poetry

A Marriage of Conscience: Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2019 - 5:00am in

Edward Curtin “About suffering they were never wrong,” wrote W. H. Auden in the poem “Musée Des Beaux Arts.” These lines occurred to me last week when all eyes were focused on the brutal British seizure of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. No one should have been surprised by this despicable spectacle carried out in the noonday light for all to see, for the British government has not served as America’s jailer for the past seven years for no reason. It doesn’t take x-ray eyes to see that the British and the Moreno government in Ecuador are twin poodles on the American leash. After a phony display of judicial fairness, the British, as required by their American bosses, will dispatch Assange to the United States so he can be further punished for the crime of doing journalism and exposing war crimes. Assange has suffered mightily for American sins. The Anglo-American torturers know how to squeeze their victims to make old men out of the young. Abu Ghraib was no aberration. The overt …

Not for Long, Adorno & Horkheimer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/04/2019 - 9:54pm in

Tags 

aesthetics, art, poetry

In Book 22 of the Odyssey, there is a description of the way in which Odysseus’ son punishes the faithless women who had reverted to prostitution. Emotionless, and with an inhuman composure rivaled only by the impassibilité of the major nineteenth-century novelists, Homer describes the movement of the nooses and coldly compares the women’s appearance as they hang to that of birds caught in a net; the reticence and composure of the narration are the true marks of eloquence. The passage closes with the information that the feet of the row of suspended women “kicked out for a short while, but not for long” [Odyssey 22.473] The precision of the descriptive artist, which already exhibits the frigidity of anatomy and vivisection, [61] is employed to provide evidence of the dying convulsions of the subjected who, in the name of law and justice, were cast down into that realm from which Odysseus the judge had escaped. As a citizen reflecting momentarily upon the hanging, Homes assures himself and his audience (actually readers) that it did not last long--a moment and then it was all over. But after the "not for long" the inner flow of the narrative is arrested. Not for long? The device poses the question, and belies the author's composure. By cutting short the account, Homer prevents us from forgetting the victims, and reveals the unutterable eternal agony of the few seconds in which the women struggle with death. No echo of the "not for long" remains except the Quo usque tandem that the rhetors of the later period unwittingly devalued by themselves laying claim to the long-suffering attitude in question. In the narrative account of atrocity, hoever, hope attaches to the fact that it happened a long time ago. Homer offers consolation for the entanglement of prehistory, savagery, and culture by recourse to the once-upon-a-time device. Yet the epic is novel first, and fairytale after.--Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer (1947) Dialectic of Enlightenment, translated by John Cumming, p. 80 [emphasis in original]

Much of the so-called Excursus 1 ("Odysseus or Myth and Enlightenment") of Dialectic of Enlightenment -- is nearly unreadable unless one is steeped in the Gymnasium culture that marked the aspirations to Bildung of Wilhelmine Germany (and its European equivalents). The Excursus -- latin for digression -- is a lengthy re-interpretation of the Odyssee. It may seem peculiar to do so in exile in Los Angeles in the early 1940s, especially in a book with 'Enlightenment' (or Dialectic) in its title. But (with an explicit nod to Nietzsche) Homer is treated as "the basic text of European civilization." (46)

I had to memorize the opening lines of the Odyssee. I flunked the assignment initially. My latin teacher had me repeat the in the teacher's lounge (in front of her bemused colleagues) a few weeks later. I still remember the first line, but the second one required a check online:

ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπεμοῦσαπολύτροπονὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθηἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν:

That I associate the quoted passage with Gymnasium culture is not primarily due to this minor personal trauma, but due to the little puzzle Adorno & Horkheimer lodged in this text, their untranslated, Quo usque tandem. I recognized at once Cicero's opening lines of the first Catiline Oration:  Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? How long will you abuse our patience, O Catiline...* And not for the first time I reflected on the curiosity of the centrality of that nouveau riche defender of aristocratic values in a decayed republic, Cicero, in the Latin curriculum of a Gymnasium in Amsterdam in the 198s0. 

Adorno and Horkheimer are a bit quick to suggest Homer prevents us from forgetting the victims. The twelve condemned women, on the testimony of Eurykleia (Odysseus's wet-nurse), are left nameless. Their 'crime' according to Eurykleia was to show her and Penelope no honor. It is notable that Eurykleia explicitly denies that Telemachos had been mistreated by them. For, Telemachos changes his father's sentence (from death by sword to death by hanging) in virtue of their lack of honor to him and for consorting with Penelope's suitors ('prostitution').** In Telemachos' treatment of the twelve nameless women -- they are hung after being forced to clean the mayhem subsequent Odysseus' murderous revenge on his wife's suitors+ -- there are gruesome anticipations of the fate of women who served occupying forces in the world war. 

There is, I think, no consolation (or 'hope') in citizen Homer. After the gruesome deeds are done, there are rites of purification (and the cleaning up of the corpses, etc--now done by Odysseus), and life goes on without the nameless twelve women.  

I had started this impression by wanting to write about a lost culture such that whatever Adorno & Horkheimer wished to say has become opaque. But my intentions are deflected by my train of thought. In the quoted passage, they treat the devaluation of language by political rhetoric as an accident ("unwittingly").++ But this -- appropriating another's lived experience, even of death -- is always a temptation of political rhetoric, Adorno & Horkheimer's not excepted. 

 

61:

Wilamowitz is of the opinion that the sentence is "related with relish by the poet" (Die Heimkehr des Odysseus, p. 67). Even though the authoritarian philologist is delighted to find that the simile of the bird-nest is "just and modern in its appropriateness to the jerking of  the hanged women" (op. cit., p. 76), the relish seems to be mostly by his own. Wilamowitz's writings are among the most emphatic documents of the German intermingling of barbarism and culture erected on the basis of modern Philhellenism.

*See also one of Mary Beard's best columns in TLS. Her point is, in fact, partially anticipated by Adorno & Horkheimer.

**One wonders how much of Telemachos' humiliated inability to defend his mother's honor, while his returning father succeeds, is displaced onto these unfortunate women. 

+There are also gruesome anticipations of the work by the Sonderkommandos in the camps.

++It's possible Adorno & Horkheimer side with Cataline, who was advocating debt relief on behalf of the poor, and against the martial law of Cicero.

On Repetition, Politics, and Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/03/2019 - 3:46am in

He exchanges pound notes for the letters M.P. As the dominant cultural fiction of developed societies, money is the ideal nonsensical sign. I have always found it amazing that in exchange for paper I can get a book or a dress, that the stock market actually rises and falls on rumor — mere talk — and that people trade in something called Futures, as if such a thing were possible. I accept that all this is part of my world, and yet I continue to find it bizarre. Dickens obviously shared this bafflement. As powerful as it is, money refers to nothing real. Currency floats. Dickens reiterates Marx’s idea of money as society’s founding gibberish, as “the general confounding and compounding of all things — the world upside down.” When money is hoarded, it becomes even more meaningless because it buys nothing. It just accumulates like so much wastepaper.

Why money should be so precious to an ass so dull as to exchange it for no other satisfaction, is strange; but there is no animal so sure to get laden with it, as the Ass who sees nothing written on the face of the earth as the three dry letters L.S.D. not Luxury, Sensuality, Dissoluteness, which they so often stand for, but the three dry letters.

In an age when designer labels and celebrity names are used to sell everything from cars to lipstick, when meaningless slogans and lyrics and acronyms are constantly beamed and displayed and written on screens and billboards and the covers of magazines, when right-wing politicians hammer out the same empty phrases ad nauseam, corrupting words like freedom and truth until they are no longer recognizable and refer to absolutely nothing,--Siri Hustvedt "Charles Dickens and the Morbid Fragment" in (2006) A Plea for Eros, pp. 166-7

One often hears economist say with respect, that is, without irony, put your money where your mouth is (see here Cowen and Tabarrok). The underlying idea is not just that money is more solid than cheap talk, but that staking money is a form of serious agency -- skin in the game -- whereas mere talking is prattle. (I consider the epistemologist, who treats betting as the sine qua non of rationality, in the same boat.)

Hustvedt, a terrific novelist and even better essayist, helps us note that this disdain for talk is puzzling not only because (i) talk often moves markets (and so is causally efficacious, one is tempted to say talk better be treated as an endogenous variable), but also because (ii) money is ultimately grounded in some gibberish.+

As an aside (for those who follow recent high profile debates surrounding modern monetary theory (hereafter MMT [see here for Krugman, here my friend Alexander Douglas (who used to be more in favor)], one reason I suspect why modern monetary theory seems so attractive to some is that in it money is not grounded in nonsense (nor the labor theory of value) but in the very real power of the state (which can demand payment in its  own I.O.U.s.)* MMT is ultimately grounded in a kind of Hobbesian intuition.** 

Let me return to Hustvedt, in virtue of the fact that money originates in gibberish and floats, she is inclined to suggest that it cannot refer to something real. The underlying idea is hitched to the (correct) thought that signs are arbitrary. (Given how philosophically sophisticated Hustvedt is, one may even say that the PSR is lurking behind her position.) Unlike Hustvedt I think that money can refer to something real even if (as I grant her) it is founded in the arbitrariness of nonsense and tracked with something arbitrary (a sign).  

How so?

As any Connecticut poet (hoobla-how, hoobla-hoo, and hoo), or Humean-Deleuzian, can tell you, repetition can turn gibberish into something causally efficacious. And as Spinoza teaches, to be is to be a cause (and vice versa). This fact, that some of our beings/causes are grounded in nonsense, is an affront to those who think our starting points should be clear propositions. Be that as it may, because it has causal powers, money is as real as talk.++

In The Summer Without Men (Husvedt's 2011 novel), her narrator writes, "Repetition. Repetition, not identity. Nothing is repeated exactly, even words, because something has changed in the speaker and in the listener, because once said and then said again and again, the repetition itself alters the words." (51) I think the intuition -- the power of repetition -- is sound even if I am uneasy about Husvedt's manner of expressing it. While above I noted that repetition can generate identity, Husvedt is clear it can also, in the opposite direction, as it were, undermine identity. 

In her comment on Dickens, Hustvedt makes the point in stark fashion: repetition can create gibberish from truth. Her claim is not the familiar one associated with the theory of propaganda that through repetition lies can become thought true,*** but rather that one can debase words, even true and respected ones, by repeating them in certain ways. That is, certain forms of repetition vacate truth.

That is it for now. But I add a perhaps puzzling paragraph as a promissory note (and explication on my first paragraph above). As regular readers know, I think (recall) Arendt is right that only a limited number of institutions (related to science and justice) are capable of producing truth in a reliable fashion.+++ (It's now a familiar thought that replication is important in some of their practices.) The slide from [A] 'X=true' to [B] 'X=true if and only you are willing to take a bet on X' is made possible, I suspect, by a certain form of such vacating, that is, pernicious repetition.

 

 

+To avoid confusion: I treat Husvedt as agnostic on the labor theory of value. I mention this because she mentions Marx in the vicinity. (Also nothing in this post turns on the idea that for you, LSD=Lysergic acid diethylamide.)

*I am treating nonsense and the taxman as contraries. 

**I am pleased to see a revival of interest in ideas by Abba Lerner (who is often credited with originating MMT); here I should note that  Lerner was a socialist who disliked state authority (so the Hobbesian intuition is not really his).

++A social ontologist may well worry that the causal efficacy of money and/or talk is derived from the causal efficacy of our supposedly more solid, intentions or our projections. I respond: all that is solid melts into air.

+++ In turn, these institutions have a tricky relationship to the world of politics (grounded in opinion).

***I mention this because she is also pointing to the closely aligned phenomenon of repetition of empty phrases.

For every woman — a documentary poem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/03/2019 - 12:24am in

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poetry

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, this poem documents the heart of women’s and girls’ struggles and liberatory resistance around the globe.

Rites, with Sorghum Amplum

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 9:20am in

Tags 

poetry

We sat on the porch that winter and
talked of murder, imagined bodies trapped
beneath the breaking crust of the field.

The house whistled with broken windows,
the lead veins running through the glass...

The post Rites, with Sorghum Amplum appeared first on Meanjin.

Affidavit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 9:00am in

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poetry

Dang, sorry. This is only available to a Meanjin subscriber. But we can fix that. It’s just $80 for print or $50 for digital. DIGITAL PRINT

The post Affidavit appeared first on Meanjin.

Ken Loach Talks about Writer and Poet Kevin Higgins, Suspended for Satirising War Criminal Blair

Here’s another excellent piece from Labour Against the Witchhunt, where the respected left-wing film-maker, Ken Loach, talks about the case of Kevin Higgins. Higgins is a writer and poet, an overseas member of the party, living in Ireland. He was suspended in June 2016 for daring to write a poem satirising Tony Blair and the bloody carnage he had caused in Iraq. Loach only reads a part of a poem, as it’s rather too long to repeat in full. Before he does he jokes that as this is what got Higgins suspended, then everyone present is also going to be suspended simply for being there. So anyone who doesn’t want to be suspended should leave.

The poem is a reworking of a piece by Brecht, about a soldier, who gets shot, and his needy widow receives only something insignificant. In the part Loach reads, which I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, Blair’s ‘no longer new’ wife wonders about what she will receive from all the depleted uranium shells he had dropped during the battle of Basra, all the soldiers he had sent to meet Improvised Explosive Devices in far Mesopotamia? She got for all that white night terrors of him on trial for his crimes and the desire never again to look out the window of their fine Connaught Square House at the tree, which people said was once used to hang traitors.

Loach says of  Higgins that he guesses Higgins isn’t the only one who’s disgusted with Blair, with his illegality, the hundreds of thousands he caused to die and the millions he’s made since he left office. ‘If anyone brings the party into disrepute, it’s that mass murderer.’

He goes on then to reveal what happened to Higgins himself. He didn’t hear anything, so in May 2017 he wrote to the Governance and Legal Unit requesting all the documents relating to him to be sent to him within forty according to his right in the laws about data protection. Nine months later, no reply. The video was uploaded on YouTube on 7th February 2018. He was still suspended, as far as Loach knew.

The cineaste concludes

It is incompetent. It is inefficient. It is unprincipled. And those people should not be in charge of that disclipinary procedure.

Loach is absolutely correct. And Higgins’ suspension, simply for satirising Blair, isn’t the mark of a democratic socialist party. It’s the action of a rigidly centralised dictatorship, where the leader was, like Mussolini, always right. It’s like nothing so much as Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ in the USSR, with the exception that Higgins only got suspended. In Stalin’s USSR, he’d have been tortured and shot, or at the very least sent to a gulag.

And Loach is definitely correct when he says that he probably isn’t the only one disgusted with Blair. Millions of us are. Over a million people marched against the Iraq invasion, including the priests at my local church. It was one of the biggest popular demonstrations in British history, but Blair and his vile cronies ignored it. And people certainly left the party and refused to vote for the grotty profiteer because of his greed, his illegality, his warmongering, his privatisation, his insistence on absolute obedience and micromanagement of party affairs. Private Eye called him the ‘Dear Leader’, satirising the smaltzy, sentimental image he tried to project, as well as his demand to be loved. The Tory party at the time stood in opposition to the War, which got a left-wing friend of mine to buy the Spectator for a time. I think that this was mostly opportunism on the Tories’ party, as there is nothing they love better than a good war. But to be fair to them, Peter Hitchens, the brother of the late atheist polemicist Christopher, genuinely despised him for Iraq and continues to loathe him, describing him as ‘the Blair creature’.

And this monster seems intent on coming back into politics. He has praised the Independent Group, which led Mike, Martin Odoni and others to ask why he should still be allowed to remain in the Labour party. It is against the rules to be a member or support a rival organisation. This was the rule the Blairites used to throw out Moshe Machover, the Israeli academic and anti-Zionist. His crime was that he had a piece published in the Morning Star, as have very many leaders and MPs over the years. Professor Machover was grudgingly readmitted to the party after a massive outcry. But Blair gives them his support, and no-one important seems to raise any objections whatsoever. The left-wing vlogger, Gordon Dimmack, says he has heard speculation that if the wretched group survives, then before long Blair will return to active politics. It’s an idea that he says gave him nightmares.

Unfortunately, I think it’s a distinct possibility. Despite the fact that his time as this country’s leader has been and gone, he was on Andrew Marr’s wretched propaganda show today. I’m glad I missed it, as it would only have infuriated me. But it does seem to bear out these rumours.

One million men, women and children killed. Seven million displaced all across the Middle East. A secular state with free healthcare and education destroyed and looted. A state where women were free to have their own careers and run businesses. Where there were no ‘peace barriers’ between Shi’a and Sunni quarters in cities to stop them murdering each other. A country whose oil reserves have been looted by the American and Saudi oil companies, and whose state industries were plundered by American multinationals.

And this creature appears on TV again, to grin his sickly smile and utter neoliberal platitudes and smooth words. But hey, you can’t criticise him, because he stands for inclusion and diversity. While parents starve themselves to feed their children, students are faced with unaffordable tuition fees and the disabled are thrown off benefits thanks to the wretched assessments and work capable tests he, Mandelson and the others in his coterie introduced.

Higgins’ poem reminds me about one of the great protest poems written back in the ’60s about another unjust war, Vietnam. This was To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam) by Adrian Mitchell, where every stanza ended ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’. The note about it in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport states that he added stanzas later to include more leaders and more wars.

So perhaps if Blair comes back to politics we should write another: ‘Tell Me Lies About Iraq’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Announcements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/02/2019 - 12:05am in

We would like to apologise for the delay.
This is due to the wrong kind of deal,
which indeed is any kind of deal
that might make your forward journey possible
at this time.
 
Passengers are advised to seek
alternative countries
where available.

We would like to apologise for the delay.
This is due to a mechanical fault
in the machinery of government.
A team of engineers is working to fix this problem.
We hope to continue on our journey
in the autumn of 2055.

Passengers are advised
that a government replacement service
will not be operating on these routes
at this time.

We would like to apologise for the delay.
This is due to leavers on the line.
A buffet car serving refreshments,
including hot and cold snacks,
will not be available.

Passengers are advised
to somehow keep their sense of belonging with them
at all times.
 
We would like to apologise for the delay,
signalling failure
at this time.

To Do List

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/02/2019 - 8:08pm in

Tags 

poem, poetry, work, writing

1. Delay with an urgent hesitation.
2. Be unwavering in vacillation.
3. Embrace the art of equivocation.
4. Read a book on procrastination.

5. Dilly-dally; dither; be dilatory.
6. Drink tea through the day continually.
7. Look up ‘avoidance’ in the dictionary.
8. Ignore all forms of worthwhile industry.

9. Break for lunch

10. Ponder the intrinsic nature of work.
11. Re-prioritise which tasks to shirk.
12. Allow three hours to hem and haw.
13. Lollygag; chew my jaw.

14. Stroke the cat; lose my pen.
15. Re-do tasks from one to ten
16. Lurch and flounder; loll and wallow.
17. Write To Do list for tomorrow.

Getting on beneath the vaulted sky

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/01/2019 - 10:40pm in

Early last year, I began to experience some pains in my hands. I associated them with bringing a large turkey back from the butchers. Hadn’t taken the car, because parking, but it was heavier than I appreciated and I struggled with the bird as the handles of the plastic bad tore on my fingers. I went to the doctor. Tendons, probably, he said. Most likely be better in a few months.

Then in September, back from a touring holiday in France which had involved a lot of lugging of boxes and cases up and down stairs, the pain was back, worse. I lacked the strength to open cans and bottles. Some movements were fine but turning a knob or using a key sometimes — ouch!

That’s where I am, basically. A few trips to the doctor and the physio later, osteoarthritis it seems. Injections in the thumb joint helped one hand, but less the other. Typing is ok, mostly, but my handwriting is worse. On public transport I steady myself by wrapping my arm around things, since gripping with a hand might hurt. I squeeze a rubber ball from time to time, as building up the muscles supposedly compensates a bit for the damage to the joints.

Not much fun, but could be worse. And only one of many things that comes past your mid fifties (I’m sixty now). I’ve had more blood tests in the past three years than in the previous thirty put together. Diabetes? No, thank goodness, not yet. Blood pressure is high, if not really dangerously so yet. Swallowing statins every morning, when I remember, to keep the choresterol down.

My father died in the summer of 2017. He was in good form until a week before the end though he’d had his share of health problems over the quarter-century before and a walk to the shops and back would see him needing a rest. We shared conversations to the end. He was lively, still learning German, discussing Edith Wharton. Though we all know that death is coming, a parent going is concrete. You know that will be you soon enough, so better make the best of it and concentrate on what matters.

As I’ve thought more about the loss of capacity. The aches and pains. The knowledge that there are things you could do but now can’t. When you really ought to take more exercise because it is good for your heart and lungs, but when there’s every chance that back, knee or hip won’t play nicely enough to let you.

I keep returning to an image from a TV programme about John Clare. The picture was of a man on his back with

The grass below — above the vaulted sky.

When young the vaulting is infinitely distant, and if lucky and not disabled you can vault over obstacles yourself. But age makes the sky close in. In your forties you can see the roof even if you can’t touch it. Then, later, if you stretch, your fingers graze the surface. Time comes when you have to be careful not to bang your head. Some while after you stoop and then crouch. The tunnel gets narrower too. There is less space to move and perhaps, eventually, there will be no space at all.

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