Thursday, June 30, 2005

go read

For those who may not be aware lately I've also been throwing up the odd post, as time permits, over at the new place, which is on a schedule all its own but suffice to say we're not concerned. I recommend you go take a look, especially at the more patient thoughts of others, some relatively new to the blogosuffix, who have lately, greatly, been stepping up. It's so muggy I'm surprised anyone has the will to herd words, let alone post on Bourdieu, Hegel, Derrida and Heidegger, but they're going at it. Also, I hear there's something special in the works coming soon from Alphonse and John...

At the same time, there can be no doubt that blogging is in some sense antithetical to writing. I'm a fairly diligent blogger, and I haven't written anything in months. And yet in the face of so much increasingly quality online writing (if you know where to look), those getting paid for it do seem progressively obscene and silly. (Of course 80% of what is published, paid for, reviewed and promoted, certainly including McSweeney's blabber, is complete and utter crap (and don't worry about that changing because apparently Technorati doesn't do lit. blogs? And only measures sales through Amazon?!?)...petty bourgeois crap, yes, as any "literary snob" worth hir salt will rightly and repeatedly tell you.) But then again how hard can it be, when the competition is this?

Finally, the sidebar is a living thing, I'll have you know.

Operation Margarine

Dear Jesus, why are Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Friedman et al. sooo 1957? The sociologists say we're experiencing a cultural return to the 1950's (only without the jazz, the Beats, or anything even moderately courageous.) Well at least there's some hope, for soap!

On the other hand, there is the World Tribunal on Iraq, currently wrapping up somewhere (in a cave?) in Istanbul (God, is Arundhati Roy beautiful––all philosophic objections to the obscene preponderance of the author photo are thus temporarily suspended).

In the words of the great sentimentalist John Berger:
The records have to be kept and, by definition, the perpetrators, far from keeping records, try to destroy them. They are killers of the innocent and of memory. The records are required to inspire still further the mounting opposition to the new global tyranny. The new tyrants, incomparably over-armed, can win every war - both military and economic. Yet they are losing the war (this is how they call it) of communication. They are not winning the support of world public opinion. More and more people are saying NO. Finally this will be the tyranny's undoing. But after how many more tragedies, invasions and collateral disasters? After how much more of the new poverty the tyranny engenders? Hence the urgency of keeping records, of remembering, of assembling the evidence, so that the accusations become unforgettable, and proverbial on every continent. More and more people are going to say NO, for this is the precondition today for saying YES to all we are determined to save and everything we love.

Update: Here are the World Tribunal's Findings:
The Jury also provided a number of recommendations that include recognising the right of the Iraqi people to resist the illegal occupation of their country and to develop independent institutions, and affirming that the right to resist the occupation is the right to wage a struggle for self-determination, freedom, and independence as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, we the Jury of Conscience declare our solidarity with the people of Iraq and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the coalition forces from Iraq.

The Istanbul session of the WTI lasted three days and presented testimony on the illegality and criminal violations in the U.S. pretexts for and conduct of this war. The expert opinion, witness testimony, video and image evidence addressed the impact of war on civilians, the torture of prisoners, the unlawful imprisonment of Iraqis without charges or legal defence, the use of depleted uranium weapons, the effects of the war on Iraq's infrastructure, the destruction of Iraqi cultural institutions and the liability of the invaders in international law for failing to protect these treasures of humanity.

The session in Istanbul was the culminating session of commissions of inquiry and hearings held around the world over the past two years. Sessions on different topics related to the war on Iraq were held in London, Mumbai, Copenhagen, Brussels, New York, Japan, Stockholm, South Korea, Rome, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lisbon and Spain.

They have compiled a definitive historical record of evidence on the illegality of the invasion and occupation that will be recorded in a forthcoming book.

Update Again: And here's John Pilger on comparing the "public" receptions of the World Tribunal and the G8 affair.

Goodbye, to Marty Jezer

Tribute by Joyce Marcel

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Mark Greif is going to think me a stalker pretty soon, but upon re-reading his article this morning I couldn't resist sharing this. It's taken from near the end of a rather thorough, but also clear and unpretentious essay on "The Concept of Experience" in the second issue of n+1, which, if you don't have a subscription by now, then I guess you're just shit out of luck.
...I hope it is obvious why these solutions are needed now––even more than when they first appeared [this amidst a discussion of Flaubert and Thoreau]––but maybe it needs to be said. Either you know aestheticism and perfectionism as philosophy today, or you'll get them, disfigured, in weaker attempts at the solutions to the pressures of experience. The dawn of the 21st century illuminates a total aesthetic environment in the rich nations of the world, where you choose your paint colors, and drawar pulls, and extreme makeovers, and facial surgery, in the debased aestheticism called consumerism, to make yourself by buying, when you could make yourself by seeing. The radical perception of aestheticism doesn't need always-new, store-bought beauties, and doesn't feel them cloy and fade as soon as they are owned. In the debased perfectionism called self-help, each struggler against the limits of life is already considered wounded by experience, deficient and lost. He is taught to try through acknowledgement of common weakness to reach a base-line level of the "normal," rather than learning perfectionism's appreciation for peculiarity and refusal. He is kept ignorant of perfectionism's hope for a next, unique, or higher self for everyone.

I mistrust any authority that is happy with this world as it is. I understand delight, and being moved by the things of this world. I understand feeling strong in oneself because of one's capabilities. I know what mania is, the lust for powers not of the ordinary run. I sympathize with gratitude for the presence of other people, and for plenty and splendor. But I cannot understand the failure to be disappointed with our experiences of our collective world, in their difference from our imaginations and desires, which are so strong. I cannot understand the failure to wish that this world was fundamentally more than it is.

Experience tries to evade the disappointment of this world by adding peaks to it. Life becomes a race against time and a contest you try to win. Aestheticism and perfectionism make a modern attempt to transcend this world by a more intense attention to it––every day and in every situation. The concept of modern transcendence admits the hope that this world could be more than this world, though it acknowledges this is the only world there is. (Mark Greif)

nb. See also here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Anthony Cordesman, worthwhile conservative

Remind me, why doesn't this guy have Donald Duck's job again?

Oh, and Bernie Sanders has been guest-blogging, with only minimal typos, over here.

Karl Rove, meanwhile...well let's just say there's nothing like pissed off military families and Christians shoving it up a conservative's ass...

Update: There's more on Karl Rove, of course. And Democrats Call for Rove to Come Clean or Resign. Who knows...a good patriotic crime... maybe this will be the one. There's no question it would be, if only they didn't have the ability to drown it out thanks in large part to the media monopolies that took place under Clinton. It's almost as if they made a deal: Bush gets another term, and it's Hillary in 2008. And we all know she's the closest thing to a Republican, save perhaps the newly bearded Leiberman. Whoop de fucking doo.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

David Foster Wallace's

commencement speech is a tad better than Al Gore's. Perhaps relatedly, an interesting discussion of boredom on the film-philosophy listserv.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Passage in Question

There is probably something obscene in posting a passage from the very last pages of one of the richest and most patient philosophical works ever written. Such transcribed offerings most often—and perhaps rightly—get passed over entirely by impatient blog readers. But the passage in question has been cited enough in passing, in various scholarly writings, that we may as well read it here together, while not failing to acknowledge for a moment the indisputable fact that 300-odd extremely dense pages do preceed it. Soon enough, dear reader, this blog will return to something else, more bloggly.

Most unfortunately of all, the Caputo article/review entitled, "Who is Derrida's Zarathustra?" seems to have disappeared from the Internet. Caputo is perhaps the first to comment on the certain "disquiet" and "reticence" that Derrida acknowledges, with respect to Blanchot in particular, having "inspired" this book, which is of course The Politics of Friendship. I've only read it through once, this book, so I won't presume to comment. But maybe this passage can serve as a guidepost nonetheless in starting to think about Levinas. That is my vain desire.

The passage in question "begins" with Derrida quoting Blanchot:

'It is obviously the Nazi persecution (which was in operation from the beginning, unlike what certain professors of philosophy would wish to convince us of––to have us believe that in 1933, when Heidegger joined, national-socialism was still a proper, suitable doctrine, not deserving of condemnation) which made us feel that the Jews were our brothers and that Judaism was more than a culture and even more than a religion, but, rather, the foundation of our relationships with the other [autrui].'

I shall not hazard an interpretation of this definition of Judaism, although I sense both its highly problematic character and its imposing necessity (which is of course unquestionable, from the moment one decides to call Judaism the very thing one thus defines: a question of a circle with which we cannot here engage again). Putting aside, then, what is most difficult in this definition, but supposing, precisely, that Judaism is 'the foundation of our relationships with others', then––and this will be my only question––what does 'brothers' mean in this context? Why would autri be in the first place a brother? And especially, why 'our brothers'? Whose brothers? Who, then, are we? Who is this 'we'?
(Reading this sentence, and always in view of the admiring and grateful friendship which binds me to the author, I was wondering, among other questions (more than one): why could I never have written that, nor subscribed to it, whereas, relying on other criteria, this declaration would be easier for me to subscribe to than several others? In the same vein, I was wondering why the word 'community' (avowable or unavowable, inoperative or not)––why I have never been able to write it, on my own initiative and in my name, as it were. Why? Whence my reticence? And is it not fundamentally the essential part of the disquiet which inspires this book? Is this reserve, with respect to the above definition of Judaism, insufficiently Jewish, or, on the contrary, hyperbolically Jewish, more than Jewish? What, then, once again, does 'Judaism' mean? I add that the language of fraternity seems to me just as problematic when, reciprocally, Lévinas uses it to extend humanity to the Christian, in this case to Abbot Pierre: 'the fraternal humanity of the stalag's confidential agent who, by each of his movements, restored in us the consciousness of our dignity. The man was called Abbot Pierre, I never learned his family name.')

It is rather late in the day now to issue a warning. Despite the appearances that this book has multiplied, nothing in it says anything against the brother or against fraternity. No protest, no contestation. Maligning and cursing, as we have seen often enough, still appertain to the inside of the history of brothers (friends or enemies, be they false or true). This history will not be thought, it will not be recalled, by taking up this side. (Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 304-305)

Monday, June 20, 2005

a Girardian take(down) of Derrida's Gift of Death?

Not that I agree of course, but this is certainly interesting (as in symptomatic?):
While iconoclasm is a crucially important element of our Judeo-Christian heritage, in the case of Derrida it becomes simply another rhetorical posture in the hyper-mimetic atmosphere of post-modern theory.

While Derrida iconoclastically refuses any figuration of the sacred, he still insists on the incommensurability, the absolute difference of God. As a reaction against the fear that we have lost or forgotten the sacred (or Being), and thus the source for all significance, academics have brought back the sacred with a vengeance. But as a result of iconoclasm, the sacred now takes the abstract form of absolute difference or alterity, and any attempt to understand or even discuss rationally the incommensurable is abandoned. Derrida's incantatory language--the poetical cadences of his prose, the long and rapturous repetitions--reveals an aestheticism which is at heart rooted in a deep nostalgia for the sacred. His hostility towards modern technological civilization reflects the fear that the modern forgetting of the sacred will allow for unrestrained violence. The so-called primitive ambivalence of the sacred continues then, even in modern academia. On the one hand we resent any defined figuration of the sacred for presuming to colonize the space which is essentially spiritual and thus (for modernity) individual. But on the other hand, we still long for a sense of sacred difference, an absolute sacred immune to the corrosive power of resentment.

Derrida's interpretation of Christian mystery is on the one hand directed towards deconstructing responsibility, but also, on the other hand, towards the articulation of a new "more radical form of responsibility" (27). On what, then, will Derrida found this "more radical" form of responsibility? He proposes the "experience of singularity" in the individual's "apprehensive approach to death," a Heideggerian "being-towards-death" (43). What is missing in "being-towards-death," however, is the recognition that "The real power of death is sacrifice," the death of the other (Girard, TE 241). The sacrifice of the other, specifically Jesus, is precisely what Derrida's metaphysical framework tends to displace. Whereas the death of Jesus on the Cross has ineluctable ethical implications, the "being-towards-death" does not suggest any overt ethical dimension.

Ok, predictable enough so far maybe. The author may as well be talking about Kristeva here (or Heidegger, and maybe he is!), but the final kicker seems to be a pretty gross misreading:
Derrida's argument has the disturbing implication of simply leveling all ethical distinctions. Feeding his cat becomes equivalent to Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac in the Old Testament (71). Derrida represents the "post-modern triumph of the victimary" (Gans, "Moral Contradiction") taken to its logical and absurd conclusion. The assertion that sacrifice is everywhere and always amounts, pragmatically, to a justification of the sacrificial. If there is nothing we can do to avoid the sacrificial, then obviously this is not a problem we need to worry ourselves about.

Acknowledging the role of the sacrificial in human culture does not have to mean simply accepting violence as inevitable, or denying the distinction between the sacrificial and the non-sacrificial. Considered as simply another act of sacrificial violence, there is nothing mysterious about the event of the Crucifixion. Such acts of scapegoating are all too common within human history. The miracle and mystery of Christianity can be found pre-eminently in the unconditional refusal of violence and the supremely human potential for love.

Well, from one supreme human to another, I would love to hear an explanation of why not! Isn't the question precisely one of how one goes about acknowledging the role of sacrifice (and not just acknowledging, but interpreting). I mean, to deny it tout court would probably be pretty silly and sorta deconstructionistic, or "simply another hyper-mimetic rhetorical posture..."

Seriously though, if anyone feels inclined to defend Girard here, that would be most welcome. Maybe without using the word "mimetic" as self-evident, for extra bonus points? (And no I haven't forgotten about the Levinas post below.)

Update: In comments below 'archive' draws attention to this slightly more worthy article, dealing with the themes of sacrifice, 'owness' of death, and the ontic/ontological distinction in Heidegger, from which excerpted a small bit:
In Aporias Derrida largely confined Levinas to the background of his discussion. In The Gift of Death, he gave Levinas a more prominent role, although in the context of the treatment of death in the second chapter Levinas is still largely subordinated to Heidegger. Derrida seemed to suggest there that Levinas's main criticism of Heidegger arose from a classic misunderstanding of what the latter was doing. Derrida even indicated that Heidegger foresaw - "exposing itself to it but exempting itself in advance" (DM 46; GD 42) - Levinas's objection. In numerous asides throughout his works Levinas seemed to juxtapose sacrifice to Heideggerian being-toward-death, as if the latter could not take account of the former. In The Gift of Death Derrida showed that this is not the case (DM 46; GD 42). According to Heidegger, my death is a possibility that I can assume in authenticity. Although Heidegger had difficulty providing the existentiell attestation that his existential analysis called for, it would seem that sacrificing oneself for another might be one of the ways in which this happens. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that in the 1930s Heidegger from time to time promoted such a conception in the context of National Socialism. Thinking perhaps less of these references than of the inclusion in The Origin of the Work of Art of sacrifice as one of the ways in which truth happens, Derrida suggested that Heidegger's thinking as much as that of Levinas has "paid constant attention to the fundamental and founding possibility of sacrifice" (DM 46; GD 42). However, that is not the end of the matter. Levinas elsewhere emphasized the lack of an ethics of sacrifice and it is not clear that Heidegger had a good answer to why one would sacrifice oneself for another or for a cause, otherwise than to assume one's own death, and how that is possible is not exactly clear.

One question that Levinas never raised explicitly in so dramatic a form, but which nevertheless can be said to be implied by his criticism of Heidegger, is the question of whether my death is my own. According to Heidegger, "By its very essence death is in every case mine, in so far as it 'is' at all" (SZ 240). By contrast, death is in Levinas's thought other and approaches as an Other, like a murderer or a thief in the night.

How might this article speak to the particular "disquiet" at the seemingly "exemplary" status granted to Judaism by Blanchot (and Levinas) cited at the opening and serving to orient and motivate, to some degree, Derrida's Politics of Friendship?

30 Days (to give "slumming" a new name)

Finally, some Reality TV! I can only watch this guy and his girlfriend suffer for so long, but I'm glad he's doing it and it sure beats the shit out of 24.
Last Tuesday, American Progress hosted a screening of the first episode of the new series 30 Days. In the first installment, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and his fiancée, Alexandra Jamieson, spend a month trying to live on the minimum wage in Columbus, Ohio, where they seek jobs, affordable housing and the best possible quality of life. The event opened with remarks from Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). Following the screening, John Podesta, president and CEO of American Progress, moderated a panel including Morgan Spurlock, Alexandra Jamieson, and Steven Kest, executive director of ACORN. Click here for video, audio and transcript of the event.

For more information: Crib sheet on living wage; economic analysis of the Florida living wage proposal.

Anyway, reminded me—responsible blog-reader that I am— of this.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Impressions Management

Butterflies and Wheels says the obvious:
This is, I believe, one of the most powerful rhetorical moves that can be made, precisely because it cannot be pinned down to errors in logic or dodgy inferences. It is hard even to establish that the move has been made. Because this is all about impressions created, not statements made, it can be claimed that anyone who interprets the mood music unfavourably has simply got the wrong impression. My perceptions, it will be argued, only reflect my prejudices.

However, it is no secret that the Conservatives are using the so-called “dog whistle” technique: saying things that deliver messages only the intended audience can hear. Since this whole strategy relies on there being implicit as well as explicit messages, the claim that things are being implied which are not actually being said can hardly be denied. The room for disagreement concerns only what those implied messages are.

Which makes you wonder just how long the plethora of die-hard liberal blogs out there will go on.

On a rather unrelated note: Call it sentimental and nostalgic (or "pre-ironic") if you must, but I still maintain the jerkiness and quirkiness of the French New Wave films (as well as their later-day manifestations such as Gilliam's "Brazil") to be a virtue, for precisely the reasons given here. Need it be said that there is no respect for disquieting silences (for the potential of silences) in Jim Carey movies such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"? Every silence is plugged full, with a face frozen, hyper-extended in exaggerated expression. Which, let's face it, after a while makes for a boring, predictable genre movie, rather unworthy of 'philosophic' investigation. Unless of course, one is about to analyze how this genre-reflexivity itself functions as a sort of deadening, psychic safety valve in consumer society (Zizek on the cynicism of the perpetually ironic viewer). In which case, you know, good luck competing with Zizek, who simply does the 'kynicism' thing best (or rather who did, somewhere back in the 80's).

Friday, June 17, 2005

book-watch, cont.

More than a few of this blog's readers will be familiar with Elizabeth Rottenberg.

Update: Steve draws our attention to the greatest new gift on the block: a blog currently translating Kafka's Diaries.

Furthermore, fans of David Foster Wallace should definitely take a gander at Michael Ives, if they haven't done so already, namely this:

His partner, the writer Mary Caponegro, is perhaps better well know for The Star Cafe well as these two genuinely haunting short story collections:

In the words of Foster Wallace with regard to the latter: "Modifiers that fit this book include: baroque, eerie, elegant, funny, good and thoroughly upsetting." To which I might have added goth and fragile. Well that's enough images for a while. The walls did seem a little bare.

reading Levinas...

I've been reading a bit of Levinas, prepping for his later stuff where he responds to Derrida. From the very beginning of On Escape, comes this passage:
This conception of the "I" [moi] as self-sufficient is one of the essential marks of the bourgeois spirit and its philosophy. As sufficiency for the petit bourgeois, this conception of the "I" nonetheless nourishes the audacious dreams of a restless and enterprising capitalism. This conception presides over capitalism's work ethic, its cult of initiative and discovery, which aims less at reconciling man with himself than at securing for him the unknowns of time and things. The bourgeois admits no inner division [dechirement interier] and would be ashamed to lack confidence in himself, but he is concerned about reality and the future, for they threaten to break up the uncontested equalibrium of the present where he holds sway [ou il possede]. He is essentially conservative, but there is a worried conservatism. The bourgeois is concerned with business matters and science as a defense against things and all that is unforeseeable in them. His instinct for possession is an instinct for integration, and his imperialism is a search for security. He would like to cast the white mantle of his "internal peace" over the antagonism that opposes him the world. His lack of scruples is the shameful form of his tranquil conscience. Yet, prosaically materialistic [mediocrement materialiste], he prefers the certainty of tomorrow to today's enjoyments. He demands guarantees in the present against the future, which introduces unknowns into those solved problems from which he lives. What he possesses becomes capital, carrying interest or insurance against risks, and his future, thus tamed, is integrated in this way with his past.
(Levinas, On Escape, 50)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

spoils of war

At the bookstore, we sell far more postcards than books. This is starting to depress me. (Better than Thomas Friedman, but still.) Such beautiful pictures, all the time. The 'aura' she is dead.

Gertrude Stein (Alice) on dust:

"I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day and you cannot tell what a book is until you type it or proof-read it. It then does something to you that only reading never can do."


The naked power of blog commenting continues (am I entirely alone in lamenting that the blogosphere's second most affectedly reluctant citizen would rather read economic charts than "do philosophy"?) In any case, may I recommend that in addition to n+1, the only magazine you really need is Naked Punch (forget The New Yorker, for fucksake).

In other news, Bob Dylan and Nora Jones are playing a virtual concert on July 16 because, well, they're paid to (via).

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

re-screenings from an undergrad thesis

It's been online (the entire 80-odd pages) for over a year now and available to anyone willing to download storyspace (a free hyperfiction-writing program developed by a former professor and friend), but I thought I'd swallow my pride and post one of the more rambling bits of it here, as nobody reads webpages anyway...Apologies in advance for any formatting (or, you know, what is probably worse, unbearably undergrad) discrepancies.

After he left I was surprised to feel extraordinarily disgusted. I had the feeling that something shameful had happened. Nevertheless I wanted to see him again. I summed it all up by saying, What an actor! (Blanchot, The Most High, 13).

Blanchot's poetics is among other things a meditation on the meaning of subjectivity. What might it mean for the "self" to be "the same?" Can such a thing ever be accomplished in solitude? Blanchot seems to suggest that true solitude, in a sense, might only be possible through a relation to the other--one marked by an ethics of discretion.
It is through the other that I am the same, through the other that I am myself: it is through the other who has always withdrawn me from myself. The Other, if he calls upon me, calls upon someone who is not I: the first come of the least of men; by no means the unique being I would like to be. It is thus that he assigns me to passivity, addressing himself in me to dying itself. (The responsibility with which I am charged is not mine and causes me not to be I.) (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 18)

First, a banal point: In French the expression for "self" is moi-même, which of course already suggests the dynamics of a relation--namely of oneself to oneself-- at the very core of what it means to be a "self." Blanchot seeks to include the other in this relation; only through a relation to the other is the self identical or self-same. There is thus an implicit suggestion of this relation, running throughout much of Blanchot's writing, whenever he mentions the "self." In her notes, Ann Smock clarifies this point of translation very concisely:
Blanchot writes: "Dans le rapport de moi (le même) à Autrui..." Thus he makes explicit that the relation of self to others (of Subject to the Other) is also the relation of identity to otherness, or of sameness to difference...Blanchot's sentences consistently recall that to be yourself is to be identical: self-same, one might say in English. But his point is always that there is no such sameness, no such identity except through the (disasterous) relation to otherness: no identity, in other words, save by virtue of its ruination. (The Writing of the Disaster, notes, 148)

We can therefore propose a first, provisional definition of shame. It is nothing less than the fundamental sentiment of being a subject, in the two apparently opposed senses of this phrase: to be subjected and to be sovereign. Shame is what is produced in the absolute concomitance of subjectification and desubjectification, self-loss and self-possession, servitude and sovereignty. (Agamben, 107)

The peculiar viciousness of shame is precisely its double inscription; one is ashamed most of all of one's shame or being ashamed, and this is also what makes shame shame. Repeated twice (which is far more than once), shame is a sort of infinite guilt which is assigned by oneself to oneself.

In the end, shame has to be hidden, and this is what is most shameful. In order to relate in the world of human subjects, shame must continually be repressed, fictionalized and denied. The shame of hiding is inextricable from the hiding of shame. Perhaps shame is that which no other can begin to approach because one can only ever inscribe or in-gest (in-jest) it in oneself--the idea that shame can be metered out as a kind of punishment from one person to another is purely a myth; shame always only comes from ourselves. ("Shame on you" means, "remember, (God! and that he sees your secrets) and feel ashamed! (for pretending otherwise.")

In his wonderfully rich essay, "The Echo of the Subject," Lacoue-Labarthe cites Theodor Reik:

I remembered, namely, that many years later when I asked Freud for help in an actual conflict and was in a short psychoanalysis with him, I once said during a session, "I am ashamed to say what just occurred to me..." and Freud's calm voice admonished me, "Be ashamed, but say it!" (Reik, The Haunting Melody, 236)

Might shame be a secret, a unique and irreducible gift we give to ourselves, and yet which originates in a ruthless space of disappearance--a space enigmatically marked by the death of the other, for whom and in whose absence we remain unique witnesses, called to testify--however impossibly--until the moment when one dies, passing on and so even more impossibly multiplying this task? Is shame the difficulty of being a witness to the death of the other--of having to endure the other’s death in a manner both more and less intimate than any words, and perhaps any ontology, could ever delimit.

And so shame is also perhaps the voice of madness. It is the voice of Shakespeare’s fools, fellows of infinite jest, who whisper poison in the king’s ear....

Is "shame" an adequate name for what may motivate the need for two languages (at least two?)--one practical and the other perhaps more than a little mad?

(What if it is nothing less than the doctrine of original sin--as interpreted in a proto-Catholic manner--that is still, insidiously, perhaps in fact the greatest obstacle to a truly responsible decision or political Act, or even to a politics with anything resembling a future? Of course quite the opposite has been argued as well--these are unnecessarily provoking remarks not at all in a spirit of gaiety...)

"Innocent guilt" in Blanchot is also (and not just) a play on words, when read the way it was meant to be heard--in French. The word for "guilty" in French is coupable, which might be taken to suggest the "ability" proper to a "strike" or "blow," or the ability for a blow to be inflicted.
Here is the passage in mind:

For responsibility is the extreme of subissement: it is that for which I must answer when I am without any answer and without any self save a borrowed, a simulated self, or the '"stand in" for identity: the mandatory proxy. Responsibility is innocent guilt, the blow always long since received which makes me all the more sensitive to all blows. It is the trauma of creation or of birth. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 22)

Perhaps this "simulated self" should not be read purely in the light of recent technological developments. Part of the reason Blanchot employs so many descriptive terms in approaching the word, "responsibility" is that the strongest, most exigent meaning of the word simply seems to demand something more than impossible. Might "innocent guilt" be a coupable without the coup, or a coupable with the strike, the blow, or the stab itself struck or crossed out--a blow that is no longer a blow? In this sense, "innocent guilt" might be not unlike an ability without the blow, without the caput, or without the spanking.

Might this not suggest a "gulty conscience" without (original) "sin"--without either origin or the patriarch's staff? Without the snake that is also a belt? Agamben's reading of the doctrine of original sin (as not implying an Act) perhaps deserves to be more thoroughly questioned, as might his ontologizing of "shame."

On the other hand (and perhaps more accurately) "innocent guilt" might be described as a coupable without ability as such, or guilt that is without essence and so infinite, and forever beyond appropriation. (Such would also be reminiscent of course of the line Heidegger passes through "Being.")
Ann Smock makes this point:
So innocent guilt (i.e. responsibility) is the endurance of a blow whose -able has been blown up: its ability to be inflicted, its ability to be borne. (The Writing of the Disaster, notes, 148)

This might resonate more clearly with what may be argued to be Blanchot's ontologizing of 'passivity'––if an ontology that remains in itself accessible only through the realm of literature or poetry. As Thomas Wall, in his book, Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, Agamben puts it:

The space of literature...the space of absolute passivity or the thick, crepuscular, and paroxysmatic materiality of thought that thickens into a "thing"...It is the erasure of the subject-object hyphen, the erosion of mastery, the erosion of that distance which allows us to hold the world at a distance. (Hall, 111)

Hall's reading is often quite close to that of Agamben (who clearly left his mark on Hall's manuscript)--and at stake, as always, is nothing less than a close reading of Heidegger (too close for the bounds of this paper).

Existence (or Being) takes place in poetry, not in the world (where it is disseminated in things), because poetry is without a world and without existents (or beings). But there is nothing other than the world. Language is the saying of this fatality...This is its pure exposure to irreparability, as Giorgio Agamben would say...The secret of its obsolescence is this "already no longer" that describes its origin. Already no longer a thing, neither meant nor shown, its being is its being-toward-itself, toward its death, that at each instant arrests its being-toward, like the superfluity of an instant that must endure its no longer having time. (Hall, 73)

But can the first reading here of "innocent guilt" be dismissed? That is, if there is no pure originary coup or blow––then might one in fact be empowered to Act, in a sense, however inadequately––but without feeling oneself to be infinitely delimited by this inadequacy––that is, in some sense, without shame?

In French, coup is of course by itself an extremely evocative word, lending itself to a poetics of excess and contradiction that even Mallarmé could not exhaust. Blanchot is no doubt not ignorant of this, nor is Derrida (cf. Spurs Nietzsche's Styles––the sole English translation).

A final thought: In order to begin reading Blanchot (or Derrida, for that matter) "as an American," perhaps one first has to read them as if more French than they are themselves...? (In order to read as neither, that is.)

A final link: There's some interesting stuff on Blanchot and Levinas at the new French site here. I may try my hand at a little translating if there's any interest..

Monday, June 13, 2005

Paul Celan's In Eins [In One]

Thirteenth of February. Shibboleth
roused in the heart's mouth. With you,
de Paris. No pasarán.

Little sheep to the left: he, Abadias,
the old man from Huesca, came with his dogs
over the field, in exile
white hung a cloud
of human nobility, into our hands
he spoke the word that we needed, it was
shepherd-Spanish, and in it

in icelight of the cruiser "Aurora":
the brotherly hand, waving with
the blindfold removed from
his world-wide eyes –– Petropolis, the
roving city of those unforgotten,
was Tuscanly close to your heart also.

Peace to the cottages!

As Translated by Michael Hamburger (Poems of Paul Celan). Posted in response to a discussion below, about to drop off the page too soon. (There's another one taking place here.)

Some excellent reading in French here and here.

Downing Street Version 2.0

And again (maybe the WSJ will pick this one up a week and a half—click on EYES ONLY BRIEFING for the new one). And here's a cute little movie about the original.

Questioning the Ends of a Certain History of Art

This looks interesting.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

to flowers

"Our philosophy teachers remain the flower of our secondary education. But while listening to the flower, let us maintain a place for the leaves, such as a teacher of history for example."

—Albert Thibaudet, history and geography teacher, ENS, 1927 (found in Moi's biography of Simone de Beauvoir)

In short, one wonders if those snobby Frenchwen wouldn't sometimes be better philosophers if only they were not so OBTEOTOV (or EWTSOTOV). But that's a petty, translation-insensitive complaint finally, let's face it. Here's a bit more context (describing the discours exam, again from the book with the bizarre subtitle):
In Tristes tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss gives a scathing critique of the inevitable tripartite pattern of thought favoured by the agregation examiners:

"I started to learn that every problem, whether serious or trivial, can be settled once and for all by always applying the same method, which consists in opposing two traditional views of the question, to introduce the first by appealing to common sense, then to destroy it by means of the second, and finally to pack them both off, thanks to a third view which reveals the equally partial nature of the two others. By a trick of vocabulary both of these have now been reduced to complementary aspects of the same thing: form and contents, container and contained, being and appearance, continuity and discontinuity, essence and existence and so on. Such exercises quickly become purely verbal, based on the art of the pun which replaces thought [...] Five years at the Sorbonne amounted to no more than learning this kind of gymnastics [...] I prided myself on beind able to construct in ten minutes a solidly dialectical framework for an hour's lecture on the respective merits of buses and trams." (pp.52-3)

This systmem has not changed much since the 1920s.


The ideological superiority surrounding ENS in the 1920s and 1930s was similar to that surrounding philosophy at the time. Philosophy was seen as the queen of the disciplines, the undisputed champion in the pecking order of academic subjects. It was assumed that only the most intelligent students could cope with the intellectual demands of this regal pursuit. To a certain extent, the prestige of the ENS and that of philosophy overlapped and intertwined. The philosopher supposedly had access to the highest of human realms, that of the spirit, and as such could properly consider himself an elite being. But so could the students at the ENS. Logically and in practice, the philosophy students at the school, such as Sartre, Nizan and Merleau-Ponty, represented the creme de la creme of French student life... (Moi, 52-57)

merely we link along

Smothered in Optimism as usual (I'll be adding to this post as the day wears itself). Peter Bergen thoroughly reviews The Power of Nightmares. I'm thrilled to see The Nation finally picking this up on its radar, and his analysis seems pretty much spot-on.
Still, despite my many disagreements with The Power of Nightmares, which sometimes has the feel of a Noam Chomsky lecture channeled by Monty Python, it is a richly rewarding film because it treats its audience as adults capable of following complex arguments. This is a vision of the audience that has been almost entirely abandoned in the executive suites of American television networks. It would be refreshing if one of those executives took a chance on The Power of Nightmares. After all, its American counterpart, Fahrenheit 9/11, earned more money than any documentary in history. And what Curtis has to say is a helluva lot more interesting than what Michael Moore had to say.

So there's one for the sidebar, anyway.

Also from The Nation Naomi Klein argues for a resource-oriented nationalism, the cooler son Christian Parenti reports from Bolivia (see also Blog From Bolivia for astute commentary), and Gore Vidal a bit belatedly finds an avenue to stroll his aptest phrase.

Moving on to more important matters, Mr. Iyer has a poetic review at the Brit-centric, semi-Blanchodian ReadySteadyBook, one whose central trope struck me as a rather deft turn on the Enlightenment-light language contaminating even Bary Lopez.

The standards-bearing US literary weblog The Elegant Variation carries a guest review of Chicano Sketches by Daniel Olivas.

Golden Rule Jones visits "the lot" of English bookshops in Paris and The Literary Saloon continues to review everything under the stars.


Ok, Alphonse. You who presume to know what I will say, and even hope to turn a profit. I confess I wasn't going to respond at all, but then it occured to me she might be wagering on my non-response, so voila:

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)

The United States, because I feel I could really do something with it.

Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?

There's only one, and she does me just right.

OK, here's the tough one. What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think you'd be proud to mask under.)

N+1 (Plus d'un)

For extra credit: Is there an 'existing' superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?

This one, of course.

Pass it on. Three people please, and why....

Dennis Dutton (because his site sucks already), Dylan Trigg (because he seems lonely), Leonard Cohen (ditto).

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Our turn
(via). I'm glad to see Ayn Rand made the cut.

how it all began, or today's liturgy, or, that silly, inconsequential fascist

A passage stumbled upon again, during a somewhat vague and distraced skimming:
These others are not definite others. On the contrary, any other can represent them. What is decisive is only the inconspicuous domination by others that Da-sein as being-with has already taken over unawares. One belongs to the others oneself, and entrenches their power. "The others." whom one disignates as such in order to cover one's own essential belonging to them, are those who are there initially and for the most part in everyday begin-with-one-another. The who is not this one and not that one, not oneself and not some and not the sum of them all. The "who" is the neuter, the they.

We have shown earlier how the public "surrounding world" is always already at hand and taken care of in the surrounding world nearest to us. In utilizing public transportation, in the use of information services such as the newspaper, every other is like the next. This being-with-one-another dissolves one's own Da-sein completely into the kind of being of "the others" in such a way that the others, as distinguishable and explicit, disappear more and more. In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the they unfolds its true dictatorship. We enjoy ourselves and have fun the way they enjoy themselves. We read, see, and judge literature and art the way they see and judge. But we also withdraw from the "great mass" the way they withdraw, we find "shocking" what they find shocking. The they, which is nothing definite and which all are, though not as a sum, prescribes the kind of being of everydayness. (Being and Time, 118-119, my emphasis in bold)

So there you have it, Heidegger on the Big Other. Sounding not a little bit like someone or other. Thankfully, not everyone who read this took it quite the same way! Most significantly, it seems to me, Heidegger's conception of the "they" quite clearly presupposes a "we" that is by definition one of "essential belonging." Others, like Blanchot, Derrida and, to a lesser degree perhaps, Agamben, will question this "essentialness" in rather crucial ways, no? (Is it not thus?)

All of which is not, I think it goes without saying, to deny the existence or rather influence of the Big Other, or the Symbolic of course, only to resist swallowing it, or rather its vaguely prescriptive terms, whole. You might justly say this is a superficial or merely reductice reading of Lacan, or of the three-way dialectic between the overlapping spheres of the Symbolic, Imaginary and the Real. But there is still an important sense, I think, in which Derrida (um, among others) traces how the alleged hegemony of these terms always risks foreclosing on—dare we say it— 'community.' It is this foreclosure that Blanchot and Derrida (along with, though in a different manner, Nancy and Agamben) most powerfully resist. Or that would be my own initial attempt at a remark on the matter anyway.

They "resist" in a certain very intense and complicated sense of "resistance," needless to say. This summer some of the contributors at Long Sunday (including Jodi, Alain, RIPope, DPW and myself) are planning to attempt a joint reading of Derrida "on" Freud (Freud on Derrida?) using as one of our primary texts Derrida's Resistances of Psychoanalysis. (Jodi has also suggested we use the complete works of Freud, but I assume she was jesting. Any suggestions are of course more than welcome—for instance, does anyone know if this is any good?)

Anyway, to whet the appetite of those who may be interested in joining in, here are some passages from Derrida's text, excerpted like freely plagarized postcards in the simple hope of piquing a bit of interest:
What is called "deconstruction" undeniably obeys an analytic exigency, at once critical and analytic. It is also a matter of undoing, desedimenting, decomposing, deconstituting sediments, artefacta, presuppositions, institutions. And the insistence on unbinding, disjunction, dissociation, the being "out of joing," as Hamlet would have said, on the irreducibility of difference is so massive as to need no further insistance...

What drives [pousse] deconstruction to analyze without respite the analysistic and dialecticistic presuppositions of these philosophies, and no doubt of philosophy itself, what resembles there the drive and the pulse of its own movement, a rhythmic compulsion to track the desire for simple and self-present originarity, well, this very thing—here is the double bind we were talking about a moment ago—drives it to raise the analysistic and transcendalistic stakes. It drives deconstruction to a hyperbolicism of analysis that takes sometimes, in certain people's eyes, the form of a hyperdiabolicism. In this sense, deconstruction is also teh interminable drama of analysis. For in order to prevent the critique of originarism in its transcendental or ontological, analytic or dialectical form from yielding, according to the law that we well know, to empiricism or positivism, it was necessary to accede, in a still more radical, more analytic fashion, to the traditional demand, to the very law of that which had just been deconstructed: whence the impossible concepts, the quasi-concepts, the concepts that I called quasi-transcendentals, such as arche-trace or arche-writing, the arche-originary that is more "ancient" than the origin—and, above all, a donating affirmation that remains the ultimate unknown for the analysis that it nevertheless puts in motion. (27-29)

Phew. Well we will try, anyway. If anything is clear, it is that this "double-bind," one that does not "spring from ontology anymore than it lends itself to dialectical sublation," lies at the heart of Derrida's approach, i.e. until one has understood this, one hasn't begun to read him. (Just to be clear, I have read many of his books, and even attempted some in French—but say what you will, I would absolutely hesitate (if, for instance, this were other than a blog) before asserting to have so begun.)

In any case, here's a hard-hitting passage perhaps more to the point above:
"We" is a modality of the with, of the being-with or the doing-with: avoc, apud hoc, at the home of [chez] the other, as guest or parasite. "We" is always said by a sole person. It is always a sole person who has the gall to say "we psychoanalysts," "we philosophers," "with you psychoanalysts," "with us philosophers," or, still more mysteriously, "we psychoanalysts with the philosophers" or "with us philosophers." "Avec" (with) also means "chez" (at the home of; apud, avuec, avoc, apud hoc, category of the guest or intruder, of the host or the parasite, therefore, who always takes advantage as soon as he says "we").

This logico-grammatical modality seems interesting because, among many other things, it is always me who say "we"; it is always an "I" who utters "we," supposing thereby, in effect, in the asymmetrical structure of the utterance, the other to be absent, dead, in any case incompetent, or ever arriving too late to object.
The one signs for the other.
The assymmetry is even more violent if we're talking about a reflexive, reciprocal, or specular "we." Who will ever have the right to say: "We love each other"? But is there any other origin of love, any other amorous performativity than this presumptuousness? If there is some "we" in being-with, it is because there is always one who speaks all alone in the name of the other, from the other; there is always one of them who lives more, lives longer. I will not hasten to call this one the "subject." (Resistances of Psychoanalysis, 43)

French translators wanted

Some day I would like to have the time to attempt this (that's a link to one of the two preeminent Blanchodian bloggers).

Friday, June 10, 2005

toward a discussion of conspiracy (and theory)

I confess that google scares me, and furthermore that part of me would rather not know precisely how much it should. Nick Lewis has been looking into the practice of "keyword stuffing" and "link farms" as potential methods of censorship. Such practices, if they indeed take place, could be effectively counteracting the priestly (or is that liberation theology?) status granted to blogs by google generally...Here is a case anyway where the most stats-and-referrer-obsessed neurotics on the planet may be occasionally justified in their territorial vigilance. (Meanwhile, of course, Comcast, SBC and Verizon continue their greedy little war against the looming prospect of municipal broadband.)

Some fun facts from Global Politician:
There are more than 186,600 Web sites dedicated to conspiracy theories in Google's database of 3 billion pages. The "conspiracy theories" category in the Open Directory Project, a Web directory edited by volunteers, contains hundreds of entries.

There are 1077 titles about conspiracies listed in Amazon and another 12078 in its individually-operated ZShops. A new (1996) edition of the century-old anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlet faked by the Czarist secret service, "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion", is available through Amazon. Its sales rank is a respectable 64,000 - out of more than 2 million titles stocked by the online bookseller.

In a disclaimer, Amazon states:

"The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is classified under "controversial knowledge" in our store, along with books about UFOs, demonic possession, and all manner of conspiracy theories."

Yet, cinema and TV did more to propagate modern nightmares than all the books combined. The Internet is starting to have a similar impact compounded by its networking capabilities and by its environment of simulated reality - "cyberspace". In his tome, "Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America", Robert Alan Goldberg comes close to regarding the paranoid mode of thinking as a manifestation of mainstream American culture.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the first 50 all time hits include at least one "straight" conspiracy theory movie (in the 13th place) - "Men in Black" with $587 million in box office receipts. JFK (in the 193rd place) grossed another $205 million. At least ten other films among the first 50 revolve around a conspiracy theory disguised as science fiction or fantasy. "The Matrix" - in the 28th place - took in $456 million. "The Fugitive" closes the list with $357 million. This is not counting "serial" movies such as James Bond, the reification of paranoia shaken and stirred.

Update: More here.

preemptive strike

In which he responded with yet another apposite quote to the perception of a vaguely sniggering silence elsewhere.
But 'reality' is now something different from what it was in Holderlin's day, and it may well be asked whether he would have been able to find his way in the present great age. 'I do not know,' said Friedrich Vischer, 'whether his gentle soul could have endured all the harshness involved in any war or all the rottenness we have seen advancing since the war in every sphere of life. Perhaps he would again have sunk back into despair. He was one of the unarmed souls, he was the Werther of Greece, a lover without hope; his was a life full of gentleness and desire, but there was also strength and substance in his will, and greatnesss, richness and life in his style, which now and then reminds us of Aeschylus. Only his spirit had too little of hardness in it; he lacked the weapon of humour; he could not admit that one can be a philistine without being a barbarian.' It is this last confession, and not the sugary condolences of the after-dinner speaker, that concerns us. Yes, one admits to being a philistine—but a barbarian! Not at any price. Poor Holderlin was, alas, incapable of drawing such fine distinctions. If, to be sure, one understands by the word barbarian the opposite of civilization, or even equates it with such things as piracy and cannibalism, then the distinction is justified; but what the aesthetician is plainly trying to say is that one can be a philistine and at the same time a man of culture—this is the joke that poor Holderlin had not the humour to see and the lack of which destroyed him. (Untimely Meditations)


Nabokov on poshlost'. (I won't link to the dim undergrad paper on him still lurking around these parts.) How about this instead for exhibit A, proof that Nabokov was right about some things: Ken Starr busy praising Dostoevsky's "character" and "worldview" in the infinitely tired drones of the Christian commencement speaker.

Addendum: Exhibit B would have to come from here, that Nabokov's lyricism is itself murderous, i.e. is not there just for in fact a crucial part of the show.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Beseiged by too many books, and indirectly proportionate to any desire to actually read, I am somewhat foolishly entertaining thoughts of buying the new new Umberto Eco novel (I'm curious what he does with the theme of nostalgia, one so obviously close to his heart, and the first chapter was a genuine joy to read, if a bit disturbingly similar to Murakami in...benign freight? But his critical essays seem less sentimental and...well I won't say "less Catholic," but somehow...better). I'm troubled, moreover, by this review:
Still, Eco treats lowbrow cultural phenomena with the same seriousness as higher-flown accomplishments. In one essay, for example, he analyzes the essence of Italian society by observing Mike Bongiorno, a TV game show host; another dissects the design of the 1,000-lire note. He has also described how comic-book hero Flash Gordon imparted American ideals to children growing up in Mussolini's Italy. Everything is grist for his mill. Eco's catholic approach is reflected by the way in which contemporary paintings on the walls of his spacious apartment are interspersed with drawings by his grandson, and the alacrity with which he leaps up to show off his antique-book collection. Unlocking the glass case he pulls out a copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a richly illustrated 1499 volume, most often ascribed to a monk, Francesco Colonna, whom Eco describes as "the Joyce of his time."

If James Joyce was a latter-day Colonna, Eco is the modern incarnation of Plutarch, the Ancient Greek essayist, public thinker and iconoclast.

If such flippant remarks as I'm about to make have any positive value (and I'm not convinced they do): is there not a strain of Catholicism that lends excessive support to such conflations, of the high and low culture sort? Where Eco begins to sound like Baz Luhrmann (I see there's no online version of his embarrassing interview, the one in which he pufferfishes this high/low argument whilst claiming expertise in the interpretation of Shakespeare), I start to roll my eyes. This link is admittedly tenuous at best (Luhrmann's alleged "postmodernism" run amok—he is one of those sad, theory-speak-infested directors prone to proclaiming his fervent "postmodern" sensibility from every hilltop—is no match for the, what, breadth of actual knowledge found in Eco, who I greatly admire). But there does seem a connection here (thinking of those other subtle Catholics, Girard and Agamben), as well as the comments in footnotes Derrida makes about a certain "proto-Catholic" tradition (but to whom is he referring there besides Heidegger?) Anyway, the theme of "captivation" and its proper place or potential force in a politics of 'resistance', rather broadly speaking, would be an interesting one to trace, I think. But hopefully, you know, not too broadly. And without any hint of Zizek or Baudrillard.

Update: Here's a review of the book, typically decent, sappy and unexceptional. For Umberto Eco I'll venture to start the latest virus: He owns approximately 50,000 books. Well, no surprise there. He's certainly a man high in demand for interviews these days.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

too fucking hot for clothes

Yes, it is.
Some random notes, anyway:

Thinking of going to this, just for the hell of it. Protest in the spirit of the Billionaires being the only thing going these days; fuck ANSWER, et al. UFPJ seems dead in the water as well.

But in the spirit of petty bourgeois indulgence and escapism (or whatever also feeds the cooking-show obsession in this country...we've been eating superbly of late, I'll have you know. The secret to any successful relationship, surely, is cooking together. Clothes or no clothes, etc.)...I'm actually sort of excited that a new Bach composition has been discovered. The last thing in his own handwriting, nonetheless! Thus capitalizing on the passion for the old and the passion for the new and the passion for the Real simultaneously. Passions all around. In addition, I see there's a good deal of free Beethoven going around, if that's your pill. Plants like classical music, you know (they also like to be talked to, or so I hear.) Anyway this blog will take Bach or Shostakovich over Radiohead or even The Decembrists anytime, though I'd refrain from reading too much into that if I were you.
Reminds me of a "poem" I was (perhaps overly) prone to quoting back when:


i must confess that waltzes
do not move me.
i have no sympathy
for symphonies.

i guess i hummed the Blues
too early,
and spent too many midnights
out wailing to the rain.

—Assata Shakur, in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry

...and an email received just now, regarding Mumia Abu-Jamal (on whose behalf Derrida once wrote Bill Clinton, you'll recall. Crime Bill Clinton did not respond.)

Death-row visit A memorable day with Mumia Abu-Jamal By Monica Moorehead
SCI-Greene Prison in Waynesburg, Pa. Published Jun 8, 2005 7:44 PM

Visiting someone in prison can be one of life’s most heartbreaking

As you approach the prison, you can’t help but be affected by the
impenetrable thick brick walls topped with coils of barbed wire—or by
the steady stream of women and children, disproportionately people of
color, who have traveled from far distances to visit their loved ones,
who are spending years locked up in steel cages, sometimes for
23-and-a-half hours daily.

This is the situation that death-row political prisoner and
revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has faced for almost 23 years

Larry Holmes and I took a seven-hour car trip to visit with Mumia on
June 5 at the remote SCI-Greene prison unit near the West Virginia

After going through the standard security checkpoints to get to the
visiting area, we came face to face with a handcuffed, smiling Mumia.

Separated by a plexiglass barrier, Larry and I instinctively press our
hands up against the glass to meet Mumia’s hands, even with the
knowledge that human contact is almost forbidden under these
unimaginable circumstances.

Yet somehow the omnipresent physical barriers take a back seat during a
face-to-face meeting with Mumia. Since he is allowed only one visit per
week, excluding his lawyers, we decided to make every minute count. As
it turned out, the six hours that we spent with him went by so quickly.

He said that he is in relatively good health and that the swelling in
his feet had gone down. This has been an ongoing problem due to prison

When we asked him about the May 27 Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas
dismissal of his request for a new Post Conviction Relief Act hearing,
Mumia stated that this came to no surprise given the biased nature of
the courts.

Mumia can no longer receive important news sources like C-Span because
of new regulations.

The bulk of our political discussion focused on the problems and
prospects facing the anti-war movement in light of the deepening Iraqi
resistance and the outcome of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the
development of the Black-led Million Workers March Movement, the
upcoming Millions More March this October, and the growing impact of
immigrant workers’ rights on the overall labor movement.

We also discussed the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus
boycott, which helped launch the modern civil rights struggle, and how
to best impart the important lessons this event can have on today’s
struggle against war, racism and cutbacks. Mumia shared with us his fond
memories of his last visit with the actor Ossie Davis, who remained a
committed activist until his recent death.

When we were forced to say good-bye and leave him behind, Mumia flashed
his stunning smile and with his cuffed hands in fists, told us to tell
everyone to keep up the good fight. Larry and I left the prison sad but
also so grateful for time that we spent with this remarkable
revolutionary leader and comrade in the struggle.

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners!

Moorehead and Holmes are members of Workers World Party’s secretariat,
an elected body of WWP’s national committee.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011

If there is a communist dreaming inside us, I imagine that communist dreams all the more loudly when (doubly) imprisoned.

Update: Simulacron P, anyone? (To channel Zizek for a brief moment: Is in not the case that nothing betrays our complete depletion of faith in prisons as potentially redemptive sites so much as the atmospheric and desertified way in which we publicly envision and fantasize about celebrity inmates?)

Candorville blogging

From a series that starts around here.

Derrida on Levinas

The following excerpt comes from an article by Oona Eisenstadt:

LEVINAS'S ZIONIST WRITINGS are generally neglected. This might seem odd in light of the fact that one of the criticisms most often made of Levinas is that he has no interest in politics. You would think that scholars looking to defend him would be led to a consideration of his most overtly political writings. But as yet they have not. Partly this has to do with the prevailing political wind: in the last decade, Zionism has not been altogether popular with the socially conscious, and it is the socially conscious who read Levinas. But it is not just a question of the leanings of Levinas's readership. What those who criticize Levinas for having no politics want is the occasional policy statement, a comment here or there on how the ethics might apply to the concrete problems of the twentieth century--the kind of thing they are used to from, for instance, Jacques Derrida. What they get instead in the Zionist writings is a fervent discussion of the upper limits of human political possibility. It is an intemperate discourse, one in which the sobriety for which Levinas is known is all but entirely relinquished. Readers tend to find this alarming. Even those who crave more political discussion than is offered in the major works grow uneasy at the enthusiastic embrace of Israel's higher potential.

Derrida is one of the few commentators who take up the Zionist writings at length. His discussion, which appears in the essay, "A Word of Welcome," oscillates between praise and criticism. (1) Ultimately I think the criticism is intended to stand in the service of the praise; in other words, Derrida's intention is to deepen our appreciation of these writings and the political theory they present by deepening our understanding of their problems...


Derrida is uneasy about what seems to him a fetishizing of the holy city and the holy land that stands at odds with Levinas's usual subordination of the idea of Sinai to the idea of the face. He responds to Levinas's assertion that "the longing for not [just] one more nationalism," by pointing out, dryly, that all nationalisms make this claim (ADV 70, WW 117). To be sure, this does not rule out the possibility that the claim may sometimes be true, but it does imply strongly that nationalism, pure and simple, is Levinas's motivation in the lecture. However, Derrida also says that the apparent fetishizing may be less of a problem than it initially appears. He reminds us of Levinas's many "extraordinary political essays" that "always placed the covenant above or beyond a 'Jewish nationalism'" (WW 118), and in this light hints that it might be possible to think of Levinas's Jerusalem as any city, and indeed, to consider whether any and every actual tangible city including Jerusalem does not inscribe wit hin it all the theoretical social levels--offering violence, refuge, and something higher, some connection to God.

But Derrida is still left with what I will call the problem of the promise. (from here)

Note: these posts are a first meager contribution toward an attempted reading of Levinas together with Gary, or preparatory steps in that direction, maybe. In fewer words: there will be more.

Derrida on Hegel

We will never be done, says Derrida, with the reading of Hegel. When we think we have gotten beyond Hegel in trumpeting our escape from the strictures of reason, teleology, metanarratives, idealism, we are most Hegelian. Yet we frequently find, even in the most theoretically naive works, claims to have "deconstructed" prevalent interpretations or notions of reason, identity, consciousness, nature and the natural, morality, history, and so forth. Such trends may lead us to believe that we are done with Hegel, but, as Barnett says and this volume demonstrates, not only does Hegel define "the modernity that our postmodern era seeks to escape" (1), but there is a Hegel that we have yet to examine. Nowhere is this more true than in the present calls to deal with the strategies of representation in literature and the concomitant theses that culture is a signifying system and knowledge is regulated by the material interests of institutional powers. (from here)

See also this review of Ghostly Demarcations.

Monday, June 06, 2005

How not to read Derrida

Hardly in short supply, but a useful example of flat-world anti-Derridism (to use the parlance of the times) nonetheless comes courtesy—if that is the right word—of here:
No wonder a tour through the post-modernist section of any American bookshop is such a disconcerting experience. The most illiberal, anti-enlightenment notions are put forward with a smile and the assurance that, followed out to their logical conclusion, they could only lead us into the democratic promised land, where all God's children will join hands in singing the national anthem. It is an uplifting vision and Americans believe in uplift. That so many of them seem to have found it in the dark and forbidding works of Jacques Derrida attests to the strength of Americans' self-confidence and their awesome capacity to think well of anyone and any idea. Not for nothing do the French still call us les grands enfants.

Quick, some liberal save us from the Heart of Darkness that is French poststructuralism! I care not for the timbre, or diachronics, of language; show me the political doctrine!

Such (re)visions of deconstruction are themselves beyond quaint. The dangerous conflation of (uncritical) enlightenment and nationalism continues; ironically here betrayed all the more by the presuming to preach against it.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

fucking return of the religious is no secret

What's the best selling book at a small independent store in an aging hippy town, you ask? No, it's not Tom Friedman, though he's right up there. Behind Da Davinci Code, it's this, and the next biggest seller is a little place called Amazon.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

EndPage, Levy, Europe

London, it seems, does have crime after all. I can think of a good country for these folks. Pretty soon they won't even have to go back in time to get there.
On an entirely other, potentially more productive note, have only skimmed so far but this (from EndPage), and this look interesting. And yet another heavy-weight intellectual soaps the box:
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has it out with the French naysayers. First he lists the beneficiaries of the "non" to the European constitution, counting Putin and Islamists among them. Then he comments on the strange victorious alliance of the Left with the extreme Right Front National: "Even if you don't know anything about the history of France, and even if you don't believe in the unconscious element in language and its dark ways, you can still see that something is very amiss if after a political earthquake you watch TV and see that you are not only geographically but also semantically very close to extreme right leaders who the night before you'd been calling fascists, and against whom you now – that was the second event of the evening – have nothing more to say."

One should be careful here. Such concerns about semantics, and the question of a potential "unconcious element in language" are deeply valid, in my view, and not to be dismissed. Having said that, there does seem to be an important distinction––something along the lines of that most frequently drawn by Zizek––at stake in these debates, as myself and others have wondered about, from time to time. The stakes are quite high, of course, when one begins to suggest that neo-fundamentalists are in a certain sense more honest (than self-professed "liberals"), in that they are merely voicing a frustration that is inherent to or symptomatic of a (neo)liberal-democratic order (one whose notion of 'tolerance' rings ever-increasingly hollow, perhaps). But to hastily equate the two––neo-fundamentalist and progressive or far left––simply because they voted the same way, thus sweeping away a whole host of concerns about the nature of the problem itself...well this seems to be unjust, not least of all because it risks reducing politics and political identity to the hopelessly overdetermined (and at once reductive) act of voting alone. The far left MUST have "more to say," and must not stop saying it.

That said, one should ask whether the revving up of this Enlightenment, European legacy or Kantian rhetoric is really appropriate, not least of all as it seems to co-exist with and even fuel a certain anti-immigrant sentiment. A Europe than merely "tolerates" anything even vaguely like a "parallel society" is a scary prospect indeed. There's more here.

speaking of Buddhists

There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practised in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.


I can relate to that. Not appearing to float down any professional path at the moment (the thought of grad school alternately nips and deadens me)...between three jobs and a serious relationship, I'm still putting off at least one book review and two group readings by just sitting here drinking coffee, clicking, coffee. (You see, this blog reserves the right to come 'round to the reflexive egoising eventually.) But maybe things really aren't that bad. Only on top of that I'm supposed to do (or render absurd) a superman er, superhero meme..

Update: really? I thought that was (McDonald's) marketing. Maybe "creativity" means something a bit more (than "making the complicated simple.")

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sanders Steps Up

Give 'em hell, Bernie. A fitting word for such company as you're about to keep. Don't take any hell, Bernie. (He never does, you know.)

Meanwhile, having learned from its mistakes in the past, the U.S. Ramps Up Arms Supplies to Repressive Regimes, handing them out like party treats just like 30 years ago (via).


So the many installments of "Class Matters" — a now nearly completed work in progress — come across less like an authoritative exercise in social criticism than like an oddly anxious series of Tourette’s-style asides, desperately sidestepping the core economic inequities that the Times can never quite afford to mention outright. Getting the New York Times to explain the real operation of social class in America is, at the end of the day, a lot like granting your parents exclusive license to explain sex to you: there are simply far too many conflicts that run far too deep to result in any reliable account of how the thing works. (via)

For S

Marriage is for old folks (courtesy of the one and only here).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Badiou on voting for a corpse

If the ‘no’ wins, we are threatened with a possible regression with regard to Europe. But I think that this backward step is necessary. What is on the agenda is effectively a 'beyond' of the national sphere – with the difference that this beyond must be subjectivated on the basis of what exists in the national sphere itself. We reencounter our question: the necessity of the identification of a figure of the adversary. The question of a power of a new type, of a power opposed to U.S. hegemony and which would not be symmetrical vis-à-vis U.S. power – a decisive question, which today largely remains open. This is at least as important as ‘social Europe’ (to which I am in any case favourable). We must take up the European question again from the base. (via)

Once again, let us hope that realpolitik, in the practical not the nationalistic sense, may have many faces yet. That said, why people who have no patience for Derrida (or no patience anymore?) find Badiou's presentation exciting is sort of beyond me, still. Endearing, certainly, but exciting? In any case, to suggest that either Derrida or Badiou (or their hack fans, such as myself) would ever support the notion that one super-imperialism should be replaced by two is absurd, of course.

In any case, hurrah for blogs.