Saturday, December 31, 2005

the story so far

Simon Schama in the Guardian:
Sibyl looked mournfully ahead and saw that the second half of the noughties would see the beginnings of interPodding: wePods designed for Sharing; uPods that could store memories and retrieve them on command. But she sighed when she remembered the success of godPods, which purported to deliver personal messages from the Beyond to the wired. They were only half over and Sibyl was already sick of the Noughties. Roll on the Tenties, she thought. What a dickhead that would be!

YH finds "an antidote to [the] Frankfurterisch take on the Enlightenment..."

SM compiles some modest demands for litbloggersauditors; and here's the very newest and very latest thing you absolutely need to read, or die regressing.

broken flowers

Ah, Jorge Luis Borges. The barbs for French literature are well-placed.

bringing the past to light

A proposal: from now on, every crime committed in The United States (and very soon the world) shall be considered as an affront to the physical body of the "President" himself. This would have the added benefit of eliminating the need for a lot of trial lawyers, as well as activist judges. The law would simply become a matter of decree, just executions, spectacular public stonings and so forth.

Not that all property would necessarily belong to the "President," but the five or six owning corporations could all petition him equally for favor in his rulings.

Either that or someone could just give the Infinite Corrector, the Most Corrected-in-Chief–– a copy of SIMS (TM), Penal Eddition. We could tell him it was real (it could distract him from the bottle for a while).

King Torture

Meanwhile, somewhere in the UK...

Susan Sontag, writing a year and a half before she died (via):
The Bush administration and its defenders have chiefly sought to limit a public-relations disaster -- the dissemination of the photographs -- rather than deal with the complex crimes of leadership and of policy revealed by the pictures. There was, first of all, the displacement of the reality onto the photographs themselves. The administration's initial response was to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs -- as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict. There was also the avoidance of the word ''torture.'' The prisoners had possibly been the objects of ''abuse,'' eventually of ''humiliation'' -- that was the most to be admitted. ''My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture,'' Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said at a press conference. ''And therefore I'm not going to address the 'torture' word.''

Words alter, words add, words subtract. It was the strenuous avoidance of the word ''genocide'' while some 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda were being slaughtered, over a few weeks' time, by their Hutu neighbors 10 years ago that indicated the American government had no intention of doing anything. To refuse to call what took place in Abu Ghraib -- and what has taken place elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay -- by its true name, torture, is as outrageous as the refusal to call the Rwandan genocide a genocide.


To have the American effort in Iraq summed up by these images must seem, to those who saw some justification in a war that did overthrow one of the monster tyrants of modern times, ''unfair.'' A war, an occupation, is inevitably a huge tapestry of actions. What makes some actions representative and others not? The issue is not whether the torture was done by individuals (i.e., ''not by everybody'') -- but whether it was systematic. Authorized. Condoned. All acts are done by individuals. The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans performs such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely.

Considered in this light, the photographs are us. That is, they are representative of the fundamental corruptions of any foreign occupation together with the Bush adminstration's distinctive policies. The Belgians in the Congo, the French in Algeria, practiced torture and sexual humiliation on despised recalcitrant natives. Add to this generic corruption the mystifying, near-total unpreparedness of the American rulers of Iraq to deal with the complex realities of the country after its ''liberation.'' And add to that the overarching, distinctive doctrines of the Bush administration, namely that the United States has embarked on an endless war and that those detained in this war are, if the president so decides, ''unlawful combatants'' -- a policy enunciated by Donald Rumsfeld for Taliban and Qaeda prisoners as early as January 2002 -- and thus, as Rumsfeld said, ''technically'' they ''do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,'' and you have a perfect recipe for the cruelties and crimes committed against the thousands incarcerated without charges or access to lawyers in American-run prisons that have been set up since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So, then, is the real issue not the photographs themselves but what the photographs reveal to have happened to ''suspects'' in American custody? No: the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken -- with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. German soldiers in the Second World War took photographs of the atrocities they were committing in Poland and Russia, but snapshots in which the executioners placed themselves among their victims are exceedingly rare, as may be seen in a book just published, ''Photographing the Holocaust,'' by Janina Struk. If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880's and 1930's, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib. (more)

See also Tom Tomorrow; FRONTLINE; Paul Street; Gary Corseri...

Friday, December 30, 2005

From the first issue of n+1

Editorial Statement

We are living in an era of demented self-censorship. The old private matters–the functions of the body, the chase after love and money, the unhappiness of the family–are now the commonest stuff of public life. We are rotten with confession. But try saying that the act we call "war" would more properly be termed a massacre, and that the state we call "occupation" would more properly be termed a war; that the conspiracy theories, here and abroad, which have not yet been proved true by Seymour Hersh or the General Accounting Office are probably, nonetheless, true; or that the political freedoms so cherished and, really, so necessary, are also the mask of a more prevasive, insidious repression–try saying all this, or any of it, and see how far you get. Then try saying it in a complex way, at some length, expressing as you do so an actual human personality.

We are living in a time when Nabokov and Henry James are read in Tehran but we have pornography and publicity at home; a time when serious writing about culture has become the exclusive province of bullies, reactionaries, and Englishmen; a time when journalists can refer to Vladimir Sorokin, a towering figure of Russian postmodernism, as a "shocking" writer who became a "best seller" after his books were trampled in public by a neo-fascist youth group; a time when a magazine like Lingua Franca can't publish, but Zagat prospers. In the future, it will be seen as a time when some of the best people in our intellectual class gave their "critical support" to a hubristic, suicidal adventure in Iraq.

The problem is hardly a lack of magazines, even literary magazines. Culture can expand now to fill the superstore. But civilization is the dream of advance–to find the new, or take what we know from the past and say it with the care that only the living can claim. "One must have been in exile and in the wilds to appreciate a new periodical," said Alexander Herzen, founder of the mighty Bell. Perhaps you live in the city or the town, and in the safety of your own country. But you have known the exile, and are acquainted with the wilds.

Reproduced with permission, and in gratitude.
You may of course subscribe, here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"I am not a crook"

At the speed of blog, Alain at Long Sunday picks up on a previous note.

Perhaps some further help is needed to distinguish the terrorist:

from the democratic citizens:

Does that help you now, President Cheney? Ian McEwan?

Meanwhile, somewhere in the UK...

Holiday Cheer, updated, erased, updated

My post at Said the Gramophone is finally up. Quite an honor.

We have a running joke that the last song really says, "cept you in me, babe..."

Thanks also to The Decline, whose sugggestions very nearly made the cut (an impossible task, choosing three songs; they are inevitably just Mrs. Right Now's). The Decline suggested "Way it Goes" from the wonderful tribute album, Por Vida, which I have since purchased along with two other Alejandro Escovedo albums.


An interesting article on Canadian-born Impulse Magazine:
During the course of its brilliant 15-year run (its last issue was in 1990), Impulse proudly showcased contributions from so many cultural heavyweights, a look back at the roster is dazzling: Michael Snow, Andy Warhol, Duane Michaels, Alex Katz, Patti Smith, Leon Golub, Joel-Peter Witkin, Arnaud Maggs, Art Spiegelman, Komar + Malamid, Christian Boltanski, Semiotext(e) founder Sylvere Lotringer, Kathy Acker, Paul Virilio, Jenny Holzer, Eduardo Galeano, Gerard Malanga, Russ Meyer, James Wines, Maurice Blanchot, Bruce Mau, J.G. Ballard, Marguerite Duras, William Burroughs, Jean Baudrillard, as well as a lot of Canadian artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers who are now all in mid-career [...]

It's dizzying for sure. And sobering. The past sure is a different country -- and it's a really great place to visit. Actually, the whole Impulse Archeology exhibition gives a kind of pang: Everything's a lot tighter now, more bureaucratic, more circumspect. We're all more careful. But Impulse Archeology is a reminder of the way we all were. The exhibition doesn't so much awaken nostalgia as it does rekindle desire. Here's an excerpt from an editorial Garnet wrote in Impulse's summer issue for 1987 (it's on the gallery wall as you go in): "We want to know everything. We want it to be different. We want it fresh, we want it alive. We'd rather be a part of culture than history. At Impulse, we take it in and we give it out. We reflect the mirror in which we reside. You are the image in the mirror of the magazine you hold in your hands. We want you to know you are not alone. And we want you to know." It was bliss, wasn't it?

every year

I swear I keep wanting this wonderful fellow to begin speaking in Spanish.

In other literary news, John Emerson posts Nine Theses for the MLA Convention; some more direct and mildly amusing stuff from the MLA conference if that holds any interest; and President Nixon answers some questions about executive power (via Counterpunch):
NIXON: Well, what I, at root I had in mind I think was perhaps much better stated by Lincoln during the War between the States. Lincoln said, and I think I can remember the quote almost exactly, he said, "Actions which otherwise would be unconstitutional, could become lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation."

Now that's the kind of action I'm referring to. Of course in Lincoln's case it was the survival of the Union in wartime, it's the defense of the nation and, who knows, perhaps the survival of the nation.

FROST: But there was no comparison was there, between the situation you faced and the situation Lincoln faced, for instance?

NIXON: This nation was torn apart in an ideological way by the war in Vietnam, as much as the Civil War tore apart the nation when Lincoln was president. Now it's true that we didn't have the North and the South—

FROST: But when you said, as you said when we were talking about the Huston Plan, you know, "If the president orders it, that makes it legal", as it were: Is the president in that sense—is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that suggests the president is that far of a sovereign, that far above the law?

NIXON: No, there isn't. There's nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven't read every word, every jot and every title, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we're all talking about.

Ah yes, how far we've come. We'd all be in despair alley were it not for American Samizdat's The Rose-Colored News Report.

D.H. Lawrence on Moby Dick

It is a great book.

At first you are put off by the style. It reads like journalism. It seems spurious. You feel Melville is trying to put something over you. It won't do.

And Melville really is a bit sententious: aware of himself, self-conscious, putting something over even himself. But then it's not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story.

Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like Moby Dick. He preaches and holds forth because he's not sure of himselœ And he holds forth, often, so amateurishly.

The artist was so much greater than the man. The man is rather a tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical- transcendentalist sort: Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, etc. So unrelieved, the solemn ass even in humour. So hopelessly au grand serieux, you feel like saying: Good God, what does it matter? If life is a tragedy, or a farce, or a disaster, or any- thing else, what do I care! Let life be what it likes. Give me a drink, that's what I want just now.

For my part, life is so many things I don't care what it is. It's not my affair to sum it up. Just now it's a cup of tea. This morning it was wormwood and gall. Hand me the sugar.

One wearies of the grand serieux. There's something false about it. And that's Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!

But he was a deep, great artist, even if he was rather a sententious man. He was a real American in that he always felt his audience in front of him. But when he ceases to be American, when he forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful, his book commands a stillness in the soul, an awe.

In his 'human' self, Melville is almost dead. That is, he hardly reacts to human contacts any more; or only ideally: or just for a moment. His human-emotional self is almost played out. He is abstract, self-analytical and abstracted. And he is more spell-bound by the strange slidings and collidings of Matter than by the things men do. In this he is like Dana. It is the material elements he really has to do with. His drama is with them. He was a futurist long before futurism found paint. The sheer naked slidings of the elements. And the human soul experiencing it all. So often, it is almost over the border: psychiatry. Almost spurious. Yet so great.

It is the same old thing as in all Americans. They keep their old-fashioned ideal frock-coat on, and an old-fashioned silk hat, while they do the most impossible things...(full here)

courtesy of John Pistelli

Lazy Sunday

The Alcoholic in Chief, and then...

there's it just me or does one of those guys look very much like the now-legendary freestyle donut-warrior?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

hobbyhorse, anti-Enlightened

This just in: FRENCH THEORY IN AMERICA WAS REALLY NOT THAT GOOD. Yes, the originals are still better.

It's true, we've linked to things like this before. And now the most tired and tiresome debate in academic history is producing––in what must surely qualify as a miracle after decades of sucking on nature's pipe––indeed fresh juice. We could go further, of course, and point to a real, living example easily enough (no Real-ly, we could). Just as easy as the next fellow, in fact. Meanwhile, "Nobody needs French Theory," so sayeth Baudrillard, and like all mail-order mystics and dime-a-dozen pap gurus, his words they do carry an indulgent grain of truth. In any case John Holbo will be thrilled, we can be sure of it. (And no, it is not without some bemusement, we confess, that we observe the latter, irenic chief anti-Theory/[T]heory investor, caught unawares having been scooped twice in one week, first by one Michel Foucault and then by one Slavoj Zizek....the Rule of Affability, she dictates that we can only assume the latter response, no doubt the painstaking fruition of "serious study" of Zizek's better work, was far more Socratic than it was revealing.)

Oh, poor Socratic tick, you say, how thy smiling loophole, "I was only making fun of myself" doth find its cousin in the "I was only joking" for which the "Theorists" are forever castigated.

However, now that the 1970s and 1980s are probably over, and literature departments have had ample time to either earn some philosophic chops and genuine humility or risk being mocked off the podium altogether (it is only a matter of time; in the grip of this backlash we are forever ebbing and regressing––but don't think to hard about it, these things are all inevitable), well let's go off, shall we? Off to study some Francophone philosophy while we still can, shall we? And with someone interested in reading the philosophers themselves, that is, if we are truly lucky. Perhaps even in another language. Their own, for example. Poetry and literature too, absolutely, but please none of that Baudrillardian vomit. No, it was not your professors' faults, but you people have ruined literature departments for good. We mean it; that's it, man, we're back to The Snowman age again, Christian morality in Frost (yes, we remember that movie too) and counting caesurae, enjambments, alliteration and rhyming couplets; thanks for nothing. Don't get us wrong; we were brought up on this stuff, and we love it dearly. But the way things are looking now, if we're very lucky, in a good twenty years poststructuralism may even be discovered. Oh, how the image eternally returns, and the shape of the poem itself is so very snowman-like, almost an allegory of itself (one might someday say!) but Nietzsche he is long dead, and Bachelard was just some hobo in a Santa suit. And anyway none of them spoke English, and probably their ears were frozen (philosophers, as we all know, cannot sing).

The would-be genre historians of "Theory" are still all 'wong', of course (hell, in Russia they call it "filosophia," or so we hear; perhaps someone shall write a book condemning that soon enough), but let us leave them, for now. Condemned as they are to tread water upside down; happily lecturing the fishes, they are also drowning.

Still, Dear Lord, the sheer volume of bubbles they will release! Both goggled and madly googling, treading upside down as they address the same old gathered fishes (to be fair, those must be magnifying goggles) and gossiping so very freely about the whales! Our Vermont neighbor Greenblatt, sure, he's close enough for Derrida, as is Eagleton for Wittgenstein. These are exotic fish indeed, if one's target is actual philosophy. But so on they tred, splashing and quoting so much they can hardly hear themselves talk (noses, eternally pinched), but confident nontheless, that their books will eventually sell well enough, condemned as they are between the trivial and the obvious, and something they would rather still talk nothing about (let's call it for now the sun, shining on an upturned ass).

All by way of saying that I'm supremely grateful this year for some extraordinary pagan presence.

And...then...some and some...

Friday, December 23, 2005


I thought this was very interesting.

Plus ça change


Time to pick up some threads from back here shortly. (Sorry again, about all the fine comments being flushed, but I suppose some things are inevitable. This space has never really aspired to a popular audience anyway, at least not without serious disquiet and reservation, call it snobbery if you want. But I do sound a bit boring in comparison. Everyone should, I think, be forced to re-read their own blog at least once a year. A note to whoever's been downloading, please be advised by my pride that it's ancient and unworthy and long since revised stuff, there.)

note to self

Do not give correct email address to, ever.

Either that or Google is just selling us off, in pieces, as we all expected they eventually would. Spam filter my ass. Really, is there anything less interesting than spam?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cheney Administration Votes "Go Fuck Yourself" #722

Merry Fucking Christmas, and we'll target gay pride rallies as terrorist plots if we damn well feel like lying about it. So this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, eh? Undercover feds nostalgic for cointelpro days, staging arrests to provoke the crowd to justify tear-gassing them, and snapping photos from unmarked cars, etc? I must say, even if the NYTimes sat on these stories for a year, it hardly comes as any revelation, at least not to any of those who actually attended these protests. Yes, that's right, I confess to looking kindly on one of those "potential terrorists" insofar as he protested this war before it began as opposed to two years too late, and only when politically feasible. And I further confess that on more than one occasion he may have pointed out the aspiring photojournalist undercover gents, on more than one occasion as they sat in their speedy unmarked cars, to kind middle-aged yuppie folks concerned about the sea turtles as they deigned to walk across the street, on their merry way to and from exercising their legal right to peacable assembly (despite the very latest in police provocation) and to that dreaded once-revolutionary force known as freedom of speech. (This fellow I know, even his blond dog was a potential terrorist, wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed, "I'm more loyal than Lieberman, Daschle, Clinton...etc.") Pointed them out, he did, half a decade ago, as they sat there snapping pictures and telling jokes.

But anyone who's read anything about the 60's era knows that it was only a massive public outcry that instigated all the reforms in 70's in surveillance laws, reforms explicitly designed to protect these rights (while in reality the insidious military-prison-industrial backlash--including the despicable torture of modern-day slaves, otherwise known as US inmates--has happily quadrupled itself, unabated). But whatever nudges the decrepit and rusting wheels of justice along at this stage, hey, let's have it. They blatantly broke the law this time, yet still expect us to blindly entrust the constitution to pathological liars. Just when you think this all-war all-petty-emotional-blackmail all-the-time schtick can't possibly get any more ridiculous, it does. That would be Chutzpah, folks; spelled "real balls." When the alternative is Lieberman, I'll grant you that it's not exactly a tough sell.

Harold Bloom waxes blunt; New discoveries in Sovietology; And better news elsewhere, particularly from the global south (narcosphere has more).

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Do check out Mark Thwaite's Books of the Year Symposium (of which I'm greatly honored to be a part, if slightly embarrassed to be placed, straggler-fasion, on top). Truly, there is not enough time in the day, nor days in the week..

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

oh dear...

A bit of (feminist) Theory, and NPR self-destructs. All their pat humanistic clichés and softly-smug male condescension, it comes a crumblin' down.

Typepad, meanwhile....well.
During routine maintenance of our network and storage systems last night, we experienced an issue with our primary disk system where data from published blogs are stored. [oops!] We are currently running diagnostics on the device, and working to restore your data as soon as possible. Verifying data can be a slow process and will take time. [i.e., all day]

In the meantime we are currently deploying backup copies of your weblogs from approximately 2 days ago. [actually, six] This is what will be displayed for your blog. [weird] The TypePad application is currently unavailable, which means that users will not be able to log in, and visitors to weblogs will not be able to post comments. We are working to bring TypePad back online as soon as possible.

We appreciate your patience as we work through these issues. [We also have no way to transfer ownership, and our spam filter just plain doesn't work.]

Say, who knows anything about WordPress?

John Whitelegg issues the sole dissent in a debate on environmentalism and capitalism:
At the core of this debate I am sure that Jonathan [Porritt] and I share a vision of what a sustainable community, town, city, region or world could look like. I don’t think we will get there by putting all our eggs in the basket of capitalism. Capitalism, after all, has given us slavery, small children working down coal mines, death and disease from pollution, and appalling disregard for people and communities – including my own family and community when cotton mills shut down in Oldham, Lancashire, in the early 1960s. Such depredations continue around the world today, often invisible to the eye even of the most informed or sensitive of observers.

This destructive, unsustainable dynamic has to stop. The process of stopping it will involve all those things that capitalist do not like (including regulation and taxation); changes in local government to give local communities and local people more power over what happens on their “patch”; and the kind of social change that ended slavery and brought down the Berlin wall. I have absolutely no doubt that this social change will take place and if I have my way it will be sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

ipop, you pop, we pop (and look to France)

Thinking of Zizek's recent comments (he has some funny things to say about Rawls, indeed)...but also about another student rebellion (and a genuinely populist one at that--in eclectic composition not unlike the genuinely international, though unfortunately-dubbed "anti-globalization" movement, whose roots are traceable back to Seattle, etc.)...

Meanwhile Negri: "This movement wants something, but it does not yet know what it wants."

Zizek's calls the recent riots in France a "zero-level protest," or "a protest that wants nothing" in speaking of the "cycles of violence" identifiably linked to the neoliberal state (which produces its own excess and backlash, etc.) Violence being de facto an admission of relative impotence. But in his conception, if "post-ideology" means anything it is the context of this certain nihilism.

Might it be at all valuable, or worthwhile, to point out the deep roots of this alleged "post?" After all, what has come to be cited and invokded as "May '68" was by no means a purely, or clearly, utopian confluence of identity politics or politically-targetted and precise rebellion, judging from Blanchot and similar on the matter...Zizek opposes the recent riots to May '68, but his argument (such as it is) only serves to unite them. One wonders if he's even read much of the history (and philosophical fall-out), or whether he's borrowing yet another page from those who have patiently explored these questions in more detail (for instance, Nancy).

So what does this conception of a "post-ideology" (or a post-politics) actually mean? And in describing too quickly a return to such things as "an operatic staging of the other" does one not also risk prescribing their inevitability? Is it just that Zizek does a disservice to the nuances of his own argument (is there more room for hope outside of this banal mimetic or sacrificial indemnification), or is it that he simply doesn't have much of an argument to begin with? Nothing wrong with that of course (his comment about philosophers rightly (re)posing the questions is well-taken, and somewhat uncharacteristic perhaps), but maybe it's high time to hold Z. accountable for the seductive but pat maneuvers he makes, in this his apparently full-time capacity as a "public intellectual."

I don't mean to merely degrade him, of course. He is without question one of the most unconvential, engaging and brilliant theorists today. But as is the case with most popular spokesmen figures, those more familiar with the actual history (and in his defense, perhaps Z. would say that he was only citing popular history, I don't know), cannot help but raise their eyebrows, incredulous...still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Anyway, this makes many of the same arguments Z. does. There are some condescending overtones there, mixed in with equal parts romanticization and apocalypticism. It's all a bit redundant, indulgent and quite lazy. But then I also tend to think that Baudrillard should have long ago been hung from the nearest available billboard:
But it is also a movement without strategy, a movement more prone to gaze at itself on television screens, drawing its ephemeral strength from the media coverage it produces, and thus depending on the self-censorship of information put in place to avoid "the telethon effect." It is a movement nevertheless more Luddite than playful, sustaining itself at the source of real despair, but lacking utopia, its horizon limited by bars and block towers.

For sociologists, journalists and certain revolutionaries, this movement is incomprehensible since it resists the well-oiled arguments they use to explain social movements: neither social analysis, nor the study of the composition of class succeeds in defining its specificity.

These riots are made by an unidentifiable mob—rebellious bodies whose existence is reduced to bare necessity, and who have not found any other language than that of destructive gestures.

Let us not fool ourselves; in everyday life many of this mob are detestable; some are numbed by religion, many alienated by consumerism, or enthusiasts of masculine values, sharing with the masters of society the stupid worship of sport (some riots were suspended during televised football games). Many are contemptible in their behavior toward women—whose absence in the riots signals an unacceptable limitation. Most of this mob would certainly not be friendly to us.

What is remarkable, however—beyond them—is their revolt. Through their actual contradictions, they represent the dark face of a vengeful social unconscious held back for too long, as those in bygone days representing the “dangerous classes.” But, at the risk of plunging back even more bitterly in their poverty, it will be necessary for them to draw on the lessons of their recent experience in order to gain lucidity. Already they have seen at work the repressive role of the imams and of Islam, mere auxiliaries to the police— as is all religion. This movement still has to get rid of all forms of puritanical and masculinist morality so that women will join them as equals—like the women fire-raisers of the Paris Commune in 1871—to take an active part in all future stuggles. Likewise, they must have done with the stupid gang rivalry that nails them to their “territories” and deprives them of a mobile offensive. And finally, they must learn to choose more directly political targets.

In a society in which all previous forms of belonging, and therefore of associated consciousness, have been wiped out, these events testify to the eruptive and uncontrollable return of the social question, firstly under an immediately negative form, that fire—emblem of all apocalypses— symbolizes. Indeed, unlike the rebellions in Los Angeles in 1965 and in 1992, the population of the districts here did not massively join the rioters. And in contrast to May ‘68 neither poetry nor brilliant ideas are on the barricades. No wildcat strike is going to spread widely with these troubles. But the rulers have been give a good hotfoot and have been forced to unmask themselves.

A democracy which, in order to face up to a quantitatively limited movement (considering the number of participants), has been obliged to put back in force an old colonial law, but also to reveal its constituent deception: that is, where the police abuse their powers, the state of emergency gives to their abuse the legitimacy that it lacks. What we long ago called "individual freedom" is today known as the “discretionary power” of the cops.

In a flash, such warning lights have revealed—during these November nights—the return of a possibility that seemed to be lost: that of throwing power into a panic even when its forces are harassed in a disorganized manner through the whole territory by a handful of forsaken social casualties. From now on, we can imagine the strength of an uprising that would—beyond the inhabitants of the ghettos—include the whole population suffering from the rise of impoverishment, and would turn into civil war against the organs of capital and the state.

Beyond recent infernos presented as the very image of a nightmare, it is time that the dream of concrete utopia is raised anew.

Perhaps those such as Derrida's warnings about Benjamin (and an apocalyptic turn) are not to be taken so lightly.

Isn't it just possible that we're entering a more desperate, and more disenchanted stage of the necessary global protest against neoliberalism, marked also – though hopefully not equally – by episodes of localized populist outbursts (of the worst sort)? And the world ended in banality; Oy. Time to fight for some articulation.

Anyway, the funny bits on Rawls and operatic staging and the racist construing of the other during "Katrina" were all well and good, even if he still just gets it all from Derrida. The debate with Laclau (and 'Long Sunday) over populism has provided lots to think about.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

vote, act

for Political Theory Daily Review. And if you haven't seen it already, the the Al Jazeera Staffer's blog is worth a look, and link (don't believe me--watch Control Room). Yes, it's been mentioned once or twice before.

Alternatively, one could start reading Amy Goodman's latest book in the middle, on page 181, with the subtly-titled chapter, Killing the Messenger (you may email me if you desire a gmail account to access GoogleBookSearch).

Update: Meanwhile, the time of impeachment draweth ever nigh...

Ah, the affable and sinister salesmen, may they continue to inherit the world.


On the recent tribute to Gillian Rose (insert jealous remark #722 here). By all accounts, a writer worthy of serious attention (though maybe not for the next LS Symposium?--how the word doth fly, +1).

Also of great interest, a rather thorough review of Deconstruction and Democracy. This Matthias Fritsch ought to get himself one of them blog.

growth, expansion, good

I've added Leiter Reports to the blogroll (right there, smack dab between AvW and 'lenin). To make up for it, here's this which looks promising. Maybe it's my quarter-age showing, I don't know. One simply can't write off the analytic icks forever, now can one. After all, they do rule the roost. And my sources say things about the roost that would have you drooling on your bowtie, let me tell you. Planes to catch right and left, and affable brown-skinned people to cook your pasta for you and such. Maybe when the guest-bloggers leave, I'll antiseptically remove it, in a gesture sure to take the world by storm, and shake it to its very roots. There are still some good 'ol grudges, of course. Not to mention the more obvious things, and things (and things).

Chomsky watch

So I watched this thing a while 'go. Not to subscribe, without some reservation, to the cult of Chomsky, but... Dershowitz is an ass. Oliver Kamm meanwhile, is a nobody. Right then.

the well

Please see A on events in Australia. The news, or should one say "the newscycle," from everywhere, was unbearable today. The tone of course was set early enough. Three times this morning, just myself and my visible breath, hand-making wreaths in the greenhouse smelling of balsalm and sap (yes, I'm a hardened farmer these days), my eyes well up with tears. How else to describe that feeling of despair; a resevoir suddenly tapped. I lean on the table for a few seconds, and put my head on my arms. There are sizes of despair. These waves were semi-pleasant; warming far more than crippling, and they didn't last long. Just checking in, my heart. Tinged with the familiar feelings of profound powerlessness and ineffectivity. Also a glimpse of another sort of well, in the return to...inoperativeness and im-potentiality. For maybe the second time this year, NPR was good a bit better than too little too late. How refreshing to hear genuine outrage, people calling on Bush by name, calling him a liar. People not intimidated by the latest Patriot Act, obviously (and how poised we are, to repeat that movie...I don't usually do this but, sign the motherfucking petition, please.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Another Benjamin

The photographer did not approach this enormous undertaking as a scholar, or with the advice of ethnographers and sociologists, but, as the publisher says, "from direct observation." It was assuredly a very impartial, indeed bold sort of observation, but delicate too, very much in the spirit of Goethe's remark: "There is a delicate empiricism which so intimately involves itself with its object that it becomes true theory." [...] The more far-reaching the crisis of the present social order, and the more rigidly its individual components are locked together in their death struggle, the more creative--in its deepest essence a variant (contradiction its father, imitation its mother)--becomes a fetish, whose lineaments live only in the fitful illumination of changing fashion. The creative in photography is its capitulation to fashion. The world is beautiful--that is its watchword. In it is unmasked the posture of a photography that can endow any soup can with cosmic significance but cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which it exists, even when this photography's most dream-laden subjects are a forerunner more of its salability than of any knowledge it might produce. But because the true face of this kind of photographic creativity is the advertisement or association, its logical counterpart is the act of unmasking or construction. As Brecht says: "The situation is complicated by the fact that less than ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality."

-from "Little History of Photography"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

necessary aversion

John, on 'bookslut' Jessa Crispin on Pinter (more on Pinter and teh populism here). His comments on Rumsflee, also good. Yesterday, I heard Rumsfeld referred to the terrorists as "injuns" before correcting himself. This would be the kind of lame, direct inter-blogging I used to loathe. I still do, really.

In other news (that becoming-universal medium the mediocrity (and uncertain future) of which Benjamin described so well, in that essay, you know the one--it has to do with literature and politics), the tireless Michael Bérubé responds to the insomniac culture wars of the day with:
After all, at one point in our recent history, in certain contexts, virile, heterosexual masculinity was signified by lots of makeup, tousled hair, platform shoes, leather-studded body suits, and screaming, high-pitched vocals. It’s a wacky, multiaccentual world out there, in which a Nortel ad can quote Lennon’s “Come Together” and the BJP can quote Donna Haraway. Get used to it.

This sort of thing apparently gets him quite a lot of visitors.

(Certainly one can intuit easily enough why it is so fashionable and so tempting, and in this stolen age of regressive fundamentalisms especially, to adopt the Anglo-analytic approach, a toolkit ready-made for problems that must be solved. Unfortunately, I was long ago seduced by the the dark side (a wonderful consequence of that first necessary rupture, back in high school I think it was). What can I say? I was always more interested in reading, and the contradictions inherent to the problems themselves (not least of all the problem of 'reading'), than in their resolution onto some inevitably trivializing, and often violent and reductive plane. Perhaps the answers that were required seemed obvious enough not to warrant an infinite neutralization of the sort that followed from the meticulous logical faith in abstractions (there are places for this sort of rigor, but not in reading literature, and as a wise man once said, it's seriousness kills me). One could still debate moral relativism with Richard Rorty, I suppose (and he's right about the straw man the analytics constantly string up, of course). But far more interesting, more literary things have been going on in the meantime (not to mention the poetics of phenomenology). And to seek to diminish the role of literature in addressing itself to these questions, however indirectly, is to dismiss a great heritage. Those who would rather talk in circles than tackle the question of literature's relation to the history of philosophy (and there is ample good material on the subject) are simply irresponsible. Either that or they haven't read enough John Barth, or enough international modernist literature. Or enough German and then French (granted, though, they may be sometimes cute).

Clearly if something of value in "Theory" or "literary theory" is to survive (speaking in the pop-institutional idiom), "it" will have to confront/seek to avoid this complicity with, or easy cooptation/bastardization by advertising. Nothing new there. Then again, last time I checked, the real Theory was being done, as always, by people who still read. There is precious little real Theory out there, yes (but the alternative is just as frozen as it was in the 1950's, if you want to compare rotten apples, and so continue to ignore the barrel). Agamben seems to think, following a certain more-messianic-than-Marxist Benjamin and perhaps contra Zizek (to continue this somewhat obsequious chesstalk), that it must be a resistance taking place from within, to some degree. I'm not so sure.)

And wood s lot links to a rather timely article (soundtrack may be found here) on another faith-based villain (that special one conservatives are always invoking in their ill-planned preemptive strike on Godwin's Law (incorrectly attributed here.)) (The s lot (honestly, wherelse to get your daily blogpulse, dear reader?) -also links to some interesting essays on Derrida, Kant and the 'death of philosophy,' including a certain rather important one.) Sorry for the relative silence around here; no profound statements (especially not about boredom) intended. Sorry also, for the less than literary post. Fuck politics; back to books and politics shortly.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


...on Walter Benjamin's "Critique of Violence" having now begun, on a Long Sunday. For the circuitous-inclined, a more originary plug may be found here and a more interesting one here. So far there have been excellent contributions from Marc Lombardo and Alain Wittman. Update: Better late than never.

I've also switched the comments back to blogger, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who uses Haloscan. Apologies to all deleted on the main page. By all means feel free to start again.

Alternatively, here's something by Scott McLemee on Barthes' The Neutral.

And in case you missed it (as apparently I did, by about an ocean), Zizek and Badiou and others were recently at Birbeck (extensive sound files, transcription, photos, and interesting coverage here and here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

suggestion, for Jon Stewart

So you're breaking out of character a little Jon, in fleeting moments; your seriousness is showing. Is there another genuine confrontation on the way? Granted, it doesn't take much these days, but that fuck-you flare, the shot of direct and deserving anger in your eyes, however ephemeral it may be, has got to be the most refreshing television in decades.

Why not branch out a little now, into genuinely populist territory? Maybe pass up on some vapid celebrity hairjob or two and interview, say, Jim Hightower? See here.

{The next post will either be on the philosophy of pop or a book review, or I'll delete the entire blog.}

Also, please note: I did not tell Bob Woodward that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent. Just in case anyone was wondering.

permanent spring

So this is what the future will be, then? Warm sun on thawing mud, subdued smells, off-color and vaguely toxic floods, a permanent Spring unearned from any Winter. And for three months every year, cold nights. And never far, the sexless punishing storms. The world mushes and warms, the seasons blend; their forgotten rhythm becomes the stuff of legend. He was born in Spring, a mud-season baby. How strange to be as if condemned to one's primal experience of the world.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


This American Life was good this afternoon (in their typical, about-a-year-behind-the-times manner). They aired, (or re-aired?) that guy from the My War blog, if you remember those days: Strangers in a Strange Land (Audio: Real Player). And someone even spoke up against this irrelevant emotional blackmail shit (rubbish propaganda polls that strive to say such things as, "70 percent (including 55 percent of self-described Democrats) say such criticism hurts troop morale.") In short, this talk of "morale" is just what those slumming with perma-war crooks, in their well-known fanatic fidelity to a higher (party) cause, learned to say after Vietnam (the only lesson they learned from that disaster, apparently). The troops aren't fucking babies, we don't need to protect their feelings. They're gonna do their blessed job, while trying to avoid getting killed, no matter what. What they deserve, as grown-ups, is a realistic plan. A clear time-table and some measures reasonably defined for, um, "success" in this illegal war of aggression would be a nice gesture to start (assuming that an end to all this neo-Fukuyama jubilatory free trade neoliberal bullshit all-millionaires-bootstraps-are-created-equal thing is, you know, probably not immediately in the works. Though it's good to see it finally losing some steam, I dare say). Bush, meanwhile, is obviously dead in the water (time to send Condi overseas somewhere--hell, send anyone but The Embarassment). The make-things-a-whole-lot-worse-to-gain-spin-control-on-the-global-protest-movement thing was good for a first term, but even stick-up-the-butt conservatives think he's rubbish now. Nice that the Republican drones couldn't resist one last fuck-you and-your-college-tuition spending bill before the impeachment, or painstakingly neutralcratic, endlessly drawn-out demise (depending on whether any democrats find a "politically-feasible" spine anytime soon or not). A question: what happens when he cracks up for real, can't even talk to his mother and wife anymore, is drunk 24-7 and decides to do something truly stupid? And if Cheney and Rove are busy in court that day? Or rather, as a wise man once said, if the real criminal hard-liners, Cold-War-era dinasaur wonks, get to make the calls that day...that month? Even moreso than usual? A terrifying prospect. (But no doubt Lieberman will be there, either like a traffic cop on valium: "stoooop;" or to say a mealy-mouthed piety for all our souls.)

Maybe it's time the Parrhesia Watch moved to the other place.

For those unconvinced (as if) about the need for voting reform, the excellent Mark Crispin Miller has a blog up.

Anyway, this should be enough to put these drones to bed for a while at least.

celebrity watch: Onfray anyone?

So who in the hell is this guy (rather depressingly lauded for bad reasons here)?

There is no philosophy without psychoanalysis

Well that's interesting.

This blog pretends to speak French, but then it couldn't tell you the fifth thing about Atheist/Communist/Socialist Michel Onfray...

That statement does seem to rather conflict with another one I seem to recall (from some eclectic French Theorist or other):
According to psychoanalytic vocabulary (which, I believe, only those who practice psychoanalysis can use--only those, that is, for whom analysis is a risk, an extreme danger, a daily test--for otherwise it is only the convenient language of an established culture)...(The Writing of the Disaster, 67)

Then again, it may not.

Just to continue this rampant eclecticism, allow me to quote myself quoting someone else. Perhaps a quote from Benjamin on quotations (I dunno, does it qualify as a greatest hit?) would be too much, however.

Friday, November 18, 2005

pulling rank

This morning between 4:30 and 5:00am while driving S. to the airport, I passed a black sedan with vanity plates that read simply, "Blog."

The driver, once I finally caught up and passed him in the tank Volvo wagon, struck me a lot like Markos Moulitsas.

He passed me shortly thereafter, and needless to say this also struck, in the ungodly and hazy hours of the hurtling world, everyone involved as quite profound. Fare thee well, oh Interstate stranger.

this and that

But on its way to producing a new generation of lawyers and engineers and surgeons (and risk arbitrageurs and pharma lobbyists), was it so wrong for a university to indulge one department whose time was spent agonizing over the entire mission of knowledge production itself? By never firmly establishing what it itself was for, the English department cultivated habits of withering self-reflection and so became one mechanism by which the university could stay in touch with its nonutilitarian self and subject its own practices to ongoing critique. Did the theory era produce bullshit by the mountain-load? Of course it did. But by allowing "literary theory" to turn into a pundit's byword, signifying the pompous, the outmoded, the shallow, the faddish, we may have quietly resolved the argument over what a university is for in favor of no self-reflection whatsoever.

(hmm. now if only philosophy departments would do likewise, no wait; that won't happen. And to yawn at the jubilatory Sokal bandwagon's passing, staying faithful to the literary theory that is serious? I hear there was once a department concerned with "knowledge production" in Germany somewhere...)

and that:
"Making me popular is a resistance to taking me seriously"....So how can you talk; what is philosophy for? "It's not to provide answers, it's to correct the questions," says Zizek. "Terrorism, freedom, democracy: The duty of philosophy is not to explain what would be true democracy, how to beat terrorism, but to ask, is this truly the question? This is the only thing a philosopher can do. Other questions are for politicians—I mean, what do I know? Fuck it, who am I, what do I know how to fight terrorism? Every secret policeman, I give him moral right to know more than me."

Zizek's lack of seriousness is serious itself.
(Thanks to The Decline for both of these items.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Blanchot things, not to be missed

Mark Thwaite interviews Blanchot and Genet translator Charlotte Mandell. And of course this should keep you busy for a good week.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Philosophy of Pop

Aenesidemus responds, blog-fashion to Mark Greif, whom pas au-delà continues to productively (more or less productively) stalk.

To be updated...

Friday, November 04, 2005

France, stuff

• I have this vague unease, that I'm missing all the jokes on "The Cobert Report" (the "t" being silent) because I don't watch O'Reilly. Possibly discussion topic: is there any sense in which the parody of O'Reilly verges on a sort of cruelty...(do we care)? Or risks being a sort of advertisement for him? (Everything hinges on the correct diagnosis: either O'Reilly is already established enough to not risk unduly dignifying him by merely talking about him, or he isn't. Then again, "The Cobert Report" is not the very deconstruction of dignity itself. Though you can tell the brand name theme music irks him. He's more mature than Stewart; it shows in the interviews.)

• The Agamben post on the theory of "Profound Boredom" has been updated.

• Pas au-delà correspondants in France...please stand up. Is Paris burning or what. Lou Dobbs, Daily Show fan and fascist pseudo-journalist liberal (these days) just called it "an insurgency." The BBC news mentioned something about an array of complaints, poverty, unemployment, police state repression. Is there about to be an anti-immigrant backlash (admittedly, not the most important question)? Are the so-called "anarchists" setting things on fire because they hate America? Important people need to know. Thanks.

Update: In addition to things linked in comments, I thought this was smart (via):
Fifty years ago, in a brilliant, premonitory book entitled France Against Herself, Herbert Luethy pointed out the incredible, contradictory existence of a fascist police state within an open, democratic society. This contradiction goes back to the French Revolution when the Republic, One and Indivisible, found it needed to reaffirm its uniqueness, its indivisibility and generosity by imprisoning, excluding or murdering off all who would threaten it, including of course its own children. A highly centralized authority balanced an iron repression of all non-assimilable elements with remarkable benevolence, arguing that it acted against a part of itself for the greater good of itself as a whole. The theories of a Robespierre are already colonialist: the "immigrant problem" is built into the French political system.

So the riots of the past few days were a matter of semantics even before they had begun: the people of the suburbs could be understood as either French or not-French, either weaker wards of a benevolent Mother France or elements deserving of exclusion because they were Africans or Muslims or immigrants. As a matter of fact the vast majority of actors in these riots are French citizens, many of them third- or second-generation at that. Then again, the French State has always been adept at alternately welcoming and disenFrenchizing various groups, like Jews, for instance.

And that is what Sarkozy had been doing for a while. His earlier promise to "mop up" the suburbs might have been acceptable if it had been directed at a slum in Haiti: more likely it would have passed unnoticed. But to treat other Frenchmen and women like colonial subjects of the State was unacceptable talk, even if it's done all the time in fact, and not to North Africans only.

Much has been written about the meaning of crowds in the French Revolution. For my money the most common form of riot is the "People's Veto:" the crowd can't tell you what it wants, it can only tell you what it doesn't. And the fear from the Left, and the hope from the Right, is that the rioters are saying: "We don't want to be French to begin with."

It's one thing to be French, and perhaps not quite French enough, and to hope your time will come, which has been overall the narrative of all would-be French people, immigrants, Jews, or Muslims. It's another thing altogether when you give up and turn to gratuitous violence.

But turn how? Against whom? Against the State? Against Being French (now redefined as being white, or being bourgeois, or having a car and a job)? Against a MacDonald's, a symbol of neo-liberalism? That is the Pander's Box Sarkozy's opened, and it may be a lot harder to close, for him or for anyone else.

Update: see also archive: s0metime3s and Amie Marker.
Update Again: As well as Badiou (translated by IT) and Negri.


From here:
Bush's official margin of victory in Ohio was just 118,775 votes out of more than 5.6 million cast. Election protection advocates argue that O'Dell's statement still stands as a clear sign of an effort, apparently successful, to steal the White House.

Among other things, the GAO confirms that:

1. Some electronic voting machines "did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected." In other words, the GAO now confirms that electronic voting machines provided an open door to flip an entire vote count. More than 800,000 votes were cast in Ohio on electronic voting machines, some seven times Bush's official margin of victory.

2. "It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate." Numerous sworn statements and affidavits assert that this did happen in Ohio 2004.

3. "Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level." 3. Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards can easily be done, according to the GAO.

4. The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network. This critical finding confirms that rigging the 2004 vote did not require a "widespread conspiracy" but rather the cooperation of a very small number of operatives with the power to tap into the networked machines and thus change large numbers of votes at will. With 800,000 votes cast on electronic machines in Ohio, flipping the number needed to give Bush 118,775 could be easily done by just one programmer.

5. Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords. So even relatively amateur hackers could have gained access to and altered the Ohio vote tallies.

6. The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.

7. One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail, re-emphasizing the fragility of the system on which the Presidency of the United States was decided.

8. GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel, confirming still more easy access to the system.

In essence, the GAO study makes it clear that no bank, grocery store or mom & pop chop shop would dare operate its business on a computer system as flimsy, fragile and easily manipulated as the one on which the 2004 election turned.

The GAO findings are particularly damning when set in the context of an election run in Ohio by a Secretary of State simultaneously working as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Far from what election theft skeptics have long asserted, the GAO findings confirm that the electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software.

The GAO documentation flows alongside other crucial realities surrounding the 2004 vote count. For example:

# The exit polls showed Kerry winning in Ohio, until an unexplained last minute shift gave the election to Bush. Similar definitive shifts also occurred in Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, a virtual statistical impossibility.

# A few weeks prior to the election, an unauthorized former ES&S voting machine company employee, was caught on the ballot-making machine in Auglaize County

# Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long. Officials claim the problems were quickly solved, but sworn statements and affidavits say otherwise. They confirm similar problems in Franklin County (Columbus). Kerry's margins in both counties were suspiciously low.

# A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. The problem was allegedly fixed.


# In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4000 extra votes when only 638 people voted at that polling place. The tally was allegedly corrected, but remains infamous as the "loaves and fishes" vote count.

# In Franklin County, dozens of voters swore under oath that their vote for Kerry faded away on the DRE without a paper trail.

# In Miami County, at 1:43am after Election Day, with the county's central tabulator reporting 100% of the vote - 19,000 more votes mysteriously arrived; 13,000 were for Bush at the same percentage as prior to the additional votes, a virtual statistical impossibility.

# In Cleveland, large, entirely implausible vote totals turned up for obscure third party candidates in traditional Democratic African-American wards. Vote counts in neighboring wards showed virtually no votes for those candidates, with 90% going instead for Kerry.

# Prior to one of Blackwell's illegitimate "show recounts," technicians from Triad voting machine company showed up unannounced at the Hocking County Board of Elections and removed the computer hard drive.

# In response to official information requests, Shelby and other counties admit to having discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.

# In a conference call with Rev. Jackson, Attorney Cliff Arnebeck, Attorney Bob Fitrakis and others, John Kerry confirmed that he lost every precinct in New Mexico that had a touchscreen voting machine. The losses had no correlation with ethnicity, social class or traditional party affiliation---only with the fact that touchscreen machines were used.

# In a public letter, Rep. Conyers has stated that "by and large, when it comes to a voting machine, the average voter is getting a lemon - the Ford Pinto of voting technology. We must demand better."

But the GAO report now confirms that electronic voting machines as deployed in 2004 were in fact perfectly engineered to allow a very small number of partisans with minimal computer skills and equipment to shift enough votes to put George W. Bush back in the White House.

Given the growing body of evidence, it appears increasingly clear that's exactly what happened.

GAO Report

Revised 10/27/05

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available via and Their WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, with Steve Rosenfeld, will be published in Spring, 2006, by New Press.

One can only wonder what John Pussy Kerry has to say about all this.

Update: John Kerry now believes the election was stolen.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


• If one were to begin making a list of bloggers who only most rarely suffered, in their very writing, from an inflated sense of self-importance, what would such a list look like? A start:

Acanthus Leaves
à Gauche
Charlotte Street
Critical Montages
Dem Wahren
Fort Kant
Paul Kerschen
Red Thread(s)
The Decline
The Pinocchio Theory
The Rhine River
The Young Hegelian
This Space
Side Effects

That's about as far as I got (and before I realized how potentially insulting such a lazy late-night gesture could be. Also, what's with all the Russian spam lately? And the viral infections? My Dog.

• And the DailyKosers are shocked as Bush fucks up a photo-op with black students:
To set off a student protest at this school, you'd have to be politically tone-deaf in the extreme, out of touch and flying blind. And yet, Bush did it.

God help us in Iraq.

• Oh, and The French kids don't seem to really like the Police State:
Riots erupted in an outburst of anger in Clichy-sous-Bois over the accidental electrocution Oct. 27 of two teenagers who fled a soccer game and hid in a power substation when they saw police enter the area. Youths in the neighborhood suspect that police chased Traore Bouna, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, to their deaths.

Since then riots have swelled into a broader challenge against the French state and its security forces. The violence has exposed deep discontent in neighborhoods where African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children are trapped by poverty, unemployment, racial discrimination, crime, poor education and housing.

Ah, those crazy intelligent French (courtesy of Le Colonel Chabert).

• An anonymous emailer writes in with a question:
Hey Matt,

Is there a good word that people like you and Derrida (not to lump you together indiscriminately, though I'm sure it's flattering) use to mean "a text and all the things said about it", as in "the entire universe of references to / comments on / things having some noted relation to the text"? It's gestalt, so to speak.

The term I'm seeking could also apply to referents other than texts, i.e. subjects of any kind, people, events, concepts, whatever. In fact I need both a text-specific and a general term, hopefully two different words.

I'm looking for a good word (or two) to abscond with for my metadata software. You know, we computer people are always robbing terminology and repurposing it; this is an ancient and honorable practice (found in every field of study of course, not just computers, we're just notorious for doing a whole lot of it and all of it in the last 50 years). I hate to invent when I'm sure there is something with exactly the right sense out there somewhere for the taking, already.

By the way, one inverse term I'm using is 'venue', as in 'virtual place' (like your blog is a 'venue'). The general term I'm looking for would mean, among other things, "all references to a venue", as in everyone who goes there, comes from there, talks about it, etc.

So I need name(s) for that distributed entity which is everything that names or refers to a venue (or other generality), or a text (specifically).

I know you guys have names for everything of semantic importance in meta-relationships. Even if what you and I think of as metadata (in our daily use of it) is on rather different scales (like, the cosmos in your case versus the atomic nucleus in mine?), the 'physics' behind the terminology ought to transfer via analogy, I hope.

Update: it can be short as well, the word. Anyone? I can vouch for his motives and they are pure, as driven snow.

Funnier Valentine

I first learned of top mp3 blog, Said the Gramophone, from Steve Mitchelmore about a year ago. Now it seems I've won the opportunity to post a song or two there myself. What an honor this is. So in the spirit of self-aggrandizing and radical dictatorship genuine and spontaneous fleeting curiosity, I'm more than open to any suggestions readers may feel like sending (songs, via email, that is, the more obscure and gem-like the better), reserving of course the right to go ahead and post what I was going to anyway in order to be ridiculed quickly off the stage by their legions of pop-ish fans. Seriously, those guys know their music, and I'm a little intimidated. Whatever else it may be, the internet is a real swell way to share the gift of music. So back to changing the world in the next heartbeat, sure, but not until we learn from music a thing or two about the wait.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Gaurdian, of something or other

The British journal performs a bit of a hatchet job on Chomsky, poor fellow. Right up there with Howard Zinn, Chomsky was positively revolutionary to read back in high school, and for that I will be forever grateful. Nevertheless this cantankerous quote was interesting, regarding the Internet:
It's a hideous time-waster. One of the good things about the internet is you can put up anything you like, but that also means you can put up any kind of nonsense. If the intelligence agencies knew what they were doing, they would stimulate conspiracy theories just to drive people out of political life, to keep them from asking more serious questions ... There's a kind of an assumption that if somebody wrote it on the internet, it's true.

More on why this is interetesting on Long Sunday shortly.

In the meantime, do waste a bit of time with Agamben, if you like.

Update: Chomsky responds to the Guardian genre drivel, having finally seen a copy:
It is a nuisance, and a bit of a bore, to dwell on the topic, and I always keep away from personal attacks on me, unless asked, but in this case the matter has some more general interest, so perhaps it’s worth reviewing what most readers could not know. The general interest is that the print version reveals a very impressive effort, which obviously took careful planning and work, to construct an exercise in defamation that is a model of the genre. It’s of general interest for that reason alone.

via Qlipoth.

animalia encore

Sounding a lot like Berger is Agamben (glossing Ernst Haeckel and Heymann Steinthal, whoever they are):
What distinguishes man from animal is language, but this is not a natural given already inherent in teh psychophysical structure of man; it is, rather, a historical production which, as such, can be properly assigned neither to man nor to animal. If this element is taken away, the difference between man and animal vanishes, unless we imagine a nonspeaking man – Homo alalus, precisely – who would function as a bridge that passes from the animal to the human. But all evidence suggests that this is only a shadow cast by language, a presupposition of speaking man, by which we always obtain only an animalization of man (an animal-man, like Haeckel's ape-man) or a humanization of the animal (a man-ape). The animal-man and the man-animal are the two sides of a single fracture, which cannot be mended from either side.

from The Open: Man and Animal, page 36

See also here. As for me, please don't hesitate to join in else where.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

read this or

here; or here

or here (PDF) (via); or here; or here (more parenting/torture fallout (via))

or here; or here...

something for readers of Umberto Eco here (or: here)...

Update: Punctuated by such silence, this becomes a rather rude gesture of a post. In lieu of apology I'll link to some more things: the co-editor of Latino Boom says a few words; Ellis Sharp deserves a reply (and will get one); and apparently I'll be posting for The Weblog and Said the Gramophone this week if I can get my act together. Suggestions for the latter (in the form of a worthy song) more than welcome, if you've got one. I'm thinking Chris Smither. Shazam (nobody reads updated posts anyway, you bloglined slaves).

Saturday, October 22, 2005


The following is a blockquote. I did not write it. Guess my relation to it and reasons for posting as you wish:
Are there students? No doubt for themselves there are students. Students who say to themselves, we are students. But they are barely taught. The students are no students, but units of resource, and are barely taught. So too are subject areas units of resource, they barely exist. There is no Philosophy, not any more. There's no English Literature, not any more. True, there are professors of Philosophy and professors of English Literature, there are still a few people who remember how it was when there were universities, but they are coming up to retirement. There are a few professors around, but the university is keen to pension them off, to get rid of them, so the takeover can complete itself.

'The university'? I refer to what-was-a-university. What was a university and is a university no longer. They are leaving, the professors, stunned and bewildered. What happened? When did it occur? Get out, they tell themselves, and get out. Meanwhile, the new breed are taking over. I am one of them. Rat-like, desperate, looking to earn revenue, to bring money into what-was-a-university. Rat like, desperate, running along in the maze as quickly as possible and dreaming of ways to bring money into what-was-a-university.

For we have to earn money, we know that. We have to bid for money, we know that. What matters is to bid for money, to bring money in, and to swell what-was-the-university's coffers. What matters is money, is revenue, and what-was-the-university's topslice. Because the what-was-the-university has to make a little profit, there has to be a topslice. You teach to make a profit and your research must be tied to profit. Forget Philosophy, forget Literature, those are long dead.

Update: Somwhat more optimistically

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

somewhat inevitably

The popular take-down of Agamben, albeit at some length. Daniel Binswanger has clearly bothered to bone-up enough to produce what is known as journalistic pap, interspersed with the odd correct sentence, if only to lend him what is known as the aura of authority. If you recognize yourself in this intended audience, do bear in mind that you're not intended to be taken seriously. As for 'bare life' well, you know I hear it means something like this.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Beatitude: Blanchot and Death

(Following on from here...)

"I" die before being born. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 101)

I believe only in death, and precisely in death as impossible, for which reason I am obsessed with, curious about, and convinced of mortality. (Derrida, "Deconstructions: The Im-possible," 18)

But there is another kind of interruption, more enigmatic and more grave. It introduces the wait that measures the distance between two interlocutors--no longer a reducible, but an irreducible distance. (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 76)

Conversely, political speech--Blanchot refers especially to the "terrible monologues" of Hitler--often seeks to eliminate silence altogether, and so perhaps also the exigency that is an incessant dying (The Infinite Conversation, 75).

To think the way one dies: without purpose, without power, without unity, and precisely without "the way." Whence the effacement of this formulation as soon as it is thought--as soon as it is thought, that is, both on the side of thinking and of dying, in dis-equilibrium, in an excess of meaning and in excess of meaning. No sooner is it thought than it has departed; it is gone, outside.
Thinking as dying excludes the "as" of thought, in a manner such that even if we suppress this "as" by paratactic simplification and write: "to think: to die," it forms an enigma in its absence, a practically unbridgeable space. The un-relation of thinking and dying is also the form of their relation: not that thinking proceeds toward dying, proceeding thus toward its other, but not that it proceeds toward its likeness either. It is thus that "as" acquires the impetuousness of its meaning: neither like nor different, neither other nor same. (The Writing of the Disaster, 39)

Presence is only presence at a distance, and this distance is absolute--that is, irreducible; that is, infinite. (Blanchot, Friendship, 218)

Language, in its attentive and forgetful being, with its power of dissimulation that effaces every determinate meaning and even the existence of the speaker, in the gray neutrality that constitutes the essential hiding place of all being and thereby frees the space of the image - is neither truth nor time, neither eternity nor man; it is instead the always undone form of the outside. It places the origin in contact with death, or rather brings them both to light in the flash of their infinite oscillation - a momentary contact in a boundless space. The pure outside of the origin, if that is indeed what language is eager to greet, never solidifies into a penetrable and immobile positivity; and the perpetually rebegun outside of death, although carried toward the light by the essential forgetting of language, never sets the limit at which truth would finally begin to take shape. They immediately flip sides. The origin takes on the transparency of the endless; death opens interminably onto the repetition of the beginning. And what language is (not what it means, not the form in which it says what it means), what language is in its being, is that softest of voices, that nearly imperceptible retreat, that weakness deep inside and surrounding every thing and every face - what bathes the belated effort of the origin and the dawnlike erosion of death in the same neautral light, at once day and night. Orpheus's murderous forgetting, Ulysses' wait in chains, are the very being of language. (Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside)

My speech is a warning that at this very moment death is loose in the world, that it has suddenly appeared between me, as I speak, and the being I address: it is there between us as the distance that separates us, but this distance is also what prevents us from being separated, because it contains the condition for all understanding. Death alone allows me to grasp what I want to attain; it exists in words as the only way they can have meaning. Without death, everything would sink into absurdity and nothingness. (Blanchot, The Work of Fire, 323-24)

Derrida's emphasis on radical aporia extends to "belief" in this manner: "belief" in its strongest affirmative sense requires that the thing one is believing in remain unbelievable. That is, "if one only believed in what was believable, the concept of belief itself would disappear." (In Derrida's reading, Heidegger never attempts to acknowledge sufficiently the act of belief that allows him to say "we" in the first place (Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge"). According to Derrida then, if anything would seem to require an act of true belief it would be atheism. Atheism is precisely the belief in death. Death, only ever knowable by the other, from the distance of the witness becomes, in a sense maybe, the new God.

Giving urgency and meaning to language, given to each other through the act of witnessing, death is the condition of possibility for any community, ethics or just relation toward the other. Blanchot's writing is obsessively occupied with the experience of the death of the other, which is a "limit-experience" because it exposes the subject to a certain fragility that is unavoidably at once immediate and inaccessible.

What calls me most radically into question? Not my relation to myself as finite or as the consciousness of being before death or for death, but my presence in the proximity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another's death as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community. (The Unavowable Community, 9)

The death of the Other is one of those overwhelming events which reverberate throughout L’arrêt de mort [Death Sentence], and indeed all of Blanchot’s fiction. In such events, the Other affects me, or concerns me. and at the same time escapes my scrutiny. The traditional directionality of Western thought is inverted. I am no longer able to refer the advent of the other person to my thought of that person, or to a space of figural substitution in which my fantasy is able to play freely. Instead, my thought is taken away from me, estranged, singularized, and necessitated, by the Other’s attraction. Metaphor gives way to metamorphosis. I am altered, and drawn outside of myself, in an encounter that does not even occur in the time of my own interiority but precedes the constitution of myself as someone capable ot having such an encounter. Just as my thinking is sustained by a pensée that exceeds my capacity to think it, so in its turn that pensée is generated in the violence and surprise of a happening that it is unable to adequately formulate. Just as writing is not a self-sufficient action, but is drawn into and impelled by a broader movement of compulsion, so the obsessive repetition that initiates thought is itself exceeded in a moment of contact. The impersonality and nonintentionality of passion implies, not isolation, but engagement with an Other. Before the unhappy subsistence of the “I,” there is the shock of the Other’s touch. Prior to the very constitution of my subjectivity in obsession, there is the singularity of a glance or a voice that summons me. (Shaviro, Passion and Excess, 153-154)

Through this contact--an incommunicable intimacy or touch existing, or pre-existing 'outside' of language--it is perhaps the other who is granted something like the potentially earth-and-self-shattering power of God, and precisely as she gives, by withdrawing. The indifference that normally permits communication (as well as violence) is shattered by an even greater indifference. Can this touch even really exist? And yet it does. There is a willing for it, although a willing that does not belong to anything except perhaps this willing itself. Something takes place. (The disaster...happens.)
Something beautiful takes 'place', but not because it is pure, only because it is bound up with a yearning or a willing toward a purity it knows to be impossible. Something enigmatic and yet extremely simple. Something without cure. Speaking of Mallarmé, Blanchot writes:

"If it gets finished (the tale), I shall be cured." This hope is touching in its simplicity. But the tale was not finished. Impotence--that abandon in which the work holds us and where it requires that we descend in the concern for its approach--knows no cure. That death is incurable. The absence that Mallarmé hoped to render pure is not pure. The night is not perfect, it does not welcome, it does not open. It is not the opposite of day--silence, repose, the cessation of tasks. In the night, silence is speech, and there is no repose, for there is no position. There the incessant and the uninterrupted reign--not the certainty of death achieved, but "the eternal torments of Dying." (The Space of Literature, 118-119)

Death always means: the death of the other. But death itself remains unpronounceable; we know only dying. Is then the witness in fact the one who dies? With something of a crude finger, I would like to point to a passage that should really not be pointed to in this way, without being read in the full weight (or full 'lightness') of its context. (But then again, maybe context is not so all-important after all.) It comes from a work of Blanchot's "fiction," and yet it may express things better than any theoretical argument ever could. At the same time, we are led to believe it is nothing less than an intensely personal act, almost a confession, the writing of this story, his words, writing as a witness, in a sense the closest thing to him-self that will have been possible, and so to cite it merely as support for some "theory" may be another violence toward Blanchot (or at least until several years ago, it would have been). Now it is something different again, but let us listen:

She had fallen asleep, her face wet with tears. Far from being spoiled by it, her youth seemed dazzling: only the very young and healthy can bear such a flood of tears that way; her youth made such an extraordinary impression on me that I completely forgot her illness, her awakening and the danger she was still in. A little later, however, her expression changed. Almost under my eyes, the tears had dried and the tear stains had disappeared; she became severe, and her slightly raised lips showed the contraction of her jaw and her tightly clenched teeth, and gave her a rather mean and suspicious look: her hand moved in mine to free itself, I wanted to release it, but she seized me again right away with a savage quickness in which there was nothing human. When the nurse came to talk to me--in a low voice and about nothing important--J. immediately awoke and said in a cold way, "I have my secrets with her too." She went back to sleep at once.
...As I listened without pause to her slight breathing, faced by the silence of the night, I felt extremely helpless and miserable just because of the miracle that I had brought about. Then for the first time, I had a thought that came back to me later and in the end won out. While I was still in that state of mind--it must have been about three o'clock--J. woke up without moving at all--that is, she looked at me. That look was very human: I don't mean affectionate or kind, since it was neither; but it wasn't cold or marked by the forces of this night. It seemed to understand me profoundly; that is why I found it terribly friendly, though it was at the same time terribly sad. "Well," she said, "you've made a fine mess of things." She looked at me again without smiling at all, as she might have smiled, as I afterwards hoped she had, but I think my expression did not invite a smile. Besides, that look did not last very long.
Even though her eyelids were lowered, I am convinced that from then on she lay awake; she lay awake because the danger was too great, or for some other reason; but she purposefully kept herself at the edge of consciousness, manifesting a calm, and an alertness in that calm, that was very unlike her tension of a short time before. What proved to me that she was not asleep--though she was unaware of what went on around her because something else held her interest--was that a little later she remembered what had happened nearly an hour before: the nurse, not sure whether or not she was asleep, had leaned over her and suggested she have another shot, a suggestion which she did not seem to be at all aware of. But a little later she said to the nurse, "No, no shot this evening," and repeated insistently, "No more shots." Words, which I have all the time in the world to remember now. Then she turned slightly towards the nurse and said in a tranquil tone, "Now then, take a good look at death," and pointed her finger at me. She said this in a very tranquil and almost friendly way, but without smiling. ("Death Sentence")

A sentence of death, spoken with a finger, is passed from the dying to the witness. The witness receives a death sentence, with an exchange of looks, and for a death that is not his. The affinities shared by this passage and the meditations on God that are pursued by Derrida in The Gift of Death are striking.

One hesitates to read too much. But with that worry in mind, it might just be noted that in Blanchot's story the character of the nurse (if she is a character, as well as--perhaps?--a real person) occupies an interesting position as a sort of mediator between the narrator and "J." The death worn on the witness's or narrator's face can only be seen by a third party or a second witness. In a strange way, then, the nurse is not unlike a sort of priest, mediating between a God (the narrator--death)--a God who sees in the other (J.) in secret, without himself being seen-- and J. herself. But the story also lends itself to being read in an opposite direction (and this is part of the performative ambiguity--if such a thing can be said without raising to many eyebrows at once--of the text), whereby J. is clearly the figure of God ("you've made a fine mess of things")--a God whose omniscience (seeing every secret) with regard to the narrator is a profound comfort, although one that is at once "terribly friendly" and "terribly sad."
In any case, much more might be said about this passage, and this story where every act of naming may or may not be quite deliberate. Could it have been written--and can it be read--by someone who hasn't felt these things as well? Blanchot writes of having once been convinced he was about to die, before the firing squad. He miraculously escaped, but it would seem an experience that left him forever marked by death. An "alertness in that calm"--isn't this also the "passivity" of which The Writing of the Disaster speaks at such length? A friendship without friendship, a gift without giving--these are the aporias that Derrida transforms from Blanchot's logic of the 'neuter'. In his reading of Blanchot's récit, "The Instant of My Death", Derrida elaborates:

Life can only be light from the moment that it stays dead-living while being freed, that is to say, released from itself. A life without life, an experience of lightness, an instance of “without,” a logic without logic of the “X without X,” or of the “not” or of the “except,” of the “being without being,” etc. In “A Primitive Scene,” we could read: “To live without living, like dying without death: writing returns us to these enigmatic propositions.”
The proof that we have here, with this testimony and reference to an event, the logical and textual matrix of Blanchot’s entire corpus, so to speak, is that this lightness of “without,” the thinking of the “X without X” comes to sign, consign or countersign the experience of the neuter as ne uter, neither-nor by bringing it together. This experience draws to itself and endures, in its very passion, the thinking as well as the writing of Blanchot, between literature and the right to death. Neither...nor: in this way the witness translates the untranslatable demourance....The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition -- neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, 88-90).

There is of course also a 'weaker' sense in which the phrase "death sentence" may be read. As precisely a sort of entirely banal prohibition against dying--a living death instead of a dying life, if you will. For example, the political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving his twenty-second (24) year in solitary confinement (and in support of whose case Derrida wrote, years ago, to then-President Bill Clinton), has been given such a "death sentence."
To presume to pronounce the other's death--is this to exercise the violence of a sovereign, as if one could ever justly assume adequate authority over whether the other lives or dies (the implication being that one had then somehow mastered one's own death); moreover to justify this power as the condition of possibility for any relation at all to the other, or indeed of any politics--such might even be the definition of injustice, mightn't? Derrida's critical reading of Carl Schmitt in The Politics of Friendship would point away from such a politics. Where Schmitt would affirm the permanent threat of war between sovereign nation-states (annihilation, even, extending without limit the exigency of the Cold War's logic of "deterrance") as the condition of the political, Derrida would rather dream of something else, and not only because he sees in Schmitt's analysis a dangerous sanctioning of a certain sanctified or legalized "killing without murder." With regard to Schmitt, Derrida writes (and it is well worth reproducing at a little length for the playful echoes of Blanchot's questions and indeed Blanchot's style that appear):

One can infer symmetrically that there is no friend without this possibility of killing which establishes a non-natural community. Not only could I enter into a relationship of friendship only with a mortal, but I could love in friendship only a mortal at least exposed to so-called violent death--that is, exposed to being killed, possibly by myself. And by myself, in lovence itself, in an essential, not an accidental manner. To love in love or friendship would always mean: I can kill you, you can kill me, we can kill ourselves. Together or one another, masculine or feminine. Therefore, in all cases, we already are (possibly, but this possibility is, precisely, real) dead for one another...Let us not forget that the political would precisely be that which thus endlessly binds or opposes the friend--enemy/enemy--friend couple in the drive or decision of death, in the putting to death or in the stake of death. We were speaking of the political enemy at the beginning of this analysis. A hypothesis, then: and what if another lovence (in friendship or in love) were bound to an affirmation of life, to the endless repetition of this affirmation, only in seeking its way (in loving its way, and this would be phileîn itself) in the step beyond the political, or beyond that political as the horizon of finitude, putting to death and putting of death. The phileîn beyond the political or another politics for loving, another politics to love, for love (à aimer)? Must one dissociate and associate together differently pólis, politeía, philía, Éros, and so forth? If a choice between these three hypotheses and these three logical chains were simply or clearly possible, we would make that choice, we would choose one immediately. In this very place.
Hence we must be patient at the crossroads and endure this undecidable triviality. Without it--and this is the thesis and the decision--no decision would be possible, nor even any friendship. There we are. In this very place? No, there.(The Politics of Friendship, 122-123)

No doubt what then began for the young man was the torment of injustice. No more ecstasy; the feeling that he was only living because, even in the eyes of the Russians, he belonged to a noble class.
This was war: life for some, for others, the cruelty of assassination.
There remained, however, at the moment when the shooting was no longer but to come, the feeling of lightness that I would not know how to translate: freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already the step beyond. I know, I imagine that this unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of existence. As if death outside of him could only henceforth collide with the death in him. "I am alive." "No, you are dead." ("The Instant of My Death", 7-9)

This lightness neither frees nor relieves of anything; it is neither a salvation through freedom nor an opening to the infinite because this passion is without freedom and this death without death is a confirmation of finitude. Yet here is a more affirmative response, if not a more positive and more assured one...We could appeal to all of Blanchot's texts on the neuter here--the neither-nor that is beyond all dialectic, of course, but also beyond the negative grammar that the word neuter, ne uter, seems to indicate. The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition--neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness. (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony)

Taking issue with the formula often attributed to Kafka--"Write to be able to die--Die to be able to write"--Blanchot in "The Work and Death's Space" responds:

At first glance, the preoccupation of the writer who writes in order to be able to die is an affront to common sense. It would seem we can be sure of at least one event: it will come without any approach on our part, without our bestirring ourselves at all; yes, it will come. That is true, but at the same time it is not true, and indeed quite possibly it lacks truth altogether. At least it does not have the kind of truth which we feel in the world, which is the measure of our action and of our presence in the world. What makes me disappear from the world cannot find its guarantee there; and thus, in a way, having no guarantee, it is not certain. This explains why no one is linked to death by real certitude. No one is sure of dying. No one doubts death, but no one can think of certain death except doubtfully, the brittleness of the unsure. It is as in order to think authentically upon the certainty of death, we had to let thought sink into doubt and inauthenticity, or yet again as if when we strive to think on death, more than our brain--the very substance and truth of thought itself--were bound to crumble. This in itself indicates that if men in general do not thing about death, if they avoid confronting it, it is doubtless in order to flee death and hide from it, but this escape is possible only because death itself is perpetual flight before death, and because it is the deep of dissimulation. Thus to hide from it is in a certain way to hide in it. (The Space of Literature, 95)

In the "brittleness of the unsure," thought finds its necessity. The real is fragile, and this is precisely what makes it real. However, the real has already been forgotten, and then remembered. Following in the steps of Nietzsche, and perhaps even skipping a mountain peak every now and then (though we could argue about whether he reaches the clouds), Blanchot emphasizes that memory is always a function of forgetting.
Impossible necessary death; why do these words--and the experience to which they refer (the inexperience)--escape comprehension? Why this collision of mutually exclusive terms? Why efface them by considering them as a fiction peculiar to some particular author? It is only natural. Thought cannot welcome that which it bears within itself and which sustains it, except by forgetting. (The Writing of the Disaster, 67)

However, returning to the phrase: “Prevented from dying by death itself." One way of approaching this enigmatic statement might run more or less like this: if death as such is only knowable or realizable through the experience of watching the other die--of witnessing the other in their absolute mortality from a perspective and necessary distance that they themselves will never know--then this “death” is also in some sense a pronouncement of immortality, signifying the impossibility of one's own death.
But in another sense (and there are many--Derrida has quipped in Demeure that “years could be spent on this sentence alone”--which is most convincing coming from him, but in any case), if one thinks this sentence with a different emphasis, one placed not unlike invisible quotes on “dying” rather than on death, then, again, the aporia might be said to be placed on dying. In this sense, one’s need for a kind of dying--an infinite dying, in fact--would be violently abridged by the imposition: death. (In a sense it is the same everyday imposition of calling someone by their name, which is at once to reference a time when such a call cannot be answered, but only the name itself will echo.)
In other words, it is essential to be able to die without in fact dying, to die without death--otherwise the ethical demand of death is not addressed, and "death" becomes only a kind of epithet or slogan hurled at the living. One can never be through responding to the dead, or rather to the demand placed by the enigma of their disappearance. Just how one remains faithful to this infinite demand (and what being "faithful" might mean) without, as Freud once said, being “unconsciously afraid of the dead and because of this hidden awe...often led to speak in overpraising term," is not a simple question (Lacoue-Labarthe, "The Echo of the Subject," 158). Freud, for one, might suggest that it is also a question of shame.

It is a question whose tone has been uniquely and permanently altered by the events of the second World War. It may be a question of an “ethics without redemption,” but, paradoxically, also one of lightness, and perhaps, above all, of friendship.

To be truly responsible, in the strongest possible sense of this word--a word that is so important in linking Blanchot and Derrida, and in a manner that may finally open beyond either one of them--requires a negotiation of the aporia of dying. Dying is at bottom an impossible contradiction that can never be resolved with any finality, through the mantric or numbing false comfort of any formula, program or prescription--there is in fact no “at bottom” at all.

The "I" that is responsible for others, the I bereft of selfhood, is sheer fragility, through and through on trial. This I without any identity is responsible for him to whom he can give no response; this I must answer in an interrogation where no question is put; he is a question directed to others from whom no answer can be expected either. The Other does not answer. (The Writing of the Disaster, 119)

The inessentiality and necessity of dying, for any ethics (as essentiality necessarily devoid of essence), can only be approached by first acknowledging the impossibility of doing so. (Which is not, of course, what anybody likes to hear, and it may be only too easy to underestimate the power of this dislike.) But then as soon as one chooses an approach--a decision that is always in some sense "mad"--so Derrida follows Kierkegaard--one is constantly in danger of letting one’s style seduce and subsume the meaning or obscure the stakes of one’s intervention. In fact there is no avoiding this obscurity, but only degrees of patience.
If in fact every interpretation cannot help but transform what it interprets, then one is still responsible for how one goes about transforming, deforming, and reforming, even if the result is always failure. There might be a kind of relief in this, if it were not also the greatest burden in the world: how to fail responsibly and in failing, disappear (or nearly disappear)...with style (but not into style). To fail so that in failing, there is still genuine risk.

"Prevented from dying by death itself." This sentence plays on the many readings made possible depending on which language--general or restricted, weak or strong--is heard, and when. In the end, every reading might amount to much the same point. But there might also be a kind of violence in reducing the enigmatic quality or multiplying expressiveness of such a phrase to a single point, because the inability of language to express the full weight of such a point is also part of the point. That is, to dismiss such phrases as mere "word play" is to miss hearing the serious tone of the game--one refusing to be excused from aporia and contradiction.

The phrase, “prevented from dying by death itself” must finally be read in the light of the camps--where "light" is not a 'lightness' at all; it is perhaps a blinding glare, a "night without darkness," or a day without dawn.

"Prevented from dying by death itself." Is this not the self-sacrificial "leap" that is required of 'belief'?

Yes, let us remember the earliest Hegel. He too, even prior to his "early" philosophy, considered that the two deaths were indissociable, and that only the act of confronting death--not merely of facing it or of exposing oneself to its danger (which is the distinguishing feature of heroic courage), but of entering into its space, of undergoing it as infinite death and also as mere death, "natural death"--could found the sovereignty of masterhood: the mind and its prerogatives. The result was perhaps, absurdly, that the experience which initiates the movement of the dialectic--the experience which none experiences, the experience of death--stopped it right away, and that the entire subsequent process retained a sort of memory of this halt, as if of an aporia which always had still to be accounted for. (The Writing of the Disaster, 68)

See also, not unrelatedly...