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A thought to conclude, for the nonce: the chief philosopher of republicanism is Spinoza, he of ‘Basic Space’ guaranteed with a quickness and conclusions drawn there-from according to the “observables” of some physic of the human body *singulare et total*. “The noblest intellect”, sure: under his sign all kind o’ people can conquer, part-i-ci-pa-ting or not/and that proved a great deal, including that liberalisms *discret* y “pure” could be in a modern era *denudee* of Mandatory Signage: but that was, as per Montesquieu giving “everything and the world” qua organizational strategy a FAIL of “epic proportions” — not good enough for government work, as it is at a point and must continue. Enter Thomas Paine? Screaming, but…

The Socialist International, a *Derivat* not of the “state naturalism” of the Bolsheviki or Trotskyist enthusiasm for babies kicking daises, but rather of the “London Bureau” chiefly charact. by POUMistas punctuating explanations why the way everyone was living was wrong with truly necessary gunfire, finds its “solace” (such as the by-needs-privileged “enunciant” of a demand for social justice in any framework, cert. one where the demand to “Can a ‘Duh'” does not by needs stay implicit, apodictically needs rather little of) in the exemplum of a rather unlovely German Idealist: Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, not of Meyers but of a certain parlous state of “spech” properly considered. Instead of “virtue and reason”, Jacobi promulgated Glaube und Wissen; instead of Kant, Kant; instead of “Israelitism” as regards the common fonts of European values, something else.

And.why.not., since life is not “all at a point” and therefore the mind must needs be slight’l inconscient — the world *may* be a dance to the music of 3/4 time; the unknowable before you, the unsayable *before* you, and the un-hope-ab-le before you. But then, of course, there is the “what what” of the Lebenswelt; it tickles the fancy and perhaps the trousers, runs like a “red thread” of capital inna visuality clearly displayed, and “in than you more than you” probably coooooould be construed to feat. the genome of yo’ moms. Generally speaking, all is ‘nowt’ *right now* and nought in any particular case e’ventually: from whence consequences flow, including that the demand for “social justice” cannot, exactly, be a Crystal-Clear Attempt to Make the Poorer Man Understand on *any* understanding of what, exactlee, Idealism is About and Why (Not) to Talk that Way.

— For the sanity saver being *Existenz* for “anybody and everything”, no need for ‘static’ as regards the Proper Way that English, or another world language, is Wrote; or to promote the state of anything else *adventitious*; or of *difficiles* incoepit Leon Trotsky, of who’s told/that he was both “firm” and “bold”. Huh, and a bottle of bread/books already exhume the dead/why you/say that/interests me/not at all/News Flash.

Not: “You shoulda known”.

To complete our homage to Empires of the Sun and their builders, one thing you don’t learn fast enough is that Seattle and fenomena de tipo Seattle Turn You Adornian: previously you knew well enough that you had no business bothering them, or “fooling with the Marx”, but all of a sudden you’d be a true, scientific, and genuinely revolutionary Communist a la Paul Levi if you only could. In the meantime you’re going to try to get a union job, try really hard, learn you can’t because the unions are corrupt, learn you could if you were worth a damn like people who put themselves “on the line” every day, learn you can be a cultural producer, learn culture is evil, learn it’s okay, learn philosophy is better, learn philosophy must be truly materialistic to succeed at what is worth achieving, talk to unhappy women some more, try something else out, avoid creeps who tell you to “get spiritual-minded”, outwit them, beat them up, write ballads, novels, plays, theoretike works that you disown and other ones you don’t.

You’re almost good enough, almost good enough, almost good enough to make the “social-justice” team: then, after a period when the traffic lights they turn on blue tomorrow and the “big birds” leave town, you figure out you were the problem anyway and one step more means an Instant Ticket to the Power Team: you tell someone off with Goethe they’re fixin’ to love, if they could figure out what the durn thing means, make a major motion picture or somethin’ that you intentionally don’t get credit for and “hit the skids” — where it all is, where it all is safe and straight, where she is. Preferable at least to Vancouver, British Columbia, where you have to claim you’re from LA and say yo’ name only till it sounds like singing, rather than a “target market” for true juvenilia (on account of all the people wearing the structure). And now we’re going to quietly listen to the combined anthem of Britain and the United States:

Fuck the Wiedergutmachungstuhl and all your ‘frenz’.

Now, in honor of things only making sense to Peli Grietzer, an explanation of the traditional philosophy of Portland: Lukacseanism. Is there a joke? What joke? I wanted to catch her, and I did enough, or it must have been like that and I just don’t know, and now I spend my days among down-trodden workingmen trying to act like a human being: there’s something I don’t understand that they do, because they have to live, they have to, and no amount of “spanning” in the works can “fix” the reality of the proletarian intellect: the greatest thing on Earth, the source of all our works and days, and the smiles at the end of them and mysteries during “breaks” from some grind. And then there is history, somewhere; I guess it’s around the corner, enough, and it wants me to keep talking, singing, asking for money, giving people money, cigarettes, the time of day, fewer indications I “know what’s up” since I just have to; and there is Colin Powell, in the history pages, acting like someone who ripped off someone I knew and wasn’t pleasant enough to; we’ll understand him, all of us, and then the people will decide what is what. Lather, rinse, repeat.

However, when it rolls around to The Destruction of Reason and all the books you wanted to impress the girl who already cared with, or The Socialist Transformation of Society for “your good friends” in the Portland establishment and nowhere else nohow, better to move somewhere else — even five miles away is apparently enough — and do something else, something worth doing, something like living and less like what you ever wanted. Really, you know the deal: no questioning the triune God, or schmuetzige English. Not that you’ll ever hear the poison re: religion and liberality, or liberality without religion, or no religion and no liberality, or some of life and none of “the other guy” poured in your ear — rather than a tri-tip steak in your gut, or the proud and honest woman right on top of you: it will just become apparent, meaning literally unthinkable, that you would want anything before you were dead. Work all day, live on hey, let the chips fall where they may. It’s a vice capital, in its essentials, and you’re presiding: try, try, try again and live to write the tale.

muybridgewashingtonheights

Muybridge, Washington Heights

A quick note about the proper use of Bataille. Bataille is only to be read by garcons in Manhattan or a suitable “substitute”, for the purpose of dealing with properly-brought-up girls who are too much. What’s gonna happen with Marcelle? Not much of much, since Bataille is really subrepted Lucretius: which is, like New York proper, much much too much, a key to understanding how those present in the center of it all with money “enow” are still subject to forces beyond their control, namely all of them, systematically drawing their activities through the “human chain” and physical reality through their aching heads. You don’t want to wake up in the city that never sleeps: you want to do something amazing, intellectual, striking, and prodigious at 4 AM on a completely safe Gramercy Park street: it can be done, but only you can do it — and imitatio

Robert Warshow

The Gangster as Tragic Hero

America, as a social and political organization, is committed to a cheerful view of life. It could not be otherwise. The sense of tragedy is a luxury of aristocratic societies, where the fate of the individual is not conceived of as having a direct and legitimate political importance, being determined by a fixed and supra-political–that is, non-controversial–moral order or fate. Modern equalitarian societies, however, whether democratic or authoritarian in their political forms, always base themselves on the claim that they are making life happier; the avowed function of the modern state, at least in its ultimate terms, is not only to regulate social relations, but also to determine the quality and the possibilities of human life in general. Happiness thus becomes the chief political issue–in a sense, the only political issue–and for that reason it can never be treated as an issue at all. If an American or a Russian is unhappy, it implies a certain reprobation of society, and therefore, by a logic of which we can all recognize the necessity, it becomes an obligation of citizenship to be cheerful; if the authorities find it necessary, the citizen may even be compelled to make a public display of his cheerfulness on important occasions, just as he may be conscripted into the army in time of war.

Naturally, this civic responsibility rests most strongly upon the organs of mass culture. The indvidual citizen may still be permitted his private unhappiness so long as it does not take on political significance, the extent of this tolerance being determined by how large an area of private life the society can accomodate. But every production of mass culture is a public act and must conform with accepted notions of the public good. Nobody seriously questions the principle that it is the function of mass culture to maintain public morale, and certainly nobody in the mass audience objects to having his morale maintained. At a time when the normal condition of the citizen is a state of anxiety, euphoria spreads over our culture like the broad smile of an idiot. In terms of attitudes towards life, there is very little difference between a “happy” movie like Good News, which ignores death and suffering, and a “sad” movie like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which uses death and suffering as incidents in the service of a higher optimism.

But, whatever its effectiveness as a source of consolation and a means of pressure for maintaining “positive” social attitudes, this optimism is fundamentally satisfying to no one, not even to those who would be most disoriented without its support. Even within the area of mass culture, there always exists a current of opposition, seeking to express by whatever means are available to it that sense of desperation and inevitable failure which optimism itself helps to create. Most often, this opposition is confined to rudimentary or semi-literate forms: in mob politics and journalism, for example, or in certain kinds of religious enthusiasm. When it does enter the field of art, it is likely to be disguised or attenuated: in an un-specific form of expression like jazz, in the basically harmless nihilism of the Marx Brothers, in the continually reasserted strain of hopelessness that often seems to be the real meaning of the soap opera. The gangster film is remarkable in that it fills the need for disguise (though not sufficiently to avoid arousing uneasiness) without requiring any serious distortion. From its beginnings, it has been a consistent and astonishingly complete presentation of the modern sense of tragedy.

In its initial character, the gangster film is simply one example of the movies’ constant tendency to create fixed dramatic patters that can be repeated indefinitely with a reasonable expectation of profit. One gangster film follows another as one musical or one Western follows another. But this rigidity is not necessarily opposed to the requirements of art. There have been very successful types of art in the past which developed such specific and detailed conventions as almost to make individual examples of the type interchangeable. This is true, for example, of Elizabethan revenge tragedy and Restoration comedy.

For such a type to be successful means that its conventions have imposed themselves upon the general consciousness and become the accepted vehicles of a particular set of attitudes and a particular aesthetic effect. One goes to any individual example of the type with very definite expectations, and originality is to be welcomed only in the degree that it intensifies the expected experience without fundamentally altering it. Moreover, the relationship between the conventions which go to make up such a type and the real experience of its audience or the real facts of whatever situation it pretends to describe is of only secondary importance and does not determine its aesthetic force. It is only in an ultimate sense that the type appeals to its audience’s experience of reality; much more immediately, it appeals to previous experience of the type itself: it creates its own field of reference.

Thus the importance of the gangster film, and the nature and intensity of its emotional and aesthetic impact, cannot be measured in terms of the place of the gangster himself or the importance of the problem of crime in American life. Those European movie-goers who think there is a gangster on every corner in New York are certainly deceived, but defenders of the “positive” side of American culture are equally deceived if they think it relevant to point out that most Americans have never seen a gangster. What matters is that the experience of the gangster as an experience of art is universal to Americans. There is almost nothing we understand better or react to more readily or with quicker intelligence. The Western film, though it seems never to diminish in popularity, is for most of us no more than the folklore of the past, familiar and understandable only because it has been repeated so often. The gangster film comes much closer. In ways that we do not easily or willingly define, the gangster speaks for us, expressing that part of the American psyche which rejects the qualities and the demands of modern life, which rejects “Americanism” itself.

The gangster is the man of the city, with the city’s language and knowledge, with its queer and dishonest skills and its terrible daring, carrying his life in his hands like a placade, like a club. For everyone else, there is at least the theoretical possibility of another world — in that happier American culture which the gangster denies, the city does not really exist; it is only a more crowded and brightly lit country — but for the gangster there is only the city; he must inhabit it in order to personify it: not the real city, but that dangerous and sad city of the imagination which is so much more important, which is the modern world. And the gangster — though there are real gangster — is also, and primarily, a creature of the impagination. The real city, one might say, produces only criminals; the imaginary city produces the gangster: he is what we want to be and what we are afraid we may become.

Thrown into the crowd without background or advantages, with only those ambiguous skills which the rest of us — the real people of the real city — can only pretend to have, the gangster is required to make his way, to make his life and impose it on other. Usually, when we come upon him, he has already made his choice or the choice has already been made for him, it doesn’t matter which: we are not permitted to ask whether at some point he could have chosen to be something other than what he is.

The gangster’s activity is actually a form of rational enterprise, involving fairly definite goals and various techniques for achieving them. But this rationality is usually no more than a vague background; we know, perhaps, that the gangster sells liquor or that he operates a numbers racket; often we are not given even that much information. So his activity becomes a kind of pure criminality: he hurts people. Certainly our response to the gangster film is most consistently and most universally a response to sadism; we gain the double satisfaction of participating vicariously in the gangster’s sadis and then seeing it turned against the gangster himself.

But on another level the quality of irrational brutality and the quality of rational enterprise become one. Since we do not see the rational and routine aspects of the gangster’s behavior, the practice of brutality — the quality of unmixed criminality — becomes the totality of his career. At the same time, we are always conscious that the whole meaning of this career is a drive for success: the typical gangster film presents a steady upward progress followed by a very precipitate fall. Thus brutality itself becomes at once the means to success and the content of success — a success that is defined in its most general terms, not as accomplishment or specific gain, but simply as the unlimited possibility of aggression. (In the same way, film presentations of businessmen tend to make it appear that they achieve their success by talking on the telephone and holding conferences and that success is talking on the telephone and holding conferences.)

From this point of view, the initial contact between the film and its audience is an agreed conception of human life: that man is a bein with the possibilities of success or failure. This principle, too, belongs to the city; one must emerge from the crowd or else one is nothing. On that basis the necessity of the action is established, and it progresses by inalterable paths to the point where the gangster lies dead and the principle has been modified: there is really only one possibility — failure. The final meaning o the city is anonymity and death.

In the opening scene of Scarface, we are shown a successful man; we know he is successful because he has just given a party of opulent proportions and because he is called Big Louie. Through some monstrous lack of caution, he permits himself to be alone for a few moments. We understand from this immediately that he is about to be killed. No convention of the gangster film is more strongly established than this: it is dangerous to be alone. And yet the very conditions of success make it impossible not to be alone, for success is always the establishment of an individual pre-eminence that must be imposed on others, in whom it automatically arouses hatred; the successful man is an outlaw. The gangster’s whole life is an effort to assert himself as an individual, to draw himself out of the crowd, and he always dies because he is an individual; the final bullet thrusts him back, makes him, after all, a failure. “Mother of God”, says the dying Little Caesar, “is this the end of Rico?” — speaking of himself thus in the third person because what has been brought low is not the undifferentiated man, but the individual with a name, the gangster, the success; even to himself he is a creature of the imagination. (T.S. Eliot has pointed out that a number of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes have this trick of looking at themselves dramatically; their true identity, the thing that is destroyed when they die, is something outside themselves — not a man, but a style of life, a kind of meaning.)

At bottom, the gangster is doomed because he is under the obligation to succeed, not because the means he employs are unlawful. In the deeper layers of the modern consciousness, all means are unlawful, every attempt to succeeed is an act of aggression, leaving one alone and guilty and defenseless among enemies: one is punished for success. This is our intolerable dilemma: that failure is a kind of death and success is evil and dangerous, is–ultimately–impossible. The effect of the gangster film is to embody this dilemma in the person of the gangster and resolve it by his death. The dilemma is resolved because it is his death, not ours. We are safe; for the moment, we can acquiesce in our failure, we can choose to fail.

1948

Weldon Kees

The Contours of Fixation

The stoned dogs crawl back through the blood,
Through the conquered weather, through the wet silk light,
To disenchanted masters who are not quite dead.

Like severed heads of a dead age
They gasp in the square, in the alleys of dusk.
Explanations are posted on the shattered walls.

The moon illuminates a cenotaph.
“All is insanity”, the dogs conclude,
Yet the odor of blood has a certain appeal.

Their pain soaks eyes on every balcony.
“Forbear, refrain, be scrupulous” — dogs’ admonitions,
Sad and redundant, paraphernalia of goodbye,

Hang in the sulphured air like promises of girls.
Then silence. Down the street the lights go dead.
One waits. One waits. And then the guns sound on another hill.

1944

Seattle is one of the North American continent’s great cities, both in extension and intention: a vast urban area built on a excellent harbor in a temperate climate could not, should not, and will not fail to impress — against all odds, and a history of lies about the “New Deal state”. However, one area of urban planning where Seattle has always fallen down regards the thing that gave it life in the first place: superior rail transit. A fine idea to keep things on the “up and up”, away from environmental impact and “mysteries”, must not obscure the fact that exceptional places demand waste to show the world what they are.

Served by the Great Northern Railway, which is neither “will” nor “representation”, and the Southern Pacific, Seattle’s natural advantages could be exploited to the hilt instantly: however, after National Coach Lines removed the nation’s always-already decrepit streetcars the immense metropolis of the King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties could not deal with the geographical constraints on “rolling-stock” transit within it: though Metro provides superior bus service, from articulated buses with faux-cherry paneling on up, no expressway could make the trip from Sea-Tac to Pioneer Place less wearing on one’s “patience”.

Following on the “immodest proposal” to extend Seattle’s famed legacy of futurism, the 1964 World’s Fair monorail, to cover the earth Seattle has built a variety of light-rail transit lines downtown; the harbor streetcar from King Street Station in the International District, and the downtown streetcar from Westlake Hub. Seattleites are being promised an extension to Sea-Tac, but this is not possible; and what was manifestly always necessary, a subway for one of the great “big cities” of the U.S., was not desirable to some on various accounts; “the underground” creates more problems than it solves, including in the mind.

My solution is this: to my mind there are two “non-standard” subways in the US, those in Buffalo and Newark. Though it is cold, Buffalo hardly needs a subway at all: yet, on account of Hooker Chemical and other realities of living in the Northland it has one. Newark certainly doesn’t: Northern New Jersey had two connections to New York from the 19th century on. Yet the New Dealers built one: a light-rail line underground, truly the perfect underground rail system, fast and enlightening enough.

On account of its complexities, Seattle can do “rail cities” even one better: it already has something better than what exists anywhere, an underground bus tunnel, and it could certainly be extended to serve other areas of the city. “Multi-modality” is no crime, and will lend such an effort a certain stability: but the prospect of fast, efficient, clean, and cheap travel through the slanted streets of regraded territory is one that cannot be passed up, and it is just not known what would eventuate when the greatest Metropolitan ever was built.

I think it’s time for a little “critical-theoretic” humor, so let me explain the political functions of Jacques Lacan and Jürgen Habermas in the “political economies” of France and Germany, respectively. Lacan was and Habermas is a man of the left, in the funny sense the expression “You the man!” has in African-American argot; although they did intellectually sympathize with the socialists and communists of their countries, by virtue of the constitution of their republics and the nature of their intellectual work they did not serve a properly political role; this is reflected in Habermas’ self-conception of the philosopher as “stand-in and interpreter”, or referee. Furthermore, delving deeply into Lacan’s “epistemic” reconception of Freudianism as revelatory of the non-knowledge we possess of other people and our own personal history, as opposed to the life-and-living mixture of cultural and scientific concepts the Austrian Freud is, or taking Habermas’ ultra-idealism and distrust of Luhmannian “social technology” very seriously, would not necessarily be the path to intellectual freedom for serious French and German leftists: those guys got everything they ever wanted, “fair and square”, and one might do well not to emulate or even reverse-engineer their practice.

On the other hand, “you can’t tell the players without a scorecard”, and if understanding the political constitution of France and Germany is important to you you’d better think hard enough about what they suggest and what they say: Lacanianism is the psychoanalytic theory “powerful enough to treat psychosis”, because it explains what it is in an genuinely Kraussian manner, and Habermas has a thing or two to say to people who are “too radical”, possibly because they’re phony people who don’t grasp that their socio-economic trajectory does not permit them to serve a genuinely leftist role in their country and “international solidarity” really ought not to take the form of encouraging capital, whatever that is, to do its thing. Hard lessons to learn; and really, the way to be a leftist who happens to be a man is to take the socialist politics of your country and other countries seriously — and that can be quite a joy.  Of course, in the English-speaking world we don’t quite do it like that: Gang of Four asked “Why Theory?”, and the reason is because it is not important for the ingleshablante world to “try harder”, except at a genuine understanding of social dynamics: it’s already as “left-wing” as it’s going to get, and it probably should get more intellectually “conservative” along with becoming more openly socialist.

Two days ago, President Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court position held by David Souter. I am generally not qualified to assess Ms. Sotomayor’s suitability for the court, but there are two issues I will comment on. Firstly, it seems from the left perspective the questionable aspect of Sotomayor’s rulings to date is abortion rights; the New York Times reports that in 2002 she upheld Bush administration policy denying aid to family-planning programs that support abortion services, and her rulings on immigration from China display a ‘natalist’ attitude to the country’s “one family, one child” policy. It is my considered opinion that all concerned should get Ms. Sotomayor to clearly define her stance on abortion rights; the standard practice of letting potential justices temporize about issues that “may come before the court” is an insult to the American populace.

The second issue I will comment on is Ms. Sotomayor’s now-famous 2001 comment “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life”. Although it is phrased in the optative, this fact has been ignored by the discussion sparked off by it; so I will consider the indicative variant of the American present. Were someone to say “I think a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences will more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life”, my personal opinion is that this would be in a sense wrong, in another sense right, and in a final sense a matter of indifference. Let me explain. The sense in which it would be wrong is the sense which motivates the contemporary court’s fixation on an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution. What this can really amount to is an interplay between the written law and the unwritten laws of US social practice as it has come down through history; one informs our understanding of the other.

We really would have no idea what the Founders meant if we did not consider their words in the context of what we know about American history as it is lived by the masses, and although intensive study of American history might be a profitable activity for anyone really some people might have a better idea of what those folks were about than others. Thinking hard about the contemporary relevance of the Revolution and following events is one way to try to get a handle on the ideas, but the folkways of the original colonists are important too and people with ties to them honestly know some things other people don’t. Let’s try this out. I happen to be one of these people, and I have a theory about why the Fifth Amendment exists (though it is honestly more “originary” than “genealogical”).

The Fifth Amendment is invoked in court cases to avoid testimony “on the grounds it would tend to incriminate” the witness. On the one hand, in the 20th century we all used to think that the mobsters that would take the Fifth looked guilty as hell; on the other hand, if you were of a liberal temperament the idea of a right to avoid unwarranted questioning seemed appealing. You know why I think it really exists, though? What they had in mind? Not as a “get out of jail free” card for those rightfully above the law, but as a retroactive device to avoid having a spurious confession assigned to you by the authorities: you can always say you took the Fifth, and because it’s there you don’t usually have to here. (And since I am — like most descendants of colonial people — nobody this won’t cost you a cent.)

On the other hand, there’s a deeper issue to consider. The whites of the United States and other American countries were not the original inhabitants of the Americas, and it may very well be that Ms. Sotomayor’s Latina heritage has something important to teach them; during recent years, I have generally felt that the increase in the US  “Hispanic” (mestizo and Indian, as well as Spanish-speaking Afro-Caribbeans) population has been somewhat justified on a grand historical scale, and has important lessons to teach settler people, maybe even if they’re not being outsmarted by other immigrants. It’s an interesting large-scale social change she may reflect, but there is a large-scale social invariant I will consider to conclude.

In recent years, I have come to believe one thing and to suspect another. Firstly, that the supposed scientific evidence for the intellectual inferiority of nonwhites is absolute garbage; I think in recent years a lot of people may have learned from working with nonwhites on an evener playing field that they didn’t have too many points on them. Behind this, though, I think there may be a deeper truth: not only are people of different races cognitively equal, the disparity in cognitive ability between individuals generally may be much smaller than we think. Some of our educational system is premised on meritocratic grounds: I used to feel pretty good about my SAT scores, which were in ye olde first percentile. But you know, maybe that didn’t really mean that my oft-bumped and nicotine-fumigated noggin — which went on to do truly amazing things — was top-drawer, huh? Maybe there was a history behind that. Maybe there’s a history behind everything.