Friday, January 31, 2014

The Cantonist

Cantonist schools were established by the 1721 decree of Tsar Peter the Great that stipulated that every regiment was required to maintain a school for 50 boys. Their enrollment was increased in 1732, and the term was set from the age of 7 to 15. The curriculum included grammar and arithmetic, and those with a corresponding aptitude were taught artillery, fortification, music and singing, scrivenery, equine veterinary science, or mechanics. Those lacking in any talent were taught carpentry, blacksmithing, shoemaking and other trades useful to the military. The ablest ones were taught for additional 3 years, until the age of 18. All entered military service at the completion of their studies. The decree of 1758 required all male children of the military personnel to be taught in the cantonist schools. In 1798 a military "asylum-orphanage" was established in St Petersburg, and all regimental schools were renamed after it, the total enrollment reaching 16,400.

The schools were reorganized in 1805 and all children were now referred to as cantonists. After the War of 1812 their number increased dramatically, when many orphaned children of military personnel killed in the war enrolled in cantonist schools voluntarily. During this period the curriculum of cantonist schools was equivalent to that of gymnasia, and military subjects were not taught.

In 1824 all cantonist schools were made answerable to the Director of Military Settlements Count Aleksey Arakcheyev, and in 1826 they were organized into cantonist battalions. The standards of curriculum dropped significantly, and it was limited to the subjects useful to the military.

During the reign of the Nicholas I of Russia the number of cantonists reached 36,000. Several cantonist battalions became specialized: they prepared auditors, artillerists, engineers, military surgeons, cartographers.

More children were added to the category of cantonists. Eventually children of the discharged soldiers were also included, illegitimate children of soldiers' wives' or widows', and even foundlings.

There were several exemptions:

Legitimate sons of staff-officers, and all officers awarded the Order of St. Vladimir 4th class.
A single son of a junior staff-officer, out of a total number of his children, if he had no sons born after his attainment of the officer's rank.
A single son of a junior officer maimed in battle.
A single son of a widow of a junior officer or an enlisted man killed in action or deceased during service.

There were considerable differences in cantonists' service obligations:

Children of nobility were required to serve for 3 years at the completion of their studies.
Children of senior officers - 6 years.
Children of clergy - 8 years.
All other social categories - 25 years.
- Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Highway 61 Revisited

The ritual re-enacts Abraham's (Ibrāhīm) pilgrimage to Mecca as explained by the Muslim historian al-Azraqi:
When he [Abraham] left Mina and was brought down to (the defile called) al-Aqaba, the Devil appeared to him at Stone-Heap of the Defile. Gabriel said to him: "Pelt him!" so Abraham threw seven stones at him so that he disappeared from him. Then he appeared to him at the Middle Stone-Heap. Gabriel said to him: "Pelt him!" so he pelted him with seven stones so that he disappeared from him. Then he appeared to him at the Little Stone-Heap. Gabriel said to him: "Pelt him!" so he pelted him with seven stones like the little stones for throwing with a sling. So the Devil withdrew from him.[2]

All three jamarāt represent the devil: the first and largest represents his temptation of Abraham against sacrificing Ishmael (Ismāʿīl); the second represents the temptation of Abraham's wife Hājar to induce her to stop him; the third represents his temptation of Ishmael to avoid being sacrificed. He was rebuked each time, and the throwing of the stones symbolizes those rebukes.

The stoning of the jamarāt also represents the repudiation of man's self (literally the "internal despot," an-nafs al-'amāra) and the act of casting aside one's low desires and wishes. As one Islamic theologian puts it,
If one is able to crush al‑nafs al‑'amāra during the stoning of Jamrat al‑ʿAqaba (the Jamrah of Aqaba), then one has taken the next step in attaining closeness to Allah, and since between the servant and Allah there is no more than the distance of one step, if one has been able to take this step and make it past one's own low desires and wishes, then that which follows is the level of closeness to Allah.

During those two or three days after the Eid that one is in Mina, one must stone the three jamarāt, meaning that one must trample upon his internal despot (an-nafs al-'amāra), the external despot of the Shaitan from the Jinn (Iblīs and those like him), and the Shayṭān from among the Humans (the enemies of religion and of humanity).

The stoning of the three jamarāt is, in essence, the trampling upon the despots and waging war against all of them. When one focuses on them and the hatred for them, then one automatically focuses with complete attention upon one's self – and rightfully so – while stoning the jamarāt, one must focus entirely upon one's self.
- Wikipedia, "on the sybolic significance of stoning the devil"

Monday, January 27, 2014


All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, "Whatever IS, is RIGHT."''
- Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Man,"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Are we Happy, Yet?

In psychoanalysis, the betrayal of desire has a precise name: happiness. When, exactly, can people be said to be happy? In a country like Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s and 1980s, people actually were in a way happy: three fundamental conditions of happiness were fullfilled there.
1. Their material needs were basically satisfied - not too well satisfied, since the excess of consumption can in itself generate unhappiness. It is good to experience a brief shortage of some goods on the market from time to time (no coffee for a couple of days, then no beef, then no TV sets): these brief periods of shortage functioned as exceptions which reminded the people that they should be glad that such goods were generally available - if everything is available all the time, people take this availability as an evident fact of life, and no longer appreciate their luck. This life went on in a regular and predictable way, without any great efforts or shocks; one was allowed to withdraw into one's own private world.

2. A Second - extremely important - feature: there was the Other (the Party) to be blamed for everything that went wrong, so that one did not feel truly responsible - if there was a temporary shortage of some goods, even if a storm caused great damage, it was 'their' fault.

3. And - last, but not least - there was an Other Place (the Consumerist West) which one was allowed to dream about, and even visit sometimes - this place was just at the right distance: not too far away, not too near.
This fragile balance was disturbed - by what? By desire, precisely. Desire was the force which compelled the people to go further - and end up in a system in which the vast majority are definitely less happy.

Happiness is thus - to put it in Alain Badiou's terms - not a category of truth, but a category of mere Being, and, as such, confused, indeterminate, inconsistent (take the proverbial answer of a German Immigrant to the USA who, asked: 'Are you happy?', answered: 'Yes, yes I am very happy, aber glucklich bin ich nicht...). It is a pagan concept: for pagans, the goal of life is to be happy (the idea of living 'happily ever after' is a Christianized version of paganism), and religious experience and political activity are considered the highest forms of happiness (see Aristotle) - no wonder the Dalai Lama has had such success recently preaching the gospel of happiness around the world, and no wonder he is finding the greatest response precisely in the USA, the ultimate empire of the (pursuit of) happiness... In short, 'happiness' belongs to the pleasure principle, and what undermines it is the insistence of a Beyond of the pleasure principle.
- Slavok Zizek, "Welcome to the Desert of the Real"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On the Political Party Supposed to Obstruct and Impede

Of course, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence (New Orleans/Katrina aftermath): Looting, ranging from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life, did occur after the storm passed over New Orleans. However, the (limited) reality of crimes in no way exonerates "reports" on the total breakdown of law and order-not because these reports were "exaggerated," but for a much more radical reason. Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient's wife is really sleeping around with other men, the patient 's jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition. In a homologous way, even if rich Jews in early 1930s Germany "really" had exploited German workers, seduced their daughters and dominated the popular press, the Nazis ' anti-Semitism would still have been an emphatically "untrue," pathological ideological condition. Why? Because the causes of all social antagonisms were projected onto the "Jew" - an object of perverted love-hatred, a spectral figure of mixed fascination and disgust.
- Slavoj Zizek, "The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape"

So, how many Republican sponsored House bills has the 2013 Democratically lead Senate taken up or passed after having changed Senate rules?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Sign-ificance of Code Switching (Heteroglossia)

...or not!

Li'l Miss Education

I daresay many a Russian or Mongol or Chinese today feels that it is
more adult to recognise the sheer immensity of the great events
that shake the world, and play a part in history worthy of men by
abandoning themselves to them, than by praising or damning and
indulging in bourgeois moralisings: the notion that history must be
applauded as such is the horrible German way out of the burden of
moral choice.

If pushed to the extreme, this doctrine would, of course, do away
with all education, since when we send children to school or
influence them in other ways without obtaining their approval for
what we are doing, are we not "tampering" with them, "moulding"
them like pieces of clay with no purpose of their own? Our answer
has to be that certainly all "moulding" is evil, and that if human
beings at birth had the power of choice and the means of
understanding the world, it would be criminal; since they have not,
we temporarily enslave them, for fear that, otherwise, they will
suffer worse misfortunes from nature and from men, and this
"temporary enslavement" is a necessary evil until such time as they
are able to choose for themselves--the "enslavement" having as its
purpose not an inculcation of obedience but its contrary, the
development of power of free judgement and choice; still, evil it
remains, even if necessary.
- Isaiah Berlin, "Letter to George Kennan of 13 February, 1951"