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I have to downsize, purge and sell the Rancho Atomico.
Watched all eight eps of the joy through tidying guru Marie Kondo on Netflix.
I have NASFLTG™ for all the vendors of respectability and bullshit virtue through tidying, and am very suspicious of all the New Thought/New Age platitudes around freeing the chi to flow, or, a hand clenched on possessions is not open to receive them. There’s a strong connection in these platitudes to prosperity gospel and tithing — you have to give money away to make it come to you. I am super suspicious of this, given that amassing fortunes off the credulous poor — and the morally depraved rich — is traditionally what churches excel in. I am also spiritually suspicious of the conflation of economics with the operation of karma. Karma explains a whole lot, almost everything, but as my BFF New Thought guru Emmet Fox points out, Jesus [insert preferred name] is the lord of karma. Ie., Love is the only presence and the only power. Not karma is a bitch, eat shit and die.
So what is Marie Kondo and joy through tidying all about?
The Merry Mystics and I chewed it over yesterday.
Value neutrality.
The goal is *joy* for you, not a standard of Marie’s. There is no Mean Mommy System of Ethics here, and if you think there is, that’s the first thing you need to get rid of.
What joy actually means is what makes purging so extremely difficult for everyone who attempts it.
Marie also is aware of how guilty people feel letting things they think they “should” keep go. For this reason, she has them say thank you to every parting item.
I have noticed saying thank you to every dirty dish I wash gets them very clean in about 1/20th of the time. And fills me with gratitude for the splendid eating and cooking life I lead, and the bounty of the world. Classic brother Lawrence moment: Can you smoke a cigarette while praying? No, grasshopper, bad form. Can you pray while smoking a cigarette? Sure as shooting.
Presence in this eternal moment.
Not your 20-year-old skinny clothes, the remnants of your dead self.
Not your dead husband’s clothes. Or your adult children’s second grade papers.
Or the first edition books a cheating husband bought you 40 years ago on the way out the door.
Or your dead partner’s library of esoteric art history books she left to a university, not to you.
No other gods before me.
Emmet Splains this biggie here.
“….God is something that we have with us every day, in the most prosaic and ordinary things. God is not just an abstract idea up in the sky, having no meaning in everyday life. That concept is going. All kinds of people, all over the world, are beginning to get the sense of God as a present, dynamic, real power for harmony, for healing, and for freedom.”
Is it really your skinny clothes or your dead partner’s books which confer form on you, or her? God with skin on? God in the details? Is the ritual labor of chopping wood, carrying water that which actually makes you exist? Will you actually become the hole in the doughnut if you give all those soul-murdering inherited antiques away?
We really believe in the power of our things, and the aspirations they symbolize, to confer form upon our selves or the departed. One reason Philip Larkin’s famous poem, *Home Is So Sad* has so much power to floor us. It’s about the lacuna our things outline. Dang.
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
Joy, whatever that may be, fills the lacuna. It is our authentic being and self, co-created with God.
I suspect it has to do with something New Thought BFF Emma Curtis Hopkins writes about. The joy of walking through the created universe, the universe of thingness through which God’s abundance and agency for manifestation shine. I can’t find her precise quote right now, and this one has more engagement with the dogma of crucifixion than I can understand, but the idea that this universe of *stuff* is blessed is at its core.
“Let us acknowledge before God, that we walk through a redeemed, healed, unpunishable world, because of the vicarious suffering of Jesus of Nazareth. He, being all God-hood, was and is forever Christ Jesus – or God Jesus – the living manifestation of what humanity can do and be by recognition of their own son-ship to Omnipotence.”
One of the Merry Mystics has an immortal aphorism.
“When all else fails, face reality.”
Make your reality and your stuff coherent.
If they’re not, let your stuff tell you where you need to go.
Whenever some American Buddhist, high-hatting it in their scrupulosity, starts to sweat the Dalai Lama about eating meat, he says, I am a begging monk. I eat what you put into my bowl. SNAP.
Being at the cutting edge of my life instead of behind it, pushing this vast mass of *stuff* forward.
What if the mother God, the Shekhinah, the hurricane goddess of justice Oya, the Holy Spirit who comes down here and sits with us when miracles are required, was in charge of my stuff? She who only wants a cup which runneth over for me?
What makes one’s life worth living now is waterproofing hiking boots. Or, a grey scale printer instead a color one. Or vice versa. A good microplane. Pants that fit. Soft grey Forever21 Overcast nail polish instead of OPI Linkin Park After Dark. A file to sharpen the primo secateurs by hand. The $800 I phone with the entire works of Beethoven and Little Richard on it. Or the $12 AARP clam shell flip phone all the kids laugh at when you whip it out. Real crewel weight sewing yarn to mend invisibly the wool scarves the moths ate.
Having all-weather dog-walking clothes for the dog I now walk and the climate I now live in, including foot cream, footies, walking sneakers and sun hats which are not what an old boyfriend used to call “old fart hats”. You know the ones he meant.
Not including clip on, windproof fisherman’s hats, Wellies, raincoats, duck shoes, deck shoes. Including stick sun screen, lotion sunscreen, spray-your-left-arm-sizzling-in- the-desert-sun-like-carcinogenic-bacon-while-hurtling-down-the-interstate sun screen. Including the expensive dog car seat, so the 9-1/2-pounder can see out the window and not be thrown to the floor every time you step on the brakes.
Not having a fabric stash, but a yarn stash instead. Which means altering storage units and finding somebody who wants your fabric stash. (Hint: Hand loom people.) Not a yarn stash, but a fine cotton crochet string stash (different storage, who to unload the yarn on. Hint: Women’s rehabs, where knitting is taught as self-soothingly therapeutic. Or ask your local hip yarn shop.). Not crochet, but felt. Not felt but yeast-raised dough baking. Not dough, but colored pencil sketches of plankton. Etc..
Marie is an energy reader. Things have it too. Stuff has it. One reason stuff is aspirational and so hard to let go of when that aspiration is over. No Cartesian/Puritannical aversion to stuff here. The Japanese are not Puritannical. Own your stuff. It is your created world, and God’s.

Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx/Capital:
*Capital* is richly referential to Greeks, Shakespeare, Goethe, and the novels of Balzac. After several years of reading Capital yearly, Harvey read Balzac and said, Aha! This is where Marx gets his idea about that.
An English major of little brain, in other words, may possibly approach this Everest — my theory being the 20th century and its wars interrupted our study of Marx, fascist backlash being the 20th century’s perfect demo of Marx’ dialectic thesis/antithesis/synthesis — of world thought with, you know, some tiny vestigial bit of a crampon. Balzac as my crampons? Shit.

#fascistaesthetics #resist #TravelsWithUncleKarlie

Liveblogging Harvey on Marx: Marx invented a critical theory, here:…
The essence of which is revolutionary fire can be made only by rubbing together conceptual blocs of theory. The three conceptual blocs of theory in *Capital* are 18th and 19th century ideas of [mainly English] political economy [Theories of Surplus Value], German classical political philosophy [Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Spinoza, deconstruction of political econ theory] extending back to the Greeks [Marx diss, on Epicurus!], Utopian socialist tradition [primarily French, 1830s Acarians, Proudhon, Saint Simon, Fourier, Cabet] — Marx wants to make this project scientific, and must reconfigure what scientific method is all about.
He was thinking about the revolution of 1848, and by critiquing Malthus and negating Fourier, pretty much without citing them, makes great use of thinkers he believed got revolution wrong, or unscientifically. Thus acknowledging the great principle, I would argue of polemic — negative example is a great teacher.
Rootless cosmopolitan indeed. This is what you call a Big Sexy Brain.
Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx/Capital.
Marx says his method of inquiry is different from his method of presentation, which makes the first three chapters of *Capital* a notoriously difficult read. When a French publisher suggested serializing *Capital* chapter by chapter in a newspaper, Marx thought it was a great idea as the working class would have it more easily available to them. But he worried that the practical French, seeking application to current events immediately, would be put off by the dichotomy between inquiry and presentation. He starts with his conclusions, about the essential theory and nature of the commodity. How this works in the “real” world doesn’t become *actually* clear until the end of the book. Harvey makes the interesting point that Marx is thus a pioneer of the Freudian method of starting with the surface world of symptoms or appearances, penetrating to the heart of the onion to find out how and why it grows, and then returning the surface world in which you say, ah yes, here are the symptoms, but the real cause is something else. As the result of his deep dive method, Marx starts with the something else, which makes his first three chapters almost impenetrable.
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Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on *Capital*:
The three published volumes represent about one eighth of Marx’ planned project, as outlined by Marx in this preparatory essay:
People eager to get to the parts about class struggle or financial crises will have to wait, as volume one is about the mode of production from the standpoint of production (not the market, not global trade), volume two, from the perspective of exchange, volume three, crisis formation, rules of distribution, interest, rent, taxes.
Because the first chapters of *Capital* lay out the conceptual apparatus for the entire work, most of it unwritten, they can be difficult reading. Harvey suggests trying a little Hegel, even more difficult, to dull your pain.
Then comes the other part of the method, important both to method of presentation and method of inquiry: Marx’s dialectic.

#resist #fascistaesthetics #TravelsWithUncleKarlie

Liveblogging David Harveys lectures on Marx’ *Capital*, Volume 1, Lecture 1.
CAUTION: A great deal of this is direct quotes from David Harvey’s copyrighted lectures. Don’t cite it without attribution *for the words* to Harvey.
Marx’s use of dialectic — in dialectic we find a different concept of analysis. Harvey says there’s hardly any causal language in Marx — he doesn’t say this causes that. He says, rather, this is dialectically related to that. A dialectic relation is an inner relation, not a causal relation. Marx claims his dialectic is different from Hegel’s, and opposite to it. He had deconstructed Hegel previous to writing *Capital*, here:…/Marx_Critique_of_Hegels_Philosop…
Marx objects to what he calls the “mysticatory” aspect of Hegel’s philosophy, which had become fashionable in Germany. Marx not only opposed Hegel’s dialectic, he revolutionized the dialectical method. He had to reconfigure it so every historical event was seen to be in motion as well as transient — “all that is solid melts into air.” (I have always felt this to be what I think of as Marx’ raptus, the extraordinarily romantic and sensual Germanic gotterdamerung thing. That capitalism itself is seen to be the engine of this energy is remarkable and worth at least one lifetime’s thought and study.) What this new dialectic means is Marx will establish relations between things while maintaining his enormous respect for the fluidity and dynamics of capitalism.
Marx never wrote a treatise on his dialectic — to understand that it’s not static, as so many interpret “Marx” to be — you have to read *Capital*, in which he demonstrates his dialectic of fluidity.
Dialectic method is contradictory. Children do it naturally and we train them out of it, training them to be “rational”.
For Marx, everything is in motion [and this is a foundational definition of modernity, cloned with quantum physics, of which the former notion Marx is a founding father]. He doesn’t talk about labor, he talks about the labor process. Capital is not a thing. It is a process. It is in motion. Value does not exist unless it is in motion. So some of Marx’ concepts are about relations, transformative activity [raptus! rising to Valhalla from a ring of fire!]
This is like this at this moment, and like that the next moment. Another reason the first three chapters of *Capital* are very difficult. He wants us to understand how motion is instantiated within the capitalist mode of production.
Analytical Marxists, the no bullshit Marxists, as they call themselves, say all this dialectic is bullshit. Positivists ttry to turn it into a mathematical model. But if you’re to understand Marx on Marx’s terms, and not the billion reams of Talmudic dispute, you will grapple with his dialectic, and not theirs. (Good one, Harvey. Keep the amateurs out.)
David Harvey says he’s been teaching this class for 30 years, and every year he learns something new from the text. Marx said ideas have to change as circumstances do, and Harvey, who denies being a Marxist, has used Marx’ dialectic in his own work as idea in his own field of sociology have changed. (This is an idea of the utilitarian philosopher William James: our ideas of what God is change as our needs change.)
Says Harvey, “This text is a wonderful, wonderful exercise in seeking to understand that which is almost impossible to understand.” Thus each student must develop her own lifelong dialog with the text.
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Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx’ *Capital*: Lecture 1.
These are lecture notes, often not paraphrased, a mix of direct quotes from Harvey’s copyrighted lectures, and the Penguin Classics trans of Capital. I have not put quotes or attributions around any direct quote. So if you want to cite these notes, you’d better listen to Harvey’s lecture and read the Penguin translation for correct and honest attribution.
Harvey emphasizes the extraordinary content of Capital as drawing on the canons of literature, political philosophy and political economy. He says its value, in 40 years of reading it annually, is in its power to say something new every year, and in its heroic method, an attempt to understand something which may be impossible to understand.
Commodity is the a priori beginning point of chapter 1, volume 1, Capital.
Marx begins by saying wealth in societies employing capital methods of production “appears” as a collection of commodities.
Harvey says always watch out when Marx says “appears”.
Let the games begin.
He also makes clear he’s interested only in capitalist modes of production, not ancient ones, or socialist ones.
It’s a genius beginning point because everybody has had an experience of a commodity. All genders, ethnicities, religions participate in this economic transaction.
A commodity is something which meets a human want or need.
He says he’s not interested in the motives behind the purchase of commodities, the systems invented to measure them or their diversity.
First big concept, use value: the usefulness of a thing.
As a social scientist, Marx says he can’t go into a lab, isolate things, and do an experiment. What he must do to isolate things is use the power of abstraction — and he cuts right to the chase, liberating commodity of history, sociology, political economy by abstracting it immediately.
In a capitalist society, commodities are also the material bearers of exchange value. Please note, a bearer is not the thing itself: commodities are not exchange value, but its bearers. What we see in the world of exchange processes, geogrpahically, temporally, there’s an enormous realm of market exchange, different ratios occuring between shirts and shoes, we see different quantitative relations between bushels of wheat and tons of steel and pairs of shoes and shirts — at first sight, what we see in the world of exchange are values which are incoherent, all over the place. Marx says exchange value appears to be accidental and purely relative (this I pondered age four or five, and I think many children do. Children, Harvey says, are natural dialecticians until we retrain them to be “rational”). Therefore instrinsic value — a value connected to something inherent in the commodity — seems a contradiction in terms.
Everything in this world of exchange is, in principle, exchangeable with everything else. The implication being that the commodity you just received in exchange for something else, can be exchanged for something else. A thing keeps moving, and can be exchanged for all the other commodities at some point.
It follows then, writes Marx, that the valid exchange values of a particular commodity express something equal, and secondly, exchange value cannot be anything other than the mode of expression, the form of appearance of a content distinguishable from it. When I look at a commodity, I cannot discern what gives it value. I can only ascertain its value when it is exchanged, or it motion. It only has value in motion. As it moves, its expressing something about exchangeability — a commensurability in exchange. It means that all things are commensurable in exchange. (Can you see the moral/ethical beginnings here of secular humanism, of which Marx is probably the main progenitor?)
Why are they commensurable and where does commensurability come from? The commodity is the bearer of that something.
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Liveblogging Harvey’s lecture 1 on Marx’ *Capital*.
CAUTION: Do not quote these lecture notes, which are basically direct quotes, unattributed, from either Marx or Harvey’s copyrighted lectures. Go to Marx or the lectures to find out where to put your quotation marks.

Commensurability — everything is in principle immediately exchangeable with everything else. A thing keeps on moving. As it moves, a commodity expresses something about exchangeability. Why, and what is this commensurability made up of? Where does it come from? How is it defined? The commodity is the bearer of that something, which is not inherent in the commodity itself, but borne by the commodity, a relation inside the commodity. Each commodity, as far as its exchange value, must be reducible to this third thing. It is not a physical quality. Here, says Harvey, we see the fallacy in calling Marx a grubby materialist.
As use values, Marx writes, commodities differ above all in quality. As exchange values, they can only differ in quantity, and therefore do not contain an atom of use value. Commensurability is not constituted out of the utility of something. If we disregard the use value of commodities, only one property remains — there are all properties of human labor. That is what commodities have in common. What exchange and use values commodities bear are the products of human labor.
What kind of labor is it? Human labor in the abstract, not variable rates of labor whereby you exchange more of your labor for the same shirt it took a lazy worker 15 days to make, than you exchange for a shirt a fast worker made in three days. Abstract.
In four pages (Penguin Classic) Marx has laid out three fundament values: Use value, exchange value, value. Value is what is passed on in the process of commodity exchange. Value is what makes all commodities in principle exchangeable with each other. Exchange value is a necessary form of expression, or form of appearance, of value. “Appearance”. There is something mysterious about the exchange of all those commodities, the way all those commodities could be commensurable with one another. The mystery is that they’re values, but they’re represented now by exchange values, what I can get for it in the market, is a representation of value, and a representation of labor.
At the supermarket, you can’t see the labor in a commodity even though it has an exchange value.
To say something is a representation of something is not to say it is something. Marx will spend a great deal of time talking about the gap between value and its representation. Something has use value only because abstract human labor is objectified, or materialized in it, says Marx. A process — a labor process — becomes objectified in a thing. This idea is very important in Marx. What is the relation between the process and the thing? Marx returns to this question many times.
The thing is a representation of the process.
Value is always in motion.
That means that a process is objectified in a thing. It’s the thing that’s sold in the market, and not the process — the pot is sold in the market, and not the potter’s process of making. The process must be objectified into a thing or commodity. (Incarnation! Yeah, baby.) Inside of that thing, the quantity is measured by the duration of the labor, which itself has measures — hours, days, etc. There’s a coded message here in which the capitalist mode of productions sets up a certain system of temporality. How does the capitalist mode of production structure time?

“They [values] can no longer be distinguished,” writes Marx, “but are all together reduced to the same kind of labor, human labor in the abstract….Let us now look at the residue of the products of labor. There is nothing left of them in each case but the same phantom-like objectivity.”
Here, Harvey points, out, we get the first hint of Marx’s love of Shelley, Frankenstein, werewolves and phantoms, who will reappear with great regilarity throughout the text.

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I live for tea sandwiches. I troll the menus of fancy hotels for tea sandwich ideas, which are strangely few and far between. As mentioned, the best big honkin’ sammie ideas evar came from Chicago’s Cafe Lula, and Alice’s Tea Cup in NY (Lula’s Tineka sammie — peanut butter, sambal, sweet soy sauce, vine ripe tomato, red onion, cuke, whole grain; Alice’s Tea Cup — cumin-roasted carrots, tapenade, goat cheese on sesame semolina). The one takes a day’s shopping and the other a day’s cooking and another day to wash the dishes, but they are ROLL YOUR EYES BACK good. Alai Nna, who learned to cook in NOLA, with Vietnamese touches, is the best sandwich imagineer ever. I think she might find these a little heavy, both in concept and with the hippie dippie bread.
This one, from a five star British hotel I cannot now name, fits way more easily into the Dolce Far Niente summer cooking style: Pickled onion cream cheese, cukes, cress on — what have you. A nice challah toast, I’m thinking.
Slice a cup of red onion very thinly. Put it in a microwave bowl. Cover with red wine vinegar and pickling spice. Nuke. Cool. When they’re sufficiently pickled (I waited a couple days), take a well-drained handful (2/3 cup) and add to food processor with a bar of Neufchatel, some pepper and salt. Blend. It’s pink. It’s awesome. It’s ONION DIP, people. without the frightening sodium content of the Lipton’s kind. Total prep time, possibly five minutes, and five minutes to wash the processor. Lick first.

Wordle: Me

Doris Lessing may have been — but for her acceptance of the Nobel Prize — the first of the feminist breed for whose existence Virginia Woolf called in *Three Guineas*. The non-secessionist outsider.

I never loved the *Golden Notebooks*. As someone who had from my childhood in Africa been there and done that it was no big woop. I have to think more about Lessing as an African, an Africanist, and an Afro-futurist.

A much greater book, *The Four-Gated City*, has immortal passages, not least of Martha Quest walking for days through Blitz-cratered London, one of the 20th century’s number one *flaneuses*, a woman seeing the city. Check out Deborah Parsons’ important book on this matter.

*The Four Gated City* is the only book I can think of, with Dickens right up there at the top, which actually gets down to what the virtue of money is. One of the protagonists is a rich schizophrenic. In those days the treatment was some lobotomizing drug like Lithium. The rich schizophrenic has the wherewithal to reject Lithium, go home to a safe and well-equipped basement apartment in the family home, in a safe neighborhood, with servants, and stay there, going over the walls with her fingertips, until the fearful tempest has passed. Martha Quest stays with her and takes care of her. In this way, the rich schizophrenic is not a vegetable all the time, but can continue with a life of the mind and maternal affections when she is not ill. That is the value of money — and it presumably exists in village or community life even when there is no money, and a superfluity of unmarried women at home, if not precisely servants. This scene speaks directly to one small political aspect of Foucault’s indictment of mental health practice — Lithium is brain police for the poor.

Lessing’s third great contribution to civilization was frankly telling it like it is about motherhood and abandoning her two little children, just as her mother had spent Lessing’s own childhood telling her what a burden it was. Yep.

The science fiction was, perhaps, a mistake unless you think of it more as unmedicated Sun Ra Afro-futurist riffs. Did she deserve the Nobel? I think perhaps not. But I would have given it to her just for saying motherhood is too hard, spiritually deceptive, and not as important as the patriarchs want you to believe.

Don't call me.

Nearly 50 new civil claims for phone hacking against News International are surfacing in the UK, as a lawyer here in the states claims he has four clients with substantial and substantiated evidence of phone hacking by NI on US soil. Other American complainants of various things against various NI fronts, including Fox News, are coming forward, he says, without their cases yet being substantiated.

Rupert and James Murdoch both are to testify before the UK inquiry panel next week.

The 12th Murdoch-owned Sun journalist was arrested, this one for bribing police.

Deconstructing Derrida: Who's the fairest of them all?

Thinking about Lena Dunham’s Girls, and the New York magazine drama derby, in which the best TV shows of the past 25 years battled for dominance in two parallel contests — one voted on by readers (Breaking Bad vs. Buffy was their titanic final battle, both fantasies of suburban vigilantism), one voted on by scholars of television (The Wire vs. The Sopranos, urban vigilantism), in which all the protagonists are violent and repellent beyond belief. Mad Men was a quarter finalist in the critics’ lists, and its sexual violence is well described in the contest.

This violence and repulsiveness snuck up on me. I remember first being shocked by my callousness while baby-sitting for one of my godsons 20 years ago. I stepped away from the TV to the kitchen, from which he was visible, but from which I could ignore the tube. When I tuned back into the tube, I found him watching Married with Children. He was about five or six, and he had the familiar mouth-open hypnotized look children got when the cathode ray started zigzaggin’ their cones.

And I was appalled by what was permitted on TV at 6 p.m. for little boys to watch. Married with Children? Holy crap? Christina Applegate? Disgusting. I am reminded of what happens when, taking a break from my bacon fast, I ordered bacon for breakfast at the local greasy spoon. I nearly fainted when those nitrates hit my tongue. Watching that depraved television show with a six-year-old was like having a clean, innocent, nitrate-free tongue. Ouch.

There are a lot of good points in the critics’ discussion of the drama derby contenders, including some very subtle ones about how self-defeatingly full of non sequiturs Breaking Bad is. It breaks the narrative and character development arc and makes you wonder why — aside from the tongue-panging violence — you care so little. Another interesting point; the Breaking Bad wife, Skyler, is a thousand times more interesting than either Betty Draper, Peggy Olson, or Carmela Soprano, all of whom are….boring.

That all the heroes are vigilantes, and all the women of the best TV dramas of the last 25 years — with the possible, and very problematic, exception of Buffy — are wusses, to put it politely, is a serious critique. The woman thing drew the attention of the perspicaceous New Yorkers, as did the parallels — one heroic suburbanite with a dark secret — between Walter White and Buffy. If those links ever come back up, I’ll get them for you.

Vigilantism. Whoa. Don Draper, the swordsman, is the one exception. So far.

Interesting discussion of Derrida on Virginia Woolf on deconstruction on the VW listserv.
My email:

I was just reading a review of a new biography of Simone Weil, who has been ignored and also vilified, most recently by Francine du Plessix Grey in her 2001 biography. For many of the same reasons V. Woolf has been vilified (frigidity, mandarinism, anorexia, anti-semitism, whatever).

The new Weil bio has been written by a philosopher who recognizes, in Weil’s notes about, for example, eating and gazing, key philosophical concepts rather than neurotic self-hating Jewish anorexia.

It strikes me Derrida is doing the du Plessix Grey thing here. Certainly Woolf asserts that Defoe is deconstructing the desert island. Deal with it.

I’d love to hear an account or get a URL for Jane Goldman’s paper, and for the VW Among the Philosophers conference in general. I suspect (based on a query to VW long ago about her familiarity with Bergson) that VW is a mighty philosopher, as perhaps Weil is, whose clarity of apprehension has been much belittled by psychobabble. And not just from the French.

This is part of what Virginia Woolf, who had she written no novels, no feminist manifestoes, would be immortal as a literary critic, wrote about Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe:

Nobody who has any slight acquaintance with English literature needs to be told how many hours can be spent and how many lives have been spent in tracing the development of the novel and in examining the chins of the novelists. Only now and then, as we turn from theory to biography and from biography to theory, a doubt insinuates itself — if we knew the very moment of Defoe’s birth and whom he loved and why, if we had by heart the history of the origin, rise, growth, decline, and fall of the English novel from its conception (say) in Egypt to its decease in the wilds (perhaps) of Paraguay, should we suck an ounce of additional pleasure from Robinson Crusoe or read it one whit more intelligently?

Watched Girls last night.

It reminded me of nothing so much as Larry David. The ultimately repellent characters of Seinfeld and the entirely repellent character of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

As I am very easily entertained, I thought I’d dash my response in here and then Google it. I was chuffed to find George Packer, for example, a straight-arrow reporter of apocalypse, backing me up on the creepy frivolity of Mad Men, if not the very nearly pornographic use of anachronism. I think the falling man credits approach obscenity. Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, let’s see who thinks Lena Dunham is Larry David.

Watch this space.

Apparently there’s a Conan ep with David and Dunham. Let’s see if they acknowledge one another.

Nope, David is as repellent as ever, touting a neo-Three Stooges movie — Stooges a landmark abyss between the sexes, men loving them and women finding them disgusting. Go, Lare.

Dunham appears at about 30.12, can’t get it to stream for me yet.

The recent face-off in New York magazine of the best TV shows of the last 25 years had the Sopranos and Mad Men and The Wire coming down to the wire, hehehe, and serious scholars of TV writing about it. (The fans had their own massively gendered version of the playoffs, which, like the fans’ list of the best 100 non-fiction books of the last 25 years was deeply wack. The fans drama derby had Breaking Bad vs. Buffy as finalists, and Breaking Bad won.)

Buffy is the only non-criminal among them. Sort of. And while the Sopranos, of which I’m resuming my study after a three-year hiatus, has something deeply frivolous about it, interspersed with excellent writing on character development, pissing corpses and closeups of septic wounds, Mad Men is even more frivolous and also pernicious. When I finally grokked the whole falling man thing, I fell out, and will have to think about this some more. All of them, except Don Draper, are vigilantes of the subway vigilante Bernard Goetz ilk — the libertarians’ wet dream. Make my day!

But the repellent hero — from the Larry David/Seinfeld character, through Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, and now Lena Dunham (she directs! she creates! she writes! she stars! she takes her clothes off! she grifts her parents! she sleeps with nasty men!) — has held sway now for 25 years. Was it Puck on MTV’s Real World who led the way, through Punk’d and Jackass to Don Draper and the lads? Or was it Maj. Nelson and all of the characters ever played by Larry Hagman?

I have to think about the persistence other repellent heroes in American life: Ishmael, Hester Prynne, Nick Caraway et al., back to the Aristotelian value that the devil has all the good lines.

But for this cluster of amazingly violent television shows, I’m blaming Gen X, their Prozac, their nihilism, their ironies.

Like Tiresias, who lived both as a man and a woman, I have lived two ways. First, as a student taught that there was a canon, and that it had no women or people of color in it. There were no Godless Asians, either, preaching that there is no prime mover, since neither women nor people of color nor Godless Asians can read or write. Second, I have lived as a grownup observing from afar the Afro pomo homo — what do they call it? — project of beating the dead white men to death.

I can see the face of Dr. Baizer, as we speak, making eye contact with me, the lone female in the seminar, in 1968, to announce that Jane Austen, the one female of the entire canon, was a minor and miniaturist writer, as she did not write about war. Twenty-five years later Eddie Said said, au contraire, Jane Austen is the very billy club with which British imperialists cold-cocked smart little Palestinian boys like Eddie, being eddimicated at the American School and Victoria College in Cairo ca. 1947-51.

There is a long argument somewhere, in one of the literary journals I used to read — the TLS, the LRB, the NYRB — a long and persuasive discussion about why, for example, Islamic culture failed to produce capitalism, the Protestant reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution — all the anomalous glories of western civ. It was pretty interesting, and as I recall, its rhetorical stasis point was, no Aristotle. No scientific method based on thesis, antithesis, synthesis. At some point, Islamic science and mathematics — which as you will recall, invented the numbers you use and astronomy and medieval medicine — stopped competing with the argumentative Greeks’ notion that things have causes and effects, and the disputatious rhetoric of scientific method could cut these out of the morass of superstition, false witness, false evidence, to produce replicable results. One old genocide scholar, pondering the expulsion from Spain of the Moors and the Jews by Isabella la Catolica in 1492 — the end of the Caliphate all the Islamists are trying to re-establish —  pointedly noted that no academic institution of any accomplishment had been established in Spain since. One wonders if the Islamists’ implicit argument is true, that progressive Islamic culture, like the Spanish, also ended with the Caliphate.

No Aristotle? Don’t seem to have harmed the Chinese none. Chinese medicine, based on chi and no prime mover and no scientific method, is marvelously diagnostic and effective for ailments much more invasive western medicine cannot touch. A friend of mine with some physical problem and a big secret — multiple personality disorder — got up on the gurney of a gifted acupuncturist. The acupuncturist held her hands over my friend, and said, after about three minutes, There’s another energy here. I can’t treat you. But we have somebody who can.

The sadness of the idea that native Americans had not invented the wheel nor had beasts of burden (aside from women); that eyeless-in-Gaza Sphinx feeling I used to get gazing at the empty desert of pre-colonial African literature, never passes. Whether Aristotle gave syphilis to Montezuma or vice versa is something they’re still fighting about, also sadder than bears thinking about too much. I remember encountering, in New York City, at the Museum of African Art, a small mimetic 14th century Ife sculpture of a woman’s face and thinking, but there was a Renaissance in Africa. Where are the documents? Buried in the sand with Ozymandias? Sliced and bogarted by Elgin for the British Museum, or by Andre Malraux from Angkor Wat for auction? There, at least, in Europe, the third world antiquities would have a chance of surviving. As the Cleopatra-era chair at the Cairo Museum, popping pearl inlays before your eyes in the drafty glass case, or the karyatids of the Acropolis, melting in modern Athens’ carbon monoxide, and the beheaded apsaras of Angkor Wat, squeezed by boa-constrictor banyan roots, barely did.

Fourteenth century Ife sculpture: there was a Renaissance in Africa.

For 20 years, a view of the Khmer Rouge genocide as the rage of illiterates held sway simply because no one had found their meticulous documents, and, oh yes! They were in Khmer. For four centuries, the documents of the Dutch founders of Manhattan lay hidden and untranslated somewhere upstate, much obscuring the libertarian and capitalist legacy which made New York City, for one brief shining moment, ca. Jackson Pollock drip paintings, 1947-Sept. 11, 2001, the capital of the world. This, the idea that Africa’s Canterbury Tales and the Incas’ World According to King Ruang, are buried somewhere in an urn under the shifting desert sands, to be recovered, perhaps only in our dreams, as were the Nag Hammadi scrolls, half of which were burned for firewood, is of course the essential problem with the canon. As with the genocide of the Jews, the People of the Word, by the Nazis, the People of the Meticulous Records, the canon rests on literacy and the preservation of paper.

It also rests on some pretty damn good ideas. That you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in every generation, for example, and the possibility that women and slaves have souls — the latter notion noticeably absent in Islamist and Chinese culture. I am thinking about Seneca, and the accidents of cultural transmission — how and why he got to Shakespeare, and Montaigne, and the Renaissance, and thence to us. According to the intarnets, Seneca wrote in Latin and other Stoics did not. Educated Renaissance Euros like Montaigne, on whose invention of autobiography (pace, St. Augustine) and interiority much of the rise of individual human rights and modernity, and the French language itself, depend, spoke only Latin until he was six years old. He could read Seneca and not others who wrote in Greek. By the same token — of Latin speakers, like Montaigne, translating into European idiom the Roman canon — Shakespeare got his English translation of Seneca in the early 17th century. There is an argument that Shakespeare’s splendid vision of man, to which modernity owes its representative forms of government — What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! — rests firmly in the humanism of the pagan philosophers.

So. While the Afro pomo homos play video games, homeschool their children, and labor to reinvent communitarianism and civil obligation as Rome burns? Let’s you and me go into the back yard.  Cultivate our cabbages. Sit in the sunshine with the undertoads. Then get out and do some voter registration.

Roll on, Seneca. Power to the people.

Seneca the Younger, Nero's tutor.

(c)Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.

Sand Cherry Dreams
Click for deets.

Here we are beginning that bed last summer.

Gopher Proofing the South Beds

Here’s what the whole area looked like in 2010. The sand cherry went in where the rake is leaning against the NW corner of the house.
West Patio Looking Northish

The garden today.

Faust's Metropolis

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