“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, June 17, 2005

Unexpected consequences fascinate us here at LI. Last year, we pondered whether the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would actually free the administration to engage elsewhere on its patented path to maximum criminal activity. Well, LI worried in vain. We were not counting on the pure incompetence of the Bush people. Rumsfeld has squandered the army the way Bush squandered the budget surplus. The result is that the army is breaking. The real question is whether the U.S. is going to be in the odd position of spending half a trillion dollars per on the War Department while fielding an army consisting of 100 fatigued frag victims.

While the anti-war movement in this country has either hibernated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, suffering the curious death from asphyxiation that befalls mammals who spend too much time with their heads up their assholes – or rallied its invite only, vegan lefty undergrad troops to acts of high, symbolic impotence – the real antiwar movement has been beautifully self organizing in the burbs and the highlands. It consists of parents who don’t want to sacrifice their children for the mad vanity project of a bunch of D.C. eggheads. Ah, every once in a while LI does feel the distant intimation of … well, let’s admit it, patriotism … when we witness such things as the undeclared general strike against the project that was imposed on us by the Weekly Standard crowd and their Pentagon companeros. While the Rubicon that divides the noble lie from the pathological one is so easily jumped in D.C. that the noble liars don’t even give it a second thought, the consequences outside of D.C. – the abasement of American prestige, the skewing of American self interest into a dead end filled with alien corpses, the impoverishment of American culture, the elevation to power of the greatest single collection of educated morons since Mcnamara started flowsheeting kill-to-hill ratios in the War room – is nevertheless felt, as it were, in the very air and water.

Now, there has always been a puzzle about the neocons. The puzzle is in two parts, only one of which gets publicized. The publicized part is: how could they have been so incredibly unprepared for occupying Iraq? The less publicized part is: how could they have been so incredibly arrogant as to think that they could take various democracies for a joy ride without any domestic blowback? One of the consequences of the leadership of a government embarking on an unpopular war is the disenchantment of the people with the leadership. This is a no brainer. It could be missed by the D.C. wizards only because their vaunted expertise consists solely in a sort of gaseous moralism. They had, as we have found out, no real knowledge at all about Iraq. They have no real knowledge, as in knowledge of language and history and culture, about most places in the world. They even have no real knowledge of the history and culture of the countries they live in, i.e. the U.S. and the U.K. It is astonishing how little the Wolfowitz crowd and their journalistic acolytes – the Hitchens, the Krauthammer, the Hoagland, etc., etc. – really know. Besides the piss elegance of being able to allude to Plato and Leo Strauss over the sherry, these people apparently have gone through life with the motto, everything I learned I learned at expensive Georgetown restaurants. Because they have broken canapés with the thrilling Mr. Chalabi, they were all Iraq experts. One is reminded of that astute political scientist, Jeremiah. What he said of Jerusalem could well be said of Bush War D.C.: “all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward. Her filthiness is in her skirts she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter.”

All of which is by way of guiding the reader to today’s extra special reading: Max Boot’s column in the L.A. Times. Boot has become quite deranged, always harping on ‘staying the course’ – not a good idea when you are in the wrong lane on the interstate. His proposal is, to give you the shortened version, this: to overcome the general strike against the Bush war, the Pentagon should be given the power to hire foreigners – basically, to compose an army of mercenaries, which can then be put at the pleasure of the executive. Boot points out that this worked well for the Roman Empire. He doesn’t point out that it spelled the doom for the Republic. Not that this would particularly bother him and his ilk – self-described meritocrats deserve, after all, to live in a meritocracy protected by Condottieri. It’s the brave new gated community world! As usual, a neocon boldly walks up to the plate and calmly dismisses the whole structure of American conservative thought, built up over two hundred years, to the applause of the right. Who knew that the ultimate victims of the neo-Peronist Bushies would be the American tories?

So tell me again – how did these people get within a mile of the levers of power?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

nothing too cognitive today, people

In an article on Iranian bloggers in der Spiegel, my friend, the Brooding Persian, got almost a whole paragraph. Congratulations! I told him I’d translate the graf and insert a link

"The tone is of absolute earnestness. A blogger who goes under the melancholic moniker of the Brooding Persion writes, commenting on Iran’s nuclear plans, “a country that can’t even keep its public toilets clean shouldn’t be laying a finger on nuclear technology.” The “brooding persian” is stupifyingly learned. He debates the political philosophy of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss and writes clear sighted columns about the spiritual kinship of Iranian and American neo-conservatives. His blog, written in elegant English, burgeons with social-critique. Iranian weblogs give us a unique instance of the human soul under religious dictatorship. Young people who pursue the struggle against the bigotry of the rulers on the internet, speaking of a hollowed out life, are beyond anger. They don’t want to be seen as victims. Their regard is directed at the hairline fractures in the system. “A great blessing of the Islamic Republic consists in how it has made us impatient with piety,” writes one blogger, Omila. “The Shah never succeeded in doing what the Ayatollahs have finally achieved. The youth of today, ruled by the representatives of God on Earth, now even put the existence of God into question.”"

LI must say, we have heard Iranians make the latter claim all the way back in 1985. It has become a cliché among intellectual Iranians. Anyway, the B.P. was right, it turns out, and I was wrong. I kept telling him not to keep writing about Schmitt and Strauss. Well, he thereby attracted the attention of Spiegel – another of the endless proofs that you should take my advice with the caution that my instincts are almost always wrong.

Yesterday night I went to see Louis XIV play at Stubbs. Perhaps because I have been contemplating rent seeking lately, I began to think about how the line is an emblem of the market in privilege. One’s place in the line is purely a matter of who preceded you to your place – just as birth order determines monarchy or title. Going to see a concert at a club has other interesting features. Unlike standing in line to get a movie ticket, there is less of a sense that the line is being processed with capitalist rationality. In fact, the line simply stood there for a while. When this happen, the line becomes a different shape, as little “courts’ form – friends break the back to back physiognomy of the thing to face each other, lending an increasing bumpiness to the line -- blurring the distinction, in fact, between a line and a crowd. One observes a certain anxiety as you go back through the line, and suddenly ‘explorers” will appear – people detaching from their place in the line and going up to check out the head of it. And then the linekeepers will appear. Music clubs invariably hire linekeepers who have zip sense of organization. They are always as goofy as the assistants that are sent from the Castle to “aid” K. in Kafka’s novel. So eventually the line keepers get us into two lines. Apparently, there is a secret society of privilege in the line we are all in – those who have already paid for their tickets. Or are on some mysterious list. This, too, represents a reality about privilege. Although order of precedence is the apparent organizing principle, in reality there are the privileged among the privileged. This makes it hard to apply the concept of a unifying class interest to explain every instance in the life of the line – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a general unifying interest in preserving precedent as the line’s principle. Those who criticize the class notions of the Marxists often point to disturbances in the structure of interest to claim that class isn’t the final determining instance in capitalist social formations.

… but then the ticket guys said it was time to sell the tickets for real, and I came out of my little analytic day dream. The concert, by the way, was disappointing. Louis XIV has a nice sound on a few songs, and they have a nice sense of stage, but the ultimate r n r jism wasn’t with the boys last night.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Get thee behind me, Mr. N.

I said – or perhaps threatened – that I had two more posts on Nietzsche, having felt a fiery call to deliver my message to the unheeding heathen. He who has ears can get his hat – there is probably some raree blog controversy much more interesting elsewhere. So, without further ado, and taking up where we left off last time:

The influence of Nietzsche on the concepts or tactics of fascism is, I think, nill. Tactically, Nazism employed tactics that have spontaneously occured to your average ten year old bully for millenia, amplified by modern technology and enriched with all the bile and acids of ethnic hatred and the bodyslamming effect of the business cycle. Conceptually, even Nietzsche’s most ardent Nazi followers admitted that he was anti-antisemitic, anti-nationalist, and anti-state. These are constants in his work from the post Wagner period to the very end. Nietzsche's closest experience with fascist art and rhetoric -- in the Wagner circle -- made him very unhappy.

In attempting to annex Nietzsche, his fascist interpreters made three interrelated claims. They claimed that the will to power gives us a guide to the immutable social categories of the strong and the weak, no matter that they are, on the surface, contingent and changeable; that the will to power is the central concept that makes all of the rest of Nietzsche’s work intelligible; and that the systematic summa is to be found in the Will To Power.

We, on the other hand, claim that the idea of a central illuminating concept in Nietzsche’s work is a will of the wisp – except if you believe, as Nietzsche came to, that it is the Eternal Return of the Same; that Nietzsche alternates between treating the categories of the strong and the weak as immutable ahistorical concepts and as very mutable ones, in line with his criticism of any of the truth claims of immutable, transcendent categories deduced from philosophic principles; and that the Will to Power was brokered into existence by Elisabeth, Nietzsche’s sister, who took various jottings Nietzsche made about future masterworks (jottings that every writer makes) too seriously, and who created her Nietzsche book out of a basic and deep ignorance of Nietzsche’s principle of composition. Elizabeth’s idea, which is common today, is that Nietzsche scattered a bunch of insights – aphorisms – about in no particular order, responding to no particular textual strategy. If he contradicted himself, he contradicted himself, a la Whitman. Myself, I find Nietzsche’s notebooks always fascinating. But they do not make a book. However, Elisabeth and even poor Peter Gast, the friend of Nietzsche’s she suborned to do the project, mistook the episodic for the chaotic. This isn’t surprising. Elisabeth was looking for money and prestige; she was never known as a fine reader or critic. So here was the goal: get together a schoolboy version of a philosophy book by bundling together thoughts under different topic headings, and there you have it.

This won’t do. What Nietzsche got from Plato was a deep dialogical tact. What that means is that you have a sense for how a point a view can inspire a response, which then touches a spring in the original point of view that moves it in such a way that in explaining itself, it becomes something else again. Doxa are mercurial or they are dead. In the later case, they can be stuffed into almanachs, dictionaries, encyclopedias and tests. They retain a use value for memory; they lose, however, their real, discursive life.
At this point I am going to do something so extremely boring nobody will read the next bit – but such are the sacrifices I make for art. I’m going to apply a certain theory of reference, developed by Francis Jacques, to Nietzsche’s work – in particular, his notion of retro-reference. Jacques developed this in contrast to the prevailing Anglo school which constructed a theory of indexicals that responded to the demands of formal language – which, in Jacques’ opinion, distorts the role of indexicals by artificially bracketing their dialogic instances; or perhaps I should say his is a theory which operates as an adjunct to that school. I’ll write a little about this in my next Nietzsche post, drag in the Nietzschian “I,” expatiate on Nietzsche’s gogolian fascination with doubles, and finish up this series, to everybody’s relief.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Why we love this country

As we all know, the Bush administration has been so innovative in the field of corrupt practices, misprision, and fraud, that it is no longer possible to tell the government apart from a RICO target. So we were amused by the latest incident of malfeasance with the intent to defraud the taxpayer. Also, a few lesser lives without the law, i.e., innocent Iraqi lives, were sacrificed -- but on the plus side, another GOP lobbyist has been rewarded for his inherent love of freedom. Freedom is a good thing. Freedom to mark up your invoices for undelivered goods 400 percent is an even better thing. And having friends in high places in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon is the best thing of all.

A nice little rundown on Custer Battles in Business Week includes the following fun to know and tell facts:

a. Custer Battles is formed in 2002 by “former Army Rangers Mike Battles and Scott Custer … before the Iraq invasion to seek rebuilding contracts. Battles, a GOP campaign contributor and a former CIA case worker, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002 as a Rhode Island Republican.”

b.While a more timid government might be afraid to entrust the lives of soldiers in an occupied territory that is filled with arms dumps and hostile forces to a contractor with approximately six months of experience, the Bush White house is anything but timid. Rather, enriching anything connected to the GOP, especially if it is slightly paramilitary and smells of Soldier of Fortune magazine is jut the thing the Bush White House loves best. So in the ‘bring em on’ fashion so beloved of the American electorate, Custer Battles and its fifteen subsidiaries harvest the bounty of war.
c. In a war that is, to all intents and purposes, an incompetent pirate raid on some of the richest oil fields in the world, it is hard to enforce a sense of integrity among the help. So Custer Battles operates much as if it were a division of Haliburton:

“By itself, Custer Battles is already in a great deal of trouble. It is under investigation by the Pentagon for allegedly cheating the U.S. government out of tens of millions during the chaotic months following the Iraq invasion. In September 2004, the military banned Custer Battles and 15 of its subsidiaries and officials, including Morris, from obtaining government contracts while the criminal probe proceeds.

Custer Battles employees have also been accused of firing on unarmed Iraqi civilians, of using fake offshore companies to pad invoices by as much as 400 percent, and of using forgery and fraud to bilk the American government. Two former associates have filed a federal whistle-blower suit, accusing top managers of swindling at least $50 million.”

d. Failing onward and upward is what the American upper class is all about. So the fun guys at Custer Battles, after being formally banned by the Pentagon, operate out of the Custer Battles hq, but under different nomenclature. Clever, eh? “Rob Roy Trumble, who previously was operations chief for Custer Battles,” resuits up a few operations that are just so necessary to our ongoing effort to spread liberty across the plains of Mesopotamia that the Pentagon has to throw money at the guy again. Flowers give pollen to bees, the male peacock spreads its irresistible tail before the weak kneed female, and GOP businessmen make proposals to the War Department. It’s a nature thing.

e. But so clever, so clever, this Custer Battles company! Here’s what they did. They re-baptized themselves as two other companies, Emergent Business Service and Tarheels Training. They affiliate themselves with a Romanian company which seems to be subsidiary of a killers for hire company out of Britain. And the fleet foots at the Pentagon allow them to bid, once more, on contracts. Astonishing, isn’t it.

America. Ruled by the worst. Elected by the ignorant. Plucked like a dead chicken.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

More on Nietzsche, oh my

LI is tempted, at this point, to go ballistically Germanistic and talk about the circle around Stefan George. Lehmann, after dismissing the early wave of Nietzsche interpreters as bunglers who missed the great man’s message, believes that here, finally, with the Aryan brotherhood around George, the proper ecclesia of Nietzsche interpretation finds its footing. Of course, the five hundred thousand printing of Thus Spake Zarathustra, distributed to the troops at the front, planted the seed. One imagines that Elisabeth Nietzsche, finally wealthy, got her revenge in attending the Bayreuth festival in style in the postwar years.

Lehmann divides the rightwing school into three divisions, with a cursory glance at what he calls the “inauthentic” school of Nietzsche interpretation, which includes Max Scheler, Ortega y Gasset, Graf Keyslering and Oswald Spengler. About the George circle, the best philosopher in his view was Ludwig Klages. Actually, we have read a little of Klages ourselves. Lehmann’s overview complains that Klages doesn’t quite make the connections that light up the master theme of Nietzsche’s work, the Will to Power. But at least Klages grasps that the Will to Power, and not the dilettantish perspectivism, is the key to Nietzsche. But since, for Klages, a Schopenhauerian, the Will to Power is negative – not the heightening of life but the black spot, the invisible plague – Nietzsche’s work ultimately collapses in self contradiction, of which only some gigantic ruins – the notion of resentment, for instance – remain to be used by the philosopher. With the smug confidence of a man who thinks he has chosen the winning side of history, Lehmann tells us that with [such] an alien metric is the lifework of a thinker measured, whose authentic contemporary meaning has emerged with ever greater clarity.”

Then there is the case of the existentialist interpretation of Nietzsche, and his comparison with Kierkegaard. Who could doubt that Nietzsche’s interpretation of the world comes from his own personal existence, rather than a striving for some cold objectivity? Interestingly – it tells us how low Heidegger’s bid to be the Nazi’s premier philosopher – Lehmann covers the existential/catholic interpretation of Nietzsche with never a word about the master from the Black Forest, instead concentrating on Jaspers.

But finally we come to the authentic interpretation of Nietzsche, the one which places him in the grand vista that leads from the concept of the Ubermensch to the Fuhrer himself. This is how Lehmann makes the rhetorical transition:

“The necessary experience to which the Nietzsche Renaissance of the present owes its origin, the world war, that as a historic experience has not ended in the year 1918, but continues in the midst of our most immediate turns of events – it not only spans the powers of negation, but also the ties of the new order that were forged in struggle. And the philosophy that overlooks that –isn’t it blind before the sheer present? Doesn’t it miss out on our existential situation (existenzielle Situation)?”

("Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt/
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete")

Springtime (for Nietzsche and Germany), in Lehmann’s view, comes about because of Alfred Bäumler, who makes the connection between the Will to Power – again, the backbone of Nietzsche’s thought in the rightwing view – and the “great politics” – what I am translating rather capriciously as macropolitics.

What Bäumler does is give us a very political Nietzsche, the midpoint of whose work was the struggle to counter Bismarck’s politics. Bismarck’s mistake was to found the state on equality, when the state is naturally founded on inequality – those inequalities that are found in the natural order. But “Bismarck’s ears were deaf to philosophy.” Nietzsche’s great counter-political moves were received with indifference. Only by taking account of the fact that Nietzsche, in the period of waiting for the hero to lead his country, do we understand how that impatience at the Bismarckian order led to the part of Nietzsche that might be difficult for a Nazi to accept:

But it made Nietzsche’s judgments over Germany ambiguous: these are not ‘objective’ expressions, but judgments that will attack, sort out, wound, bring attention to. And they encompass not only the decayed characteristics of the German essence: German innerlichkeit, flatness, banality, spiritlessness, but also the counter-images and counter-concepts: the roman culture and French culture (in opposition to German barbarism), the good European (in oppostion to the nationalist), the Renaissance (in opposition to the German reformation), and much else, to which we can add Nietzsche’s prejudice against anti-semitism and his occasional praises of the Jewish race and intelligence. Whoever takes that seriously will completely overlook the point at which Nietzsche is completely serious, the political intention of these very intentional constructions. He will not comprehend, why Nietzsche, in this political situation, had to attack this way and in no other; and even more, why these scenarios, understood correctly, as Nietzsche wished them to be understood, do not stand in contradiction with his fundamental political knowledge.”

Lehmann’s solution to the Nietzsche problem is, we must admit, formally similar to many philosophical interpretations of Nietzsche – one chooses where Nietzsche is serious and where he is polemical, and builds up from the serious. The Nietzsche that asked if there was room for laughter in science is subordinated to the spirit behind the most violent rhetoric in the Nietzsche canon. And the critical element in Nietzsche, the link to, for instance, the German enlightenment – a link that Nietzsche signaled by dedicating his first book, away from the Wagner circle, to Voltaire – becomes a necessary instrument in his attack on Bismarck. The necessity, here, is a little strained – how, exactly, does it promote a nationalistic, anti-semitic regime to attack nationalism and anti-Semitism? But German philosophers have long learned that the invocation of necessity clears us of many logical sins of omission – especially those having to do with the connecting middle terms.

Lehmann’s next two paragraphs make a sustained case for Nietzsche as a fascist. I’ll translate them, and then, tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow, I will return with the third episode in our philosophical cliffhanger, who’s screwing Nietzsche? (and by the way, translating the next two paragraphs – translating all of the Lehmann so far – is like watching someone suffocate my brother. It gives me an excruciating pain.)

Then what are these political insights [Erkenntnisse]? – That life is neither a vale of tears or an hedonistic playground for Nietzsche, but struggle and domination – a domination of those who are naturally, as the Greeks might say, mightier (who first control themselves and can rid themselves of God – “spirit, strictness of the head, independence and hardness, decisiveness, no whining”). As the state rests not on equality, but inequality, so does the culture, being a power-will and a bound (Bändigung), self-control: not an affair for the many, and not an affair of consumers, of happiness, of satisfaction. Nietzsche’s macro-politics is directed against the democratic “ideals”: against the ideology of liberalism, against the socialism of the masses, against bourgeois society and the ‘industrial culture’ – against the increasing assimilation, averaging and shrinking of the European man” (Bauemler). Nietzsche’s political will is the will to the type, to breeding and discipline, to the soldierly leadership, to strong races and healthy bodies. These are Germanic-northern and greek values, that determine even his “anti-stateism, his dislike of the machine state, the state as the goal in itself and as “ethical organism”.

In all of this is Nietzsche a predecessor of National Socialism.”

So – this is the strongest case for Nietzsche’s macropolitics leading directly to National Socialism. In my next post about Nietzsche, I’ll ask about the interpretative moves that are applied here, to Nietzsche’s work; ask whether the left Nietzschians don’t similarly carve out their own Nietzsche; and make the case for a reading of Nietzsche that respects the internal clues in Nietzsche’s work – instead of looking for a master theme – that complies with what he writes in The Case of Wagner:

“What is the characteristic sign of every literary decadence? This: that life no longer lives in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence usurps and darkens the sense of the page, the page gains live at the expense of the whole – the whole is no longer a whole. But that is the likeness for every style of decadence: every time an anarchy of atoms, disaggregation of the will, “freedom of the individual”, morally speaking – expanded to a political theory, the “same right for all.” Life, the equal liveliness, the vibration and exuberance of live compressed in the smallest images; the remnant poor on life. Overall: paralysis, weariness, stiffening or hostility and chaos: both leaping to the eye ever more insistently the higher one climbs in the forms of the organization. The whole no longer lives in general: it is all pieced together, calculated, artificial, an artifact.”

Or maybe I won't. That sounds like an awful lot of work.

Some links. Klages, who ended up writing the world's longest defense of the philosophy of graphology, is the prophet without honor at this site.

Elisabeth Nietzsche was a case. I can't help but find her life and triumph, as the "heir" of her helpless brother, screamingly funny. This essay by Jenny Diska is nice. Also, I'd recommend John Gimlette's book about Paraguay, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig. Among other things, he pokes around in the memories left of Elisabeth and her hubby's attempt to found an Aryan utopia in Paraguay. Elisabeth and her husband eventually fleeced the anti-semitic gulls and left them to the tropical heat -- never were criminal and victim so evenly matched.