Friday, June 26, 2009


I'm very ambivalent about cultural politics, which is why I like Pound's concept of kulchur. It captures what John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) meant, I think, when he said simply that "culture is a hokey fraud" (NINBND, p. 20). This temperament can, perhaps, also be applied to the study of language, call it grammur. "In no case," Pound suggests, "swallow fat greasy words which conceal three or four indefinite middles" (GK, p. 344). The study of grammur is the study of "the fogged language of swindling classes" (ABCoR, p. 33). It is an attempt to expose those indefinite middles, to regain a real sense of style.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In Defense of the Burka (2)

In my last post on this subject I gave the impression that I think women should be allowed to wear a Burka if they want. While it does look to me as though many Western politicians oppose even this moderate position, it's not much of a defense of hijab as a style, I will grant.

Hijab, like any other code of moral conduct (or Sittlichkeit), isn't very much good if left only to the personal whims of individuals. To truly "defend" the Burka, or any more moderate variety of hijab (i.e., modesty), is to defend the idea that a specific group of people (defined by age and gender) must conform to the style of covering the relevantly "suggestive" body parts in the relevantly public spaces. If it is a good idea to cover the bodies of women, then it is good for everyone, not just the men or the women or the powers that be.

Even Western cultures, of course, have standards of dress, however lax they may be. On most beaches in America, women must cover four specific organs (or three depending on how you count), and men must cover only two, and once we move into public squares and public buildings, private homes and private business, we also have ways of making you dress. "No shoes, no shirt, no service." It may not be hijab, but it is very definitely a public standard of decency in dress.

My point is that hijab is merely an argument for drawing the line in a different place. I am not at all certain that I prefer my mildly (perhaps even softly) pornographic public spaces (keep in mind that I live in Denmark) to the more modest styles I might find on the street in Saudi Arabia. I don't know that I would be disappointed to find all the cleavage in a glossy magazine covered with a thick black marker. Like most men, I know how women look under their clothes. You don't have to draw me a picture. And I certainly don't need a fashion designer or advertising executive to spell it out for me on a daily basis.

Now, I've been raised in a Western, sexually liberated democracy, so I tolerate it without giving it much thought, and I can't imagine the passing of a law that would impose hijab in Copenhagen against the general will of the population. But I can imagine a long and interesting public conversation that ultimately moves our standards of dress in a more conservative direction. Supporters and observers of hijab, i.e., people who both promote and conform to the style, have an important place in that conversation. They are very much welcome on my territory.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Signs of Greatness

"I know everybody here is on a 24 hour news cycle. I'm not."
Barack Obama

(exchange at 1:23-1:36)

I've been noting small signs that the President is and is not as great as I audaciously hope he is. Here's a mark in his favour. "In my strange past," says Borges on a visit to a strange future, "the superstition prevailed that every day, between evening and morning, certain acts occur which it is a shame to be ignorant of." Obama seems not to share this superstition. If the press lets him live, and hold this line, greatness is, at least, possible.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Defense of the Burka

Sarkozy has denounced the burka in a speech to the French parliament. The Times rightly described it as an "attack on ... women". (Okay, that may be a bit unfair. The original quote reads: "attack on a small but growing number of fundamentalist women". But still.) The Times also rightly contrasts the gesture with Obama's acknowledgement of the right to observe/wear the hijab in his speech in Cairo. I'm with Obama on this one.

After the rhetoric of women's liberation, imagine a head of state uttering the following words:

In our country we cannot accept that women be bound in a harness ... The bra is not a fashion statement. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the Republic.

Interestestingly, I agree with Sarkozy when he says that "the burka is not a religious sign." But that is not because "it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement"; it is because it is not, first and foremost, a sign at all. As I've tried to argue before, hijab is a style of dress, sometimes a whole comportment, just as beach babe and heroin chique are styles and comportments. Why won't Mr. Sarkozy let the women of France conceal their "identities" before him?

Let women dress how they like. Let women be welcome on any territory, whatever they choose to wear.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oblivion & Nostalgia

There are people who will tell you that the 1960s were all about "flower power" and that they are now "into meditation". They also have a concept of "jazz" that emphasizes "improvisation". Tonight I suddenly had an occasion to vividly elucidate this insipid construct.

A friend of mine came over for dinner and we spent the night listening to music and discussing various subjects. We heard Lee Morgan, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill, John Coltrane. Then, as he was about to leave, I had an inspiration.

We had been listening to some of the finest music of the 1960s. What would happen if we put on Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert from 1975? I got it out and we had a listen. Its insipidness (insipidity?) was painfully obvious. To test it, we put on Kind of Blue, also an "improvised" performance, but recorded before the sixties began, and we heard, again, the qualities of Morgan, Hutcherson, Hill, etc., in a, let us say, "pure" form.

I have nothing against Keith Jarrett as such. I am interested in the reception of that one particular album. It is so obviously inferior to the period that, if tradition means anything, produced it. And yet there is a kind of person, one that most eagerly identifies with "the sixties", who swears by the greatness of that mediocrity. Set against any number of albums—Sonic Boom, Stick Up!, Black Fire—it is simply devoid of content. Empty. And it is in that emptiness that certain survivors of the 1960s find their repose.

The Köln Concert is not a master work. It is the touchstone of a generation that is trying to forget something. Trying very, very hard to forget it. And hoping against hope that a generation to come won't hit on the truth.

Source Criticism

"The standards of this criticism alter to the degree that historiography approaches journalism." (Martin Heidegger)

If it is not yet clear to you that journalism, i.e., the pursuit of "the daily news", is a ridiculous activity, consider the following headline in a major left-liberal Danish newspaper.


The US has equiped Hawaii with a missile shield to counter North Korea's threats to attack on the American day of independence

Now, that's perhaps just vague enough to pass. But the article goes on to say that the word on the street is that

Secretatry of Defense Robert Gates has announced that the US is ready if North Korea makes good on its threat to send missiles against Hawaii.

This happened after rumours that North Korea is considering an attack on the US's western Pacific state on [Independence Day], July 4. (Politiken, 20.6.09, Sec. 1, page 10)

This sort of journalistic (and editorial) tone-deafness should confirm anyone's distate for the press. Journalists are content to describe world events as though they were watching a movie. In this case (involving, it appears, the diplomatic sophistication of two journalists and the editor of the International section) were somehow able to convert their reading of (I'm guessing) a few internet sources or newswires about the wholly abstract "threat" implied by a missile test and the wholly hypothetical act of "defending" oneself against it with a test of one's own, into an impending "attack" on America. This plan to launch an attack, then, (so think the journalists) can be casually proposed in public and reported in the news. How exciting!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You are not going to fight modernism on its
own terrain because you will lose."

Jonathan Mayhew

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Mortgage

Though it has taken me some time, I have come to the conclusion that the theme of craftsmanship against usury is fundamental, not just to Pound's poetics, but to all poetry. Originally, we owned "the house of being" outright.

But something happened, some arch "bank" got into it and established a separation of credit and creation (finance and production). This involved also an alienation from death, which is why Lorca insists that true creativity occurs only in the proximity of death. It is a romantic notion to be sure, as Jonathan warns, but I think that it is exactly in the proximity such kitsch that art is produced. Good art must be produced at the risk of kitsch. (Something Flarf, if I may bring it up again, seems keenly sensitive to.)

This post is really just an attempt to tell a bad joke. If the duende is the true "master of the house", the "real owner", if Dasein seeks the event of its own appropriation, its authentic moment of coming into its own, the moment when I own what is, in each case, always already mine, and if this moment comes only in the face of the "ownmost possibility" of my being, i.e., of my death (in each case to be appropriated without being actualized) then my inauthenticity, my alienation, the real kitsch of my ideal craft, is the measure of my death, the gauge with which I plumb the depth of my dying, my dead pledge, my mortgage.

Death, Dasein and Duende

"In every country, death comes as a finality. It comes, and the curtain comes down. But not in Spain!"
Federico García Lorca

The connections just keep turning up. Perhaps the most direct connection between Dasein and duende is their connection to death. I think this connection is also one of "ownership": the possibility of death defines our "property-relation" to our body. We own our bodies in a distinctive way.

In Being and Time, Heidegger writes: "The closest closeness which one may have in Being towards death as a possibility, is as far as possible from anything actual" (H. 262). "Death is Dasein's ownmost possibility," he declares (H. 263). In his lecture on the duende, Lorca says: "The Duende ... will not approach at all if he does not see the possibility of death, if he is not convinced he will circle death's house."

I know where I'm going with this now: there is an analysis of Norman Mailer's "American existentialism" (hip) lurking in this. (Jonathan Mayhew makes this connection also, though only in passing.) In his Existential Errands we find both a translation of Lorca and an account of a bullfight.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Owner

"In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society,
but what it really means is - you're on your own."
Barack Obama

"We are ourselves the entities to be analysed.
The Being of any such entity is in each case mine."
Martin Heidegger

My thinking about Dasein and duende has led to suprising results. First, consider the following sentence as it appears in Heidegger's Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie:

Jede so eigens gebildete Weltanschauung erwächst einer natürlichen Weltanschauung, einem Umkreis von Auffassungen der Welt und Bestimmungen des menschlichen Daseins, di jeweils mit jedem Dasein mehr oder minder ausdrüklich gegeben sind. (7)

Albert Hofstadter, in his authoritative translation, renders this using the common practice of leaving the word "Dasein" untranslated:

Every world-view thus individually formed arises out of a natural world-view, out of a range of conceptions of the world and determinations of the human Dasein which are at any particular time given more or less explicitly with each such Dasein.

Gregory Fried and Richard Polt explain the issue in the introduction to their translation of Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics:

In everyday German, the word Dasein is used just as we use the word "existence"; readers may always substitute "existence" for "Dasein" in order to get a sense of how Heidegger's statements would have sounded to his original audience. (xii)

We can do that with the sentence from the Grundprobleme:

Every world-view thus individually formed arises out of a natural world-view, out of a range of conceptions of the world and determinations of human existence which are at any particular time given more or less explicitly with each such existence.

I think that is very much to be preferred, and I wanted to know what Lorca's original audience would have heard in the word Spanish word "duende". To set up what I discovered, here's a bit more from Fried and Polt:

[The root meaning of Dasein] is usually rendered in English as "Being there," but when Heidegger hyphenates Da-sein, we have employed the equally valid translation "Being-here." Dasein is the being who inhabits a Here, a sphere of meaning within which beings can reveal themselves as meaningful, as significant. (xii, my emphasis)

Now, I've looked only very briefly at the corresponding "root meaning" of "duende". In Spanish mythology, it is a kind of fairy or goblin; it is clearly the personification (or at least corporealization) of a certain kind of spirit, perhaps (and for my purposes importantly) an essentially local spirit, a "spirit of the place". Lorca describes it in terms of an "earthiness". Saying that an artist or a work of art "has duende" is like saying it "has soul".

Wikipedia, which is where I'm so far getting my information about this, adds an interesting etymological twist, tracing its origin to "the Spanish word dueño, 'owner' (the 'real owner' of the house)." Now, Heidegger says somewhere that language is "the house of Being", but that is not all. His later work concentrated less on Dasein and more on Ereignis. That word has been either left untranslated or translated by a neologism (Enowning). But it means simply "the event". It connotes, however, (and this is why it has caused difficulties for translators) the act of making something your own (Er-eigen), i.e., appropropriating it. Taking possession of it.

But Dasein is je meines ("in each case mine"). Dasein, like duende, is the "the real owner of the house". There is more. Later.

Update: I must have skipped ahead to the end when I first got Jonathan's book. He closes the book with a mention both of duende as "dueño" and "spirit of the place" ("genius loci").