“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, August 11, 2017

Hey diddle diddle runs rampant



Respect to Daniel Tiffany for his Infidel Poetics.  I measure its brilliance by its subtitle – subtitles are such an interesting genre, they peek out of the pockets of the author’s intention and make faces at the reader, they are little gremlins, or tells, or the overflow that escaped the editor’s “delete”, the Id making tracks for the Golden West: “Riddles, Nightlife, Substance.”  A train of associations that seems to have gone way off the track and landed in Oz.

One of the other measures of a book, for me, is its quotes. You gotta quote right. Many academics think quoting is just credentialing, so they quote the silliest things: As X said, New York is the first postmodern town. Etc. You want to say, is X always so boring? But Tiffany, who is also a poet, quotes brilliant and delightful things – finds. The difference between a quote that is credentialing and a quote that is a find is the difference between a stamp collection and buried treasure.
Here is something Tiffany found in Mallarme, of all peeps.

“Indeed, one of Mallarmé’s songs from the nursery discloses the contagious effect of the rhyme’s illogic on the translator. Mallarmé adopted the practice of presenting the English song followed by his prose rendering of it in French (which I translate below):

Hey! diddle, diddle,
 The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport
While the dish ran after the spoon.

 What a strange scene! Look at the cat with his violin—and that’s not all: there’s the moon, and a cow jumping right over it! I act like the little dog, laughing hard to see such foolishness. And then it seemed to me, as I contemplated this spectacle, that my ideas ran away with themselves, one after another, just as—in the words of the song—the dish runs after the spoon. Hey! diddle, diddle.’”

Mallarme, the unapproachable, becomes, unexpectedly, your favorite uncle.


Tiffany is much impressed by the effect of the hey diddle diddle, which runs, like that dish and spoon, through the poetry of modernism, lickety-split. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

My rant blaming America first, or : Bring em on, 2

Bring em on!


I haven't gone on a blame America first rant in a while. Being a lefty, this makes me sad. 

So here's one. 

Let's go on one about NKorea's nukes. Gotta go back to 1976, when Pakistan and North Korea agreed to be good buddies. At that time, this meant general pats on the back at the U.N. But things were going to be cooking in Pakistan.


That was because a certain Abdul Qadeer Khan, a scientist, had an idea. The idea was to steal a buncha blueprints from a European nuclear power consortium. Which he did. However, the Dutch caught him, and put him on trial in 1985. They fumbled the first case, and were about to mount another, when the CIA leaned on the Dutch. The message was, don’t get Pakistan angry. (I get this material from Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s excellent account, Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons)
You may remember – or perhaps you weren’t born yet and don’t remember – that Pakistan was our frontline ally in trying to free Afghanistan from the horrible Soviet yoke and restore it to Islamicist freedom fighters. The Reagan administration was on all cylinders to get this to happen.
Unfortunately, U.S. intelligence kept coming up with info that the Pakistanis were building a nuclear bomb. They even got Reagan to ask General Zia, then Pakistan’s dictator, if this was true. In Reagan’s diary, he recorded that Zia denied it. Well, old mister ‘Trust but Verify” didn’t really feel that verifying was called for her. Zia was a patriot and a fine soldier!
Others in his administration, including George Schulz, the Sec. of State, did write memos saying maybe we should apply some little bitty pressure on Pakistan. But instead, Pakistan was flooded with military aid. And secret aid from the CIA.
This was fortunate. Building nuclear bombs is an expensive business. The Pakistan government was broke. Where was doctor Khan going to get funding for his little project?
Well, nobody knows. There has been some revelation that of the 500 million it cost to build the centrifuges and get the nuclear biz going, some 18 million came from the Pakistan government. But wait! Wasn’t there some secret funds from the Americans sloshing around?
Yeah, baby, yeah! The authors of Deception give a cautious estimate of a diversion of 90 million dollars in U.S. funds to the building of the Pakistani bomb. As for the rest – well, I think I’m going to lay my eye on Saudi Arabia, also a big slosher around of funds at that time. Here’s a Business Insider article about how thatworked out well for Saudi Arabia.

You remember the Saudis, don’t you? Keeping unfree so that the free world can be free! Big applause for them, and maybe a little pity party for Saudi women. God bless em, they, at least, can gaze at the U.S. and see how feminist we are here! We are practically role models.

But to get back to North Korea. North Korea can mine uranium itself, since Satan put some uranium in the ground in that country. But where were they to get the centrifuges to spin out that good stuff? This is where Pakistan, under Clinton and Bush’s watchful gaze, came in handy. After nuke tests in 1999 announced to the world that Pakistan was ready to party, time to start selling the shit and making a profit. Actually, even before, in 1996, Clinton’s peeps noticed that Pakistani equipment was ending up in N. Korea. Like all tough American presidents, Clinton’s peeps really gave the Pakistanis an earful! And then bushels of money. This was followed by Bush, who also gave the Pakistanis an earful, and then bushels of money.

In this way, we were cleverly troping Pavlov, awarding negative behavior with positive strokes. It was all an experiment in behavior, don’t you know.

Well, upshot was that North Korea has enough smarties, and enough Pakistani provided equipment, that they know what to do. And so today, Dear Leader 1 vs. Dear Leader 2 makes us all think, hmm, is it time for the U.S. to suffer a million casualties – BUT AT LEAST SHOW THE WORLD WHOSE BOSS!
That’s how they do the thinking on the level above all our grades. Cause they’s so smart!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

incantation and writing

Generally, I am on the side of Tim Ingold – who is on the side, mostly, of Derrida – in his book, Lines. In some ways, Ingold reproduces the grammatological gesture of the early Derrida. For instance, Inglold, too, devotes time to a lesson in writing. The scene of writing in Lines is derived not from Levi-Strauss, however, but, more Englishly, from Winnie the Pooh.
“Eeyore, the old grey donkey, has arranged three sticks on the ground. Two of the sticks were almost touching at one end but splayed apart at the other, while the third was laid across them. Up comes Piglet. ‘Do you know what that is?’, Eeyore asks Piglet. Piglet has no idea. ‘It’s an A’, intones Eeyore proudly. By recognizing the figure as an A, however, would we be justified in crediting Eeyore with having produced an artefact of writing? Surely not. All he has done is to copy a figure he has seen somewhere else. He knows it is an A because that is what Christopher Robin called it. And he is convinced that to recognize an A when you see one is of the essence of Learning and Education. But Christopher Robin, who is starting school, knows better. He realizes that A is a letter, and that as such it is just one of a set of letters, called the alphabet, each of which has a name, and that he has learned to recite in a given order. He is also learning to draw these letters. But at what stage does he cease to draw letters and begin instead to write? “
This question hovers very much over any contemporary family with a child in pre-school. Adam has spent the last year in a fight with the number 5. It is a number that, he claims, he can’t draw. It is a curious problem, since he can draw 3 and even the difficult 4. But 5 in Adam’s hands tends to turn into 3. 

Ingold considers the answers produced by the question of the drawing/writing divide (which one notices in the Pooh example almost fatally puts into motion the various hierarchical divides – of human vs. animal, of the schooled (literate) vs. the unschooled, or savage, of the scission between the preschooled child and the child who is “starting school” – that play out in the last 500 years of history) and goes through the various classificatory responses that attempt to sort out what is going on. There is the difference he starts out with, deriving from Nelson Goodman, between script and score (“The script, he argues, is a work, whereas in the case of the score the work comprises the set of performances compliant with it.“) He considers Vygotsky’s idea that children, making their first letters or numbers, ‘do not draw, they indicate, and the pencil merely fixes the indicatory gesture.” And finally he considers Roy Harris’s argument that the difference between notation and spelling signifies a cardinal epistemological shift.
Ingold, however, wants to argue that whatever shift is indicated by the difference between Christopher Robin and Eeyore’s view of “A”, spelling or writing is still a special kind of drawing. 

Adam’s problem with 5 is not a problem with its place in the number system. He knows how to count to ten – and even to one hundred, when singing the song about counting to one hundred. But I would emphasize something different than indication or spelling. I would emphasize incantation. 

To my mind, Adam’s knowledge of counting to ten is incantatory knowledge. This doesn’t mean he can’t apply it. He loves, in fact, to count things. Holes in shoes that shoestrings go through. Fingers. The number of pancake pieces on his plate that he has to finish. But these numerating instances are, I think, incantatory instances as well. 

Charms with incantations written on them are pretty common objects in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Incantations are generally taken to be nonsense words, formulas that do not correspond to words or phrases that make sense in the language in which they appear. For the Greeks, they were part of the repertoire of medicine. In one of Pindar’s poems, Aesclepius uses incantations, pharmaka (drugs) or pharmaka (charms) to heal patients. The classical scholar Roy Kotansky quotes a text by Cato which recommends healing a fractured bone not only by binding the area with bandages, but also by binding a broken reed at the same time, waving about a knife, and uttering the phrase Motas Vaeta Daries Dardares Astataries Dissunapiter. This phrase is “nonsensical” – the equivalent of abracadabra. 

But it is a mistake to claim that the nonsense has no larger sense. Incantatory phrases are handed down. They are written. They are remembered. They are formulaic. But the reference of the word or words that form the incantation is not on the normal route to denotation. It is hip hopping down another road, a backroad. 

I’m not sure that viewing the 5 as an incantatory object is going to solve Adam’s problem. That will be solved mechanically as he keeps going to school. But it does shed some light on the way children pick up on phrases, and will repeat them for the joy of the phrase. Which later on becomes part of the reception or creation of verbal art. 

One more story from Ingold. 

“In some cases, the elements of a notation are clearly also depictions. That the ox-head hieroglyph, the precursor of our letter A, is a depiction becomes obvious if we compare it with the way oxen themselves were drawn in Ancient Egypt (Figure 5.4). We would not hesitate to say that the glyph is a drawing of something other than itself, even though it is also incorporated into a script. Another well-known example may be taken from recent ethnography. I refer to Nancy Munn’s (1973b) celebrated study of the Walbiri, an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian Desert whom we have already encountered, in passing, in Chapter 3. Both men and women among the Walbiri routinely draw designs in the sand with their fingers, as they talk and tell stories. This drawing is as normal and as integral a part of conversation as are speech and gesture. The markings themselves are standardized to the extent that they add up to a kind of vocabulary of graphic elements whose precise meanings, however, are heavily dependent on the conversational or storytelling contexts in which they appear. Thus a simple straight line can be (among other things) a spear, a fighting or digging stick, or a person or animal lying stretched out; a circle can be a nest, water hole, tree, hill, billy can or egg. As the story proceeds, marks are assembled into little scenes, each of which is then wiped out to make way for the next (Munn 1973b: 64–73).”


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Keep your electric eye on me babe



I saw the movie Detroit last night. I squirmed. The beatings. The murders.  I looked up the Algiers Motel incident when I came home. I squirmed some more.

And then I decided to look around in the NYT and see what was being reported around the time Detroit was experiencing its revolution and reaction.

In the summer of 1967, there was a riot in Newark, a riot in Syracuse, a riot in Tokyo, a riot in Cambridge Maryland, student riots in Brazil, a riot in Cincinnati, a riot in Manchuria, a riot in Clearwater Florida, a riot in Nashville, a riot in Houston, a riot in the Roxbury section of Boston, etc. In Philadelphia, the Mayor, riding the white rage wave, accused a group of “revolutionary” negroes of planning a mass poisoning of whites. Arlen Spector, then Philadelphia’s D.A., held a news conference to announce the charges.

The NYT times helpfully labeled these Negro Riots. As in the headline: “Milwaukee Calm after Negro Riot.” Whites, apparently, only responded to the riot. When the police beat peeps in the street, that wasn’t rioting, but anti-rioting. In this way, a riot is unlike a dance, in which both partners are described as dancing.

1967 was an interesting year in the racial geography of the U.S. Small news stories indicate larger phenomena. Take Cheshire Connecticut. Cheshire was an upscale suburb north of New Haven. One of its selectmen, name of William E.Kennedy, Jr., thought it would be a good idea to officially pass a resolution welcoming Negro homeowners. This roused the town from its dogmatic slumbers, apparently, and the select board found itself confronted by angy – but non-rioting – affluent suburbanites who, in the words of one of them, didn’t want to be “forced to welcome anyone.” Anyone is a nice disguise. It is used today whenever black lives matter is mentioned. Don’t all lives matter? The suburbanite from Cheshire would recognize the world of Trump’s America as her own. In the event, Kennedy’s resolution was altered to a welcome to anyone.
I’m not a fan of all the sixties shit, but I am astonished at how unsettled things were in America, how rapidly things moved. The period from 1945 to around 1980 featuring an explosion of civil rights activity, as well as an anti-colonialist revolution, of which the Detroit riot was a part.  
The rupture created in this period was re-interpreted, and the liberatory impulses lost, in the neoliberal era, which extends from the 80s until now.

Neo-liberalism, too, was initiated in a call to arms against the state – a call to arms for the wealthy. In the mix,  national governments are supposedly undermined – which I take to be a surface phenomenon of a more profound shift to wealth inequality. The call for shrinking the gov is easily reversed, as it was in 2008-9, when the fortunes of the top of the wealth scale are threatened. In the Anglo countries, unsurprisingly, great inequality went hand in hand with mass incarceration, and an astonishing absolute loss in the assets held by communities that were gaining power in the 45-80 period. Here I guess the African-American experience is exemplary. Now I wouldn’t want to say that this pushback effected all marginalised groups. Groups that are represented in the wealthiest class due, simply, to the way that class is composed of human beings – white women and white gays – have benefited from the end effects of previous civil rights movements. This is to the good. My feeling, though, is that the choice to mobilize the productive sectors of the nations with more developed economies in a great global game of musical chairs identified the gains made by these two groups with “globalisation” – instead of the liberation movements of the epoch before – and this price has been onerous and increasing. This is the hocus pocus that gives us an image of the racist white working class while the racism is all led by the white wealthy, an upper class that, in the U.S. for instance, is 96 percent white.  A liberatory globalisation movement still has not arisen. When it does – when a general strike in China, say, is mirrored by one in the US – then I would say globalisation has turned, as it was turning in the sixties. We live in the pause. The old globalization was one of urban guerillas, condemned by NYT editorial and FBI director alike.