Monday, November 25, 2019

"The Temporary Alliance Between the Elite and the Mob"

The first time I heard the phrase immanent critique I knew it was just a way of turning decadence and emotional honesty into positivism. I was mocked for 20 years as a conservative by people who called themselves radicals whose sensibility was more or less fascist. And now it's almost forgotten and I'm still the only one who gets the joke.

Repeat from 2007. Klaus Nomi sings Purcell

What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath?
Let me, let me freeze again to death.

Repeat from 2004

Fintan O'Toole. Our Own Jacobean NYRB, October 7, 1999
Harold Pinter's imagination was shaped to a large extent by Shakespeare, Beckett, Joyce, and Kafka. But in a speech delivered in 1995 and published now in Various Voices, a collection of his essays, interviews, short stories, and poems, he recalls the schoolteacher with whom he went for long walks in the 1940s and 1950s:

Shakespeare dominated our lives at that time (I mean the lives of my friends and me) but the revelation which Joe Brearley brought with him was John Webster. On our walks, we would declare into the wind, at the passing trolley-buses or indeed to the passers-by, nuggets of Webster....

He goes on to quote, as if from memory, lines from The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil like "What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut/ With diamonds?"; "There's a plumber laying pipes in my guts"; "My soul, like to a ship in a black storm/Is driven I know not whither"; "I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably." And, of course, "Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young." He adds, "That language made me dizzy." 
I've said this before without quoting the article. My God, how that reminds me of my childhood ecstasy, listening to the 1958 recording of Mahagonny. I felt as if I were being torn apart, and smiling. Second to this was my parents' recording of Der Jasager, the only opera that has ever made me cry, and which I've thought for years should be staged with the cast in the uniforms of the Hitlerjugend. I've always associated Brecht with just the sort of decadence, of formal rigor and conflict, that Pinter responded to and O'Toole describes.

I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably.
I just laugh and laugh.

I'd forgotten that the last time I posted this, I introduced a new tag.

And here


Years later, because I write too often as if people understand what I take for granted. Nomi's alien freak act was a defense. He knew people would laugh at him and he played to it, to harden himself against abuse and for acceptance: "a shell as hard as steel, inured to pain." 

Purcell's "What Power Art Thou", from King Arthur, was written for a bass. Nomi's transposition, as "The Cold Song" has led to others, trained countertenors and sopranos, singing it "straight". And that's possible only because they understand that under the facade, Nomi too was singing it "straight", as a man, and a homosexual, describing honestly in his art what it means to have to play the faggot and the clown. Ideological vanguardists, promoters of "immanent critique", and saints and supermen, want to preserve self-hatred as a model. That model is fascist.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Thinking. Solving problems elsewhere.

‘Innocent’ formalism, the play of the imagination, the timeless present of children, anarchic and pre-humanist.

The formalism of the untrained, in the world of experts. Le Douanier Rousseau

The formalism of elision, of speaking and hiding, originating in childhood experience but continuing in schooled, articulate, adulthood. James, Elliot, Borges

The formalism of autistic savants.

The art of the periods in-between, the aristocratic as opposed to bourgeois culture of time, of absolutism trying to come to terms with contingency in the forms of the baroque, the contradictory ideal theater.  Leibniz, Bernini, Borromini (sorry kids, the argument predates Deleuze)

The intellectual as counsel to the king, or theologian, becoming the intellectual as academic.

The intellectual as jester, the anarchist at court, and the anti-utilitarianism of aristocratic leisure, becoming the anti-academic intellectual as cosmopolitan observer, artist, critic, flaneur.

Some of the tensions are or seem to be specific to Christian Europe and the Socratic contempt for democracy. The evangelical idealism that separated truth from rhetoric –and linked object making and no other art with philosophy– sets Europe apart.

Interesting to see the last two thousand years in the west as largely "post-democratic",  rebelling against the model of Athens and the Roman republic.  Opposition to democracy precedes its re-invention. And liberal philosophers oppose democracy, since they have to be the authors of the state. The word most come before the act. But that's not how it happens.

And repeats: the two cultures of the two cultures. The UK divides pedants and ironists/ philosophers and novelists; French philosophers are both.  The UK legal system is adversarial; the French is inquisitorial: the ironic philosopher is the French intellectual model.
Anglosphere philosophers are pedants; Anglosphere lawyers are ironists.

Athens: a culture with a great official material and literary tradition.

The best way to come to terms with Athens is to refuse to see it as western.

"You can't understand the complexity of Athenian art, dynamic/naturalistic and hieratic, until you see it, and the best of it. Its closest parallels in Asia don't match it. Nothing in Europe matches in since."