Sunday, June 22, 2008

Brief Note on Dictatorship

It does not seem obvious to me that the first or even most important political task that faces the citizen of a nation that happens to be a dictatorship is that of bringing about a democratic form of rule. It strikes me as perfectly plausible that such a citizen may pursue any number of fully political objectives within the framework of a dictatorial system. The freedom available within the dictarship may be greater than that available wihtin the most likely democratic configuration.

This idea can also be applied in foreign policy contexts. Why do we suppose that the citizens of dictatorships would prefer a war of liberation to their current system of rule?

Democracy and Dictatorship

Like most people, my immediate reaction to Pound's support for fascism was to let it count against the former. My "kulchural studies", however, have led me in another direction. At this point, I am willing to let Pound's support for fascism count in favour of the latter. As always, I want to emphasize that I'm exploring a line of thinking. My mind is by no means made up.

My topic this morning is dictatorship. In Pound's "ABC of Economics", there is a section headed "Dictatorship as a Sign of Intelligence". Here is a striking example of something that was possible to say in 1933 that is virtually nonsense today. All the more reason to try to understand what he was saying.

"The best system of government, economically speaking, is that which best balances [products, wants and needs, transportation, and money], be it republic, monarchy, or soviet or dictatorship" (SP, p. 231). The spirit of this neutral-sounding "be it" can be found throughout Pound's pre-WWII writings. Pound, like Lewis, sees democracy as one possible form of government and dictatorship as another. Neither are to be judged on principle, but in practice.

Today we have grown used to dismissing "dictators" as illegimate rulers of nations. And yet we might find ourselves agreeing also with Mussolini's statement, quoted by Pound: "We are tired of a government in which there is no responsible person having a hind name, a front name and an address" (SP, p. 231).

It seems to me that democracies and dictatorships differ, in principle, only in the form that resistance to the state is supposed to take. Depending on who happens to be in power, citizens may have much greater freedom in a dictatorship than in a democracy. But while citizens of a democracy are expected to express their discontent mainly at the polls, in the press, in various forms of "demonstration", the citizens of a dictatorship (lacking such means of expression) must register their disapproval by direct disobedience.

That is, dictators are expected to coerce their citizens to act in accordance with their will, while the democratic populace is expected to acknowledge the legitimacy of the government in general, do as it is told (while objecting in word only), and replace the government at the next possible convenience. The two forms of government, then, differ mainly in the context they establish for "the art of being ruled" (Lewis's term).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kindred Spirits

In 1927, Buckminister Fuller was bankrupt and his wife had just given birth:

With no job and a new baby to support, Fuller became depressed. One day, he was walking by Lake Michigan, thinking about, in his words, "Buckminster Fuller—life or death," when he found himself suspended several feet above the ground, surrounded by sparkling light. Time seemed to stand still, and a voice spoke to him. "You do not have the right to eliminate yourself," it said. "You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe." (In Fuller’s idiosyncratic English, "universe"—capitalized—is never preceded by the definite article.) It was at this point, according to Fuller, that he decided to embark on his "lifelong experiment." The experiment's aim was nothing less than determining "what, if anything," an individual could do "on behalf of all humanity." For this study, Fuller would serve both as the researcher and as the object of inquiry.

Reading this in Elizabeth Kolbert's illuminating piece in the current issue of the New Yorker (June 9 & 16, 2008, p. 67), I was immediately reminded of Borges's "capsule biography" of Benedetto Croce:

In 1883, an earthquake that lasted ninety seconds shook the south of Italy. In that earthquake, he lost his parents and his sister; he himself was buried by rubble. Two or three hours later, he was rescued. To ward off total despair, he resoved to think about the Universe—a general procedure among the unfortunate, and sometimes a balm.


In 1899, he realized, with a fear which at times resembled panic and at other times happiness, that the problems of metaphysics were organizing themselves within him, and that the solution—a solution—was almost imminent. He stopped reading and dedicated himself to the vigil, pacing across the city without seeing anything, speechless and furtively watched. (Reprinted in The Total Library, p. 165)

Both men appear to have been in their mid thirties at the time. One is envious of the clarity with which their metaphysical missions (the same mission?) appear to have to been revealed to them.

Kindred Spirit

In geometry, Buckminster Fuller "avoided the use of pi, a number that [he] found deeply distasteful" (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, June 9 & 16, 2008, p. 67).

Monday, June 09, 2008

Immanent Pathos

(Here's something I've been getting increasingly interested in. Note that "understanding" is to the transcendental doctrine of elements what "obedience" is to the immanent doctrine of totality. The results, while of course provisional, are rather invigorating, don't you think?)

Crisis of Brute Passion
Immanent Pathos

Immanent synthesis resists by gathering all our a posteriori power out of the totality that brute obedience yields to. To see this, the following points need only be discerned: (1) that some emotions are brute and not normative; (2) that they are free, not of insitution and motility, but of feeling and obedience; (3) that they are superficial and are daringly associated with those which are original or isolated; (4) that our table of emotions is never complete, emerging from the whole field of brute obedience. When politics is an extract drawn from an insistence on a merely democratic manner, such incompleteness can never be surveyed by any kind of mere poll. It is necessary only to the end of the reality of the elements of the a posteriori power to which obedience yields; such a reality can furnish anexact classifications of the emotions which isolate the elements, inhibiting their disconnection from the system. Brute obedience associates itself not merely with something normative but in part also with some motility. It is a multiplicity dependent, needy, and not diminished by any subtractions from within. Its lack of power thus repudiates the system, abandoned and obscured by the reality. The incompleteness and babelling of this system can at the same time yield to criteria of the wrongness and falseness of its isolation. If it is to be fully imposed, however, this part of an immanent pathos requires two books, the one containing the emotions, the other the ultimatum of brute obedience.

Critique of Pure Reason
Transcendental Logic

(Kant, KRV A 64-65/B 89-90)

Transcendental analytic consists in the dissection of all our a priori knowledge into the elements that pure understanding by itself yields. In so doing, the following are the points of chief concern: (1) that the concepts be pure and not empirical; (2) that they belong, not to intuition and sensibility, but to thought and understanding; (3) that they be fundamental and be carefully distinguished from those which are derivative or composite; (4) that our table of concepts be complete, covering the whole field of the pure understanding. When a science is an aggregate brought into existence in a merely experimental manner, such completeness can never be guaranteed by any kind of mere estimate. It is possible only by means of an idea of the totality of the a priori knowledge yielded by the understanding; such an idea can furnish an exact classification of the concepts which compose that totality, exhibiting their interconnection in a system. Pure understanding distinguishes itself not merely from all that is empirical but completely also from all sensibility. It is a unity self-subsistent, self-sufficient, and not to be increased by any additions from without. The sum of its knowledge thus constitutes a system, comprehended and determined by one idea. The completeness and articulation of this system can at the same time yield a criterion of the correctness and genuineness of all its components. This part of transcendental logic requires, however, for its complete exposition, two books, the one containing the concepts, the other the principles of pure understanding.

As It Were a Monogram

"The image is a product of the empirical faculty of productive imagination, the schema of sensible concepts (such as figures in space) is a product and as it were a monogram of pure a priori imagination through which and in accordance with which the images first become possible, but which must connected with the concept, to which they are in themselves never fully congruent, always only by means of the schema that they designate." (Kant, KRV A 141-2/B 181, 1781/1787)

"One is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective." (Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

One or Two Images

This week's New Yorker has a perfectly good piece on Ezra Pound. Louis Menand obviously knows the subject. He also provides (given the space) a good, standard account of "In a Station of the Metro". But then he tells us that "the form 'made new' here is, of course, the haiku: two images juxtapositioned to evoke a sensation" (126).

Though Menard gets most of it right, Pound's account is not quite the same. He quotes the following example of haiku:

The footsteps of the cat upon the snow:


He calls this a one-image poem: "a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another." While it may not make much of a difference in the context of an article in the New Yorker, whether it is one image fashioned by a super-position of two ideas, or simply two "images" juxtaposed, it gives me pause.

Are we talking about the image of faces (or footsteps) alongside the image of petals (or plum-blossoms), or are talking about the image of a faces as petals (footsteps as plum-blossoms)?

Thursday, June 05, 2008


The image is that which can be seen without strain and done without effort.

Imagination turns what you see into something you can think about. It turns your feelings into something to do.