Sunday, January 23, 2011


It is my conviction that the problem of composure can be fully articulated even where the solution is wholly out of reach.

One does not have to have found composure in order to write about it.

(My book would attempt only to articulate the problem.)

Motion and grasp

It seems to me that the potter at her wheel is an ideogram of composure. The plate emerges from our grasp of the material in motion.

An analogue of this motion is experienced immediately in our institutions, just as an analogue our grasp is experienced in our intuitions. We see immediately that the plate is round, we get it. And we throw the clay onto the motion of the wheel.

From this motion and this grasp we derive our emotions and our concepts.

While the immediacies (intuitions, institutions) are of course available in separate moments (seeing, doing), their integration in the potter at her wheel shows that there can ultimately be no intuition without institution, no institution without intuition. In fact, there can be neither institution nor intuition, no experience, without their integration—composure.

And this is the theme of all "crisis".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Justice: the Potter's Wheel

I was reading Pound's tanslation of the Analects recently and came across this:

I have heard that men who have states or head families are not worried about fewness, but worried about fairness [potter's wheel ideogram: aliter as verb: worried about ruling justly], not worried about scarcity, but worried about disquiet. (XVI, p. 108, Pound's comment)

Beyond its general interest, and the topicality of the passage (more on that later), I was struck by the potter's wheel.

Blank Slate

On the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower's warning about "the military-industrial complex", David Greenberg proposes that "the faddish zeal for the speech has fed the spurious notion that wars occur not because we choose them but because shadowy, faceless forces have railroaded us into them."

If you want to know how ideology really works, you need to understand how that sentence works. It is a masterpiece. But it's late; it's Friday night. Later.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Forces of Reaction

Jacob Weisberg at Slate hits one important nail on the head, I think, but completely misses the point:

At the core of the far right's culpability is its ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government—a venomous campaign not so different from the backdrop to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Then it was focused on "government bureaucrats" and the ATF. This time it has been more about Obama's birth certificate and health care reform. In either case, it expresses the dangerous idea that the federal government lacks valid authority.

When governments lose their legitimacy in the eyes of their constituencies, they are in trouble. They cannot blame a "venomous campaign" for this. The question is simply whether the U.S. government, which (a) is a democracy and (b) has a constitution, still (a) has the support of its population and (b) has governed the nation within the bounds of the constitution. That't the basis of its legitimacy, plain and simple. Many well-less-than-"venomous" critics of U.S. policy, from Noam Chomsky on the left to Ron Paul on the right, have argued trenchantly (they have convinced me!) that on everything from drug policy to the wars in the middle east, the U.S. government has overreached its authority. Those policies, foreign and domestic, are simply not legitimate. The invasion of Afghanistan was a war crime, etc.

The bailout of Wall Street (on the vaguely fascist and certainly corporatist principle, it would appear, that "gain is private, loss is public") did not help matters. The (to my mind weird) refusal to show the "long form" birth-certificate of the President in order to answer questions about his citizenship didn't help either. And, finally, the implementation of health care reform before the repeal of policies that have undermined the legitimacy of the government shows that Obama is trying, first and foremost, to maintain the power of the central government—though arguably only in order to continue to be an instrument of Wall Street.

To acknowledge Weisberg's comparison, we can ask wether the ATF's actions at Waco bolstered or undermined the legitimacy of the ATF and, by extension, the federal government.

None of this, of course, justifies Loughner. We're playing "the blame game", as Slate's editors have aptly put it. I am saying that if it is true that "anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism made the Giffords shooting more likely" then it is also true that pro-government, anti-gun, multicultural populism (i.e., left-liberal orthodoxy), which naturally prompts ("draws the fire of" we would once have said without thiking twice) its equal and opposite reaction, made it more likely.

Obama explicitly set out to change America. Not all of America wants to change, and Obama has done it quite quickly (as the year end successes showed). He has also, I think, made the changes in an ill-advised order. He should have withdrawn two imperial armies first. He should have called off the war on drugs. This would have mellowed the tensions between "populist" left and right (and enraged elites on both sides). With this gentler, kinder, less intrusive, less aggressive and more "popular" state in place, he could perhaps have changed the health care systema and opened the borders to immigration. He could then have gone on to curtail the powers of the Fed and the CIA, the ATF and the FBI.

Perhaps we should remember that Obama did not bring a whole new state to Washington: he took over an existing one. He took over the state and its legitimacy in the condition that it had been left by George W. Bush. With that in mind, perhaps we can understand how he might have overestimated his legitimacy. The idea that the Federal Government of the United States of America lacks at least a measure of legitimacy is indeed a dangerous one. It is not, however, absurd, nor even wholly unfounded. And it's not news.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Pause for Thought

"If we lived in a fascist state," writes Jack Shafer, "Bill Daley's corporate-state credentials would make him a perfect counselor to the generalissimo."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Fascism as an Alternative

As the list of its founding figures (Lewis, Pound, Heidegger) suggests, Kulchural Studies is an approach to the study of culture that does not eschew fascism a priori. It does of course notice brutality and tyranny when it happens. I would like to quote three statements outright endorsing fascism to underscore the point:

[F]or anglo-saxon countries as they are constituted today some modified form of fascism would probably be best. ... All the humbug of a democratic suffrage, all the imbecility that is so wastefully manufactured, will henceforth be spared this happy people. (Wyndham Lewis, "Fascism as an Alternative", TAoBR, p. 320, 321, 1926)*

USURY is the cancer of the world, which only the surgeon's knife of Fascism can cut out of the life of nations. (Ezra Pound, "What Is Money For?", SP, p. 270, 1939)

In particular, what is peddled about nowadays as the philosophy of National Socialism, but which has not the least to do with the inner truth and greatness of this movement, namely, the encounter between global technology and modern humanity, is fishing in these troubles waters of "values" and "totalities". (Martin Heidegger, "The Restriction of Being", IM, p. 152, 1935)

Okay, that will strike most of us as pretty distasteful stuff. And Kulchural Studies is not naive enough to take any of it straight. (Lewis must have been partly ironic. Pound's line is probably not quite as "coded" we immediately think, and yet obviously ready to be taken as such. Heidegger was probably not straightforwardly speaking his mind.) And yet KS insists that in order to understand our culture, we must grant that fascism indeed offers an alternative. It is within the realm of the possible. It is not nonsense. Liberals (always a bit too sentimental for this sort thing at the outset) should keep in mind that KS rejects mainly the idea that fascism is, at any particular point in history, unthinkable. Its aim is to keep it thinkable, if only long enough to consider alternatives to it as well. How many evils have been visited upon the world simply because people were unable to think clearly about them as possibilities?

Norman Mailer, who took Gide's "do not understand me too quickly" as a motto (as we do here as well), put it like this in the Prisoner of Sex (an exemplary work of kulchural study, I should emphasize):

Well, he had come to the conclusion a long time ago that all thought must not cease with Adolf Hitler, that if, in the course of living with a thought, it might appear to run parallel for a time to arguments Nazis had also been near, one should not therefore slam the books, close the inquiry, and cease to think in such direction any further. That would be equivalent to letting the dead Hitler set up barriers on all the intellectual roads which could yet prove interesting and so would be a curious revenge for that Nazism which had been not only a monstrosity and a nightmare, but had also for a few years conquered Europe from within, conquered it before the war, conquered it psychologically. (p. 181-2)

So there, then, is the complexity. We must, for a time, "live with a thought" that considers fascism as one ideology among a range of alternatives. One of the proposals on the table. If only because if we reject it in advance we will be unable to understand what is really going on.

One of the benefits of fascism, said Lewis, moreover, would be to do away with "all the boring and wasteful sham-sciences that have sprung up in support of the great pretences of democracy" (p. 322). KS wants to be an alternative to them too—to the cancerous imbecilities that are peddled about these days as interpretations of culture. It does not, however, propose to "do away" with them. That would be totalitarian.

*I should note that this "this happy people" actually refers to the Italians under Mussolini.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Houses are things. Parents are people. Homes and families, by contrast, are institutions. (Goffman said a "suite of rooms" is an institution.) We know this because they determine "appropriate behaviour". And notice the interesting thing. There is a difference between what you may do in your home and in someone else's. There is a difference between how you treat your parents and your girlfriend's parents. There is a difference between how you treat the sofa in your living room and the sofa in your girlfriend's living room. That's how homes and families work.