Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Elaine Pagels, in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent spends a chapter discussing the struggle between Augustine and John Chrysostom over the direction of the church. Pagels tries to come to terms with the victory of Augustine's authoritarian philosophy, concerned with the maintainance of church power, over Chrysostom's defense of the historical precedent of a liberal or even radical egalitarianism. One could argue that Augustine was right, but Pagels doesn't think so, and neither do I. One could say that that history was on his side, or that he was better connected, that power tends to win, etc. Or you could say what Pagels shies away from: that Augustine was a smarter and more convincing orator but morally and philosophically wrong throughout.

People can become stymied when they come upon great art that has been coupled with moral argument, even though all art needs to contain some aspect of it. The various decisions that make up the direction of a work need the backing of a commitment to something stronger than a sense of taste, if only to give the audience something to hold on to. Greenbergian Formalism when it was any good—at the beginning if at all—concerned itself with the desire for a purified non-representational art because the artists who subscribed to it thought such an art was appropriate or even necessary for the description of the time and place it was being made. The works constitute an argument for art for art's sake not the thing itself. Nobody sat around drinking beer arguing about which shade of red to use. On the other hand, Plato through his art made Socrates, a man who was thought of by many of those around him as a dangerous boor, and who was distrustful of art, into a brilliant and heroic intellect. He may well have been the man his followers adored. But without Plato's skill, could we tell? Poetry and truth aren't the same thing, but good poetry can only come out of a commitment to the actions and choices that produced it, that has the force of veracity, even if in fact it's total bullshit. It should be a commonplace, and at various times it has been, but between a Modernist denial of the obvious and a post-structuralist desperation to supplant one model of truth with another, of 'non'-truth, it's ignored.

What's more dangerous, art or its suppression? The premise of our society is that supression is worse, though Plato wouldn't agree. We believe that people are capable of understanding the implications of their ideas, and are capable of handling their own affairs. But do they always want to? Let's say a group of people adding up to about 10% of a given population offer their voting rights to another group in exchange for a guarantee of lifetime care. Overt offers are illegal, but large organizations encourage the belief that it's there for the asking. Stories have been circulating for years about the Microsoft 'cult', and the chanting of "I am Arthur Anderson" doesn't help matters much. The teachings of the Catholic church likewise demand absolute fealty, but few Americans follow them before anything else. Still, the number of people in my neighborhood who are shocked to hear about the behavior of some members of the priesthood is quite large, the result of people listening more to their priest than to their neighbors. At the same time I wouldn't be living where I am if it weren't for my devout landlady's deep sense of the immorality of greed, at least in terms of her own behavior. The peasants among themselves are egalitarians. She does as she's told and votes the straight republican ticket. 

Is democracy viable without some sort of education in it's obligations? The glory of the United States, the thing that makes us the envy of the world, is a philosophy, if that word can even be used, of personal freedom, combined with a sort of careless irresponsibility. It's been a fun ride, and those from this country who have argued against it most often sound like dry sticks or moralizing bores. There's a real tragedy in the story of the American left. It no longer has any peasants or workers, only earnest pedants and dilettantes. My father called it the bourgeoisification of the working class. Give them enough color TVs and a new car every 2 years and they'll shut up. Marx made the same complaint about the British. He blamed it all on backyard gardening.

I was in Europe 3 months ago. In Germany I spent about a week drinking with the cream of the old bourgeoisie: the son of an ambassador; a man whose family has been the rag trade for three hundred years, and a lawyer also from an old 'good' family. They each spoke at least 5 languages, read Ovid and Homer in the original. They knew all the cities of Europe and the US and all the frescos in Tuscany. They loved Mozart, The Clash and The Rolling Stones; and since this was Dusseldorf took pride in the fact that the album Trans-Europe Express by local heroes Kraftwerk had been chosen 25 years ago by black teenagers in NY as the musical backdrop for the invention of Hip Hop. And these men feared cutthroat capitalism.

In Madrid I stayed in a 3 star hotel, paying $80 a night, since all the hostals were full, and spent my late hours talking with the night manager and smoking his cigarettes. He'd left the communist party in 1973 during the row over Eurocommunism.
Like all communists, even ex-communists, he loved to talk. He speaks maybe 4 or 5 languages. He's forgotton his Russian. He has family in Paris, Caracas and New York. His hotel was bought out by Best Western 3 years ago, but it's still the hotel where all the left wing politicians stay when they're in town, which means among other things, that the secret police come by every day to make a list of everybody staying there.
One morning at about 2, a short heavy set old man walked in the door and picked up his key from the desk. After he'd slowly made his way up the steps, Carlos laughed quietly in my direction and said: "There's another one."
"One of the founders of Eurocommunism."

Monday, July 22, 2002

Art is that which convinces.
I think this defines it all pretty well; both the pleasures and the dangers.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

I'm chasing details and sidebars but enough people are going after GWB himself that I feel free to pick and choose. I also take the long view on principle. That's why I'm not a reporter.

To David Corn
"I didn't know [Bush]," Soros replied. "He was supposed to bring in the
Gulf connection. But it didn't come to anything. We were buying political influence. That was it. He was not much of a businessman."
If Soros as you say is, 'left of center', this is only because by his own
standards, he no longer has to be anything else; he enjoys the prestige that his power gives him -in his generosity- just as he enjoyed the prestige of a different sort it gave him earlier in his life. That you or 'we' should happily spend time with such would-be gods and manage only mild irony I find disturbing. I am capable of appreciating, if necessary, the beneficence of foreign kings to foreign peoples; but that citizens of this country should find a reason to celebrate the 'benign' monarch in our midst tells us how far we have come. Do some research on Soros' vassal, Niederhoffer, and consider how much destruction preceeded such generosity.
Tell me, did The Nation celebrate Carnagie the same way when he
decided late in life to atone for his sins? Henry Clay Frick, who
played Niederhoffer to his Soros, never believed a word of it.
"We're both going to Hell."

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The words describe what the writer knows and understands about himself, not what he thinks he understands about others.  Liberals and liberal pundits don't understand the difference, either as politics or art.

My life is all I have
My rhymes, my pen, my pad
And I'd a made it through the struggle don't judge me
What you say now
Won't budge me,
Cause where I come from
So of-ten 
People you grew up with are layin in a coffin. 
But I'd a made it through the pain and strife
It's my time now, my world, my life
My life...

Is based on 
Lighting blunts, loading guns
Telling my lawyers to get the case gone.
I need the bills that the Presidents got their face on
So I can switch my residence
Get a truck and a Lex
Fuck a check.
I no longer have to wait for'em
I made a couple ends
Lost a couple friends
I light a blunt cause, never will the struggle end.
So you can judge a nigger
But you ain't God and you ain't in the role.
So you really can't budge a nigger.
You oughta love a nigger
For the fact that it's my world
My life. 

And still I'm a rugged nigger
They say you' a buggin' nigger
Fuck-it I'm a thuggin' nigger
You talkin bull-shit
Then kickit with another nigger.
I got a bigger bed
And I need a cover, nigger
And I ain't got friends
I got enemies.
So if they whip me
Then it means they're my brother nigger.

My life is all I have
My rhymes, my pen, my pad
And I'd a made it through the struggle don't judge me
What you say now
Won't budge me,
Cause where I come from
So of-ten
People you grew up with are layin in a coffin. 
But I'd a made it through the pain and strife
It's my time now, my world, my life
My life...

Is a blunt to the head
Prayer for the dead
Run around hustlin'
Scared o'the feds
They say:
Death is eternal sleep
But the only thing is 
You ain't really sure if you're prepared for the bed.
So often we get murked in the head
Instead of big money
They got big momma hurtin' instead.
My life is makin' the verse
But the handcuffs the bull-pens the jail cells is makin it worse.
Tell Mommy, Yo, I don't go to the church.
Tell Ak I don't go to the mosque.
I blow blunts hold guns and 
I'm a be right there when the soldiers are marching
I play my part and my heart has seen colder then March.
But on the flip side of things it's still warmer than June.
I have talks with the lord and he'll be callin me soon.
And my life is all I have
My family my niggas my flow my grabs.

My life is all I have
My rhymes, my pen, my pad
And I'd a made it through the struggle don't judge me.
What you say now
Won't budge me,
Cause where I come from
So of-ten
People you grew up with are layin in a coffin. 
But I'd made it through the pain and strife
It's my time now, my world, my life
My life.
My life.

'The Life' 
Styles P. (with Pharoahe Monch)

Sunday, July 07, 2002

It’s always amused me how many people refer to queer theory and queerness as being attacked by the right, without defending it explicitly as being of the left. But Queerness isn't a critique of class and economics; it's defined as mocking bourgeois normalcy. Over the past two centuries both the left and right have done that and now especially there's confusion about who's doing it and why.

But what replaces normalcy? For the majority of whatever political, sexual, religious or philosophical persuasion, the answer's, "nothing".  Fantasies of permanent revolution, the entrepreneurial spirit or the fabulous life, are all fantasies of a minority; most people want stability and stability is boring.The focus of contemporary theory on systems of power relations assumes that if society and normalcy are coercive they must also be unjust. It's an argument from hypertrophied individualism mixing Plato, Foucault and Ayn Rand with the accent on one or another according to preference, and stating either that the powerful are powerful because they are and that this therefore is just, or that rules will always be broken and we shouldn't defend them nor even the ambiguous relations of laws and their undoing—that being the definition of the arts and specifically of literature—but merely celebrate their breaking. All of this is based in turn on a romantic reading of Freud and a hatred of him for his mistakes, a fondness for de Sade and The Story of O, and/or a televangelist’s version of Adam Smith. If capitalism in its ascendancy was the child of humanism, anti-humanism has become the philosophy of it's maturity. It's held variously that we are never conscious, that we do not behave responsibly in the face of desire, that we need to be free, that we're greedy, and that the greedy are the most free.

That these ideas should have grown out of post-war Europe and been adapted in the U.S. post-Vietnam seems absolutely logical: nihilism has always been modern.  By the same token it should be obvious at least in retrospect that both de Man and Robbe-Grillet wrote to elide/efface/exorcise their history as collaborators.  It should be just as easy to see Borges' mannered paeans to Gaucho masculinity as tied to his politics and to see both his thin and illustrative writing and reactionary attitudes in turn as symptomatic of his curdled sexuality. It’s obvious too though nobody seems to have thought of it that the Cambridge spies acted not in rebellion against the old aristocratic order but as conservative rebels against capitalism: the disorder that had already destroyed the stability they loved. So this is a story of the aristocracy and the peasantry rising against the vulgar middle class. In the words of an old queen who knew Duchamp and who answered my question with a laugh , "Of course!" Duchamp was a monarchist.

Anti-humanist philosophies are popular. Capitalism thrives on instability but needs to defend itself as conservative and grounded. Those who love to move can thrive in service of the ruler. In this age’s confused mix of left and right Leo Bersani’s theory of the ‘asocial’ nature of homosexual males has found it’s ideal in the creepy winner of ‘Survivor’: the Homosexual is the perfect capitalist. Another author argues that one of the perks of homosexuality is the acquisition in American high school of a fake British accent, which I imagine the author using when speaking to workmen redecorating his West Village home. I make most of my money as a carpenter and I've experienced that snobbery, as I've experienced also the generosity of pseudo-aristocrats with a better sense of history. And I've listened to children of the very rich defend the "violence and criminality" of capitalism; you gain a new understanding of the world while listening to a 22 year old Rockefeller on his way off to graduate school at the University of Chicago defend "the moral necessity of war".

Only fascism treats everything solely in relation to power. Monarchism is a system of justice: rules govern action. The rules may not be fair and equal but even the king follows them. Read a description of the daily schedule of Louis XIV. Barbarism too is a system of justice; look up the Wergeld or Afghan tribal law. At first I wrote here that under fascism there's no law, only relations of power, but fascism is more than the non-existence of law: it's the absence of laws that once existed, a mockery, an inversion of law as anti-law, law made into kitsch. A violent decadence is worse than barbarism. By conflating all societal arrangements with authoritarian or totalitarian ideologies, bourgeois anti-bourgeois intellectuals—mostly academic, mediocre and cribbing from the works of people of real imagination and intelligence—undermine democracy without asking for what would replace it.

If heterosexuality is considered by theory to be either a model of monarchy or an illusion—or both, as a "hegemonic" force—then homosexuality, as ideology, as sexual nationalism, is either a parody of a monarchy, a parody of an illusion, or both. Sexuality as a part of life is polymorphous. To ideologize it as anything else is fascism.

Monday, July 01, 2002

Digression and digressions.
I've wanted to put up something on the problems of form and content, subject and style.

The more I write, the more I realize that the beauty of good prose is in its relative as opposed to absolute sense of precision. The goal for an author is to move him/herself and the reader gracefully but not too gracefully from one subject to the next, and at certain points to offer a more distilled observation. But though in an essay or a piece of technical writing one may know which passages are merely structural or secondary and which constitutive, in a work of fiction the author may have one idea and the majority of readers another, and in the long run the readers usually will be right.

A good writer works in a distinctive way, but within the bounds of his or her work the tools are going to be from the set of stock effects until that moment when something seems, perhaps in an illusion, to be more. The beauty of writing is precisely the tricks and stock effects that lead in to other moments, the moments that we remember more for themselves, but which wouldn't succeed without the less dramatic stuff that came before. In writing fiction the goal is to write well enough, enough of the time and to allow those other passages to create themselves out of our imagination. Whether the author recognizes them as such or sees them as he sees the rest is irrelevant.

My first visit to the Prado is something I'll never forget, specifically my accidental discovery of a Fra Angelico, which I stumbled on walking down the hall from Las Meninas. After a moment standing in front of it, I began to cry. The transition from Velazquez' surprisingly modern sense of doubt to a vision of deeply sincere but equally sophisticated faith was shocking.