“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

Saturday, February 03, 2007

on the fight

I’ve only been in one real barfight. That was back in New Orleans days, and it wasn’t as fun as the fight in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Unfortunately, it was faster, windows broke, my buddy made like a rabbit for the hills, which left me rather alone, and the cops came. The fight in HAI was started by the cry, ‘faggot’, which is the only similarity to that far off Plum Street brawl – apparently the bar I was in had strict rules on the display of male affection. Who knew?

Well, this week some blogs I go to and bloggers I like have been piling onto each other. It started with a thread at the Weblog, and ended, as usual, in tears, bannings, and complaints about personal threats. To me, the fun here is puzzling. It is sorta like a mosh pit without any music. Now, myself, when I am gray and crooked, I intend to bore grandnieces and nephews with the story of how old LI leaped into that mosh pit at the Nirvana concert (and, I should interject here before my friend D. leaps in here to make a comment, I did NOT break your nose, honey). So, I understand the mosh thrill. But not weblog shitstorms.

Maybe the problem is simply that blogs, so far, lack genius. The surrealists were always banning each other, but out of their fights came “The Use Value of D.A.F. De Sade” – and so far, blogorama has not produced a Bataille.

For me, recriminatory circle jerks don’t have any real attraction. It smacks too much of grad student days. There were many reasons I flunked outta grad school (I was becoming an asshole and a b.s. artist, and realized that, yikes! I didn’t want to be an asshole and a b.s. artist – I wanted to be a sage), but one of them was the odd sense that always, on the horizon, was a recriminatory circle jerk. Perhaps this was just my resistance to full American adulthood in an institution. In any case, it drove me emotionally crazy. I should say, though, that I am not offering this comment in that viscerally anti-academic way that comes to people who have flunked out of academia. Some of my best buds, people I love, are profs now, and I am happy for them and wish them much joy and tenure. I am not going to pretend my sour grapes are a mark of moral superiority. It is just an aftereffect of failure. But…

But, something should be done about the debased state of the academic weblog shitfight. Point a, if the Weblog, the Valve, Long Sunday and the rest of them want to host a brawl, cue the proper music. I’d recommend The Queen Bee’s romantic ballad, Suck my Dick (ah, one of the truly time wasting things about getting DSL - which I just did - is that I can watch Li’l Kim’s videos!) Thus transforming the mosh pit without music into one with, a big improvement. And point b is, please, don’t be a pussy about personal threats. Personal threats are lagniappe! It brightens the day. You venture out of your apartment, you scan the street for the big black pickup with the guy holding the two by four. Hollywood magic, man! Plus, how can one bitch about someone who cares enough about you to want to come over and sink a claw hammer into your skull? O...o....or am I just lookin for love in all the wrong places? … Naah. Take it from me: the early twentieth century figure who knew most about love was not Sigmund Freud, but Ignaz the Mouse. Throw the brick, honey! Suck my dick! – the immemorial song that goes all the way back to Eden.

Other points I will make up later, on some rainy day.

infinite earth vs anima mundi, round one

Robert Babe coined a phrase that LI is going to steal: infinite earth. My plan for this year’s posts is to sorta weave a pattern around the idea of anima mundi. The anima mundi idea emerges, in the early modern era, as the twin of infinity. Not of course that the anima mundi idea is new, since of course it occurs in one form or another as far back as we care to go. But something happens in the modern era, or rather a whole bunch of seemingly disconnected things happen. To quote again from Bruno’s Ash Wednesday’s colloquy:

“And he [Bruno] opened their eyes to see this deity this mother of ours, [earth]which on her back feeds them and nourishes them after she has produced them from her bosom into which she always gathers them again -- who is not to be considered a body without soul and life, let alone the trash of all bodily substances. In this way we know that, if we were on the moon or on other stars, we would not be in a place much unlike this, and perhaps on an even worse [place], just as there may be other bodies as good and even better for their own sakes and for the happiness of their own animals [inhabitants]. Thus we know as many planets, as many stars, as many deities, which are those hundreds of thousands that assist in the service and contemplation of the first, universal and eternal efficient [cause]. … We know that there is but one heaven, an eternal, immense region, where these magnificent lights keep their proper distances for a commodious sharing in a perpetual life. These blazing bodies are those ambassadors that announce the excellence of God's glory and majesty. Thus we shall advance to the discovery of the infinite effect of the infinite cause, the true and living evidence of the infinite vigor.”

Babe’s infinite earth phrase is found in his book, Culture of Ecology, and makes references to the usual arguments of the ecological economists, like Robert Goodland, whose The Case that the World has Reached Limits in 1991 is a little touchstone in the ecological economics movement. The usual arguments that are made back, by orthodox economists, are rather sweet. Poor people, who are basically flushed down the toilet by orthodox economists and certainly aren’t mingled with in their circles, unlike, say, bankers and CFOs, are suddenly hauled out of the toilet and marched front and center – economics, it turns out, is all for the poor. This critique of ecologism by Jay Mandle in the Boston Review is pretty much standard. When the ecological economist claims that economic activity unfairly enriches a grossly wealthy upper class, the Mandle’s of the world ignore pesky statistics about the distribution of wealth and go towards wealth effects, like the increase in life span, among the population as a whole. That is a useful statistic, but it is, of course, not a knock down argument: one can glance into any old folks’ home in these States and see increasing life span without an increase in the joy in life, so to speak. It certainly doesn’t address the issue, which is that transfers of wealth from the wealthiest would not decrease the wealth effect on the majority of the population, while at the same time taking out one of the drivers of growth that does the most ecological damage.

But this post – and in general the battle royale I am planning on staging between the Infinite Earth and Anima Mundi – is just going to graze these issues. I am more interested – in fact, passionately interested – in fact, head over pores immersed in, emotionally wired to, suicidally fixated on – the culture itself that is part and parcel of the infinite earth.

Friday, February 02, 2007

how do I love fertilizer? Let me count the ways

Were I an absolute legislator, I would therefore make it death for a man to be convicted of flying, the moment he could be caught; and to bring him down from his altitude by a bullet sent through his head or his carriage should be no murder. Philosophers would call me a Vandal; the scholar would say that, had it not been for me, the fable of Daedalus would have been realized; and historians would load my memory with reproaches of phlegmn, and stupidity, and oppression; but in the mean time the world would go on quietly, and, if it enjoyed less liberty, would at least be more secure. – William Cowper, letter upon hearing of Montgolfier’s ascent in a balloon.

The main reason that human population could quadruple while cropland only doubled in the twentieth century is that farming became more productive. Several elements combined in this, most notably chemical fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation, agricultural machinery and plant breeding. – William McNeil, Something New Under the Sun

To abbreviate horribly, Polanyi’s Great Transformation thesis states that the coming of capitalism to Europe was about reversing the relationship between the economic and the social, with the economic becoming the dominant, that into which the social is embedded. LI’s thesis, pursued with ardor and lunacy on this site, is that the twentieth century saw the meshing together of the treadmill of production and the war culture on a planetary scale. A couple of posts ago, we promised to say something more about Michael Pollan’s article in the NYTM, because we kept barking our shins, as we went through it, on brilliant hints of larger vistas. We have another excuse to say something about the planet today – the government equivalent of St. John on Patmos announced that it is the end of the world as we know it, and it does look like Exxon will be handing out its 10000 checks to Discovery Institute/Tech Station scientists in vain. Although, really, any changes that will be wrought in the near future will be purely rhetorical. We are the lemmings of the system, man.

Well, the atmosphere has been, in one way, the real last frontier: it is an airgrap, a stratograb, perhaps the logical conclusion of 1492. But LI has been collecting the flotsam and jetsam about the other biosphere transformation this week. The twentieth century saw the biochemical properties of the air, water and earth transformed by Man, that disconnected giant. However, a century has no eyes. There have been no eyes to see, and hence no memory to enshrine, the vast and sweeping changes we simply live in.

One of the greatest of those changes is one of the simplest.

Back in the days of the millennium – you remember the millennium, don’t you? – LI remarked to our friend, S., apropos of the Time Magazine article listing the hundred most influential people or scientists or whatever the fuck, that undoubtedly the most influential person who roamed the earth in the 20th century was Fritz Haber. S. thought this was wildly hilarious in a typical LI way. And in one way it is – Haber is one of those scientists who did something that seems, in retrospect, to have inevitably lain in the path of science. The spellbinding thing about science is how much of it seems systematically pre-ordained. Still, Fritz Haber was the first man – the first organism – to figure out a new way to synthesize nitrogen, and that was huge. Much huger than the invention of the atom bomb, or the invention of our minor knickknacks, like the computer.

Vaclav Smil, the geographer, gives some fascinating statistics in his book on Fritz Haber and the effects of the production of nitrogen fertilizer, Enriching the Earth, from which I take this:

-the reactive nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers is now perhaps equal to half of the total fixed by all bacteria in all natural terrestrial ecosystems.

-the twentieth century saw a roughly 125-fold increase in the average global rate of inorganic nitrogen applications per hectare of cropland. Half of all nitrogen fixed by the Haber-Bosch process between 1913 and 2000 was consumed only during the last two decades of the twentieth century.

- over forty percent of the human population depends on food fertilized by nitrogen fertilizers.

We are talking about a soil change that we can’t even begin to understand. Interestingly, that explosion in fertilizer use (and all the consequences – a monoculture that adapted to the fertilizers, an abundance of food that fed the exploding human population, etc.) came in tandem with the war system. This isn’t just a matter of poetic correspondences, such as Haber being one of the scientists to develop mustard gas. This is more a matter of policy patterns, common to both the east and the west, that resulted in massive population drains from the rural areas and the subjection of agriculture to efficiency – i.e., giant concentrated agricultural power, a process that was full integrated into the war culture as it played itself out in third world countries during the golden days of the green revolution.

That is enough about this for the moment. But I should end with one of Lorenz Oken’s golden sentences.

“The fourth science is the Art of War, the art of motion, histironism, music, poetic art of science, the light. As in the art of poetry all arts have been blended, so in the art of war have all sciences and all arts. The art of War is the hightest most exalted art; the art of freedom and of right, of the blessed condition of Man and humanity – the Principle of Peace.”

Hommage a Ayanna Khadijah

Ayanna Khadijah is not a celebrity face, is not running for president, and – having the system of surveillance on her neck for years – is not going to make as much money in her life as the CEO of Exxon makes in one day.

However, unlike the fucking celebrities, the fucking presidential candidates, and the fucking CEO of Exxon, Khadijah is a real human being. She was the victim of a ridiculous police raid to enforce the wholly monstrous laws against illicit substances in Norwalk, Connecticut. The police illegally entered her apartment and found drugs which, she contends, they actually planted – well, from the article Khadijah, an extraordinarily decent person, doesn’t say planted, but LI will, being an extraordinary son of a bitch. She won her case, but was still given a suspended 3 year felony conviction. Why?

…Ayanna Khadijah, 34, …. was convicted of the felony version of failure to appear after she failed to wake up from a nap and arrived 45 minutes late to court one day in August 2003. Her case is extraordinary because she fought back.
It was the only court date Ms. Khadijah missed among 45 sessions over three years defending herself against a set of drug charges that were eventually dismissed, in 2005. Ms. Khadijah, a single mother with a criminal history, received a suspended three-year sentence on the failure-to-appear charge.
She had spent the day before she was late for court at her job as a community organizer and then delivered newspapers from 1 to 8 a.m. Prosecutors argued that she should have known better than to work all night before a court appearance.

Khadijah had enough.

Connecticut’s appellate court overturned her conviction last fall after concluding that the inadvertent doze was not a willful shirking of responsibility. But the state is appealing to the State Supreme Court for fear the widely used tool could become harder to wield.
“We thought it set a bad example,” said John A. East III, a senior assistant state’s attorney, who argued in court papers that rather than rely on her boyfriend to rouse her, Ms. Khadijah should have set an alarm or perhaps brewed herself a strong cup of coffee.
But Gerald B. Lefcourt, a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the case “is really right out of Catch-22.” “There’s no way to win when you have a system that is so inflexible and so lacking in understanding,” he said.

There’s no way to win is the whole point of the system. It is a rule like, you can't beat the house. The system is all about mistreating people until they become laboring and docile cattle – although hopeful cattle, because who knows if the products they see advertised on tv might not bring them happiness. And that is the name of the system, otherwise known as pandaemonium, or L'infame. The people who change it for the better aren’t, God help us, named Hilary Clinton or Joe Biden or Barak Obama, and they certainly don’t bear the names of media personalities that I’m just not going to pollute this post with. They are named Ayanna Khadijah. In this world of the drowned and the saved, she decided not to drown.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

goodbye molly ivins

Well, this year is starting out with a lot of deaths.
Molly Ivins just died.

I wasn’t going to put up any comment. I looked around and found plenty of comments on plenty of blogs already. But then a friend emailed me and reminded me of Ivins stand against the first Gulf War, retrospective support for which has become a sort of Rush ritual – the warmongers love the idea that anybody who is ‘serious’ in D.C. has to ritually praise the wonderful First Gulf War.

Molly Ivins was always part of the “war sucks” club. God bless her. The first time I saw her was, as my friend reminded me, in a chapel at U.T. in 1991. Apparently my friend and I even got on television at that event – but this had gone down the memory hole for yours truly. Ivins gave not only a rousing speech, but the right kind of speech against the upcoming Kuwait War. It was the kind of speech that you hardly hear anymore – it got to the point – fuck that war – it was inclusive – whether you are a Rotarian or a Young Socialist, this war is not for you - and it called on people to do something to show disgust when the war broke out. At least a thousand did, as I remember. We marched on the Capital and lay down in the rotunda. Unimaginable now, as we would be swept up as so many terrorists. Well, the nation that was back then has died, as we know, and out of it has hatched this monstrous product of fats and aggression that I can no longer recognize.

She was right about that war. Often, I didn’t like the Texas act, and often, I thought she was carried away by one of the subsidiary madnesses of this time, thinking that any political party – in Ivins’ case, the Dems - is going to embody anything but its own greed to survive. But her instinct, which was to push outside of the party structure, and not build your political life around voting, any more than you would build your economic life around buying a lottery ticket – was eminently sound. I always liked Molly Ivins. Last time I saw her was, what three years ago? It was at a party for Robert Bryce at Schultz’s, which has been the Texas Observer bar since forever – see Bill Brammer’s The Gay Place for details.

Oh fuck. Ivins fought well, carried a flame for existential liberty as the culture in this country got darker and sicker, and she died well. There is nothing more to say.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Michael Pollan, again

Being the sort of guy who plunges, headfirst, into the latest fashion, LI pondered two options, this week. We could start an exploratory committee to see about running for president (with the secret aim, of course, of being picked as VP by the candidate whose inevitability, at the moment, is crushing, Senator Dodd); or we could start reading Independent People by Halldor Laxness.

We crossed off the first option, because we are not going to give up shooting heroin just to pass that nasty drug test they give you to become the Libertarians for War candidate. Fuck that. And it is so sad, since the libertarians for war wanted to combine a muscular liberal approach to foreign policy with small government at home that would concentrate on destroying the scourge of drugs and cutting taxes for the most productive. So we opted for the second. Happily, Independent People is not just recommended by Jonathan Franzen and flaunted around by Columbia U. creative writing students, but is absolutely worth reading…

Which is connected, believe it or not, to our last post, about the excellent essay by Michael Pollan on the replacement of food by nutrition, the laboratory spawn of the agribusiness-chemical business, and its numerous malign side effects.

In Independent People, a homesteader, Bjartur, who has finally acquired land and had built a turf house and looks forward to becoming a debt free sheepowner, marries a woman named Rosa from the village of Utirauthsmyri and takes her to the little piece of independence he’s carved out of the world, much to her dawning horror. The first night is ill omened – Rosa finds out that Bjartur is a doubter, and refuses to even placate the local demon, whereas Bjartur finds out that Rosa has slept with other men (which, in all probability, is false – but she has had her crushes on other men). But Rosa’s ordeal of joylessness seems to increase day by day as, day by day, Bjartur seems content for them to subsist on dried catfish, oatmeal, and coffee. Plenty of sugar, though.

Then one day this dialogue ensues:
“Bjatur,” she said after a short silence, “I’d love some meat.”
“Meat?” he asked, astonished. “Meat in the height of summer?”
“My mouth waters every time I look at a sheep.”
“Waters?” he repeated. “Why, it must be water-brash.”
“That salt catfish of yours isn’t fit to offer to a dog.”

Rosa proceeds to truly astonish Bjatur by saying that she wants milk too. She dreams of milk. And tops it off here:

“Can we possibly buy a cow, Bjatur?”
“A cow?” he repeated in gaping astonishment. “A cow?”

This couple live, I would guess from internal references, late in the nineteenth century. So often the story of conjugal misery centers on money, or sex – and ignores food. Food, however, can be a powerful carrier of joylessness. The most irritating thing about second rate magical realism is the way food becomes empowerment – feminist empowerment, no less. That is a decorator magazine’s lie. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, (I think – or was this in Shame?) contained a much more powerful truth in the person of an aunt in a household who curses the household with her food – every dish holds a curse. Although the conversations between Rosa and Bjatur are funny, we all know that domestic life for women in the nineteenth century, or the eighteenth, or the seventeenth – in China, in France, in England, in Iceland, in Kansas, etc., etc. – was often symbolized by an expertise in making food that the women personally despised. There’s an interesting story to be written about the relationship between male taste and female cooking, and it isn’t just the happy story of peasant bacchanals, that’s for damn sure. One has the impression from, say, Willa Cather novels that the joy of growing old for a woman among the sod huts of Kansas is being able to make, once in a while, food that she actually wants to eat – although one suspects that the joy of the taste has so long been extinguished by its omission from the signals sent each day from the tongue that the taste, in truth, disappoints.

I can sympathize with both Rosa and Bjatur. An ex lover of mine once accused me of being anorexic, and though, as a matter of fact, she was wrong, her exaggeration did hit on certain salient LI features. It is true that, more often than I care to admit, the whole notion of food disgusts me in the very pit of my stomach, and that visiting the standard grocery store often fills me with great, chainclanking boredom. A grocery store is my idea of karma – where else do we commune with the spirits of the dead as visually and viscerally as in a grocery store? I would be a much happier guy if I could eat like a sage – say three times a week, broth and French bread. But I am dragged by the habits of my mouth to hamburgers and fried chicken – and so, automatically defined as a denizen of my time.

Ezra Klein, in his post on Pollan, quotes a passage in the NYT Mag essay that ends like this:

“Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery.”

Then Klein makes this transitions to a passage in the Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“The short version of this is that we've taken an animal accustomed to feeding on forage and forced it to digest grain. Corn, after all, is cheaper, more plentiful, more engineerable, less land-intensive, and more subsidized than grass. But cows haven't evolved to eat corn. And so we drug 'em.”

Here we have stumbled upon what looks like a disconnected giant – a whole system, if we want to look at it. But Klein’s conclusion is that we, as consumers, should buy more grass fed beef. That’s admirable, but there is a certain… inadequacy to it. The misfit liberal in me wants to go back to the whole corn/land-intensity issue and ask a few questions about the basic system – a system that, I should say, extends through capitalism and communism. A system of production. Not a malign system – one shouldn’t be nostalgic for Rosa’s dilemma, the way things were in the pre-industrial agricultural days, for her joylessness could be multiplied by millions of instances - but one that, having provided the Rosas and the Bjaltur’s with all the Big Macs they can stand, is slowly but surely drowning in its social costs.

Oh, dear. I’ll never cover this in one post. Shit. Well, Pollan’s article, which I haven’t even touched on, deserves another post.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Misfit liberalism

If LI is anything, we are that crash dummy that is continually being tossed around Lefty sites, the liberal. The sissified liberal, unable to put our shoulder to the wheel and overthrow the capitalist system in one giant revolutionary push. This is true. Our negative reason for this balky liberalism is that we don’t think the revolution would do anything but continue the treadmill of production in place. We don’t think it would take apart the war culture, but simply embody it again, another of the endless avatars. On the positive side, we think the liberal notion of encouraging a profit system, while at the same time putting two loaded pistols to its head at all time – militant labor, and a state that can exert some countervailing pressure to lessen the grosser features of the profit system in spite of its natural inclination to support capital – is the best of all methods to produce affluence. It is the Misfit method – named after the character in the Flannery O’Connor story – and if we were going to slap a little label on our politics, it would certainly be misfit liberalism.

Because it is a system of checks and balances, however, liberalism can’t really operate by the blind application of abstract principles. It can and should encourage that degree of equality, for instance, which forestalls and –hopefully – extinguishes the billionaire, while at the same time not aiming for an absolute equality that would abolish the profit motive.

Misfit liberalism, like all liberalisms, does suffer from a penchant to systems blindness. It is why Marx is still indispensable to the liberal – Marx did see systematically and whole. Unfortunately, in the Reagan era (which we still live in), liberalism went whoring after strange gods – an insane faith in the marketplace, for example, an inability to understand the crucial role of organized labor, and an inability to defend, on political grounds, common sense things, like – a really trivial point - encouraging the state to expropriate a lion’s share of the enormous surplus of wealth seized by the top one percent of the population. Alas, these common sense notions – known even to the well known, muscular liberal, girl scout cookie seller cannibal Harry Truman – are now heresies even among media liberals, a group who operate, generally, to pimp for the biases of the governing class. They are the too fit liberals.

But – to get to the nubby little point of this post – one of the root perversions of Reaganism is the infusion of methodological individualism into every good soul. The bias here is subtle. I thought about this reading a very good post written by Ezra Klein today about the brilliant NYT Magazine piece by Michael Pollan – and knowing my readers, they have already scarfed down the Pollan essay and gone, God fucking damn, I wish I had written that!

Klein draws on Pollan’s book to make several astute remarks. But we detect, here, a bit of that old systems blindness. About which we will comment in our next post.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

the disconnected giant

In the chapter on the "metaphysics of the beautiful and aesthetics" in the second volume of the Parerga and Paralipomena, Schopenhauer discusses history. In 1851, when the essays came out, Schopenhauer's stance against the philosophical importance of history made him seem, pleasingly, like some archaic remnant of the eighteenth century. He was willing to suffer this reputation, and even enlarge on it. History at this time is, of course, associated with Hegel, and even if Hegel did not recognize, in Schopenhauer, his unmasker and foe, Schopenhauer definitely took Hegel as the touchstone of what Leon Daudet later labelled "the stupid 19th century" - the stupidity being, at its very beastly heart, the idea that there was a dynamic axis to history.

In the essay on history, Schopenhauer casts himself as a moralist, an intemporal observer, a user of classical exempla. And he comes up with this image:

He who, like myself, cannot help seeing in all history the same thing over and over again, just as every turn of a kaleidoscope continually reveals the same things, but in different combinations, will not be able to share all this passionate interest; nor, however, will he censure it.

According to the toy historian Paul Hidebrandt, the kaleidoscope, which was invented by the Scottish scientist David Brewster in 1817, aroused “such enthusiasm among all social circles that the victory of the kaleidoscope over the Chinese puzzle or tangram game was even celebrated in Paris with an engraving: the goddess Kaleidoskopia, with her emblems, a tube and a pattern sheet, stands on a Chinese person crawling on the earth, before whom lies his board game on the ground.” However, supposedly the Chinese became enamored of the ‘tube of ten thousand flowers” themselves, and began to manufacture them en masse.

Borges notes Schopenhauer’s kaleidoscope comparison in "the Wall and the Books" in Other Inquisitions, and writes of it: “For if the world is the dream of Someone, if there is Someone who is dreaming us now and who dreams the history of the universe (that is the doctrine of the idealists), then the annihilation of religions and the arts, the general burning of libraries, does not matter much more than does the destruction of the trappings of a dream. The Mind that dreamed them once will dream them again; as long as the Mind continues to dream, nothing will be lost…”

A quick search through a couple of Schopenhauer biographies has not brought me any information on when the great man collided with the kaleidoscope. But it would be easy to believe that he saw one early on, perhaps in 1817, because it was at that time that Schopenhauer was most closely involved with Goethe's optical work. Goethe was a friend of Schopenhauer’s always fearsome mother, Johanna, and Johanna wanted her son to get into Goethe’s good graces. Unfortunately, Schopenhauer deviated from the anti-Newtonian program on color laid down by Goethe – he rationalized it into a system having to do with the sensitivity of the retina. Goethe was particularly infuriated that Schopenhauer betrayed him on the issue of “white” – which, as Newton said, contained all colors, and which, according to Goethe, did no such thing.

A stronger metaphor using another children’s toy is employed by Lorenz Oken. I image Schopenhauer knew of it. Oken is writing in 1805, before the kaleidoscope. This is from his Physiophilosophy:

“All things are created in time; for time is the totality of Singulars. Time is no stationary quantity, which is always changing itself into something new during its progressive flux. It is not a continous stream, but a repetition of one and the same act, namely, the primary act, like as it were to a rolling ball, which constantly returns upon itself. There is no endless, still less an eternal thing; for things are only positions of time. Time itself is, however, only repetition…”

Two children’s toys, two similar points about time - except that Oken’s is a more radical stance. Schopenhauer was stuck, due to his system, with defending some version of Kant’s notion of the aprioris of experience. Myself, what I find interesting here is the connection between seriality and eternal repetition. The notion of a repetition that creates a difference connects Schopenhauer and Oken to a passage in De Quincey that you would not normally put in this association. It comes in the section of the Opium Eater entitled The Pains of Opium. The text wavers between a description of the hallucinatory pains of opium and a lingering repetition of them, arousing the suspicion that pain and pleasure melt into each other in ways that are going to elude classification.

“Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi’s, Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist, called his Dreams, and which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever. Some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge’s account) represented vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, &c. &c., expressive of enormous power put forth and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further and you perceive it come to a sudden and abrupt termination without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi, you suppose at least that his labours must in some way terminate here. But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher, on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aërial flight of stairs is beheld, and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours; and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams.”

When I started this thread, last week, I was trying to distinguish two types of giants. One type, as I said, was chased from Europe by a mode of thought not that different from the very different giantkilling promoted by the Daoists in China. This was the homogenous giant. There is a different type of giant, though – Don Quixote engages a premonition of him in the battle against the windmill, the romantics filled the city of the dreadful night with him, and he exists – if I, a total amateur, can rely on the construction of Indian myths in Roberto Calasso’s Ka - in depths in the Indian sacred books. This is the disconnected giant – he exists in the amniotic depths, precedes contradiction itself, and has that power of endless growth and self-reproduction that leads us, like our tutelary nightmare, through the money economy – for in my opinion, this is what the money economy is all about, its cosmological significance. for in my opinion, this is what the money economy is all about, its cosmological significance. And that, I'll grant you my lovelies, is not be the most obvious of connections. I should draw it out next - the relation of these passages to the nests within nests in Georg Simmel’s philosophy of money. Ooh, and then how this is like the ball, the kaleidoscope, the hallucinatory image of Piranesi multiplying, and the first man, Prajapati, who was made by the gods from seven men, impregnated the waters and was born out of the golden egg produced by the waters, and then created the Gods – for of course, in the first moment, the law of contradiction cannot apply, else the law would precede itself.

O, the amniotic tangle of it all, the amniotic tangle, and me at the bottom of the world doing a crossword puzzle.