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Exciting news for readers with some Italian: the whole of the Quaderni del Carcere and prison letters by Antonio Gramsci have been put online by the International Gramsci Society at GramsciSource. For those unaware of Gramsci, he was (with Lukacs and Lenin himself) one of the brightest intellectuals in the Communist camp; imprisoned by Mussolini for a decade or so, he wrote — using very interesting euphemisms for Marxist topics — “prison notebooks” that deal with every aspect of historical science, sociology, and Marxism. Famous for his adaptation of Romain Rolland’s dictum “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and his concept of “hegemony”, Gramsci is one Red whose importance can hardly be said to have faded.
The interface is nifty and will certainly aid new Marxist thought around the world; hopefully we will see similar “intellectual portals” open up for other important thinkers. (For those — like me — who are not Italianate: people may yet be unaware that the Joseph Buttigieg translation of the Prison Notebooks in their entirety has been completed, and is available as a paperback three-volume set. No way around it, comrades.)
Before Woodstock, there was Monterey:
Jimi Hendrix “Wild Thing” 1967
Something I’ve been thinking about: I’ve been diagnosed as mentally ill for a third of my lifetime now. Time frameworks I used to live and breathe by (Get through the month, you’re a legal adult now, that upsetting event was ‘only yesterday’) pale in comparison to being thirty-two and schizoaffective tout court, crazy without license from a going system of delusions. All that lost time — or was it? Research programs, prolix essays, fevered emails, and in the end this blog too — something to do, something to fill the time, all this time — And fill it I did, even if I ultimately have nothing to show for it. J.G. Ballard once said: “Life is long”. Even if you disagree, twelve years is a long time at least.
In a way, being older helps immensely: young people in their twenties are supposed to be shot from cannons, achieving the world even if they gain little from it. As a “zero-worker” for several years now, I was as “far from the madding crowd” as you could be — and it was okay, but it just takes something out of you to be off the grid that long. A friend of mine once asked me, as we were listening to a Notwist record: “Do you think you’ll still like this music when you’re thirty?” Something for young people in general to consider: do you think that your “idols”, your goals, the standards that you vehemently uphold, the praise you want to win from others — do you think it will still matter to you ten or twenty years later? Never occurred to me —
Ca yz tonoc in tiquauhtli in tocelutl
auh in ticueie in tiuipile
Here you are, who are an eagle
you who are an ocelotl (warrior)
And you who are the possessor of the skirt
you who are the possessor of the blouse (woman)
Náhuatl saying, from “Diphrases or couplets in Náhuatl”, Dr. Mercedes Montes de Oca Vega
For “an American, Chicago born” who lives for a time on the continent, there is a hard lesson to learn whether one feels like it or not, whether one can or not, whether one would liefer “teach” it to someone in lieu of knowing it oneself. The rise of the American Empire, the Canadian commonwealth, and the nation-states of Latinoamerica (with cities featuring 375th Street Y’s and much, much more — London is a dream of São Paulo) was a “falling-off” from an earlier integrated continental community, from Barrow’s point to the “Cape of No Hope”. It was, naturally, under the control of the Mexica, of the greatest city in the world: Tenochtitlan, located at the center of the continent: a city with canals joining clean lakes, on a plateau with fresh air, in the middle of absolutely enough for anyone.
Do we know what the Aztecs, successores de Maya, were like?: not really, not really at all, though they did know how to roll and Tenochtitlan had a “suburb”, Tlatelolco — whatever. The art is truly “inscrutable”, as per Roger Scruton and those who scrute and Leavis et al. and Dwight Scrute and Fu Manchu admirers both kines; it’s an image of life, and you “figure it out”. Who knows what their society was like, other than intensive and credentialed and sympathetic researchers? They did, and then it went away: on account of people with guns, and disease, and the Bible in their rotting hand, and the Words with Power ope they mouth. But they left us a legacy, roughly of the sport-utility vehicle kind: they, too, did not manage to destroy the world and we dwell upon their continent.
When I was a little boy, I went to Grand Rapids with my family; there was a department store there like no other I had ever visited, and I had been to the various varieties of Macy’s (at that time, solamente NY and SF); fascinating fixtures outside, ovoid elegance within, delicious food of a type not available at the Battle Creek mall or Abraham and Strauss or even Gourmet Gulch. I thought to myself, what a strangely cosmpolitan place this city on the east bank of the uninviting Lake Michigan is — the wooden paneling of the Chicago rail terminal was a piece of alte Amerika shit, one’s learning about faits worse than Sheetrock, comparatively.
Then we went back a year later, and we couldn’t go to the department store; we went to the Gerald Ford Museum, an imposing building all of steel, where we learned what there was to know about the great man who somehow unmade Nixon without killing him stone dead or dying in such a “process”. Have I seen that again, molybdenum of the mind stronger than GENERAL MOTORS HEADQUARTERS? In Cheeelay, in Argentin, in Brazil amongst the erotetic mulatos and the straightforward outros. No, of course not; but yes, I ever have, and plus I never will. The “silent majority” knows whereof it cannot speak; and I don’t know about Grand Rapids, a place I was, supposedly in my country, in the ’80s, with the killer clown in chief.
A note for Mr. Nyberg, whichever one that is or could be. You know,
part of my problems derive from “Oregon Democrats” thinking that their
peculiar institutions inspired Nazi Germany. Actually, it is possible
that Hitler did visit Oregon at some point, and had certain
Nietzschean features which dominated (for example) the ’80s explained
to him; I don’t know why the fuck he would care, though, especially
compared to a man captivated by the “Overalls Brigade” and the
working-class culture of the city: Bertolt Brecht, whose “City of
Mahagonny” is about Portland as he imagined it to be. He was
*legitimately* allowed in the United States during the ’40s, when he
famously explained to HUAC that he just couldn’t be a Communist, and
*of course* he came and it was different than he could even imagine:
true Nietzscheanism beyond Nietzsche, the end of the world, complete
meaninglessness, all of history in all its phases — like the various
decades of cars you see in North Portland and nowhere else, since they
will be *taken off the road* with sledgehammers if need be. (He
probably said something in a letter like “If there was a university in
Portland, it would be the greatest university in the world”, too.)
Really, there is a way to grasp the idea of Nazi Germany in Portland,
and it’s not pathetic half-Jewish Germans hanging onto *Macht* by any
means supposedly possible. I spent an evening in the Multnomah County
Jail two days ago; when I got there I wasn’t expecting much of much,
but something tipped me off to its true character. There is a sign in
the “waiting room”, where they keep you for hours among an
comparatively extremely genial criminal population, that says “Don’t
get up, don’t talk to inmates across the wall, etc.” Normal enough, if
not exactly legally binding, but what was interesting about it was its
lettering: Not a “typeface” or a “font”, just letters — I guess they
were even legible. I was in *New York*; people were ripping on me in
incredible ways that would “normally” suggest they were going to kill
me, but everything was fine if you continued to be “loose”, and we
were served a sandwich that could not be expensive enough; the Mex
couldn’t say what kind of meat it was, but he knew it was pastrami.
The waiting room was initially pleasantly hot, then too cool, but I
felt like I was high on heroin even though I had only drank a 16oz
Steel Reserve (later I had some “haaard cider”, though). THAT IS NEW
YORK, the city of the Democratic dream — being deaf, dumb, and blind,
among the people in the greatest stage of “disorganization” possible.
How can you tell? The signs in New York are like “double vision”: if
you can stand to look at their “stereoscopic image”, and figure out
they really say nothing at all, you’re gonna have the time of your
life no matter what.
And in fact that, not “Portlandia”, was the idea of Nazi Germany: a
country without pain and Thoughts, a democratic country; and it was
the reality, even, even kind of for everybody, for a while, because
the guy in power was what you would call a “tool” if that was a real
word of English. However, unfortunately for Our Superiors, even
America had to give up on being “Locofoco” and there’s only one
granite city, with floating and tethered “accompaniments”, in the
entire world. Federal law is now in effect in the state of Oregon.
An addendum to this, for those who do not write “West Coast crime”: later in life, it has occurred to me that the widespread disdain for New York City conceals an interesting truth: most of those who inveigh against the evils of New York, which are many and hopefully not signal, actually know whereof they speak as they are from Gotham itself at some derive — “if you only knew how it was when we were there, you would know how it can’t be the way it is today”. When it was all roughly “Continental New York”, when the government all sizes pressed many a dime into your hand, when the wobbly Wobblies ruled “Southern precincts”, when the gangs of New York were obviously vile and trapped in Hell’s Kitchen, and the “Bowery bums” nothing to fuck with, when Hannibal Hamlin got a he-row’s welcome from Fremonter and Douglassite alike, when the Erie Canal was built “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, when old G.C. showed certain people this was how we did it, when they knew better, when they knew best, when they knew not at all.
However, the “progressive” regressive method is this: if your family did not pass through Ellis Island, as the vast majority of the American populace did, you’re not just anybody — and they are everybody, including the recent African immigrants who discovered that neither money nor the Philadelphia Eagles smelled. Who did not start there, on the sidewalks of New York, in a “boro” both inviting and repulsive enough? Those who did not have to, and those from Angel Island: and yes, they are from there, not a Jeep Cherokee nation: and damned if they can ride the IRT right up to Penn Station.
Presto: those who use the expression “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” to mean, straight off, that you can’t get something for nothing are missing something. The expression is American 19c, and it refers to the standing institution of the “free lunch counter”: a place where workingmen of a particular stripe could receive a rather sumptuous repast — or more often a sandwich — for the “price” of a drink.
The sense in which the free-lunch counter was not free is not that of the inexpensive alcohol served to accompany the meal: it refers, rather, to the political patronage system one had to enter to engage in such a pastime: that of the Democratic “machine”. The existence of such a peculiar institution was offensive to many for divers reasons, but although the standing principle incarnated in the adage’s modern variant is sounder not learning the lessons of the American past is a treat reserved for the happy few.
What is not a treat reserved for the happy few is inexpensive and well-designed software, and if the people think (as I once did) that Microsoft products are overpriced this is partially because they do not remember other “sectors” of commercial computing such as CAD programs that cost $10,000 a copy, and the competing products which would teach us the true virtues of, e.g., Microsoft Word — as opposed to its reliability and “ease of use” — are not around, perhaps on account of the Department of Justice.
“Open-source” software teaches valuable lessons about computing, such as its historical structure (earlier software cleaner and simpler and more likely to be available today) and the reliance of the “cooperative commonwealth” on the good will of programmers and other IT professionals, including those for rather powerful and “cutting-edge” companies. Sun is no “greenhorn”, and there are features in OpenOffice which they may not ultimately “know what they do”, at least yet.
If it is really worth doing quickly, precisely, and worldwide — such that the digital computer is an essential tool for accomplishing your task — open-source products incorporated in the free POSIX systems available for fifteen years are a good deal: however, if what is being done is more or less a “reflection” of the ends of a particular “man”, Microsoft products are as I said six years ago very good indeed: if one must “smash the mold” at any price, I guess the very best technology and the very least access “under the hood” would be all right.
Nec me animi fallit Graiorum obscura reperta
difficile inlustrare Latinis versibus esse,
multa novis verbis praesertim cum sit agendum
propter egestatem linguae et rerum novitatem;
sed tua me virtus tamen et sperata voluptas
suavis amicitiae quemvis efferre laborem
suadet et inducit noctes vigilare serenas
quaerentem dictis quibus et quo carmine demum
clara tuae possim praepandere lumina menti,
res quibus occultas penitus convisere possis.
I know how hard it is in Latian verse
To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks,
Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find
Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;
Yet worth of thine and the expected joy
Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on
To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,
Seeking with what of words and what of song
I may at last most gloriously uncloud
For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view
The core of being at the centre hid.
Lucretius, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things)
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”
A word about the Roman Empire, and the correct interpretation of Latin sayings. The Roman Empire was completely given over to latinium, that is the third-person genitive plural of latito, “to be concealed”. Latin reveals the truth of signification: like the Etruscan alphabet, written words are primarily for decorative purposes and spoken ones “perlocutionary” all (at least in intention). The true life is amidst the physical structure of the world, and Latin literature exists solely for use when you have somehow forgotten this [Latin philosophy], or failed to learn it adequately [Latin literature]. It is the least pleasing of all languages, and never really spoken: as Gramsci knew, Popular Latin is a very different thing (not actually that vulgar), and reasonable people know enough to say something else.
tis gar houtôs huparkhei phaulos ê rhaithumos anthrôpôn hos ouk an bouloito gnônai pôs kai tini genei politeias epikratêthenta skhedon hapanta ta kata tên oikoumenên oukh holois pentêkonta kai trisin etesin hupo mian arkhên epese tên Rhômaiôn, ho proteron oukh heurisketai gegonos,
Can any one be so indifferent or idle as not to care to know by what means, and under what kind of polity, almost the whole inhabited world was conquered and brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome, and that too within a period of not quite fifty-three years?
Nec ulla, annalibus, praeter Cannensem pugnam ita ad internecionem res legitur gesta. Ammian. xxxi. 13. According to the grave Polybius, no more than 370 horse and 3000 foot escaped from the battle of Cannae: 10,000 were made prisoners; and the number of the slain amounted to 3670 horse and 70,000 foot (Polyb. l. iii. p. 371, edit. Casaubon, in 8vo. [c.117]).
— Calcutta but, fuckin wogs eh, Gillman rasps, — what dae ye expect. They cannae fuckin well run the country without us, ye dinnae expect them to tae be able tae dae a funeral without fucking things up.
Irvine Welsh, Filth