Limited, Inc.

“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, August 21, 2017

Good job Sol y Luna!

 Last night Adam started crying on the couch. I asked him what’s up? And he told me that the eclipse was going to burn out his eyes. I reassured him that they were going to be taking care of him in his school. He asked me if there is ever ever going to be another eclipse, and I said probably.
He said bad. His new thing is to say bad after he receives any bit of news he doesn’t like.
Today, I asked his teacher, and she said don’t worry. We aren’t going to take the kids outside this morning. We are going into the gym!
Of course, these are the times that try kids’ souls, and turn them into scientists or people who fear dragons might eat up the sky. I am afraid we are falling in the latter category.
I did try to explain the pinhole in the box thing. This was a popular little device when I was a kid. That was a long time ago, when an empty cereal box held the charms of adventure – which has long been erased by media. I’d lament this, but I have to admit that emptying the cereal box meant the ingestion of many disgusting cereals – lab created stuff that was affixed to some poor pummeled and bleached grain. The dentist’s accountant’s friend.
I didn’t buy the glasses, and not having a showbox handy, I watched people watch the eclipse. It was like they were equipped for a three D movie, with the goofy plastic frames. It was fun to see. Natural events in the city – a breeze, clouds, a blooming tree, squirrels carrying nuts, etc. – don’t often pull people out onto the sidewalk, which is a shame. Here in Santa Monica – a phrase I am only going to be able to use for one more week, about! – you do have that persistently rocking puddle, the Pacific, at the end of the street. Personally, I prefer the full moon.
Adam was of good courage as he marched into school. His days are full of change. I have to remember, too, that the ration of himself today to his total days is only 1 to 1400, whereas my ratio is something like 1 to 70,000. The days dull a bit, seem less intense, and then of course Adam’s neural network is exploding, and mine is slowly imploding. I’m eager to get back to France, but then I realize there is going to be a couple of hardass weeks there, until we are settled in.

Hope all had a good eclipse. I’m hoisting one tonight to both the moon and the sun gods – good job, gals and guys!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

love, hate and racism

It is sweet and even a part of what I believe that love can conquer racism. But to respond to racism with a direct appeal to the emotions, alas, actual disguises racism. Because racism isn’t just personal expression: it is personal expression congealed into historically rooted structures. And blind love, love that is not informed about those structures, just becomes denial.

Let’s start this out personally. A couple of days ago, I was walking Adam home. He took my hand, which he has been doing lately (probably because he is anxious about the fact that we are soon going to move). We passed by this black guy who said, approximately, that white people always grab the hands of their children when they meet black people.

I wanted to say, not me! No, I’m different from other white people.

But I have to admit, I’m not that different. I live in a society structured to advance people with my skin color. This is why sentiment – love and hate – must be adjusted by statistics – photos of how our society is en masse. The statistics present a very different picture from the one in which white people say, not me! I’m full of love, not hate. Because my pockets, my career, my education, are legacies of a considerable amount of hate, transformed into an economic hierarchy that continues of itself. The structure can “hate” so I don’t have to.

Until we realize this, the love and hate talk is just sentimental garbage. Until we do something about it, the love and hate talk is denial in the classic, Freudian sense. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

taking down the statues

One of the more depressing things about living in LA - as compared to say Paris - is the lack of statues in the streetlife. In my experience, most french cities – saved those bombed into shit and rebuilt after WWII – are filled with statues and images, gargoyles and fountains. But American cities and suburbs, with some exceptions, do not give you a lot of statue encounters.

In the argument about taking down the Confederate statues, there is an understandable theme that this is a matter of mere symbolism, the kind of thing that a white college student can participate in an pat himself on the back – and who doesn’t begrudge that figure his satisfactions? Yet I think the statue-viewer situation is made much too one dimensional in this view of things.

There are two dimensions that are left out here. One is the dimension of the symbol and the real in the cityscape, the park, the campus. The other dimension is the material one of who, in the average day, really encounters these statues.

My contention is that the lack of statues in the American space has to do partly with the idea that symbols aren’t real. We will spend on the real. Here’s a real building – say, the Pet store next to our apartment on 9th and Wilshire. And here’s a symbol, say, the statue of St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, in Palisades Park at the very end of Wilshire.

Now the funny thing here is that the real, in this story, being the functional, can easily be substituted. The pet store on Wilshire, for instance, went broke or moved. The building was revamped, and it is now a Charles Schwab building. The effect on the users of the Pet store might still be lodged in the memory, but my bet is that nobody really notices any more. Whereas if we took the statue of Augustine’s mother down, and substituted Madelyn Murry O’hare, people would notice very much. That is because the symbol is not functional in the same way – it is read differently in the landscape. Another way of saying this is that the symbol has power.

To understand this power, one must shift levels to a materialist reading of the urban scape: who exactly sees what.

In the aftermath of the Katrina disaster, the United for a Fair Economy organizaiton commissioned a study of carlessness in eleven major urban areas. And guess what? Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to be carless.

This is simply another element in the economic apartheid that prevails in the U.S. But it has effects. One of the effects is that getting around the city, if you don’t have a car, requires an elevated amount of walking. Even if you are walking to and from the bus stop, there is more walking involved in your urban life.
One of the reasons that there is a lack of statuary in cities in France that were rebuilt after the war is that these cities were rebuilt with the automobile in mind. A predominance of statues implies a congregation of walkers. Car drivers might mark certain statues in a city – but mainly they don’t know them. They don’t read them.

One of the reasons that the statue issue is hot on campuses is that this is one of those spaces where white people are actually walking. Walking not as a sport, but as a functional activity that gets them to where they are supposed to be. This directly affects the statue viewing experience. It makes it degrees more intimate.

When the Confederate statues were erected in the South, from 1910 to 1960 for the most part, there was a great deal of carlessness among both whites and blacks. This meant that the statue experience was on a level of intimacy that was meant to send a clear message to African Americans. The message was: this is not your space. This is not your home.

The level of car ownership rose considerable for whites and blacks during this period – but much more for whites than blacks. In fact, as the phrase “driving while black” implies, and as we know from every video of police – African American encounters, the white uneasiness about blacks having access to automobiles has never gone down.

What this means is that those statues loom much more into the intimate experience of African-American everyday life than they do in White American life. But when the statues are threatened, white Americans – certain ones, Nazis, Trump, that ilk – show that they can still read them very well.
In this way, symbols can grab hold of life. Taking down the statues will not collapse the structure of economic apartheid. It will lessen the stress of the African American everyday experience.

Take the statues down!

Monday, August 14, 2017

the hour of the freak

As I’ve written before, Daniel Tiffany’s Infidel Poetics is full of wonderful things, paragraphs that make me want to lay it aside and write long, gulflike commentaries. For instance, in exploring the “canting” literature of the 17th century, he writes this: “Before it entered modern usage, “slang” meant, in canting jargon, “to exhibit anything in a fair or market, such as a tall man, or a cow with two heads.”38 Hence, “slang” originally referred to the exhibition of freakish things—a kind of social and economic profanity.” Anatoly Liberman, a historian of lexicographer, surveys the theories about the etymology of slang and comes down on the use of slang as the word for making the rounds of a territory – being “out on the slang”. This could apply to actors, prostitutes, or mountebanks. But Liberman, too, concedes that the use of slang to denote a kind of language came from some linguistic sub-group – either thieves’ jargon or hawkers’ jargon. There is a “secret language” named Shelta, combining Irish and English terms, which was common among itinerants in the 17th century – we get the word bloke from this coded speech – and perhaps slang as a word for movement went into Shelta and came out as the word for words like slang.  Another rather charming nineteenth century theory was propounded by one of those English churchmen with too much time on their hands, Isaac Taylor, who combined the “out on the slang” phrase with a story that there was once, in the wilds of Derbyshire, a village called Flash, where all the tinkers used to meet. Hence, this is where the term “flash” – which in the nineteenth century referred to that louche magnificence that any American first grader will tell you is pimping – came from, and where the equivalence between flash language and being out on the slang was forged.

As well – and this is where Tiffany’s theory of the lyric is both brilliant and highly poetic – this is where the connection between obscurity and the obscure, between the indirection that misleads the police and the people who don’t count, who slip like shadows, or, sand, or dirt, or any mysterious commonness between the cracks of history, was forged. Tiffany wants to re-assert the prole nature of the poem in the epoch of capitalism. He’s mining a vein that has been worked both by Wordsworth and by Baudelaire – the latter when, in Les paradis artificiels, he wrote that under the effect of haschich:

“…is developed that mysterious and temporary state of mind where the depth of life, spiky with its multiple problems, is revealed completely in the so natural and so trivial spectacle that one has under one’s eyes – where the first object we come upon becomes a speaking symbol. Fourier and Swedenborg, one with his analogies and the Fourier et Swedenborg , the former with his analogies and the latter with his correspondances, are incarnated in the vegetable and animal realms that fall under your gaze, and instead of teaching vocally, they indoctrinate you by their form and color. The intelligence of allegory takes on, in you, proportions you never dreamt of; we will note in passing that allegory, that spiritual genre, which clumsy painters have accustomed us to despise, but which is really one of the most primitive and natural form of poetry, re-establishes its legitimate domination in the intelligence illuminated by intoxication. In this way, haschich extends itself on life like a magic gloss. I colors it solemnly and throws a light into its depths.”

Of course, Baudelaire did not buy his buzz on the street corner – he was one of the subjects of the good Dr. Moreau, who – like so many doctors who are found in the shadowy corners of the intersection between the art world and the underworld – gave little experimental parties to which such gents as Baudelaire and Balzac were invited.

You could say that what Tiffany calls the “sociological sublime” is the hour of the freak. The freak marks the spot where the powers that be encounter something that is not so much resistance as a portal to a realm in which the ideology of strength, the backbone and boner of the patriarchy, has no dominion.

Take down the statue to Lee, put up one to Wesley Norris

I see that a lot of shitheads, er, peeps soft on the confederacy, want Robert E. Lee's statue preserved for history's sake. Hey, for history's sake, I could agree, long as we match the general with Wesley Norris, the slave who escaped from Lee's Arlington residence, was recaptured, and was given fifty lashes - washed with salt brine - as well as the same number given to his cousin and his sister by the soulful future General. As Frederick Douglas remarked after the war, General Lee was given a sickeningly flattering reception in the Northern Press, but he warnt no Ivanhoe. Here's the testimony. Often disputed by apologists, generally agreed to be true by historians.
My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by Gen. Lee’s agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad; we remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad; in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom; I have nothing further to say; what I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements: I am at present employed by the Government; and am at work in the National Cemetary on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars; my sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement. (¶ 2)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hey diddle diddle runs rampant

Respect to Daniel Tiffany for his Infidel Poetics.  I measure its brilliance by its subtitle – subtitles are such an interesting genre, they peek out of the pockets of the author’s intention and make faces at the reader, they are little gremlins, or tells, or the overflow that escaped the editor’s “delete”, the Id making tracks for the Golden West: “Riddles, Nightlife, Substance.”  A train of associations that seems to have gone way off the track and landed in Oz.

One of the other measures of a book, for me, is its quotes. You gotta quote right. Many academics think quoting is just credentialing, so they quote the silliest things: As X said, New York is the first postmodern town. Etc. You want to say, is X always so boring? But Tiffany, who is also a poet, quotes brilliant and delightful things – finds. The difference between a quote that is credentialing and a quote that is a find is the difference between a stamp collection and buried treasure.
Here is something Tiffany found in Mallarme, of all peeps.

“Indeed, one of Mallarmé’s songs from the nursery discloses the contagious effect of the rhyme’s illogic on the translator. Mallarmé adopted the practice of presenting the English song followed by his prose rendering of it in French (which I translate below):

Hey! diddle, diddle,
 The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport
While the dish ran after the spoon.

 What a strange scene! Look at the cat with his violin—and that’s not all: there’s the moon, and a cow jumping right over it! I act like the little dog, laughing hard to see such foolishness. And then it seemed to me, as I contemplated this spectacle, that my ideas ran away with themselves, one after another, just as—in the words of the song—the dish runs after the spoon. Hey! diddle, diddle.’”

Mallarme, the unapproachable, becomes, unexpectedly, your favorite uncle.

Tiffany is much impressed by the effect of the hey diddle diddle, which runs, like that dish and spoon, through the poetry of modernism, lickety-split. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

My rant blaming America first, or : Bring em on, 2

Bring em on!

I haven't gone on a blame America first rant in a while. Being a lefty, this makes me sad. 

So here's one. 

Let's go on one about NKorea's nukes. Gotta go back to 1976, when Pakistan and North Korea agreed to be good buddies. At that time, this meant general pats on the back at the U.N. But things were going to be cooking in Pakistan.

That was because a certain Abdul Qadeer Khan, a scientist, had an idea. The idea was to steal a buncha blueprints from a European nuclear power consortium. Which he did. However, the Dutch caught him, and put him on trial in 1985. They fumbled the first case, and were about to mount another, when the CIA leaned on the Dutch. The message was, don’t get Pakistan angry. (I get this material from Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s excellent account, Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons)
You may remember – or perhaps you weren’t born yet and don’t remember – that Pakistan was our frontline ally in trying to free Afghanistan from the horrible Soviet yoke and restore it to Islamicist freedom fighters. The Reagan administration was on all cylinders to get this to happen.
Unfortunately, U.S. intelligence kept coming up with info that the Pakistanis were building a nuclear bomb. They even got Reagan to ask General Zia, then Pakistan’s dictator, if this was true. In Reagan’s diary, he recorded that Zia denied it. Well, old mister ‘Trust but Verify” didn’t really feel that verifying was called for her. Zia was a patriot and a fine soldier!
Others in his administration, including George Schulz, the Sec. of State, did write memos saying maybe we should apply some little bitty pressure on Pakistan. But instead, Pakistan was flooded with military aid. And secret aid from the CIA.
This was fortunate. Building nuclear bombs is an expensive business. The Pakistan government was broke. Where was doctor Khan going to get funding for his little project?
Well, nobody knows. There has been some revelation that of the 500 million it cost to build the centrifuges and get the nuclear biz going, some 18 million came from the Pakistan government. But wait! Wasn’t there some secret funds from the Americans sloshing around?
Yeah, baby, yeah! The authors of Deception give a cautious estimate of a diversion of 90 million dollars in U.S. funds to the building of the Pakistani bomb. As for the rest – well, I think I’m going to lay my eye on Saudi Arabia, also a big slosher around of funds at that time. Here’s a Business Insider article about how thatworked out well for Saudi Arabia.

You remember the Saudis, don’t you? Keeping unfree so that the free world can be free! Big applause for them, and maybe a little pity party for Saudi women. God bless em, they, at least, can gaze at the U.S. and see how feminist we are here! We are practically role models.

But to get back to North Korea. North Korea can mine uranium itself, since Satan put some uranium in the ground in that country. But where were they to get the centrifuges to spin out that good stuff? This is where Pakistan, under Clinton and Bush’s watchful gaze, came in handy. After nuke tests in 1999 announced to the world that Pakistan was ready to party, time to start selling the shit and making a profit. Actually, even before, in 1996, Clinton’s peeps noticed that Pakistani equipment was ending up in N. Korea. Like all tough American presidents, Clinton’s peeps really gave the Pakistanis an earful! And then bushels of money. This was followed by Bush, who also gave the Pakistanis an earful, and then bushels of money.

In this way, we were cleverly troping Pavlov, awarding negative behavior with positive strokes. It was all an experiment in behavior, don’t you know.

Well, upshot was that North Korea has enough smarties, and enough Pakistani provided equipment, that they know what to do. And so today, Dear Leader 1 vs. Dear Leader 2 makes us all think, hmm, is it time for the U.S. to suffer a million casualties – BUT AT LEAST SHOW THE WORLD WHOSE BOSS!
That’s how they do the thinking on the level above all our grades. Cause they’s so smart!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

incantation and writing

Generally, I am on the side of Tim Ingold – who is on the side, mostly, of Derrida – in his book, Lines. In some ways, Ingold reproduces the grammatological gesture of the early Derrida. For instance, Inglold, too, devotes time to a lesson in writing. The scene of writing in Lines is derived not from Levi-Strauss, however, but, more Englishly, from Winnie the Pooh.
“Eeyore, the old grey donkey, has arranged three sticks on the ground. Two of the sticks were almost touching at one end but splayed apart at the other, while the third was laid across them. Up comes Piglet. ‘Do you know what that is?’, Eeyore asks Piglet. Piglet has no idea. ‘It’s an A’, intones Eeyore proudly. By recognizing the figure as an A, however, would we be justified in crediting Eeyore with having produced an artefact of writing? Surely not. All he has done is to copy a figure he has seen somewhere else. He knows it is an A because that is what Christopher Robin called it. And he is convinced that to recognize an A when you see one is of the essence of Learning and Education. But Christopher Robin, who is starting school, knows better. He realizes that A is a letter, and that as such it is just one of a set of letters, called the alphabet, each of which has a name, and that he has learned to recite in a given order. He is also learning to draw these letters. But at what stage does he cease to draw letters and begin instead to write? “
This question hovers very much over any contemporary family with a child in pre-school. Adam has spent the last year in a fight with the number 5. It is a number that, he claims, he can’t draw. It is a curious problem, since he can draw 3 and even the difficult 4. But 5 in Adam’s hands tends to turn into 3. 

Ingold considers the answers produced by the question of the drawing/writing divide (which one notices in the Pooh example almost fatally puts into motion the various hierarchical divides – of human vs. animal, of the schooled (literate) vs. the unschooled, or savage, of the scission between the preschooled child and the child who is “starting school” – that play out in the last 500 years of history) and goes through the various classificatory responses that attempt to sort out what is going on. There is the difference he starts out with, deriving from Nelson Goodman, between script and score (“The script, he argues, is a work, whereas in the case of the score the work comprises the set of performances compliant with it.“) He considers Vygotsky’s idea that children, making their first letters or numbers, ‘do not draw, they indicate, and the pencil merely fixes the indicatory gesture.” And finally he considers Roy Harris’s argument that the difference between notation and spelling signifies a cardinal epistemological shift.
Ingold, however, wants to argue that whatever shift is indicated by the difference between Christopher Robin and Eeyore’s view of “A”, spelling or writing is still a special kind of drawing. 

Adam’s problem with 5 is not a problem with its place in the number system. He knows how to count to ten – and even to one hundred, when singing the song about counting to one hundred. But I would emphasize something different than indication or spelling. I would emphasize incantation. 

To my mind, Adam’s knowledge of counting to ten is incantatory knowledge. This doesn’t mean he can’t apply it. He loves, in fact, to count things. Holes in shoes that shoestrings go through. Fingers. The number of pancake pieces on his plate that he has to finish. But these numerating instances are, I think, incantatory instances as well. 

Charms with incantations written on them are pretty common objects in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Incantations are generally taken to be nonsense words, formulas that do not correspond to words or phrases that make sense in the language in which they appear. For the Greeks, they were part of the repertoire of medicine. In one of Pindar’s poems, Aesclepius uses incantations, pharmaka (drugs) or pharmaka (charms) to heal patients. The classical scholar Roy Kotansky quotes a text by Cato which recommends healing a fractured bone not only by binding the area with bandages, but also by binding a broken reed at the same time, waving about a knife, and uttering the phrase Motas Vaeta Daries Dardares Astataries Dissunapiter. This phrase is “nonsensical” – the equivalent of abracadabra. 

But it is a mistake to claim that the nonsense has no larger sense. Incantatory phrases are handed down. They are written. They are remembered. They are formulaic. But the reference of the word or words that form the incantation is not on the normal route to denotation. It is hip hopping down another road, a backroad. 

I’m not sure that viewing the 5 as an incantatory object is going to solve Adam’s problem. That will be solved mechanically as he keeps going to school. But it does shed some light on the way children pick up on phrases, and will repeat them for the joy of the phrase. Which later on becomes part of the reception or creation of verbal art. 

One more story from Ingold. 

“In some cases, the elements of a notation are clearly also depictions. That the ox-head hieroglyph, the precursor of our letter A, is a depiction becomes obvious if we compare it with the way oxen themselves were drawn in Ancient Egypt (Figure 5.4). We would not hesitate to say that the glyph is a drawing of something other than itself, even though it is also incorporated into a script. Another well-known example may be taken from recent ethnography. I refer to Nancy Munn’s (1973b) celebrated study of the Walbiri, an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian Desert whom we have already encountered, in passing, in Chapter 3. Both men and women among the Walbiri routinely draw designs in the sand with their fingers, as they talk and tell stories. This drawing is as normal and as integral a part of conversation as are speech and gesture. The markings themselves are standardized to the extent that they add up to a kind of vocabulary of graphic elements whose precise meanings, however, are heavily dependent on the conversational or storytelling contexts in which they appear. Thus a simple straight line can be (among other things) a spear, a fighting or digging stick, or a person or animal lying stretched out; a circle can be a nest, water hole, tree, hill, billy can or egg. As the story proceeds, marks are assembled into little scenes, each of which is then wiped out to make way for the next (Munn 1973b: 64–73).”