media and the government. The information that users don’t trust is on Web sites posted by individuals. Should Americans view online information as being more credible, or less credible, than information from other sources? Do Internet users fully appreciate how to determine the credibility of online information?

5. The “Geek-Nerd” Perception Of The Internet Is Dead

Since the beginning of the Digital Future Project, its studies found that going online did not put the social lives of users at risk. The Internet has little or no impact on time spent with family or friends, or on sleeping, exercising, or most other personal activities (other than watching television). In fact, the Digital Future Project continues to show that Internet users are often more socially active than non-users, and are less alienated from others. And because of e-mail and instant messaging, the Internet has become a useful tool to build relationships; Internet users communicate with others more, not less.

"With the Internet in two-thirds of all American households and three-quarters of citizens defined as Internet users, it seems laughable in 2004 to think that there was a time only a few years ago when the stereotype of the Internet user was the “geek-nerd” who was thoroughly separate and alienated from mainstream society, ” Cole said. “Even more relevant, there were many social critics of the Internet who believed that going online would cause vast and irreparable harm to relationships with family and friends, and would also degrade other personal activities, such as sleep, exercise, and offline interests."


The article is worth reading in its entirety.

On another note, more than you would ever want to know about the shithead Karl Rove may be found here. An excerpt:

"How Rove has conducted himself while winning campaigns is a subject of no small controversy in political circles. It is frequently said of him, in hushed tones when political folks are doing the talking, that he leaves a trail of damage in his wake—a reference to the substantial number of people who have been hurt, politically and personally, through their encounters with him. Rove's reputation for winning is eclipsed only by his reputation for ruthlessness, and examples abound of his apparent willingness to cross moral and ethical lines.

In the opening pages of Bush's Brain, Wayne Slater describes an encounter with Rove while covering the 2000 campaign for the Dallas Morning News. Slater had written an article for that day's paper detailing Rove's history of dirty tricks, including a 1973 conference he had organized for young Republicans on how to orchestrate them. Rove was furious. "You're trying to ruin me!" Slater recalls him shouting. The anecdote points up one of the paradoxes of Rove's career. Articles like Slater's are surprisingly few, yet as I interviewed people who knew Rove, they brought up examples of unscrupulous tactics—some of them breathtaking—as a matter of course.
[...]
But an interesting thing happened as I worked on this piece. Early in the summer, as Bush was struggling, even Rove's allies professed to doubt his ability to control the dynamics of the race in view of an unrelenting stream of bad news from Iraq. Several insisted that he was in over his head—with an emphasis that seemed to go deeper than mere professional envy. Yet by August, when attacks by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were dominating the front pages, such comments had become rarer. Then they died away entirely.

If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.

Rove isn't bracing for a close race. He's depending on it."

(via Political Theory Daily Review)

Personally I would recommend the PMC article.


The Rhythm of the Subject



"As John Cage has insisted, 'there is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound.' (Cage has described how, even in a soundless chamber, he still heard at least two things: his heartbeat and the coursing of the blood in his head). Similarly, there is no such thing as empty space. As long as a human eye is looking there is always something to see. To look at something that's 'empty' is still to be looking, still to be seeing something — if only the ghosts of one's own expectations. In order to perceive fullness, one must retain an acute sense of the emptiness which marks it off; conversely, in order to perceive emptiness, one must apprehend other zones of the world as full. (In Through the Looking Glass,Alice comes upon a shop "that seemed to be full of all manner of curious things — but the oddest part of it all was that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty, though the others round it were crowded full as they could hold.")

'Silence' never ceases to imply its opposite and to demand on its presence. Just as there can't be "up" without "down" or "left" without "right," so one must acknowledge a surrounding environment of sound or language in order to recognize silence. Not only does silence exist in a world full of speech and other sounds, but any given silence takes its identity as a stretch of time being perforated by sound. (Thus, much of the beauty of Harpo Marx's muteness derives from his being surrounded by manic talkers.)

A genuine emptiness, a pure silence, are not feasible — either conceptually or in fact. If only because the art-work exists in a world furnished with many other things, the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence. Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech (in many instances, of complaint or indictment) and an element in a dialogue."

-Susan Sontag


As I've tried to say before, Sontag's conception is eloquent, yet I'm not sure whether I subscribe to it or not. Silence is unsettling - this, at least, seems important. Silence is unsettling precisely because it is never purely silence. But she seems to speak of 'speech' as something nearly self-evident in itself. Might there be a 'will to silence' that resists any dialectic more rigorously than Sontag would have it?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

of the everyday fatigue

Cloud Cleaner



In "Everyday Tragedy and Creation," Michel Maffesoli writes:
"One could say that a philosophy of becoming makes way for an anthropology of being, or, to repeat a statement of Durand's, the abstraction of history is replaced by the density of the present, (1980, p. 157) or what may be called the labyrinth of the lived (Moles & Rohmer 1972, cf. also Maffesoli 1979).
In this context, it is interesting to recall the etymology of the term concrete: meaning what stimulates growth or 'increase with (cum crescere); that is, a time lending itself to being that is shared with others. It is an increase that, mirroring the surrounding flora, raises itself by taking root and nourishment from all of those trifling things making up common life. Consider this an ethic (ethos): the place that unites me with the other, the other that is at hand, the other that is the distant tamed.
That is what I am calling the sacred. However, this sense of sacred is not overarching, nor does it imply an abstract God or a rational state. Instead, this sense of sacred relates to an immanent transcendence that is constituted by the feeling of belonging, by shared passion or by a quasi-mystical sense of correspondence to one's surroundings. Consequently, it is no longer the universal that matters, but the particular in all its carnality, affectiveness, and essentially symbolic properties."


A weary day, a day of frustration. Sitting and listening to a panel of "inspirational" talks, given by community non-profit organizers, miracle stories of individual impact, spiritual odysseys, small business loans, on the disaffected silent sea of potential college students from low-income America who simply never get someone to help proofread their essays, on the impact of Margaret Mead handfuls. You get the idea. An event almost hopelessly devoid of irony, a monotone of "inspiration" that never burrows and twists and punctures into its own language but rather planes endlessly, perhaps drowning out the possibility for any true inspiration, for the unexpected, for any response other than a fixed, vaguely disturbing smile. There seems no shortage of these fixed, radiant, irony-less new-age smiles in hither neck of the woods.

Afterwards, the exit-church feeling, strange mixture of relief (it's over) and pride (it was work, good work, this listening), tinged with the glowing inexpressibility of something in-common (time shared, silences given). But mostly just sitting and listening, sometimes attempting to appear as if listening, though the words being spoken do not warrant such attention, letting the mind wander, occasionally catching and reeling it back from the abyss of indisguisable boredom. A vague sense of guilt regarding this boredom, for after all this is another person speaking. This person dares to speak at all.

Skipping out and escaping, into the streets, I get lost in strange bookshops. Are we ever without a theory? Predictably, I read Celan, some Murakami, some Benjamin. A poem René Char dedicates to Blanchot. It fails to move me much. The Dylan Chronicles do not even tempt. I am mostly just weary. I begin to read randomly - haphazard from the shelf - and wind up buying Don DeLillo's Underworld, recalling that "most photographed of barns" which is also America (in White Noise). But mostly because it's cheap, the book, and the first page is something of an ocean:

"He speaks in your voice, America, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.

It's a school day, sure, but he's nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this rust-hulk of a structure, and it's hard to blame him - this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.

Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, annonymous thousands off the buses and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the sould, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day - men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.
The sky is low and gray, the roily gray of sliding surf."


Impossible to fall asleep last night. The rain coming in waves. Unable to turn the mind off, to focus on breathing, on dying. A vague shift in emotional registers, slipping by almost unnoticed.

I do not normally try to focus on dying, whatever this might mean. Diastole/systole. While screwing with templates, a post on Lacoue-Labarthe's, "The Rythm of the Subject," has been lost to junkspace heaven. All that remains is a photograph of Harpo Marx. Just as well; it was a disappointing, somewhat lame exercise, faithful (but hardly interpretive or transformative) at best, and more likely merely smug and accusing. LL Cool P will have to wait.




....

The "Primal Scene" passage in The Writing of the Disaster - foolishly remembering how it was ignored entirely, in my masochistic, tortured and amphetamined attempt to wrestle with this book (largely on my own) last spring. Others having asserted, convincingly, that it constitutes nothing less than the fulcrum...but of what? Blanchot's ethics? What are those? A need for a certain going through that is at once a retention of, and break with one's childhood? An inexperience-able event, a primary narcissism (an 'irreducible secret'), a sliver, a shade of which remains, somehow open? Not at all sure to have begun understanding these phrases. And yet they distracted (and distract) me without end - these grander themes - and particularly from the simple and precise moments of sudden comprehension that had indeed occured, usually unexpectedly, and often only after having read a passage many times through. While cooking, perhaps. And yes, it was all suddenly less profound, and infinitely more intimidating. Perhaps one meaning of Blanchot's phrase (but is it his?), "the apocalypse is disappointing."

Unfortunately, as I wrote, through several nights, weeks (and break-ups) last spring, I constantly fell back upon and mimicked Derrida's own hard-earned language, as a way to avoid having to understand Blanchot myself. (It didn't help that I had only ever been a sociology and English major, reading philosophy almost entirely on my own.) During my final years of college, far too many professors allowed me to get away with this uncomfortable charade, a grotesque many of them never having read Derrida for themselves (although this didn't stop them from scoffing of course). But eventually, as one's appreciation matures and deepens, it becomes impossible to ignore how Derrida's writings themselves resist such mimicry. In fact, they do not allow it. Like many others, I now owe to Derrida the gratitude of having been awakened to a great many voices, cadences and rhythms. Others I would have been unlikely to have ever read, or at least begun to attempt to read well. And yet I am still writing in his shadow - these being the very words Derrida uses to pay tribute to Blanchot. It is a discomforting shadow, extremely difficult to escape, my love for it deeply entangled ("always already") with my desire to affirm a will to break free (oui, oui). A narcissistic shadow ("well.. no doubt"). Perhaps it has always been there, yet without - and this is the point, is it not? - ever being something naturalized, merely.

Friday, October 15, 2004

not there

a powerful new ad (via abreact). And more on Derrida from n+1, Part Two, as well as from Charlotte Street and Terry Eagleton. Professor Richard Klein at Cornell also writes:
"The attention he gave to other texts was reflected in the way he responded to individuals. He was the most remarkable responder to questions. He was constantly being asked very stupid questions and he always tried to discover what legitimate issue could be contained in them or made of them. Unlike many philosophers who are in themselves, totally in their own head, he was entirely in the world, in relation to Others. Unlike many arrogant intellectuals, he was modest, charming, and very, very funny.

He was writing in those years in the wake of existentialism -- there is an implicit anti-Sartreanism in Derrida, which appears explicitly in several oblique but devastating passages.
[...]
For him it was necessary not merely to criticize old ways of thinking but to elaborate new ways of conceiving old ideas. Derrida furiously rejected the notion of the end of history. For him the future was always the focus of his speculation, the possibility of thinking something new, or anew. I can barely express my anger at the New York Times obituary that dismissed his work as abstruse and ridiculous, if not sinister. Never was there any evidence that the journalist had tried to read Derrida's writing, or even considered the possibility that there was something new and valuable in this work that has excited so much interest. It would suffice to read one of Derrida's essays, and to discuss it with one competent person, to understand the value and the implications of his philosophies. It's sometimes hard work, as George Bush likes to say."


[update: Mark Taylor's kind piece on J.D. may be found here.]

Thursday, October 14, 2004

in denial


DDJANGO writes for Netpolitik, and I heartily agree:
"John Kerry on the stump likes to say that Bush is "in denial." I don't agree. The Doubleduh-Cheney Gang knows exactly what it's doing, both domestically and internationally. And they're damn good at it!

Unfortunately, it's the Left that's in denial. We refuse to fully grasp how liberal abuses and failures in the past contributed to the rise of "neoconservatism." Those of us who saw it coming were somehow powerless to stop it. Remember, please, that neoconservatism is not an evolution of conservatism, but of liberalism.

Our denial is even deeper than that, though. Here's what I mean: this week, a private voter registration firm with clear ties to the RNC was caught tampering with and/or destroying Democratic Party registration documents in two states. This is a treasonous insult to all Americans, not just to those on the Left. In my view, this kind of thing goes beyond "dirty tricks" and Watergate pales in comparison.

John Kerry should be screaming his ass off about this. Far as I know, nary a peep.

Here's the rub, though. Two questions: (1) does anyone really understand the amount of danger we're all in between now and January? (2) do any of us on the Left have even a flicker of an idea about what we'll do if The Doubleduh-Cheney Gang is still in power?"

Doesn't Derrida refer to neoliberal rhetoric somewhere as the language of an addict?

As you may have noticed, I have joined the "Progressive Blog Alliance" (see sidebar), which, although its raison d'être remains a bit ambiguous for the moment (and perhaps necessarily so), seems to be headed in some exciting directions and I would encourage anyone with any interest to check it out.
In other news (and in a while this blog may just return to more personal content), it seems that prisoners are now "disappearing" from Guantanamo.
By the way, today's wood's lot is on Bachelard and e.e. cummings, who share a birthday, it turns out.

"trembling between two types of readers"

"This may be an adequate description of what I try to do, namely: to construct texts in such a way that by dint of their neutralized communication, theses, and stabilities or contents, and by dint of the neutralization also of their microstructure of meaning, the reader and finally oneself is in the grips of a certain trembling, a new bodily oscillation, so that in the end a new realm of experience is prised open. And this is why some readers react to my text in words such as these: 'In the end, we understand nothing, we can draw no conclusions from what you say.' And many confess: 'Oh, we don't understand this, it's too complex, and one cannot understand it, finally we still don't know whether you agree with Nietzsche in the question of woman or not. We don't get what's behind the text, what its results or its general conclusions are. This is too brutal and destructive, and we have no way of knowing what kind of person you are and where you want to lead us.' At the same time, other readers, people who are perhaps not as prepared for this reading, at least no readers of Husserl or Nietzsche, who therefore read my texts barbarically, naively, as it were, are much more receptive to the trembling of the text, the text-effect that in the end has to do with the body, the readers' body or even my body. From this sense-less text or this microstructure of meaning, they draw an experience which I consider valuable. They are much more open for what I do, more accessible than by comparison those cultivated and hypercultivated people - often we meet both reactions. So readers should be either hyperdifferentiated or not learned at all, and this has to do with their experience of the other, and it has to do with how the other is construed [...]"

-Jacques Derrida

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

re: JD obituary

The letter to the editor of the NY Times regarding the intellectually dismal, and hurtful, obituary may be viewed and signed here.

And in the spirit - in a way - of both these men, here is a rare gem indeed: Seymour Hersh, a man deemed "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist" by Dick Pearle, interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show Oct. 1, on an alternative history of the Iraq war and the echoes of Vietnam, informed by insiders:
"This war is not winnable....These people are absolutely living in a bubble. It's their own bubble...When you're idealogues, as they are...I would call them Trotskyites, they believe in permanent revolution in the Middle East, in a way, they are idealistic, in the classic sense...They just happen to be dead wrong....This war...is a strategic mistake. This is a strategic war. This is a war that will eventually threaten the national security of the United States, because we have made it almost impossible, we have alienated so many Muslims....Two days ago I got a call, I've been getting these calls since Mi Lai...."

(courtesy of A Tiny Revolution)

For those without the patience even for radio, there is Jon Stewart on "nerf Crossfire". Some responses to the latest "debate" were posted elsewhere.

Happy Birthday Lenny

metaphysically speaking...




The Complete Lenny Bruce
How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, by Lenny Bruce
Lenny Bruce's FBI file

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

PSA on the PBA



Wizbang! just got served by the Progressive Blog Alliance. To be honest, I'm not really sure what this might mean. And for any, um, swing voter who happens to stumble across this page, here's a place where you can truly decide for yourself based on the issues: www.selectsmart.com. Or you could just read Bush's debate notes via The Elegant Variation (why does this stuff never get old?) Furthermore, here is a preemptive list of lies Bush will tell tomorrow night, from Paul Krugman of the otherwise petulant NYTimes. And did I mention that Bob Dylan was on NPR this morning?

"distance...for the sake of an encounter"

Barrett Watten weighs in on the insulting NYTimes obituary:
"Jacques Derrida's obituary in the New York Times is an index to the reactive jingoism that stands for intellectual debate in this country. It is a grand symptom of xenophobia, the "fear of the other" that has produced a series of scapegoats in the second half of the twentieth century, from communists under the bed to Freedom Fries and the Axis of Evil. Derrida must be defended as a site for questioning this fear of the other. But even more, Derrida at his best provided an exemplary instance of an open philosophical stance that pursued the questions of language and certainty from a position that first and always comes under its own self-scrutiny. The method of deconstruction, which can never be objectified as a positive doctrine, is not Derrida's alone, but intersects with varying and widespread practices of self-reflexive questioning as the basis of poetry, ethics, and truth. Language-centered critical writing of all sorts has a long-standing common cause with Derrida."


While listening to Philip Roth's interview re-broadcast on NPR tonight, I learned that Bob Dylan will be giving his first radio interview in nearly 20 years tomorrow morning, on the very same NPR, from 5-9am they said? Anyway it's on the website, here, although I suppose you Brits are all too cool now for such things. In which case the latest N+1 essay on JD is not to be missed.

I will save my exposé of the fascinating connections between Dylan and Blanchot for another post. Instead, here's a quote from the middle of Celan's Speech on the occasion of receiving the Georg Büchner Prize, Darmstadt, 22 October 1960:

"Thus he had lived on.
He: the real Lenz, Büchner's figure, the person whom we encountered on the first page of the story, the Lenz who 'on the 20th of January was walking through the mountains', he - not the artist thinking about art - he as an 'I'.

Can we perhaps now locate this strangeness, the place where the person was able to set himself free as an -- estranged -- I? Can we locate this place, this step?
'...only, it sometimes bothered him that he could not walk on his head.' This is Lenz. This is, I believe, his step, his 'Long live the king'.

'...only, it sometimes bothered him that he could not walk on his head.'
A man who walks on his head, ladies and gentlemen, a man who walks on his head sees the sky below, as an abyss.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is very common today to complain of the 'obscurity' of poetry. Allow me to quote, a bit abruptly -- but do we not have a sudden opening here? -- a phrase of Pascal's which I read in Leo Shestov: 'Ne nous reprochez pas le manque de clarté puisque nous en faisons profession.' This obscurity, if it is not congenital, has been bestowed on poetry by strangeness and distance (perhaps of its own making) and for the sake of an encounter.

But there may be, in one and the same direction, two kinds of strangeness next to each other.

Lenz -- that is, Büchner -- has gone a step farther than Lucile. His 'Long live the kind' is no longer a word. It is a terrifying silence. It takes his -- and our -- breath and words away.
Poetry is perhaps this: an
Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way - the way of art -- for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa's head, the abyss and the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction - it is perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa's head shrivels and the automatons run down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?
Perhaps after this, the poem can be itself...can in this now art-less, art-free manner go other ways, including the ways of art, time and again?
Perhaps.

Perhaps we can say that every poem is marked by its own '20th of January'? Perhaps the newness of poems written today is that they try most plainly to be mindful of this kind of date?
But do we not all write from and toward some such date? What else could we claim as our origin?"

-Paul Celan, Collected Prose. Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop. Sheep Meadow Press, 1986.

It's tempting to keep going...as always. In any case, I cannot think of any more fitting transcendental-humanist-atheist-"deconstructionist" ("don't hide behind labels Mr. President") to read tonight. Well maybe there is one other...

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Let Us Listen



To-night
Jacques Derrida
loves.


"I give you - a pure gift, without exchange, without return - but whether I want this or not, the gift guards itself, keeps itself, and from then on you must owe, tu dois. In order that the gift guard itself, you must owe. You must at least receive it, already know it, recognize or acknowledge it. The exchange has begun even if the countergift only gives the receiving of the gift." (243a)





passed away last night.

Spurious has a very thoughtful piece, and wood s lot has done a nice job, as always. Of course there is no substitute for re-reading the man himself.


I might recommend this article by Caputo:
The thing itself always slips away–leaving us to pray and weep, to hope and long for it to come. That is the impossible, and we get going, we begin, by the impossible. For that is what we love.







UPDATE:
In Favor of Thinking begins a post with these words:
The news of Jacques Derrida's death is currently being reported in a variety of ways, some more irritating than others. The NYT obituary, for instance, twice detours into allegations surrounding Paul de Man's Nazi involvement -- which ultimately have very little to do with Derrida's life and work. I'm glad to see that various news sources are at least taking note of his passing -- and some are trying to be neutral in their appraisal of his contribution to 20th-century philosophy. But others are just rehearsing the same old tired claims that his writings are "absurd" or "difficult" or "controversial." (Actually, it's sort of fascinating to read several of these news clips -- most of them clearly derived from one never-to-be-located Ur-text, but each recombining the sentences in slightly different ways.)



Tobias, also writes something worth a look. And Bat writes:
Derrida's death comes at a time when the constant ritual denunciations of his work have taken on a particularly ugly and strident tone. It's not difficult to see why. His patient, unyielding disassembly of the "white mythology" of Western metaphysics was bound to enrage our contemporary Crusaders, those who would wish to squander the legacy of the European enlightenment by pressing it into the service of an obnoxious triumphalist imperial ideology.


As for myself, I happen to agree with Spurious, that Derrida's writings often seem to need, and to ask for, a certain protection - although they also stand on their own for anyone with the patience and will to try meeting them where they are - and furthermore that this 'need' may in fact be their greatest strength. But such claims also require further explanation and elaboration, if they are not to become mere fodder for the malicious, or for the leeches or the mimics. Maybe I will try to put my own gratitude into words, hopefully in some kind of ruthless, unmelodramatic manner, at some point, later. The humble, (rather than summarizing and inevitably trivializing and iconoclastic) approach of SubStance magazines "counter-obituaries" seems very wise.


Johathan Derbyshire has some worthwile comments. As does Johnathan Sterne at Bad Subjects. Perhaps most worthy yet are Mark Taylor's remarks, which may surprise some people.

Please see here.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush Goes Ballistic

"You cannot lead if you send mexed missages." Cornered Neophyte, Dimwit Snob - Our Petulant President is Officially Freedom Toast.



Well the pundits have clearly been greased with something. Or maybe the ass-bend before the storm? Didn't they see the temper on that fool? Anger management, anyone? Any journalists out there?
Wondering how embarassed Americans should be tonight...is embarassment even
appropriate, or just a petty bourgeois emotion? For some reason this strikes me as rather important, this question.
Anyway here the madman is: Bush Flips Out (Windows Media Player)

Furious George



Wired Wizard of Oz George



On another note, I just won the muthafuckin' Powell's Daily Dose(!), so a certain unspecified text by Blanchot is now on its way to my doorstep. Life is indeed good.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (is my mother's favorite quote)

On the other hand, I have to agree with Shaviro on this. Dubya is not the standard by which the future of democracy should be judged, and democrats are resigned to defeat by default if they take his chemical confidence as a worthy point of departure. Taking on and dignifying the easy target hardly signifies true courage.

[Update: Our commander in chief now seems to be wearing a kevlar vest in addition to the radio in his ear. I am remembering the atmosphere of the long day of protest over his inaugeration. The man is leaving the House in the same style in which he arrived. Either that, or the sixties may come again. Perhaps this gives him a modicum of purpose and dignity, this vest, with which to face to continuing unpleasant onslaught of the shared world after four years in a delusion. But what happens when delusion is all there has ever been? Got fear? See Daily Kos, who's writing for the Guardian tonight.]

[Update again: For plenty more on the wire, see here.]

1 plug, 2 plug, 3 plug, ---- plug

The Collective Lounge writes on the upcoming 'alternative' European Social Forum, SchNEWS - direct action newsletter and Globalvote 2004 - results to be released two days before the US elections. Meanwhile, freeway blogging is still very much in.
And then there are the photographs of this fellow, who happens to call himself "The Promised God-Man." Perhaps just because they made me think of Fritz Lang and "Film by Samuel Beckett."

Fun House (The Spherical Skirt) #8
Quandra Loka (The Indivisible Space of Conscious Light) #221
Adi Da Samraj

Eamon Grennan

Glimpse
Eamon Grennan


Every so often, in the appalling state of the state he's in, he comes up for air

And finds his own death like a dog sleeping on wooden steps, which may wake

And bark if he makes the slightest sound. And when he glimpses that couple

Getting into their car together as they've been doing for years—the woman

Directing the man how to back out into traffic—then the map he's peering at

Grows cloud-covered, the names get blotted out, and the roads are only thin

Rivers of blood, winding nowhere. But, buried in the dust of too much, who

Will hear the man cry out, saying this is how the story puts an end to itself?

For every corner he's brought to a kind of order, another one lends itself

To a chaos of odd socks, middens of books, trunkfuls of outworn clothes. But

Somewhere in the heart's heaving, at its tangle-toil of rage, in the wasp-nest

Of his nervous system, a small scream is gathering strength, getting ready.


Courtesy of Open City

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Zizek on conservatives, Passion for the Real

Interestingly enough, the movie directors who were most sensitive to what the introduction of sound really meant were generally conservatives, those who looked at it with scepticism, like Charlie Chaplin (up to a point), and Fritz Lang. Fritz Lang's Das Testament des Dr Mabuse, in a wonderful way, rendered this spectral ghost-like dimension of the voice, realising that voice never simply belongs to the body. This is just another example of how a conservative, as if he were afraid of the new medium, has a much better grasp of its uncanny radical potentials.
The same applies today. Some people simply say: 'What's the problem? Let's throw ourselves into the digital world, into the internet, or whatever....' They really miss what is going on here.

Q: So why do people want to declare a new epoch every five minutes?

SZ: It is precisely a desperate attempt to avoid the trauma of the new. It is a deeply conservative gesture. The true conservatives today are the people of new paradigms. They try desperately to avoid confronting what is really changing.
Let me return to my example. In Charlie Chaplain's film The Great Dictator, he satirises Hitler as Hinkel. The voice is perceived as something obscene. There is a wonderful scene where Hinkel gives a big speech and speaks totally meaningless, obscene words. Only from time to time you recognise some everyday vulgar German word like 'Wienerschnitzel' or 'Kartoffelstrudel'. And this was an ingenious insight; how voice is like a kind of a spectral ghost. All this became apparent to those conservatives who were sensitive for the break of the new.
In fact, all big breaks were done in such a way. Nietzsche was in this sense a conservative, and, indeed, I am ready to claim that Marx was a conservative in this sense, too. Marx always emphasised that we can learn more from intelligent conservatives than from simple liberals. Today, more than ever, we should stick to this attitude. When you are surprised and shocked, you don't simply accept it. You should not say: 'Okay, fine, let's play digital games.' We should not forget the ability to be properly surprised. I think, the most dangerous thing today is just to flow with things.
[...]
Take another example: on CNN we saw President Bush present a letter of a seven-year-old girl whose father is a pilot and now around Afghanistan. In the letter she said that she loves her father, but if her country needs his death, she is ready to give her father for her country. President Bush described this as American patriotism. Now, do a simple mental experiment - imagine the same event with an Afghan girl saying that. We would immediately say: 'What cynicism, what fundamentalism, what manipulation of small children.' So there is already something in our perception. But what shocks us in others we ourselves also do in a way.

Q: So multiculturalism and fundamentalism could be two sides of the same coin?

SZ: There is nothing to be said against tolerance. But when you buy this multiculturalist tolerance, you buy many other things with it. Isn't it symptomatic that multiculturalism exploded at the very historic moment when the last traces of working-class politics disappeared from political space?
[...]
The big choice for Americans is whether they retreat into this patriotism - or, as my friend Ariel Dorfman wrote recently: 'America has the chance to become a member of the community of nations. America always behaves as though it were special. It should use this attack as an opportunity to admit that it is not special, but simply and truly part of this world.' That's the big choice.
There is something so disturbingly tragic in this idea of the wealthiest country in the world bombing one of the poorest countries. It reminds me of the well-known joke about the idiot who loses a key in the dark and looks for it beneath the light. When asked why, he says: 'I know I lost it over there, but it's easier to look for it here.'
But at the same time I must confess that the left also deeply disappointed me. Falling back into this safe pacifist attitude - violence never stops violence, give peace a chance - is abstract and doesn't work here.

"The One Measure of True Love Is: You Can Insult the Other," interview with Slavoj
(viastray reflections)