Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Artifice

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.
- Marge Piercy

Saturday, May 6, 2017

No One Knows

why am i the last to hear?
why am i the last to see?
everyone knows more then me
and its me they know about
why do they talk then lie?
i dont even know them
it hurts to know they use me for intertainment [sic]
im just something to look at
why cant they just let me be me?
thats all i want i mean who know life was this hard?
if i had i would have ended it a long time ago
- anna sprague, "Who Know?"

Monday, March 27, 2017

Saki, "The Schartz-Metterklume Method"

Lady Carlotta stepped out on to the platform of the small wayside station and took a turn or two up and down its uninteresting length, to kill time till the train should be pleased to proceed on its way. Then, in the roadway beyond, she saw a horse struggling with a more than ample load, and a carter of the sort that seems to bear a sullen hatred against the animal that helps him to earn a living. Lady Carlotta promptly betook her to the roadway, and put rather a different complexion on the struggle. Certain of her acquaintances were wont to give her plentiful admonition as to the undesirability of interfering on behalf of a distressed animal, such interference being "none of her business." Only once had she put the doctrine of non-interference into practice, when one of its most eloquent exponents had been besieged for nearly three hours in a small and extremely uncomfortable may-tree by an angry boar-pig, while Lady Carlotta, on the other side of the fence, had proceeded with the water-colour sketch she was engaged on, and refused to interfere between the boar and his prisoner. It is to be feared that she lost the friendship of the ultimately rescued lady. On this occasion she merely lost the train, which gave way to the first sign of impatience it had shown throughout the journey, and steamed off without her. She bore the desertion with philosophical indifference; her friends and relations were thoroughly well used to the fact of her luggage arriving without her. She wired a vague non-committal message to her destination to say that she was coming on "by another train." Before she had time to think what her next move might be she was confronted by an imposingly attired lady, who seemed to be taking a prolonged mental inventory of her clothes and looks.

"You must be Miss Hope, the governess I've come to meet," said the apparition, in a tone that admitted of very little argument.

"Very well, if I must I must," said Lady Carlotta to herself with dangerous meekness.

"I am Mrs. Quabarl," continued the lady; "and where, pray, is your luggage?"

"It's gone astray," said the alleged governess, falling in with the excellent rule of life that the absent are always to blame; the luggage had, in point of fact, behaved with perfect correctitude. "I've just telegraphed about it," she added, with a nearer approach to truth.

"How provoking," said Mrs. Quabarl; "these railway companies are so careless. However, my maid can lend you things for the night," and she led the way to her car.

During the drive to the Quabarl mansion Lady Carlotta was impressively introduced to the nature of the charge that had been thrust upon her; she learned that Claude and Wilfrid were delicate, sensitive young people, that Irene had the artistic temperament highly developed, and that Viola was something or other else of a mould equally commonplace among children of that class and type in the twentieth century.

"I wish them not only to be taught," said Mrs. Quabarl, "but interested in what they learn. In their history lessons, for instance, you must try to make them feel that they are being introduced to the life-stories of men and women who really lived, not merely committing a mass of names and dates to memory. French, of course, I shall expect you to talk at meal-times several days in the week."

"I shall talk French four days of the week and Russian in the remaining three."

"Russian? My dear Miss Hope, no one in the house speaks or understands Russian."

"That will not embarrass me in the least," said Lady Carlotta coldly.

Mrs. Quabarl, to use a colloquial expression, was knocked off her perch. She was one of those imperfectly self-assured individuals who are magnificent and autocratic as long as they are not seriously opposed. The least show of unexpected resistance goes a long way towards rendering them cowed and apologetic. When the new governess failed to express wondering admiration of the large newly-purchased and expensive car, and lightly alluded to the superior advantages of one or two makes which had just been put on the market, the discomfiture of her patroness became almost abject. Her feelings were those which might have animated a general of ancient warfaring days, on beholding his heaviest battle-elephant ignominiously driven off the field by slingers and javelin throwers.

At dinner that evening, although reinforced by her husband, who usually duplicated her opinions and lent her moral support generally, Mrs. Quabarl regained none of her lost ground. The governess not only helped herself well and truly to wine, but held forth with considerable show of critical knowledge on various vintage matters, concerning which the Quabarls were in no wise able to pose as authorities. Previous governesses had limited their conversation on the wine topic to a respectful and doubtless sincere expression of a preference for water. When this one went as far as to recommend a wine firm in whose hands you could not go very far wrong Mrs. Quabarl thought it time to turn the conversation into more usual channels.

"We got very satisfactory references about you from Canon Teep," she observed; "a very estimable man, I should think."

"Drinks like a fish and beats his wife, otherwise a very lovable character," said the governess imperturbably.

"My dear Miss Hope! I trust you are exaggerating," exclaimed the Quabarls in unison.

"One must in justice admit that there is some provocation," continued the romancer. "Mrs. Teep is quite the most irritating bridge-player that I have ever sat down with; her leads and declarations would condone a certain amount of brutality in her partner, but to souse her with the contents of the only soda-water syphon in the house on a Sunday afternoon, when one couldn't get another, argues an indifference to the comfort of others which I cannot altogether overlook. You may think me hasty in my judgments, but it was practically on account of the syphon incident that I left."

"We will talk of this some other time," said Mrs. Quabarl hastily.

"I shall never allude to it again," said the governess with decision.

Mr. Quabarl made a welcome diversion by asking what studies the new instructress proposed to inaugurate on the morrow.

"History to begin with," she informed him.

"Ah, history," he observed sagely; "now in teaching them history you must take care to interest them in what they learn. You must make them feel that they are being introduced to the life-stories of men and women who really lived — "

"I've told her all that," interposed Mrs. Quabarl.

"I teach history on the Schartz-Metterklume method," said the governess loftily.

"Ah, yes," said her listeners, thinking it expedient to assume an acquaintance at least with the name.

*

"What are you children doing out here?" demanded Mrs. Quabarl the next morning, on finding Irene sitting rather glumly at the head of the stairs, while her sister was perched in an attitude of depressed discomfort on the window-seat behind her, with a wolf-skin rug almost covering her.

"We are having a history lesson," came the unexpected reply. "I am supposed to be Rome, and Viola up there is the she-wolf; not a real wolf, but the figure of one that the Romans used to set store by — I forget why. Claude and Wilfrid have gone to fetch the shabby women."

"The shabby women?"

"Yes, they've got to carry them off. They didn't want to, but Miss Hope got one of father's fives-bats and said she'd give them a number nine spanking if they didn't, so they've gone to do it."

A loud, angry screaming from the direction of the lawn drew Mrs. Quabarl thither in hot haste, fearful lest the threatened castigation might even now be in process of infliction. The outcry, however, came principally from the two small daughters of the lodge-keeper, who were being hauled and pushed towards the house by the panting and dishevelled Claude and Wilfrid, whose task was rendered even more arduous by the incessant, if not very effectual, attacks of the captured maidens' small brother. The governess, fives-bat in hand, sat negligently on the stone balustrade, presiding over the scene with the cold impartiality of a Goddess of Battles. A furious and repeated chorus of "I'll tell muvver" rose from the lodge-children, but the lodge-mother, who was hard of hearing, was for the moment immersed in the preoccupation of her washtub.

After an apprehensive glance in the direction of the lodge (the good woman was gifted with the highly militant temper which is sometimes the privilege of deafness) Mrs. Quabarl flew indignantly to the rescue of the struggling captives.

"Wilfrid! Claude! Let those children go at once. Miss Hope, what on earth is the meaning of this scene?"

"Early Roman history; the Sabine Women, don't you know? It's the Schartz-Metterklume method to make children understand history by acting it themselves; fixes it in their memory, you know. Of course, if, thanks to your interference, your boys go through life thinking that the Sabine women ultimately escaped, I really cannot be held responsible."

"You may be very clever and modern, Miss Hope," said Mrs. Quabarl firmly, "but I should like you to leave here by the next train. Your luggage will be sent after you as soon as it arrives."

"I'm not certain exactly where I shall be for the next few days," said the dismissed instructress of youth; "you might keep my luggage till I wire my address. There are only a couple of trunks and some golf-clubs and a leopard cub."

"A leopard cub!" gasped Mrs. Quabarl. Even in her departure this extraordinary person seemed destined to leave a trail of embarrassment behind her.

"Well, it's rather left off being a cub; it's more than half-grown, you know. A fowl every day and a rabbit on Sundays is what it usually gets. Raw beef makes it too excitable. Don't trouble about getting the car for me, I'm rather inclined for a walk."

And Lady Carlotta strode out of the Quabarl horizon.

The advent of the genuine Miss Hope, who had made a mistake as to the day on which she was due to arrive, caused a turmoil which that good lady was quite unused to inspiring. Obviously the Quabarl family had been woefully befooled, but a certain amount of relief came with the knowledge.

"How tiresome for you, dear Carlotta," said her hostess, when the overdue guest ultimately arrived; "how very tiresome losing your train and having to stop overnight in a strange place."

"Oh dear, no," said Lady Carlotta; "not at all tiresome — for me."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Le point de capiton...

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
- Ursula K. Le Guin

Nobody ever listened to music in order to to reach a song's end.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Three Dancers

The Three Dancers was painted by Picasso in June 1925. The painting shows three dancers, the one on the right being barely visible. A macabre dance takes place, with the dancer on the left having her head bent at a near-impossible angle. The dancer on the right is usually interpreted as being Ramon Pichot, a friend of Picasso who died during the painting of Three Dancers. The one on the left is claimed to be Pichot's wife Germaine Gargallo with the one in the centre being Gargallo's boyfriend Carlos Casagemas, also Picasso's friend. Casagemas shot himself after failing to shoot Gargallo, twenty-five years before Pichot's death, and the loss of two of his best friends spurred Picasso to paint this chilling depiction of the love triangle.
Picasso painted The Three Dancers in Paris after a trip to Monte Carlo with his wife, ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. At this time, Picasso was attracted to André Breton's Surrealism movement.This radical work marks Picasso's entry into Surrealism and descent into his disturbing depictions of the female form. However, he was never a fully signed up member of the Surrealism movement: his down-to-earth artistic response and individuality never truly submitted to the movement's Freudian concepts of supremacy of the subconscious state.
Source

Pablo Picasso, "Three Dancers" (1925)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Auguste Rodin, “The Burghers of Calais” (1889)

from Wikipedia:
Les Bourgeois de Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin. It commemorates an occurrence during the Hundred Years' War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year. Calais commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture in 1884, and the work was completed in 1889.

History

England's Edward III, after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais, while Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege, and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender.

According to medieval writer Jean Froissart, Edward offered to spare the people of the city if six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and this poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture, scaled somewhat larger than life.

Although the burghers expected to be executed, their lives were spared by the intervention of England's queen, Philippa of Hainault, who persuaded her husband to exercise mercy by claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child. (Her son, Thomas of Windsor, only lived for one year.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

It Was During the Horror of a Profound Night

I was thinking about French poetry, which is in a play of Racine, in fact. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sentence. In French: “C’était pendant l’horreur d’une profonde nuit.” In English: “It was during the horror of a profound night.” Maybe Racine was thinking of the election of Trump. It was during the horror of a profound night. And so, it was like an obligation for me to speak, to discuss, that sort of event, in a negative sense, because it’s impossible for me to be here in front of you and to speak of something very interesting in academic terms. I think it’s a necessity to think, to discuss, what happens during the horror of the profound night, just yesterday. You know, for me, but I think for many people, it has been, in some sense, a sort of surprise. And we are often, in that sort of surprise, under the law of affects: fear, depression, anger, panic, and so on. But we know that philosophically, all these affects are not really a good reaction, because in some sense, it’s too much affect in front of the enemy. And so, I think it’s a necessity to think beyond the affect, beyond fear, depression , and so on — to think the situation of today, the situation of the world today, where something like that is possible, that somebody like Trump becomes the president of the United States. And so, my goal this evening is to present, not exactly an explanation, but something like a clarification of the possibility of something like that, and also some indications, submitted to discussion, concerning what we must do after that; what we must do, which is not precisely to be under the law of affect, of negative affect, but at the level of thinking, action, political determination, and so on.

So, I begin by a very general vision, not of the situation of the United States today, but the situation of the world today. What is the world of today, where that sort of fact is possible? And I think that the most important point to begin is the historical victory of globalized capitalism.
We must be in front of that fact. In some sense, from the 80s of the last century of the last century to today, that is for forty years, so almost half a century, we have the historical victory of globalized capitalism, for many reasons. First, naturally, the complete failure of socialist states — Russia, China — and more generally the failure of the collectivist vision of economy and social laws of countries. And, this point, is not a small point. This point is really a change not only in the objective situation of the world today, but maybe at the level of subjectivity too. During more than two centuries, there existed in public opinion, always two ways concerning the destiny of human beings. We can say that, before approximately the 80s of the last century, we have always at the very general level, the subjective general level, two possibilities concerning the historical destiny of human beings. First, the way of liberalism, in its classical sense. Here, liberal has many significations, but I take liberal in its primitive sense, that is, fundamentally that private property is the key of social organization, at the price of enormous inequalities, but the price is the price. At the end, for liberalism, private property must be the key of social organization. And on the other side, we have the socialist way, the communist way — there are different words — in their abstract sense, that is, the end of inequalities must be the most fundamental goal of human political activity. The end of inequalities even at the price of violent revolution. So on one side, peaceful vision of history as the continuation of something which is very old, that is, private property as the key of social organization, and on the other side, something new, something which probably begins with the French Revolution, which is the proposition that there is another way, that in some sense, the continuity of the historical existence of human beings must accept a rupture between a very long sequence where inequalities, private property, and so on are the law of collective existence, and another vision of what is that sort of destiny, and the most important being in fact the question of equality and inequality, and this conflict between liberalism in its classical sense, and the new idea under many different names – anarchy, communism, socialism and so on — is probably the great signification of the 19th century and of a big part of the next century too.

So, during approximately near two centuries, we have something like a strategic choice, concerning not only the local events of politics, the national obligations, the wars and so on, but concerning what is really the historical destiny of human beings as such, the historical destiny of the construction of humanity as such. In some sense, our time, from the 80s to today, is the time of the apparent end of this choice. The progressive disparition of that sort of choice. We have today in fact the dominant idea that there exists no global choice, that there is no other solution. It was the word of Thatcher: no other solution. No other solution except, naturally, liberalism, or today generally we speak of neoliberalism. No other solution. And this point is very important because Thatcher herself is not saying that this solution is a very good one. It’s not the problem for her. The problem is that it’s the only solution. And so you know in the contemporary propaganda, the point is not to say that globalized capitalism is excellent, because it’s clear that it’s not. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that monstrous inequalities cannot be a solution of the historical destiny of human beings — everybody knows that. But the argument is, “Okay, it’s not so good, but it’s the only real possibility.” And so, in my opinion, the definition of our time is the attempt to impose on humanity at the scale of the world itself, the conviction that there is only one way for the history of human beings. And without saying that this way is excellent, that this way is a very good one, but by saying that there is no other solution, no other way.

So, we can define our moment as the moment of the primitive conviction of liberalism as dominant in the form that private property and free market compose the unique possible destiny of human beings. And it’s also a definition of a human subject. What is, in this vision, a human subject? A human subject is a beggar, a consumer, an owner, or nothing at all. That is the strict definition today of what is a human being. So that is the general vision, the general problem, and the general law of the contemporary world.

Now, what are the political effects of all that, at the level of political life? What are the consequences of this dominant vision of a world in which we can find only one way? All governments must accept that it is the case; in the world today we cannot be at the direction of the state without acceptation of the vision of the unicity of the way. We have no government in the world which is saying something else. And why? Why, finally, if we examine the position of the “socialist” French government, of the dictature [dictatorship] of the Communist Party in China, or the government of United States, or the government of Japan, of India, everybody says the same thing — that globalized capitalism is the unique way for the existence of human beings. I think that all political decision, at the level of the state, today, is in strict dependency of what I name a ‘monster’: globalized capitalism and its inequalities. In some sense, it’s not true that a government today is something free. It is not free at all. It is inside the global determination, and it must affirm that what it is doing is in dependency of this interiority of the global determination. And the monster is more and more a monster. We must know the real situation concerning inequalities. We have the fundamental phenomena of concentration of capital; the concentration of capital is something extraordinary today. We must know that today 264 persons have as their property the equivalent of 3 billion other people. It’s much more than in the primitive existence of monarchy and so on. Inequality today is much more important than in every other situation in the history of human beings. And so that sort of historical monster which is also the unique way for the existence of humanity is really in the dynamic of more and more inequalities, and not at all of more and more freedom.

And the position of the state today is the same everywhere. It’s accepted law by the French government, by the Chinese Communist Party, by the power of Putin in Russia, by the Islamic State in Syria, and naturally it’s also a law of the president of the United States. So, progressively — and that is the most important consequence concerning the election of Trump — progressively, all the political oligarchy, all the political class, becomes the same group, at the level of the world itself. A group of people which is only abstractly divided: Republicans and Democrats, Socialists and Liberals, Left and Right, and so on. All that sort of division today is purely abstract and not real, because all that lies in the same economic and political background. This political oligarchy today in the Western world, is progressively losing control of the capitalist machinery — that is the reality. Across crises, false solutions, all classical political governments create, on a big scale, in their people, frustration, misunderstanding, anger, and obscure revolt. All that against what is the unique way proposed by all members of the political class today, with some differences, but some small differences. The exercise of politics today is the exercise of very small differences inside the same global way. But all that has many effects on people in general; effects of disorientation, total absence of orientation or direction of life, no strategic vision of the future of humanity, and in that sort of situation a big part of the people search in obscurity on the side of false novelties, irrational visions, and return to dead traditions, and so on. So, in front of political oligarchy, we have the apparition of new sort of activists, new supports of violent and vulgar demagogy, and these guys are much more on the side of gangsters and mafia than on the side of educated politicians. And so the choice here has been the choice between that sort of guy and the rest of the educated politicians, and the result has been the legal choice of the new form of political vulgarity and something subjectively violent in the political proposition.

In some sense, this new political figure — Trump, but many others today — are near the fascist of the 30s. There is something similar. But first without alas their strong enemies of the 30s, which were the communist parties. It’s a sort of democratic fascism — a paradoxical determination — a sort of democratic fascism, that is, they are inside the democratic plane, inside the democratic apparatus, but they play something different, another music, in that sort of context. And, I think it’s not only the case here, with Donald Trump — racist, machiste [macho], violent, and also, which is a fascist characteristic, without any consideration for logic or rationality; because the discourse, the mode of speaking of that sort of democratic fascism is precisely a sort of dislocation of language, a sort of possibility to say anything, and the contrary of anything — there is no problem, the language is not the language of explanation, but a language to create some affects; it’s an affective language which creates a false unity but a practical unity. And so, we have that with Donald Trump, but it has been the case before in Italy with Berlusconi. Berlusconi may be, I think, the first figure of that sort of new democratic fascism, with exactly the same characteristics: vulgarity, a sort of pathological relationship to women, and the possibility to say and to do, publicly, some things which are unacceptable for the big part of human beings today. But that was the case also with Orbán in Hungary today, and in my sense, in France, it has been the case with Sarkozy. And it’s also the case progressively in India or the Phillipines, and even in Poland or in Turkey. So it’s really, at the scale of the world, the apparition of a new figure of political determination which is a figure which is very often inside the democratic constitution but which is in some sense also outside. And I think that we can name fascists — because it was the case in the thirties; after all, Hitler was also victorious in elections — so I name fascist that sort of guy who is inside the democratic play, but in some sense also outside: inside and outside. And inside to finally be outside. So it’s really a novelty but a novelty which is inscribed inside the general figure of the world today because it’s also something for many people, not of a solution but a new manner to be in the democratic play, where, on the side of classical oligarchy, there is no difference at all. In some sense, the principle effect of Trump is an effect of something new. In fact, in the details, there is nothing new, because it’s impossible to think that it’s new to be racist, machiste [macho], and so on — very old things, very old things. But in the context of the classical oligarchy today, this very old thing seems to be something new. And so, Trump is in the position to say that the novelty is ‘Trump’, in the moment when he’s saying things which are absolutely primitive and absolutely old, old-fashioned. And so, we are also in the time where something like a return to the old existence of something can appear as something new. And this conversion of the new in the old is also a characteristic of that sort of new fascism.

All that describes, I think, our present situation at the level of politics. We must consider that we are in a fatal dialectics of four terms.

First, the complete brutality and blind violence of the capitalism of today. Okay, in the Western world, we are not seeing completely this brutality or violence, but if you are in Africa, we see that, really, and if you are in the Middle East too, and finally if you are in Asia too. And so it’s a term, a fundamental term, of our world today. It is the return to capitalism to what is in fact it’s very sense, that is, savage conquering, savage fight of everybody against everybody, for domination. So, complete brutality and blood violence of the savage capitalism of today: the first term.

Second term: the decomposition of the classical political oligarchy. The classical parties — Democrat, Republican, Socialist, et al. — decomposition in the direction, finally, of the apparition of a sort of new fascism. We don’t know the future of that sort of apparition: what is the future of Trump? In some sense, we don’t know, really, and maybe Trump doesn’t know his proper destiny. It was visible in the night. You have the Trump before the power and the Trump in the power, who is in some sense afraid; not completely satisfied, because he knows that he cannot speak as freely as before. And to speak freely was exactly the potency of Trump, but now with the government, the administration, the army, economists, bankers and so on, it’s another story. And so, we have seen in the night Trump passing from one play to another play, from one theatre to another theatre; and in the second theatre it was not so good, not so good as before. But we don’t know, really, we don’t know what is the real possibility of that sort of guy when he becomes president of the United States. In any case, we have really a symbol of the decomposition of the classical political oligarchy, and the birth of the new figure of a new fascism, with a future that we don’t know, but I think is certainly not a very interesting future for people in general.

Third, we have the popular frustration, the feeling of an obscure disorder, in the public opinion of many people, and principally the poor people, the people of provincial states, the peasants of many countries, and also the workers without a job, and so on — all that population, which progressively is reduced by the brutality of contemporary capitalism, to nothing at all, which has no possible existence, and which stays, in some places, without jobs, without money, without orientation, without existential orientation. And this point is the third very important term of the global situation today. The lack of orientation, of stability, the feeling of the destruction of their world, without the construction of another world; so a sort of void destruction.

And the last term, the fourth term, is the lack, the complete lack, of another strategic way; the absence, today, of another strategic way. There exist many political experiences — I don’t say that there is nothing at all on this side. We know new riots, new occupation of places, new mobilisation, new ecological determination and so on. So, it’s not the absence of all forms of resistance, protestation — no, I don’t say that. But the lack of another strategic way, that is, something which is at the same level as the contemporary conviction that capitalism is the only way possible. The lack of the strength of the affirmation of another way. And the lack of what I name an Idea, a great Idea. A great Idea which is the possibility of unification, global unification, strategic unification of all forms of resistance and invention. An Idea is a sort of mediation between the individual subject and the collective historical and political task, and it’s the possibility of action across and with very different subjectivities, but under the same Idea in some sense.

These four points — the general and strategic domination of globalized capitalism, the decomposition of classical political oligarchy, the popular disorientation and frustration, and the lack of another strategic way — compose in my opinion the crisis of today. We can define the contemporary world in the term of a global crisis which is not reducible to the economic crisis of the last years, which is much more, I think, a subjective crisis, because of the destiny of human beings is more and more unclear for themselves.

After that, what is to be done? The question of Lenin. I think, concerning the presidential election here, the election of Trump, I think we must affirm that one reason for the success of Trump is that the true contradiction today, the real contradiction today, the most important contradiction cannot be between two forms of the same world. The world of globalized capitalism, of imperialist wars, and of lack of any Idea concerning the destiny of human beings. I know that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are very different — I am not saying we should identify Trump and Hillary Clinton, but this difference, which is important… there exists a level where this difference, that is the difference between new fascism and old political oligarchy — and all political oligarchy is less horrible than new fascism, so I understand perfectly that at the end we prefer Hillary Clinton — but we cannot forget that in some sense this difference is inside the same world. It’s not the expression of two different strategic visions of the world. And I think the success of Trump is possible only because the true contradiction of the world cannot be expressed, cannot be symbolized, by the opposition between Hillary Clinton and Trump, because Hillary Clinton and Trump are in the same world — very different, but very different in the same world. And so, in fact, during all the preparation of the election, during the primaries, the true contradiction, in my opinion, has been between Trump and Bernie Sanders. It was a true contradiction. We can think what we want concerning the two terms of this contradiction. We can say that Trump is maybe something excessive, on the side of a new fascism and so on, and we can say that Bernie Sanders is something which is in some sense of socialist nature, finally, Bernie Sanders is in the necessity to go on the side of Clinton and so on and so on, but I think at the level of symbolization, which is so important, the true contradiction of our world was symbolized by the opposition of Trump and Bernie Sanders, and not by the opposition of Trump and Hillary Clinton, because we have in Bernie Sanders, the proposition of Bernie Sanders, something, some points which are beyond the world as it is. And we do not have something like that in the proposition of Hillary Clinton. And so, we have a lesson of dialectics; that is, the theory of contradictions. In some sense, the contradiction between Hillary Clinton and Trump was a relative contradiction and not an absolute one; that is, a contradiction in the same parameters, in the same construction of the world. But the contradiction between Bernie Sanders and Trump was in fact the beginning of the possibility of a true contradiction; that is, a contradiction with a world and something which is beyond the world. In some sense, Trump was really on the side of reactive and obscure popular subjectivity, inside the world as it is, but Bernie Sanders was on the side of rational, active and clear popular subjectivity, oriented beyond the world as it is, even in something which was unclear — unclear, but beyond the world as it is.

So the result of the election is of a conservative nature, it’s purely conservative, because it’s the result of a false contradiction, in some sense, a contradiction which is not a true contradiction, and which is also, across this election, the continuation of the crisis of today, the crisis of the four terms I explained before. Today, against Trump, we cannot desire Clinton, or somebody of the same figure. We must create a return, if it is possible, to the true contradiction; it’s the lesson of that sort of terrible event. That is, we must propose a political orientation which goes beyond the world as it is, even if it is, at the beginning, in a not completely clear manner. When we begin something, we have not the complete development of that thing. But we must begin. We must begin, which is the point. After Trump, we must begin. It’s not only to resist, to negate and so on. We must begin something, really, and this question of the beginning is the beginning of the return to the true contradiction, to a real choice, to a real strategic choice concerning the orientation of human beings. We must reconstruct the idea that against the monstrous inequalities of the present capitalism, against also the new gangsters of classical politics, like Trump, it’s possible to create, once more, a political field with two strategic orientations, and not only one. The return of something which has been the occasion of the great political movement of 19th century and of the beginning of the last century. We must, if I can say something in a philosophical manner, we must go beyond the One, in the direction of the Two. Not one orientation, but two orientations. The creation of a new return to a new fundamental choice as the very essence of politics. In fact, if there is only one strategic way, politics progressively disappears, and in some sense, Trump is the symbol of that sort of disparition, because, what is the politics of Trump? Nobody knows. It’s something like a figure and not a politics. So the return to politics is by necessity the return of the existence of a real choice. So, finally, at the level of philosophical generalities, it’s the dialectical return to the real Two beyond the One, and we can propose some names for that sort of return.

As you know, my vision is to propose the corrupted word of ‘Communism’, corrupted you know by bloody experiences and so on. The name is only a name, so we are free to propose other names, not a problem. But we have something which is interesting in the primitive meaning of this old and corrupted word. And this meaning is in fact composed of four points, four principles, and these sort of principles can be a support for the creation of a new political field with two strategic orientations.

The first point is that it’s not a necessity that the key of social organization lies in private property and monstrous inequalities. It’s not a necessity. We must affirm that it’s not a necessity. And we can organize limited experiences which demonstrate that it’s not a necessity, that it’s not true that forever private property and monstrous inequalities must be the law of the becoming of humanity. It’s the first point.

The second point is that it’s not a necessity that workers will be separated between noble work, like intellectual creation, or direction, or government, and, on the other side, manual work and common material existence. So the specialization of the label is not an eternal law, and especially the opposition between intellectual work and manual work must be suppressed in the long term. It’s the second principle.

The third is that it’s not a necessity for human beings to be separated by national, racial, religious or sexual boundaries. The equality must exist across differences, and so difference is an obstacle to equality. Equality must be a dialectics of difference itself, and we must refuse that in the name of differences, equality is impossible. So boundaries, refusal of the Other, in any form, all that must disappear. It’s not a natural law.

And the last principle is that it’s not a necessity that there exists a state, in the form of a separated and armoured power.

So these four points can be resumed: collectivism against private property„ polymorphous worker against specialization, concrete universalism against closed identities, and free association against the state. It’s only a principle, it’s not a programme. But with this principle, we can judge all political programmes, decisions, parties, ideas, from the point of view of these four principles. Take a decision: is this decision in the direction of the four principles or not. The principles are the protocol of judgement concerning all decisions, ideas, propositions. If a decision, a proposition, is in the direction of the four principles, we can say it’s a good one, we can examine if it is possible and so on. If clearly it’s against the principles, it’s a bad decision, bad idea, bad programme. So we have a principle of judgement in the political field and in the construction of the new strategic project. That is in some sense the possibility to have a true vision of what is really in the new direction, the new strategic direction of humanity as such.

Bernie Sanders proposes to construct a new political group, under the title, ‘Our Revolution’. The success of Trump must open a new chance for that sort of idea. We can trust him for the moment, we can judge if it’s really a proposition which goes beyond the present world, we can judge if something is proposed which is in conformity with the four principles. We can do something. And we must do, because if we do nothing at all, we are only in the fascination, the stupidity of fascination, by the depressive success of Trump. Our revolution—why not—against their reaction, our revolution, it’s a good idea. In any case, I am on this side.
-Alain Badiou, "Reflections Upon the Recent Election"

Monday, February 6, 2017

What is Politeness?

Cases abound in our daily lives in which not telling all is the proper thing to do. In Baisers volés, Delphine Seyrig explains to her young lover the difference between politeness and tact: ‘Imagine you inadvertently enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked under the shower. Politeness requires that you quickly close the door and say, “Pardon, Madame!”, whereas tact would be to quickly close the door and say: “Pardon, Monsieur!”’ It is only in the second case, by pretending not to have seen enough even to make out the sex of the person under the shower, that one displays true tact.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Good Manners in the Age of Wikileaks"
In a conversation entitled “Japan through a Slovenian Looking Glass: Reflections of Media and Politic in Cinema,” Slavoj Zizek is asked about Japan. In this brief essay I will flesh out and hopefully expand a few key ideas he presents, namely: Japanese negation, Japanese ambiguity and the importance of the surface in communication. Moreover, being one who has lived here in Japan for over three years, I hope to blend Zizek’s ideas with my private experience as perpetually being seen as the Other.

Japanese Negation


Zizek, in the abovementioned conversation writes, “You say no to your wife in one way, no to a child in another way. There is not one negation.” One of the first things the foreigner in Japan should know is the importance of recognizing this idea of “there is not one negation.” The English word “no” can be translated into Japanese as “lie,” but one must always keep in mind that how one negates a situation will depend more on who one is talking to and the hierachical structure inherent in that relationship. There is a way of communicating that is often used in Japanese and recognized by the Japanese and that is what is called “aimai,” or the art of indirect communication. “Aimai” is the grey space between yourself and the Other, it is the seemingly innocent remark that holds an unwritten request or demand. It is the offhand comment, which carries a heavy criticism. Japanese negation is caught up in this web of “aimai” and I have seen many foreigners perish for lack of knowing how to properly negate in this way.

In the realm of Japanese communication one can understand the Lacanian idea of “the big Other” as the reference point of what is communicated. In almost every situation there is a strict implicit code of talking. Following the symbolic code of talking is in some ways more important than what one actually says.

Japanese Ambiguity

In the short conversation, Zizek uses the idea of ambiguity, in accord with Lacan, in a few ways: the ambiguity of the Japanese language, Japan as the ambiguous Other and the ambiguous politeness of the Japanese. First, he writes, “They elaborate the borrowing of other languages, all these ambiguities. Didn’t Lacan say that Japanese do not have an unconscious?” In my experience, I have found the following languages to have been incorporated into what is known as ‘Japanese’: English, Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese and German. Words from different languages seem to float into the country and are reappropriated by the Japanese, transformed and made unique. Even some of the Japanese that I met did not know that their beloved food “tempura” originally came from Portuguese. The word “maniac” has been adopted as one who collects or is interested in a certain product, meanwhile the katakana (words imported into Japanese from outside) dictionaries grow thicker and thicker each year.

Zizek also notes, “For the West, Japan is the ambiguous Other: at the same time it fascinates you and repels you.” This idea has been worked out in my explication on Bernard Rudofsky’s piece “The Advertisement” where Rudofsky analyzes the misplaced view of Japan to Western eyes. Zizek seems to hold this same idea. The image of Japan is slippery and hazy. In Sophia Coppolla’s film “Lost in Translation,” she presents a number of Japanese characters, but in turn breaks the face of the Japanese by making sure her characters are extreme: the over-the-top TV host, the drug using party goers, the demanding and upsetting photographer and the ambiguous photographer. Her presentation of the Japanese, while amusing to foreigners, can be upsetting to the Japanese simply by the consistency of their Otherness can be seen. The grey space is annihilated.

“Let’s not forget the psychological cliche of Japan: you smile, but you never know if it is sincere or if you are mocking us – the idea of Japan as the impenetrable Other. This ambiguous politeness.” This impenetrability can be seen when a foreigner commits some kind of error in etiquette. Again, “aimai” is at play. The smile holds many meanings for the Japanese and it is not good for the foreigner to see it as just a smile. However, it is not always like this. I should clarify that in daily conversation or at the workplace, this ambiguity is clearly present, but not between close friends. Two other ideas that even the Japanese I know admit to are the use of “honne” and “tatemae,” the you that you are in public and the you that you are in private. The bold foreigner boasting of a job well done may meet the smile of his or her Japanese coworkers, the deceptive smile as one should know, it is not in proper form to boast about oneself.

Following this, Zizek says, “In Japan, and I hope that this is not only a myth, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere.” Also he says, “Masks are never simply masks.” The idea that the boastful foreigner receives a deceptive smile needs to be clarified. That is to say, the smile of the Japanese acts as a symbol of his or her politeness, it is deceptive in that the foreigner expects an “honest” reaction to a situation, wants things clarified, spelled out. The Japanese maintain this semblance of politeness for themselves, for politeness is part and parcel of the Japanese language. The Japanese person in front of you respects him or herself in respect to the symbolic order and clarifying would mean breaking this politeness, it would be obscene. That is to say, I think that Zizek is correct in his hope. For the Japanese, the etiquette of being polite shows respect to oneself as one who is caught up in the other. One has to keep in mind that there is no “I” in the Japanese language.

I apologize for the brevity of this essay as this is only a rough sketch of something I plan on developing further at another time. Thank you for reading.

This conversation with Zizek can be read here
- Jamie Grefe, "The Ambiguous Other: Zizek on Japan"

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life's largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming--
Slender jet-fountains—sob their ecstasies.
- Paul Verlaine, "Claire de Lune" (1869)