Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category

The Cathar Trail 11: 7 June 2010 (On the Edge of the Temple)

January 11, 2015

7 June, 2010, Paris

And so, what became of my peripatetic attempt to understand the Cathars? Well, fairly little. But perhaps I have come, as much as it’s possible, to understand all outsiders a bit better. So much of the human character tends towards the social — people want to succeed, in the sense they understand that word, within a given relational paradigm. To excel in the eyes of their peers, to be loved, admired, etc., etc…To, in essence, “fit in”.

But not everybody’s built that way. Some challenge the assumptions of their world as if by instinct. They are oft labeled “anarchists” but in truth they’re just outsiders. These were the Gnostics, who insisted on ideas outside the developing doctrine of the Roman church; a permutation of this view was witnessed with the Cathars, who wanted to live in peace in their mountain realm, inured to church and emerging state, more interested in eros and the ideals of romantic love, ultimately suspicious of the perfect deification of a clearly corrupt and flawed creation.

These were also the Knights Templar, who because of their battles with the French crown were forced to wall themselves up in Paris proper, before being scattered to the four winds by greedy nobles. I write this as I sit with my back to the old wall of the Templar enclosure, looking over the Templar Square (Carreau du Temple), now an old abandoned warehouse of sorts. The city seems so disinterested in doing anything here. Is it because all states know that clear and rigorous limits must be placed on any anarchic, independent, nominally organic form of social and cultural life? Lest it get out of hand? Is this why the managed, mechanized and controlled creation of “synthetic” life forms seems like such an abomination, an affront to the unyielding, unchained aspect of spirit, human or otherwise?

Probably.

The Cathar Trail 10: 6 June 2010

January 11, 2015

6 June, 2010, Toulouse

I am ready to leave. Spent far more time here in Toulouse than I really should have. This city, at first charming, is increasingly rough on the system; Feels like you always have to be on your toes. Just has that kind of edge to it. Today I really burned time — popped into a church with a mass in session. Then went to surf the net at a little cybercafé. Had a nice lunch, managing to get out of the rain just in time. If there is one thing people do well here, it’s food.

But frankly, everything is so expensive. Feel as if I’ve burnt money the last week. Could have stayed on a beach in Hawaii and sat under the palm trees for the same amount of dough. But I suppose I will take something away from all this. I wonder.

Sat in a bar this afternoon and watched an unremarkable men’s French Open final. This prompted thoughts of tennis courts and, well, Republicanism. And further of the universalizing impulses of democracy, something that is very much a subtext whenever the globalizing imperatives of the EU are discussed in the media. I wonder about Europe. It’s inherent broadness. A universal that isn’t universal.

It is in a “provincial” city like Toulouse where you really see the flaws with Europe. It’s quite amazing that things function smoothly at all. In essence, they don’t. Europe is resting on it’s laurels. There is an immense amount of cultural capital here. But will it last? What has been, and is being, built here? Like in the rest of Europe, the immigration situation is dire, and there seems no good way to manage the ebbs and flows. Unlike in America, where immigration is purportedly synonymous with nationhood and immigrants have been absorbed since its inception, the histories, traditions and biases here are strong. Colonialism is shaky ground to build columns on.

The tensions between old and new only seem to be mounting, and this schism is at the core of the current continental crisis. The way things are changing demands dynamism and innovation, and Europeans, once at the forefront of change, increasingly don’t really do these things.

I wonder about what I see and understand here as a “tour-ist”. About the delicate balancing act between what one might call particularistic Herderian regionalisms and the broader, more universalizing trends of Kantian idealism. I am reminded of how recently, historically, all these important local elements have been subsumed into the body of the Republic. In his classic treatment of the formation of modern France, Peasants Into Frenchman, the historian Eugen Weber shows how this unity only came about through bureaucratic necessity; in response to the flourishing of the Third Republic after 1870 and in the construction of modernity — of postal and rail systems, of the speed and spread of rational systems and rational thought which completely displaced the folk wisdom and superstitions that still persisted in the quieter, more far-flung regions of France. Ultimately, like in many instances, the French national identity became fully fused in the crucible of war. The “Great” War chewed up an entire generation of the country’s men, forging a modern French-ness in the process. French losses were so significant (nearly 75% of those who fought were killed or wounded) the experience lay the foundations for a potent pacifist movement and shaped the country’s future response to war.

Was it worth it? Alas, much of this pointless destruction has been re-framed in a certain light, and as in many instances, stories of tragedy become tales of triumph.

When, I wonder, will this happen with the Cathars?

The Cathar Trail: 29 May 2010

January 7, 2015

[N.B. This is the first in a series of blog posts planned in the coming hours and days. It was a project I have toyed with for a while, but today’s events in Paris have pushed my experiences and reflections of France to the forefront. Not sure what these very personal travelogue recollections will have to say about what has occurred, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. This is about nostalgia and the past and grief. This is also about catharsis, the process of cleansing or purification, and of emotional transformation, a process that was first described in Aristotle’s Poetics as analogous to the impact tragedy had on an audience. The word catharsis has a similar etymological root to “Cathar” — the purified or “pure one”. Catharism was a heretical Christian sect which existed in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived to be its moral, spiritual and political corruption. The Albigensians and Cathars became targets of a crusade and their persecution began elements of the early Inquisition. This trip in 2010 was an attempt to more clearly understand dissent, gnosticism and “counter-narrative” in European and French history. I make no clear contemporary political claim in this project, nor do I express direct solidarity with the magazine that was attacked, whose views are dubious at times, but rather a solidarity with the principles of free journalism, free thought, and free expression.]

29 May, 2010, Train from Paris to Toulouse

Not so sure about this travel epic. Voyage began inauspiciously, with pigeon droppings on my shoulder at Austerlitz. Unclear about where all the wariness comes from; maybe I still feel unsettled in life and am tired of all the transitions. I’m struck by lack of enthusiasm for this journey. Alas, perhaps a reflection of all my dulled enthusiasms.

Countryside between Paris and Orleans is fairly somber, not helped by dull and grey weather. Land is flat and utilitarian, with limited sights. A few modern wind farms, a lone shattered castle on a small hill (in Etampes). Train was late out of the gare and I wonder what I will do about connections. Anyway, I don’t have anywhere in particular to be…

Reading the Saturday Times I’m struck by the grim, almost decaying state of the world; economic crisis in the EU; an enormous attack in Lahore (even as I mentioned the possible prospect to D yesterday); Maoists in India; and a serial prostitute killer in Bradford who studied Jack the Ripper for his Ph.D.! Quel bordel!

Maybe this has always been the way of the media. Jack the Ripper, after all, was made famous by the press. Plus ça change.

In seeking out the old paths of the Cathars, Gnostics, et. al. I seek to move away from all this. To find love in gnosis — knowledge — and in the living world itself…

Preface to the German Edition of 1883

January 1, 2015

“The preface to the present edition I must, alas, sign alone. Marx — the man to whom the whole working class of Europe and America owes more than to anyone else — rests at Highgate Cemetery and over his grave the first grass is already growing. Since his death, there can be even less thought of revising or supplementing the Manifesto. All the more do I consider it necessary again to state here the following expressly:

The basic thought running through the Manifesto — that economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been the history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of development; that this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time for ever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles — this basic thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx.

I have already stated this many times; but precisely now it is necessary that it also stand in front of the Manifesto itself.

London, 28 June, 1883

F. Engels”

From Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, ed. David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 44.

PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE HORSES

September 1, 2014

Horse1

Pride

July 6, 2014

Pride

The Power of Vitalism

April 1, 2014

We exist in a social and intellectual world that is deeply schizophrenic. As the tradition of the Marxists reminds us, society is constructed and constrained by class, economics, and control of the means of production. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School extended the idea of limits and constraint into the realm of the academic and aesthetic, speaking of “instrumental rationality” and “the culture industry.” Philosopher Michel Foucault showed us how our very bodies and minds are disciplined and ordered by dominant knowledge forms, forms that further shape our most basic institutions. His project of trying to intervene into this normalizing process with his deep quasi-psychiatric analysis and treatment of post-Enlightenment society met with mixed results.

Postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard have added further complications, undermining the notion of grand narratives and even the fixed meaning of text itself. At times it seems we are left in a chaotic, endlessly confusing, frustratingly relativist world. Few still revel in this intellectual morass without any even vague guideposts, much as it at times does provide for dynamic and playful aesthetic outbursts.

And thus we are left with life. Life constantly ordered, organized, constrained, systematized, analyzed, institutionalized, disciplined, proscribed, described, and, sadly at times, senselessly destroyed.

But, despite these factors, life is a constant reminder of the small, essential truth of vitalism. It remains, sometimes only in slight, subtle ways, sometimes only in fits and starts, ultimately unpredictable in any universal sense. No ordered, mechanistic, technocratic system, regardless of its ferocity or scale, can completely consume life’s endlessly unpredictable and dynamic process of becoming.

Power is a heady and dominant notion in our world, but life is, in its essential nature, beyond the constraints of power. To believe in life as life, to accept some small segment of the idea of vitalism, is to, in the final analysis, “fight the power.”

N.B. The original draft of this text is about fifteen years old…It was recently rediscovered and necromantically re-animated and re-purposed as a blog post.

Ten Reasons Why Facebook is the Soulless Bane of Modern Life

August 26, 2012

I’m well aware of the painful irony of castigating the world’s most popular social network on a blog, another form of social network. But I don’t have the money to put stamps on hundreds of handwritten letters, so here it goes:

1. Facebook is not social.

Saying hello to someone on the street is social. Having dinner or a drink (or getting falling down drunk…) with someone is social. Exchanging pleasantries or even bodily fluids is social (after all, it can possibly lead to a “social” disease). Arguing while waving your arms frantically at someone is social. Knitting while sitting on a couch together is social (sad, but social). Typing pithy comments about someone’s vacation pictures you vaguely know while hurtling along the Interstate at 80 MPH is not social. It’s just stupid. And dangerous.

2. Does that “net”-work for you?

Feeling trapped? Nothing is more representative of modern life than a forum for “self-expression” which requires you to fill out lame little standardized electronic boxes. Don’t color out of the lines! Touted as a multi-billion dollar computer platform, most of Facebook just boils down to a computerized version of those dorky name tags that say “My name is ____”.

Just think of that word — network. Nothing more than a bunch of virtual tendrils, designed to ensnare and entrap. The question you should be asking is who is the spider and when is he going to come along and suck out all of your vital juices? If you feel like a fly on the wall. Well…Buzz, buzz.

3. All those douchebags with marketing degrees are simultaneously yelling “gotcha”!

Marketers used to actually have to work to sell you stuff and get your attention. Now you come to them, by the millions, like so many lemmings careening off a cliff. And because you are an open (face)book, they know exactly what you want. In fact, some of the stuff they know you want you didn’t even know you wanted…

4. Individuality?

Heck, you can’t even change the bloody typeface on your page. (Note: See #2). And remember, if you post a picture you’d better not be doing anything too inappropriate. Some bot might come along and be offended. I, for one, welcome our Facebook bot overlords. All hail Zuckerberg!

5. All the world’s a stage.

Unfortunately, everyone in the audience is too busy working on their own acting career. Of course, you too can be the star in your very own movie (not sure what the working title is now, but they used to call it “Life”). Everything is a performance. Look, I got a new job! I have moved further up the rung and am mastering the cogs of capitalism. Please, “like” me. Why won’t you like me? Do I need to do something more extravagant? How is it that over half a billion bad actors clamoring for attention isn’t more people’s idea of hell? When did we all become such showoffs? Reality TV? TV is our reality! We’re always on camera, always observed and observing. Too bad none of us are just bloody living anymore. I don’t need to see the beautiful view you saw on your trip to Aruba or walk around the neighborhood. You saw it. It’s yours. That’s precious. Enjoy it.

6. Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing something cooler.

Facebook is a constant reminder that no matter what you are doing, it is lamer than what a dozen of your “friends” are doing. Just booked a trip to the beach on Maui? Whatever. Your “friend” just bought an island in the south Pacific. Bought a new car? Your “friend” just bought a new yacht. New baby? Your “friend” had triplets! (Well, on second thought, maybe you are better off there…). A regression back to grade school is the order of the day on Facebook. It’s like one big game of “Oh yeah! Well…”.

7. In old sci-fi novels and movies, weren’t hive minds a bad thing?

I remember an old episode of Star Trek where this guy Harry Mudd had found a whole planet of androids. And there were groups of them — copies — such that you had Alan 216 or Mary 109. Facebook is kind of like that. It’s almost impossible to miss someone famous dying these days because fifty of your closest friends will comment about it. Sometimes they’ll even include some maudlin link to a relevant Youtube video. How touching. And some of these people who are venerated are pretty lame. No matter, its all fodder for Facebook.

I’m waiting for the day when some lunatic puts up a status update of “RIP Charles Manson” and the whole Goth world goes (lady) gaga about the passing of Marilyn. Give me a break! I guess the point, if there is one, is all the collective grief and, by extension, the sense of injustice is totally bogus when all it amounts to is clicking on “like” or “share”. Which brings me to…

8. How many cute puppies does it take to stop a dictator from wiping out a whole town?

Politics. Oh yeah. Remember when that word used to imply that the discussion or debate was about an actual place or space? You know, the polis? Now it’s random rants about how dumb some conservative is, or how bleeding heart some liberal is. Mostly it distills down to re-posting (i.e. “sharing”) some clever cartoon about how we are all totally fucked. Well, if things are so bad, do something! Those occupy people, as aimless and indigent and generally stoned as they were, were doing something. Until Facebook came along and turned it all into a bunch of idle slogans. Facebook has become the dumping ground for frustration and impotent rage. It’s as if it was a cleverly constructed release valve for dissent and criticism. Almost seems planned that way. Hmm…

Oh, yeah, and by the way, the answer to the question above is…none. You need a LOL cat.

9. Your friendships begin to resemble that show — Friends.

I hated that show. I really did. It reeked of a neutered middle-class complacency that makes me want to kick puppies (but not the really cute ones people always post on Facebook — just the ugly, faceless puppy in the crowd…). Everyone was always being clever and pithy and drinking coffee on a sofa on Friends. Kind of like what people do now when they are on Facebook.

I like the idea of friends. I used to have friends. I used to hang out with them and see them too. I don’t have to anymore. I live a completely alienated, isolated and lonely life as an academic (“Oh, he’s one of those!”) in a town and state I basically hate. But with Facebook, my plight is supposed to be somehow more bearable. Your experience may be somewhat similar. I sincerely hope not.

10. Like the real world, Facebook has class (but not the good kind!)

Well, no it doesn’t. But it has developed ghettos and upscale neighborhoods. Whether you muck around on Farmville or post stories by way of the New York Times, everything about Facebook is just part of that time honored human tradition of creating arbitrary distinctions.

The only distinction I think is important anymore is this — are you part of the Facebook herd or are you still vaguely trying to maintain some aspect of your humanity? We in the techno-utopias of the “west” may pity or even mock those poor souls for whom Facebook is only a computer program. But I, for one, envy them. If only they also had a bit of peace and food and clean water…

So, yeah, Facebook sucks. Modern life kind of sucks too. Am I bitter? You bet! Angry? Yup! What would make me happy? If dozens, even hundreds (dare I hope for thousands?) of people put a link to this blog post up on…You guessed it: Facebook! I won’t know about it though, since for now (and hopefully, if I’m strong, forever) my Facebook account is deactivated. But maybe, in some little way, I’m not.


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