Put it this way: people at the top are afraid of heights and know how quickly everything (Civilization) can evaporate if they make even five wrong steps in a row. This means that They are perfectly happy to let a mere nigger bite it from time to time. They square what they know is cruelty and injustice against the lines of their system. That this system transforms a man who happens to be black into a nigger, a thing, doesn’t bother them at all. Because the system assumes the racist character and in so doing absolves its operators of blame. To me, that’s why black people are still treated like things when there’s hardly an overt racist to be found anywhere in government. This is how people who think of themselves as merely cautious and responsible end up murderers.
So what happens when human failings get slurped into the system? Think about how calling slavery ‘that peculiar institution’ absolved anyone who profited from it of responsibility. Think about the Holocaust, where massacre, by assuming an industrial character and scale, became like rain. Something that just happened. Think about the gap between the legacy of slavery in America and the legacy of the Holocaust in Europe. Over here it was assumed that the destruction of the machinery itself (the laws permitting slavery and the punishments for escaping it) would be solution enough. Clearly not. Think about the near-religious quality the Holocaust has nowadays. That’s not an accident. That is a deeply humane and correct method of overcoming the flaws that gave it rise.
Things will get better as a function of how willing we are to take things on. Not just take things seriously, but to shoulder them. Because a system that soaks up flaws can only be purged by a torrent of virtue.
is it ever okay to conscientiously decline to participate in political affairs ?
If this means ‘Is it okay to say ‘I’m not political.” then I would say it’s fine as long as you’re alright with a certain amount of ignorance in your life. For a very long time this was a-okay: our stereotype of the otherworldly artist is pretty much exactly this. But then Marx came along and said that the exploited and miserable farm workers who produce your breakfast bananas have a relationship with you whether you acknowledge it or not. Or more pointedly, he said: The system of capitalist exploitation is so dominant that every person who purchases its products is tacitly lending support to its methods. To someone for whom this complicity is intolerable the only solution is revolution; the system cannot be reformed or cannot be reformed quickly enough for that period of time to not also weigh on your moral conscience.
But we’re on the other side of the 20th century, a century whose tide of blood was the product of ideology. In the sense that ideology is like science, a system that buoys fallible human thought thru the complexities of modernity, it had an enormous head of hope behind it. But that optimism is deader than the positive connotation of the word ‘appeasement.’
When you can’t trust a system of thought you have to fall back on human intuition, which I think we’re rediscovering as a surprisingly powerful entity. Not in a bullshit 1970’s astrology sense, but in the idea that ultimately everything has to be submitted to our own moral intuition (I think of this as the Alcoholics Anonymous way of existing: low to the ground and correct). And if you have a moral conscience that has anything like activity in it, you’re making decisions about what feels right and wrong to you. And if you’re doing that, then you have to be willfully ignorant to not have convictions about the world. And if you have convictions about the world, I would say that you are by definition political.
Or at least that’s how declining to participate in something like the military for reasons of conscience is not analogous to declining to participate in matters of politics for the same reason. Namely that being a conscientious objector is already being political.
Make no mistake, these are decadent times. That Yeats poem is truer now than ever (‘The Second Coming’ is probably the most profound and shocking example of someone being prophetic in a hard, cultural sense that has ever occurred). But I think one has to learn to master disgust and say that if things get worse I cannot be said to have been complicit by inactivity.
what do you make of the following authors (if you have read them) ? Saul Bellow / Aldous Huxley / Italo Calvino / Hermann Hesse / Robert Musil / Cormac McCarthy
Bellow is for me a deep and brilliant excursion of traditional novelistic spirit into a century that didn’t have much use for it. That’s why I think he polarizes; he’s trying to be a patriarch in a post-feminist world. Remember his thing about ‘show me the Tolstoy of the Zulus and then we’ll talk about multiculturalism.’
Aldous Huxley, although a highly individual and original person, falls into the pattern of many geniuses. He saw the truth of the twentieth century and modernity very early on and managed to speak it. But then he stopped. I think about Erasmus when I think about Huxley. Erasmus’ contemporaries wrote him letters begging him to ‘take up thy sword and become a knight of Christ’ with reference to the church corruption he satirized. But he didn’t, or couldn’t. And so we got a Protestant Reformation authored by Luther, who didn’t care if he split Europe right across the middle. Think of what would have been different if the Reformation wasn’t a schism. That’s what I wonder about when I imagine what Huxley could have proposed that might have averted the careening mess that became his century.
Italo Calvino is an utterly essential genius without whose insight and grace being alive today is actual, physical pain.
I find something unnerving about Hesse that I can never put my finger on. Something in me wants to accuse him of not going far enough, of not being extreme enough. I think I want him to be more like Kafka, and trade optimism for reality.
Robert Musil, James Joyce and Marcel Proust were the three most (adjective) novelists of the 20th century. If Joyce was the prophet and Proust was the father-confessor, Musil was the 20th century’s historian.
Cormac McCarthy polarizes too. He doesn’t want to be literary and hangs out with physicists, but he writes novels and has nothing to say about science. To me there’s always been something toypianoish about his stuff. Maybe that’s the point, but the corrective value of antinovels becomes at some point, the disease.
In 1885 a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, William S. Halsted, published the paper Practical Comments on the Use and Abuse of Cocaine; Suggested by Its Invariably Successful Employment in More Than a Thousand Minor Surgical Operations. This essay was the product of Halsted’s intensive research into the medical use of cocaine during the fall of 1884. These researches involved the injection of cocaine into every nerve Halsted could reach with a hypodermic syringe, both in his own body and those of the thirty medical students he recruited.
The opening sentence of the paper became famous as an example of cocaine intoxication:
Neither indifferent as to which of how many possibilities may best explain, nor yet at a loss to comprehend, why surgeons have, and that so many, quite without discredit, could have exhibited scarcely any interest in what, as a local anesthetic, had been supposed, if not declared, by most so very sure to prove, especially to them, attractive, still I do not think that this circumstance, or some sense of obligation to rescue fragmentary reputation for surgeons rather than the belief that an opportunity existed for assisting others to an appreciable extent, induced me, several months ago, to write on the subject in hand the greater part of a somewhat comprehensive paper, which poor health disinclined me to complete.
Halsted spent the rest of his life battling cocaine and opiate addiction with nothing but idealized Protestant self-mastery to fall back on.
I just meant that the stupidity of capital f Futurism (burn the paintings, put locomotives in the museums) went underground for a while and then surfaced as the surveillance state. Futurism’s revolutionary ardor has cooled. It sold out just like every other middle-aged movement and settled down. This boring Futurism hasn’t burned the paintings yet, but it’s certainly made everyone very aware that society isn’t about the spirit that gave the paintings rise. Worse than that: not only is society not interested in that spirit, but society now militates against it. The middlebrow gaze of a surveillance camera as spiritual anesthetic.
Oscar Wilde next to me at lunch. He has the oddity of being an Englishman. He gives you a cigarette, but he selects it himself. He does not walk around a table, he moves a table out of the way. His face is kneaded with tiny red worms, and he has long teeth, containing caves. He is enormous, and he carries an enormous cane.
'I quit smoking on Halloween 1988. In December 1988 I was walking to work in a snowstorm when I had the biggest sneeze of my life and afterwards found in my hand a clump of living tissue the size, shape, and colour of a Thompson seedless green grape. It had veins. Of course this freaked me out, and I went right to a doctor, who said that I should actually be thankful, because “At least it’s not inside you any more.” He made sense. But from that morning on, my hearing became hyperacute and hasn’t wavered since. So when I found out that Marshall [McLuhan]’s hearing went cuckoo after they took a lump out of his head, I said, “Yes, this is someone I want to write a biography about.”'
Imagine a bottle of soda has been uncapped. Rather than drinking it, you leave it in the sun and watch the bubbles swarm out. At the end of the day you’re left with something that only a hummingbird would want. That’s what this bullshit is.
I posted the article rather than approaching you with it outright, but I confess I’m interested in your word here. I’ve discussed Wallace’s work with a fair few but am ill tuned to his greater influence in contemporary writing. I myself am no writer after all, but how curious to see this measure of bitter and jilted sentiment; I’ve been hearing it more in light of Egger’s Staggering Work and The Instructions- neither of which I have touched. Am I mistaken, maybe it isn’t curious at all?
Now I’m saying:
What I meant by this was that Wallace, in being a great writer, found a new way for humans to experience being human. Trivial commentary on the style of writing Wallace used to accomplished this makes you march backwards from his achievement. It’s useless to conclude that the style in which Wallace wrote generates the way that people talk on the Internet. It’s worse than useless, it’s a terrible mistake and a step closer to personal catastrophe.
Realization and enlightenment are evanescent, but they come from the foolish, sweaty and heroic act of grabbing life’s flywheel with your bare hands. Creaming off only what is easy to get insults the project and foils the point.
People who skate on questions of style and influence have glitter without value and pleasure without satisfaction. They confuse the shimmer of enlightenment with the weightlessness of an easy conclusion. They’re casting spiderwebs across fault lines and claiming the connection is binding. Thinking this way freezes the inner sea to a greater depth and makes the flywheel’s momentum all the more unstoppable.
The lies, diffidence and atrophy of soul that immobilize all of us can only be withdrawn by an inward-reaching hand. This hand begins the movement that ends in freedom. The flywheel is brought to rest with the strength of this hand. Its callouses make the heroic possible. It’s a terrible mistake to confuse the paralysis we are born into with the stillness only we can make.
Everything a person does makes manifest their relationship to the innermost self. What these people are doing is worse than bad for them, it’s bad for you.