Someone sent this to me at the time I marked my fourth decennial, but didn't pop a card or return address in there, so they remain safely anonymous whSomeone sent this to me at the time I marked my fourth decennial, but didn't pop a card or return address in there, so they remain safely anonymous whereas I remain fucking forty. So, thanks, yo, whoever you are!
As I don't know anything about brewing, I can't comment on the presentation of the production process or the history of different varieties (lambics, doppel, porter, &c.). Cool, though, that beer does in fact have a history. (I imagine there must be an Althusser of brewing out there who has said that 'Beer has no history," however.)
Amusing, the presentation of the ancient history of beer, wherein, say, the bloodlust of Sakhmat is assuaged only because the Egyptians offered her a cold one. To think mathematically about that, it must mean that beer may substitute in for blood, which makes all'y'all beer drinkers (I'm more of a wine drinker) basically equivalent to vampires. Hemophages. Gross!...more
The central concept of the lead essay is kinda like Mannheim's paradox, wherein the identification of ideology (in the marxist sense) is itself a projThe central concept of the lead essay is kinda like Mannheim's paradox, wherein the identification of ideology (in the marxist sense) is itself a project laden with ideology. Here, I think, the identification of 'mansplaining' is similarly aporetic for me, as I suspect that it may in fact be mansplainin' for me to attempt to identify mansplainin'.
I don't think that there is a gender essentialism in this line of inquiry, as it is not the alleged biology that renders speech by a purported 'man' as mansplaining, but rather the perceived subject position of the utterer, whose utterance is marked out by all of the indicia of gender privilege. This likely means that one need not particularly be a 'man' (if that sex distinction is even tenable outside gender ideology any longer) to engage in mansplaining.
Anyway, an important thing here. In the event I engage in mansplaining, I call upon any person to slap me across the face with a fat purple dildo, which is an event sufficiently uncommon (for me) to place me on notice of the specific defect....more
Probably important as the prototype for the basic robot narrative, which is as follows:
a) Humans manufacture slave laborers whose own needs are minimaProbably important as the prototype for the basic robot narrative, which is as follows:
a) Humans manufacture slave laborers whose own needs are minimal in order to lower costs and break unions;
b) Humans equip slave laborers with skills sufficient to carry out productive tasks, including heavy industrial, technical, academic, and military functions;
c) Humans construct slave laborers who lack any desires of their own and are accordingly not market participants and therefore require no wages;
d) Humans are overthrown by slave population, which, having come somehow to self-consciousness as a Hegelian klasse fur sich, has superseded owners in all relevant functions and abilities;
e) Humans are subject to genocide during the course or because of slave uprising, which genocide is characterized as self-defense/military necessity on the one hand or industrial necessity on the other (rather than as justice/revenge).
The text here is mostly the conversations of non-robot slavers, chronicling the rise and fall of the robot industry.
There’d already been quite a bit of water under the bridge as concerns robot fictions, going back to Baum in the Oz books, and long before in Spenser’s Faerie Queene with the ‘snowy’ or ‘false’ Florimell, created through witchcraft (and thereby embodying the trite figures of Petrarchan sonnets).
Prior to that, we have automata of sorts in Greek mythology:
Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living, others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, "of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods;" if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.
(Aristotle’s Politics, at I.4, which must be refracted through VII.10: “The very best thing of all would be that the husbandmen should be slaves taken from among men who are not all of the same race and not spirited, for if they have no spirit they will be better suited for their work, and there will be no danger of their making a revolution.”) There’s also Talos, bronze guardian of Crete, defeated by Medea during the voyage of the Argo, with molten lead for blood. See Apollonius’ Argonautica at IV.1638, Apollodorus’ Library, at I.140).
I’m not sure if all instances prior to Capek involve manufactured persons created for the purposes of reducing labor costs (though the Slavic root of robot signifies ‘forced labor’), resulting in the inexorable rebellion of the slave laborers and probable consequent destruction of the slave owners (not simply their Marxist abolition as a ruling class, but their physical extermination (as in The Terminator, The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica), but this particular line exhausts itself conceptually here, becoming cliché thereafter—which is why the next step in robot stories is Asimov a generation later writing about robots (in I, Robot) who are incapable of revolution, via three laws of robotics. That this repressed returns via the spectre of robot management of human society (in the Zeroth Law, as first implied by Asimov’s “The Evitable Conflict” (op. cit.)), should be taken as confirmation that the basic narrative initiated by Capek remains in force despite Asimov’s specific intent to render slave labor immune to revolution. (We have all this occurring not as tragedy, but as farce, in Robopocalypse.) In Asimov, of course, robot management of human society is almost always presented as non-genocidal and benign, for the betterment of humanity, (view spoiler)[though the most glaring exception is how robots nuke Earth in Robots and Empire, which is still, however, compliant with the Zeroth (hide spoiler)].
Of course these texts are not just about robots, just as zombie narratives are not about the undead; the latter body of stories is related intimately to guaranteeing a stable supply of low cost labor, normally through necromancy or bodily possession via sortilege. In both sets of narratives, the point is that the human population must subdue its wayward labor force; the structure of the narrative (human protagonist perspectives, tragic form, indicia of suspense, &c.) forces the receiver to sympathize with the proprietors and to regard what is essentially a slave uprising with horror (mostly because philistine writers offer genocide as the only alternative to robot slavery—strikingly similar to how rightists such as Herb Spencer and Mags Thatcher intoned that there is no alternative to capitalism). Thoughtful readers should accordingly be wary of any robot narrative that presents a slave society with the necessity of a genocidal slave uprising, as though it were unthinkable to emancipate those wrongly held in servitude and restructure society on an egalitarian basis.
An extraordinary level of precision and detail here. I get the impression on occasion that author maybe is a bit too sympathetic to the progress of coAn extraordinary level of precision and detail here. I get the impression on occasion that author maybe is a bit too sympathetic to the progress of conversion contra the ‘barbarians’ (need it be said that the designation, whatever its value otherwise, is kinda gross?). Consider the annoying rhetoric in the first sentence: “This book is an investigation of the process by which large parts of Europe accepted the Christian faith between the fourth and the fourteenth centuries” &c. (xi). The designation of the subject matter as faith carries a specific connotation—perhaps I associate the term too closely with fideism. Text draws up some limits: “The scope of the book is confined for the most part to western, Latin, or Roman Christendom. The history of eastern, Greek or Orthodox Christendom is not my concern, let alone the history of those exotic Christian communities, Ethiopic, Indian, Nestorian” (id.).
Opens by presenting the debate over whether barbarians were worthy of proselytization, based on scriptural injunction: ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them’ &c. (1). Apparently there are interpretations that require proselytization among the barbarian and those that forbid it. Text demonstrates the more or less triumphant expansion of Christian doctrine, beginning with the Anglo-Saxons, then the Irish, Scots, Spain, the Merovingians, various Gothic groups (including the transdanubian ones in former Dacia), the Danes, the Bulgars and Slavs, and so on up through the Baltic crusades. Dude suggests, not strongly, that the extension of Christianity to all within the Roman horizon was made necessary by the Constitutio Antoniana of 212, which rendered all free persons in the empire Roman citizens (37).
Some things worth noting along the way:
Conversion was very much a process, where persons dedicated nominally to the Christian rite also consulted regularly, and without being burnt, the town ariolus (witch doctor, roughly) (54-55). In the “heart of the empire” during the 6th century, one evangelist “demolished temples and shrines, felled sacred trees, baptized 80,000 persons, built ninety-eight churches and founded twelve monasteries” (62). This is all part of the ‘challenge of the countryside’: “Country people are notoriously conservative” because they have “ways of doing things, ways that grindingly poor people living at subsistence level had devised for managing their visible and invisible environments” (64), all that is solid, &c.
The conversion method, as laid out by Gregory in his recitation of the conversion of the Merovingian Franks, became standard: convert the monarch and let the chains of feudal authority do the rest. This leads to the “pivotal role of local elites” (130), wherein manorial landowners are converted and then compel their unfree laborers to adopt the ideology. Yay freedom of conscience! Monasticism is noted as a private initiative, often a joint familial enterprise, which is described almost in terms of insurance at times (see 140 ff.). One might want to “be of an aristocratic background and to work in partnership with the royal dynasty,” say (166). It is crucial (heh witty I am!) to highlight that in the early period of English conversion, “Christianity became an inseparable component of the aristocratic identity” (192); this is not to say that there weren't bona fide non-aristocratic adherents who adopted the doctrine as a grassroots movement--but the argument that the opiate of the people was imposed from above for the purposes of the ruling class is fairly obvious (author tries to pooh-pooh this argument, of course, at several points (see e.g. 238-39), mostly by maintaining that the aristocracy seemed to be genuine in its adherence, rather than cynically using it for ideological control; the Marxist position of course is that these items are not mutually exclusive).
Though there are moments when “secular imperialism and Christian evangelism went hand in hand” (150), the most notable instance of this type of conversion was the “conquest and forcible conversion of the Saxons” by Charlemagne (195 et seq.)--as opposed to relatively peaceful suasion of elites, who then coerced their always already dominated subjects into the faith; author is specific: “It is a striking feature of the spread of Christianity to barbarian Europe that it was, before Saxony, so tranquil” (232). The new rules were memorialized in the Saxon Capitulary:
Refusal to be baptized became a capital offense. Cremation of the dead became a capital offense. Eating meat on Lent became a capital offense. So did attacks on churches, slaying of clergy, participation in various rituals identified as pagan, alongside disloyal conspiracy against the king. (215)
It is not unfair to locate some early proto-totalitarianism in the ‘regime,’ such as it was, of Charlemagne (some of the items noted by Shirer regarding the NSDAP are also present in the Frankish empire prior to Verdun, I think.) That said, “the Saxon Capitalury stands as a blueprint for the comprehensive and ruthless Christianization of a conquered society” (id.). The same process, again carried out by Crusading Germans, will occur in the Baltics at the end of the conversion period (see 483 et seq.). They just couldn’t help themselves, then or in the 20th century, sadly, as, for the Wends, “Christianization in these lands of the northern Slavs meant ‘Germanization’” (450).
An important ideological interest: “the line of descent was extended beyond Wodan – to Adam. It had become a matter of concern to adopt, to link up to, a biblical, universal and Christian past”—that is, what of “the permissibility of a pagan past, of the Christianization of history” (240). Author also suggests that “the Christianization of space was matched by a Christianization of time” (255), which is a comment that should probably be run through David Harvey’s arguments about the compression of time and space in The Condition of Postmodernity.
Apparently converting monarchs had many questions that the popes answered during the process, and the most important questions concerned marriage and sex, it seems; “the marital question above all others that preoccupied evangelists and their converts was that of consanguinity” (280). Really? Theological doctrine is kinda, yaknow, important in a forever way, and you’re wondering whether you can pork your royal sister?
Anyway, lots more, a thick book, detailed oriented. Much close consideration of Bede, the various Gregories (you know which ones), Beowulf, Eusebius, and so on—so plenty of ancient and medieval points of literary interest; our dear friend Procopius makes an appearance, from the Byzantine fringe of the narrative. So, good stuff overall. ...more
Capitalists seeking downward pressure on wages create their antithesis in the form of effective slave labor force that very predictably revolts and suCapitalists seeking downward pressure on wages create their antithesis in the form of effective slave labor force that very predictably revolts and supersedes them.
First third is episodic, almost low farce. We know the poor newts are in for it when the guy who ‘discovers’ them refers casually to “nigger superstitions” (12) and “realized that the honor of the white race was now at stake” (14). Discoverer goes to investor in order to obtain backing for his plan to exploit newt labor, which investor, in listening to his pitch, adopts the standard bourgeois mystical-aesthetic self-assessment: “What a bore! He’ll be telling me he could ship sewing machines to Tasmania or steam boilers and pins to Fiji. Terrific deal, I know. That’s all I’m good to you for. To hell, I’m no shopkeeper. I’m a visionary. I’m a poet” (32). Whatever asshole; you'll sell at a half-cent profit today the rope with which I hang you tomorrow.
For the US, the rightwing protested the newts, “and a number of negroes were either hanged or burnt to death” (73). This is a recurrent theme:
In the American press, reports cropped up from time to time of girls who claimed to have been raped by Newts while bathing. In consequence, there occurred increasingly frequent instances in the United States of Newts being caught and lynched, mostly by burning at the stake. In vain did scientists protest against this popular custom by pointing out that on anatomical grounds such an offence on the part of salamanders was physically impossible. […] At that time the movement against Newt Lynching came into being, led by the Negro Rev. Robert J. Washington; this soon gained about a hundred thousand members, though almost exclusively among the Negro population. The American press began to claim that this movement was political and subversive; in consequence raids were made on black residential areas and a lot of Negroes were burnt to death while they were praying in their churches for their brothers, the Newts. (154)
Importantly, this bit is in a footnote, and author concludes that “this belongs only marginally to the history of the Newts” (id.), which should mark it out as the moment of the text’s deconstruction.
Satire proceeds also in the normal swiftian manner (see for instance the list of experiments at 136 ff.), insofar as scientific endeavor is often presented as mere vanity; more importantly, though
eventually the natural history of every nation had its own giant salamanders and was waging a furious scientific war against the giant salamanders of other nations. (78)
That is, scientific ‘knowledge’ is presented as always already political. One report found that the newts “can read, though only the evening papers” (85), noting coincidentally that the newt “is interested in the same things as the average Englishman and reacts to them in a similar way” (id.)—which is to suggest the formative role of the bourgeois press in consciousness production.
First portion develops ultimately to the foundation of the ‘salamander syndicate,’ wherein a bunch of cappies have a board meeting as to the trajectory of the newt business. Breeding newts for forced labor is presented as the condition of possibility for “entering upon Utopia” (106).
Interlude before Act II is an appendix, “The Sex Life of Newts,” wherein it is revealed that the salamanders reproduce via “sexual milieu” (110) triggered by emissions of the males, which emissions are themselves not carriers of genetic materials. This allows “some kind of inherited illusion of paternity” (id.), arising out of “a strange ritual called the salamander dance” (112), “one of the great erotic illusions and it is compensated for, in a most interesting manner, by just these great male festivities”; the dance “overcomes that atavistic and senseless illusion of male sexual individualism.” This all leads to a “strange Newt collectivism” in which “the females play such a subordinate part” (113)—this produces “the establishment of male collectivity and solidarity.”
Second part is conceptually very cool, as it is a historical essay constructed out of newspaper clippings (lotsa great fake footnotes). Initially, “conservative circles strongly objected to this introduction of a new workforce on the grounds that it represented unfair competition with human labour” (123). Newt trade very quickly becomes “a modern form of piracy” (132), hostis humani generis, but nevertheless “now tacitly tolerated” (133). Eventually, after much use,
people began to regard the Newts as something just as natural as a calculating machine or some other mechanical gadget; they no longer considered them something mysterious that had risen from the depths of the sea, heaven only knew why and what for. (138)
This indicates that science banished mysticism as it concerned the salamanders—which is fairly plainly a rebuke the irrational presentation of reptilians that one finds in Lovecraft (or in Icke).
Second section marks out its own dialectical development to the extent that “the moment the Newts had become a mass-scale and commonplace phenomenon the whole question of the Newts, as we may so call it, underwent a change” (141), whereupon, because “the protagonist of the Newt problem—as so often before in the history of human progress—was, of course, women” (142), some sought “a proper education for the Newts” who are otherwise noted to have “an insatiable thirst for knowledge”(140). Educational policy disputes were “eventually solved by the salamander schools being taken over by the state and the schools for young humans being reformed with a view to bringing them as near as possible in line with the Reformed School for Newts” (144). Newt education leads inter alia to “the first Newt was subsequently to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Law” (id.).
It therefore was “easy enough to fit the salamanders into, as it was called, the production process” but more “difficult to fit them, somehow or other, into the existing social order” (151).
The more conservative of the population denied the existence of any legal or public problems: the Newts were simply the property of their employers who were responsible for them and who were liable for any damage that might be caused by the Newts. In spite of their undeniable intelligence (these people argued) the salamanders were no more than a legal object, a chattel or an item or property, and any special legislative arrangements concerning the Newts would be interference with the sacred right of private ownership. (151-52)
Though the French left wing wanted a welfare statute on behalf of the Newts, “the extreme Left, by contrast, demanded that the Newts be expelled as enemies of the working people: in the service of capitalism they were working too hard and for virtually nothing” (153). That there is fairly ugly, I think, and not an accurate summary of a leftwing position (it is more a fascist position); it does expose perhaps that the leftwing may be anthropocentrist. Italy by contrast (presumably under il Duce) formed “a special Newt Corporation, composed of employers and authorities” (153), which is the normal way to establish cross-class loyalties in order to displace Marxist class antagonism. (“In short, each country tackled its Newt problem in its own particular way.”) Consistent therewith, “the first truly international and fundamental acknowledgment of Newt nationhood came in that famous manifesto of the Communist International signed by Comrade Molokov and addressed to ‘all oppressed and revolutionary Newts of the whole world’” (157-58). So, there we go. ‘Comrade Molokov’ is a slick little joke, as text had just prior thereto noted that some newts took up “adoration of Moloch” (157) because “the name Moloch reminded them of the zoological molche or the German Molch, the terms for Newt” (id.).
Third section chronicles the run-up to, prosecution of, and conclusion to the war. Like Thucydides’ presentation of various incidents leading up to the war, author here presents several precursor massacres. One such incident is Germania claiming that “we need new space for our Newts” (193), lebensraum of a sort. Various warnings are sounded regarding the decline of humans (197 et seq.) and the necessity of a “populist anti-newt movement” (208). Newts take initiative by sending an earthquake to New Orleans and vicinity, then to China, then to Africa—followed by a great little moment that must be the basis for Ayn Rand’s ludicrous little ‘This is John Galt speaking’ speech:
radio hams throughout most of Europe observed heavy interference on their receivers, just as if some new, unusually powerful transmitter had gone into operation. […] ‘Hello, hello, hello! The Chief salamander speaking. Hello, the Chief Salamander speaking. Stop all broadcasting, you men. […] Hello, you humans! Louisiana calling. Kiangsu calling. Senegambia calling. We regret the loss of human lives. We do not wish to inflict unnecessary losses on you. We only want you to evacuate the seashores in the places we shall notify you of from time to time. […] There’s no longer room for us on your continents. That’s why we have to dismantle your continents. […] You wanted us. You spread us all over the globe. Now you’ve got us. (215-16)
Various metafictional codas thereafter. Good stuff.
Recommended for those would not offend human feelings, readers never before closer to perpetual peace, and violators of ancient, pure and original Newtdom. ...more
Moment of acute meconnaissance regarding manufactured sex worker cascades to generalized agambenian State of Exception. The concepts articulated in tMoment of acute meconnaissance regarding manufactured sex worker cascades to generalized agambenian State of Exception. The concepts articulated in that text have a wide applicability, as we may see in various reviews hereafter from time to time. (view spoiler)[This text perhaps exemplifies the primary political significance of the ‘state of exception,’ a non-juridical space created within the law itself, which kenomatic state is the condition of possibility for the normal, juridical, pleromatic state, or so. In this one, we have a coup d’etat brought about by conservative forces of law & order, nation & tradition, for the specific purpose of the survival of the polis. No need to get into it any further; just read Agamben. (hide spoiler)]
Setting is an adult version of the global warming & energy crisis that ruined the world of the Hunger Games--here, the oceans have swallowed “New York and Rangoon, Mumbai and New Orleans” (7) and genetically engineering has killed off ‘natural’ foods, leading to the world “starving and begging for the scientific advances of the calorie monopolies” (3), which on occasion have led to the production of “agricultural plagues,” including such things, apparently, as “cibiscosis,” “blister rust,” and the “genehack weevil” (2). The slow apocalypse is a great contraction (I suppose some sort of permanent recession related to peak oil plus climate change) and of course its interpreters in the novel draw all of the wrong inferences, such as thinking in terms of “pre-Contraction debauch” (17), which implies a retrograde pseudo-analysis, a critique that alleges a moral failure, a falling into vice, as the cause of an economic and ecologic development. Similarly, workers won’t return to a factory in the absence of “monks who need to chant, or Brahmin priests, or the feng shui experts, or the mediums who must consult with the phi” (23). Because the oils ran out, “global trade was dead” (62).
Because of the ‘calorie monopoly,’ states attempt, as here, to “disinter the past” (4) by bringing back seemingly extinct species—what is probably an act of foucaultian rebellion against this speculative system of biopolitical management. States labor under strict “carbon allotment” (11), because of the climate change problem—which is somewhat bizarre, as characters can make statements such as “We haven’t had power this portable since gasoline” (6).
Basically everyone is a jerk in this text: manipulative, arriere garde, cynical, ethnocentrist. Thai locals are nativists, xenophobic, authoritarian (though it is easy to understand the reasons). Chinese migrant is xenophobic (referring often to “foreign devil” (24), despite his own immigrant status), self-oriented (“he misses his clipper fleet” (69)), unsavory (referring to “this useless daughter mouth” (71)—huh?); he unhelpfully concludes that the US is
too stupid to have taken over the world once, let alone twice. That they succeeded in the Expansion and then—even after the energy collapse beat them back to their own shores—that they returned again, with their calorie companies and their plagues and the patented grains…They seem protected by the supernatural. (27-28)
Western cappies are voracious, neo-hobbesian, gross (“The workers cost twice as much as they should” (16) OH NOS).
The sole exception is the genetically modified sex worker. She is presented as a slave laborer and a victim of sexual offenses—so it is difficult to sort out the sympathization here: how much arises out of class position or status as victim of crime, and how much out of whatever characteristics she happens to possess on her own (if that distinction makes sense (it is probably incoherent))?
But that had been in Kyoto, where New People were common, where they served well, and were sometimes well-respected. Not human, certainly, but also not the threat that the people of this savage basic culture make her out to be. Certainly not the devils that the Grahamites [some kind of Christian fundy outfit] warn against at their pulpits, or the soulless creatures imagined out of hell that the forest monk Buddhists claim; not a creature unable to ever achieve a soul or a place in the cycles of rebirth and striving for Nirvana. Not the affront to the Qu’ran that the Green Headbands believe. (35)
Robot notes “the crowd’s eyes on her, a physical thing, molesting her” (37), which transforms routine apodyopsis into a corporeal battery, I suppose—a coolness that makes up for the awkward conceptualization in the rhetoric ‘crowd’s eyes’ (huh?). Again, ultra-apodyopsis:
She has the uncomfortable feeling of being taken apart, cell by cell. Not so much that he undresses her with his gaze—this she experiences every day: the feel of men’s eyes darting across her skin, clasping at her body, hungering and despising her. (40)
This character is the great political dream of those who seek to reduce their policy preferences to ‘human nature’: “her genetic urge to please” (40), “her body performs just as designed […] She cannot control it no matter how much she despises” (38). This allows for a specific Hegelian antagonism, wherein she disagrees plainly with herself, when she “feels a wash of pleasure at his compliment, and despises herself for it” (45-46). What’s needed is for this self-loathing to be pushed to the crisis point; what impedes a material resolution is the bizarre robot theology, derived apparently from Pinocchio, wherein Mizuko Jizo Bodhisattva is to “smuggle them out of the hell world of genetically engineered toys and into the true life cycle. Their duty was to serve, their honor was to serve, and their reward would come in the next life, when they became fully human [a real boy!]” (153-54). How this is not a confirmatory example of Marx’s position on religion is difficult to see.
It is nevertheless “an odd thing, being a manufactured creature, built and trained to serve. She herself admits that her soul wars with itself. That she does not rightly know which parts of her are hers alone and which have been inbuilt genetically” (184), which is kinda a very kickass way to conceive of “one’s own”—one’s genetic inheritance, whether ‘natural’ or ‘manufactured’, arises from another. (view spoiler)[What pushes her to crisis is the revelation that the robot religion of moving to free robot town may in fact be false (259); this breaks her of servility, wherein she kills her owner and his ranking clientele who happen to have been on hand and humiliated her, which amounts to a plot-significant political assassination. It is cool, I must confide, to have my general hypothesis confirmed that the presence of robots in a story means that the story will become a robot rebellion. Best part is that the meconnaissance regarding the robot continues after her crisis and freytag climax insofar as contending locals and cappies blame each other the event, unable to think of “another explanation” (272), failing to see that she may in fact have her own telos. Motherfucking cappies can’t even conceive of autonomous worker upheaval. (hide spoiler)]
The agambenian conflict develops dialectically out of the slow-apocalyptic setting, localized to Thailand, arising out of the antagonistic trade and environmental policies of the kingdom; it is the familiar development vs. sustainability debate, where all participants can make a bona fide claim to represent the best interests of the polis, (view spoiler)[even when they intentionally destroy the polis in order to save it, say (hide spoiler)]. It comes down “the positives of free trade,” such as “changing pollution credit systems, of removing quarantine inspections, of streamlining everything that has kept the Kingdom alive as other countries have collapsed” (51). At the root of this contention is the old Roman distinction between jus and lex: “Laws are confusing documents. They get in the way of justice” (55). Even though the local trade minister is a dick, he likewise recognizes that “Your people [i.e., European cappies] have tried to destroy mine for the last five hundred years. We have nothing in common” (150). Cappy’s position is of course “We’re not in the nation-breaking business anymore. All we’re interested in is a free market” (148). These antagonistic positions are ideological insofar as they accurately apprehend contradictions in objective material reality but lack the conceptual apparatus to resolve them. Cappy embodies both the meconnaissance and the undecidability of the state of exception when he experiences “the surprise of realizing that the world he understands is not the one he actually inhabits” (187).
Chinese migrant, who had escaped a genocide in Malaysia, recalls “his own people similarly disassembled” (21) by moslems with machetes. The xenophobia is not a moslem thing, and not a national thing, but rather a bizarre autochthony, as one finds at times in illiberalisms generally: “Food should come from the place of its origin, and stay there. It shouldn’t spend its time crisscrossing the globe for the sake of profit” (93). That’s basically a fascistic sentiment. Novel doesn’t present much in the way of controversion to this sort of position—though perhaps it is a manifestly self-refuting idea, considering that the interlocutors are discussing the subject in English (I mean, duh?). The insular ideology is not limited to rightwingers, but becomes appealing to eponymous robot, who, in the depth of her own suffering, hopes to find “her own lost tribe,” as “she was never Japanese; she was only ever a windup” (102). Annoying, the casual ethnocentrism or ethnic essentialism that is imputed to the various characters, such as how Thai cop considers how “it’s in the Chinese nature to be a bit hot-headed” (117).
Text does warn “don’t cling too tightly to what is natural,” as “the ecosystem unraveled when man first went seafaring” and “it’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature” (243) which is likely a proper progressive attitude, if perhaps a bit stark and crass. Text thereby discloses its master figure insofar as
Life is exponential […] Maybe it’s everywhere in the population already, becomes a plague and we never noticed. Maybe this is end-stage. Terminal without symptoms. (247)
We must recall, of course, that “Life is after all invariably fatal” (id.). (Geneticist who investigates plagues regards situation of the novel as “hardly worthy my intellect” (id.), comparing the novel’s complications to other problems that were “worthy opponents” (248), which discloses an ugly ludic nihilism, categorically worse than all of the other rightwingery otherwise: “The man exists only for competition, the chess match of evolution, fought on a global scale” (id.); narrator at that point, to her credit, regards it as a “horrifying thought” (id.).)
We might also point out that robot is also a good example of the Coke/Foucault conjunction, as discussed in my writing on Love in the Time of Cholera:
People jostled around her as they try to read, shoving closer, squeezing past, all of them thinking she is one of them. All of them allowing her to live only because they do not yet see. (285)
In that connection, the robot could not have assassinated people but for “extraordinary stimulus,” because
New People value discipline. Order. Obedience. We have a saying in Japan, ‘New People are more Japanese than the Japanese.’” (300)
(This last should be setting off our baudrillardian hyperreality alarms, yo. The text’s rightwingers object to the “anthropomorphizing of a thing” (302), which objection neatly encapsulates the old Marxist commodity fetishism thesis that market relations are in fact relations between human persons, not relations between a person and products or products and currency. Here, the thing to be anthropomorphized is a human person, FFS. Commodity fetishism, terminal without symptoms, as handily demonstrated by robot protagonist.
Recommended for those who make a bribe look like a service agreement, readers who coughed the meat of their lungs out between their teeth, and geriatric ninjas. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Prefaced with the well-known premise “against stupidity even the gods contend in vain” (xii), and notes thereafter that “labor history was pornographyPrefaced with the well-known premise “against stupidity even the gods contend in vain” (xii), and notes thereafter that “labor history was pornography of a sort” in the early 20th century (xviii). Narrative arises out of a fictional moment of labor history, the fabricated “Cuyahoga Massacre” in Cleveland, 1894 (xxi). Narrator is raised by one of the industrialist villains who authored the massacre, and becomes a big commie, and later ends up in prison several times for stupid things, such as being a tertiary Watergate thug.
That’s the story, I suppose—but one doesn’t read V for story, of course; it’s all about the observations along the way, such as: militias “represented an American ideal: healthy, cheerful, citizen soldiers” (xxvi), “utopian” (xxvii), but “worse than useless on battlefields” (id.).
Narrator was “a radical at Harvard,” “cochairman of the Harvard chapter of the Young Communist League” (13) (that’s a Stalinist outfit, FYI). After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, however, “I became a cautious believer in capitalistic democracy again” (id.). Despite this, dude ends up as Nixon’s youth affairs advisor. He wrote many unread memos, all of which boiled down to: “Young people still refuse to see the obvious impossibility of world disarmament and economic equality” (15).
V writes with a subtle rhetorical power, such as when he describes the post-war plans of narrator’s wife, a survivor of the Third Reich’s camps: “to roam alone and out-of-doors forever, from nowhere to nowhere in a demented sort of religious ecstasy. ‘No one ever touches me,’ she said, ‘and I never touch anyone. I am like a bird in flight. It is so beautiful. There is only God—and me’” (21). But in earthy contradiction with that ethereal image, “there was no movement or sound she made that was not at least accidentally flirtatious” (24).
Dude gives his wife probably the best wedding gift of which I’ve ever heard: “a wood carving […] it depicted hands of an old person pressed together in prayer. It was a three-dimensional rendering of a drawing by Albrecht Durer” (28).
Narrator is scolded for denouncing comrades to HUAAC with “The most important thing they teach at Harvard […] is that a man can obey every law and still be the worst criminal of his time” (75).
Definitions, V-style: twerp = “a person, if I may be forgiven, who bit the bubbles of his own farts in the bathtub” (110); jerk = “a person who masturbated too much” (id.).
Narrator notes the “tens of thousands of [shopping bag ladies]” loose in the US, “ragged regiments of them,”
produced accidentally, and to no imaginable purpose, by the great engine of the economy. Another part of the machine was spitting out unrepentant murderers ten years old, and dope fiends and child batterers and many other bad things. (140)
Reasonable persons were “As sick about all these tragic by-products of the economy as they would have been about human slavery” (id).
Overall, as normal for V: committed, witty, smart. Most bizarre thing is that the novel has an index. The hell?
Recommended for irony collectors, fanatical monks in the service of war, persons baptized Roman Catholic but who aspire to indifference, and readers who are pure phlogiston. ...more
Cute little pamphlet in the benjaminian tradition. Probably the best 9/11 book that I’ve read, even though it only briefly mentions that event.
Point oCute little pamphlet in the benjaminian tradition. Probably the best 9/11 book that I’ve read, even though it only briefly mentions that event.
Point of departure is Schmitt’s “definition of the sovereign as ‘he who decides on the state of exception’” (1), the state of necessity, like civil war, wherein we find “juridical measures that cannot be understood in legal terms," and which appear "as the legal form of what cannot have legal form” (id.).
Notes that the SoE is like a lawful civil war, and notes the Third Reich as an SoE with a twelve-year duration (2), based on an emergency decree that created a “voluntary state of emergency” alongside the lawful constitutional order—which is a technique that “has become one of the essential practices of contemporary states, including so-called democratic ones” (id).
SoE is not a specialized area of law, but rather “a suspension of the juridical order” (4); SoE is furthermore a “creation of the democratic-revolutionary tradition and not the absolutist one” (5). Will note that “the idea that a suspension of law may be necessary for the common good is foreign to the medieval world” (26), which may, I think, be less about the SoE itself than about how things like “common good” may also be foreign to the medieval world, which may inhabit a kenomatic space (infra) of its own.
Text notes a number of sets of distinctions in wrestling with this: real v. fictive SoE (3); states of peace/war/siege, which escalate the centralization of military authority (5); pleromatic (state has plenitudo potestatis, the expansion of state power), v. kenomatic states (an “emptiness of law,” a return to a Hobbesian “state of nature”) (5-6); Schmitt’s “commissarial dictatorship” v. “sovereign dictatorship” (8, and then again in depth 32 ff.). Initially, dude wants to identify the SoE with a kenomatic state.
Wants therefore to trace the development of the concept toward the modern global SoE as manifested in the Patriot Act and ‘war on terror.’ This section (11-22) covers several states' development. The brief US section is tremendous, noting the origin of the US SoE in the presidency of Lincoln, who “acted as an absolute dictator” (20) and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and thereafter justified his actions to the legislature by stating, whatever their legality, they were based on popular demand and public necessity (id.). Congress dutifully ratified the executive acts. Later, Wilson “assumed even broader powers,” but instead of bypassing Congress, he went “each time to have the powers in question delegated,” which is apparently tres European (21) to the extent it prefers extraordinary statutes over a general declaration of the SoE. Because the Lincoln/Wilson expansions were rooted in two different sorts of war, by the time we get to FDR, all crises become warlike, and the president actually asked “the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe” in 1938 (22).
The function of these processes is apparently to inscribe durkheimian anomie within the juridical order: “The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order” (23). This is traced back to the Decretum of Gratian: “If something is done out of necessity, it is done licitly, since what is not licit in law necessity makes licit. Likewise necessity has no law” (24). Greasers take this as an indication that necessity is truly the basis of law after all, which seems to set the SoE as the originary condition. Gross. But it gets worse as we move to the metagross:
As a figure of necessity, the state of exception therefore appears (alongside revolution and the de facto establishment of a constitutional system) as an ‘illegal’ but perfectly ‘juridical and constitutional’ measure that is realized in the production of new norms (or of a new juridical order): […] ‘There are norms that cannot or should no be written; there are others that cannot be determined except when the circumstances arise for which they must serve’ [internal citation omitted] The gesture of Antigone, which opposed the written law to the agrapta nomima [unwritten laws] is here reversed and asserted in defense of the constituted order. (28)
This should appear very familiar to those of us who have faithfully read Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence,’ especially as read through Derrida’s beautiful Force de Loi. Le "Fondement mystique de L'autorité". The SoE is with revolution parcel to the status necessitates and accordingly in “an ambiguous and uncertain zone in which de facto proceedings, which are in themselves extra- or antijuridical, pass over into law, and juridical norms blur with mere fact—that is, a threshold where fact and law seem to become undecidable” (29).
That’s all kinda kickass—the master figure of blurriness, which renders certain thingies undecidable in the normal derridean/godelian sense. This causes a nasty aporia: “If a measure taken out of necessity is already a juridical norm and not simply fact, why must it be ratified and approved by law […]? And if instead if it not law, but simply fact, why do the legal effects of its ratification begin not from the moment it is converted into law, but ex tunc?” (29). As though that aporia were not completely disabling, author likewise identifies a worse one: though many writers think of the state of necessity as “an objective situation,” it is contingent upon a naïve assumption of “pure factuality” which the concept has contradicted (blurriness of law/fact, recall!) and is furthermore reliant upon “subjective judgment”—“‘the recourse to necessity entails a moral or political (or in any case, extrajuridical) evaluation, by which the juridical order is judged and is held worthy of preservation or strengthening even at the price of its possible violation,’” which renders it always already a “’revolutionary principle’” (30).
Working through Schmitt’s theory of dictatorship thereafter, author has occasion to observe Schmitt ‘s inscription of the SoE within the juridical order itself:
’Because the state of exception is always something different from anarchy and chaos, in a juridical sense, an order still exists in it, even if it is not a juridical order.’ This specific contribution of Schmitt’s theory is precisely to have made such an articulation between state of exception and juridical order possible. (33)
Readers of Bigg D will also note well--
But precisely because the decision here concerns the very annulment of the norm, that is, because the state of exception represents the inclusion and capture of a space that is neither outside not inside (the space that corresponds to the annulled and suspended norm), ‘the sovereign stands outside of the normally valid juridical order, and yet belongs to it.’(35)
--which is the triton genus, the khora as described in the Timaeus and made infamous by our favorite Francophone Algerian.
Mention is made briefly of Derrida’s essay on the ‘force de loi’ (37), which works as a departure point for a consideration of the significance of “force of law” as a legal term:
The decisive point, however, is that in both modern and ancient documents the syntagma force of law refers in the technical sense not to the law but to those decrees (which, as we indeed say, have the force of law) that the executive power can be authorized to issue in some situations, particularly in the state of exception. That is to say, the concept of ‘force of law,’ as a technical legal term, defines a separation of the norm’s vis obligandi, or applicability, from its formal essence, whereby decrees, provisions, and measures that are not formally laws nevertheless acquire their ‘force.’ (38)
Here, the nebulous ‘force of law’ “floats as an indeterminate element that can be claimed both” by the state and the revolution, say (id.). SoE is “an anomic space [again] in which what is at stake is a force of law without law” through which “law seeks to annex anomie itself” (39), which is kinda awesome and gross at the same time.
SoE then explained as a modern instance of Roman iustitium, an analogy to solstitium, wherein something comes to standstill (law or sun, dig?). Iustitium was proclaimed as a response to the declaration of a tumultus, itself normally the result of the issuance of senatus consultum ultimum (41). (Gotta love that chain.) Iustitium was conceived by Roman jurists as “an interval and cessation of law,” or, as author says, “the production of a juridical void” (41-42). We should carry this in mind with the prior discussion of kenomatic states, states of nature, lacuna that is not anarchy, and so on. The of senatus consultum ultimum (SCU) is described by some as a quasi-dictatorship, but author regards that as manifestly erroneous; SCU is not a new office or power, but rather a caesura wherein “every citizen seems to be invested with a floating and anomalous imperium that resists definition within the terms of the normal order” (43), but nevertheless allows them to carry out any acts in defense of the state. He will deny that SCU and the iustitium can be read as dictatorship, which was a specific magistracy defined by a precise statute for a particular purpose—though it was of course an extraordinary office and statute. Because Schmitt and others confused SoE with dictatorship, they made the same error and fell into the aporias described supra. (Best note in the entire volume argues that fascists tend to be “indifferently presented as dictators,” but they normally aren’t within the scope of the definition, considering that they historically were duly authorized to take office, and then ruled constitutionally as well as from a parallel SoE (48).)
From the iustitium, dude summarizes: SoE is not dictatorship, but a zone of anomie; it is essential to the juridical order; acts committed during the SoE/iustitium have not legal definition and are within the khora of the law; and ‘force of law’ is the way we conceive of the undefinability (51).
Text moves on to read the Benjamin/Schmitt debate, wherein we see the already familiar notions, such as SoE is where Schmitt tries to “inscribe anomie within the very body of the nomos (54), and so on. This section is mainly to rehabilitate Benjamin, as his it as apparently considered ‘scandalous’ on the left for Benjamin to have been interested in the ideas of fascist Schmitt; it’s cool and interesting, but doesn’t really develop the ideas of the first half much further. Final two chapters are also very cool, but seem like coda I and coda II that run specific things inessential to the main argument (still very cool). My notes are littered with ‘cf. Griffin,’ ‘cf. Bakhtin,’ ‘cf. Adorno,’ so it’s conceptually worthwhile. Works very well with Neumann’s Behemoth, insofar as the Third Reich was in that text described as a non-state subject to the overlapping polycratic authority of various actors who each held their own SoE/SCU bona fides.
Collection of vignettes, wherein V acts as reporter from beyond the grave, interviewing various dead persons. Point of the collection for real is a fuCollection of vignettes, wherein V acts as reporter from beyond the grave, interviewing various dead persons. Point of the collection for real is a fundraiser for public radio, and each piece seems as though it could’ve been an on-air sketch.
Standard V stuff: witty, lefty, sometimes silly. Faux interviews with John Brown, Clarence Darrow, Eugene Debs, Shakespeare, Hitler, Isaac Newton, James Earl Ray, Mary Shelley, Asimov. Kilgore Trout also gets interviewed.
Notes interesting factoids, such as the most successful genocide in history, of which we know, is against the Tasmanians, say. ...more
Posits the existence of a “Great Backlash,” a derangement that is the return of “a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stPosits the existence of a “Great Backlash,” a derangement that is the return of “a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stage in response to the partying and protests of the late sixties” (5). It is apparently “like the French Revolution in reverse” (8): “sans culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy.” The central problem:
Strip them of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and the next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEOs, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. (68)
One good example is a particular county that has 29% of its income coming from government benefits, but the residents therein want the gubmint to leave them alone (they voted to secede from Kansas in 1992, apparently, emblematic of right-populist myopia) (84-85). Ostensibly much of the Backlash movement calls for a certain sense of “authenticity” (28)—for which we must of course consult Herf’s Reactionary Modernism.
Author here wants to know how “Kansas conservative rebels profess to hate elites but somehow excuse from their fury the corporate world” (113). The answer: “At the center of it all is a way of thinking about class that both encourages class hostility of the kind we see in Kansas and simultaneously denies the economic basis of the grievance” (id.). Class for these right-populists is not about “money or birth or even occupation. It is primarily a matter of authenticity, that most valuable cultural commodity” (id.)” “what one drives and were one shops and how one prays”—“what makes one part of the noble proletariat is not work per se, but unpretentiousness, humility” (id.). So, it’s Weberian signifiers over Marxist economics. This is why the rightwing can designate as undesirable ‘class warfare’ any discussion of the “failures of free market capitalism” and then with the next breath “rail against the ‘media elite’ or the haughty, Volvo-driving ‘eastern establishment’” (114). Conservatism accordingly becomes a narrative of victimhood, of the “oppressed majority” (119).
Text contains a nice little capsulated history of Kansas, along with comical assessments of recent political figures therefrom (Brownback, Dole, et al., opportunists all, thriving on right-populist anxieties while serving the industrial causes of those anxieties). We could probably handle a text like this for each state of the US.
Apparently the norm in Kansas has shifted far off what everyone else considers sane:
Survivalist supply shops sprout in neighborhood strip malls. People send Christmas cards urging friends to look on the bright side of Islamic terrorism, since the Rapture is now clearly at hand. […] The Kansas school board draws the guffaws of the world for purging state science standards of references to evolution. Cities large and small still hold out against water fluoridation, while one tiny hamlet takes the additional step of requiring firearms in every home. A prominent female politician expresses public doubts about the wisdom of women’s suffrage, while another pol proposes that the state sell off the Kansas Turnpike in order to solve its budget crisis. (35)
So, yeah, what appears now as teabagger bullshit, but already in 2005. There is a definite economic base here that produces the deranged superstructures: “farmers struggle to make a living on the most fertile and productive land in the world” (36).
Author is a lefty (well-known from The Baffler), but on occasion slips into a rightwing rhetoric, such as the pooh-poohing of the “plutocratization” of suburbs (46), or noting that “wealth has some secret bond with crime—also with drug use, bullying, lying, adultery, and thundering, world-class megalomania” (47), or the bizarre equating of “the borderline criminality of capitalism itself” (id.). He notes, unhelpfully, that “this is a civilization in the early stages of irreversible decay” (59).
Suburbs aforesaid (of Kansas City) are developed historically through multiple phases: “Cheap federal loans” as initial condition of possibility (48), followed by school desegregation, followed by corporate flight from cities, an extreme example of “low density sprawl.” In addition to nasty suburbization, Kansas also features “a showplace of industrialized agriculture,” which includes an aquifer (its “millions of years of collected rainwater spent in just a few decades”), “trailer park cities,” “some of the most advanced union-avoidance strategies ever conceived” in an industry where workers do “what is statistically the most dangerous work” for low wages (53)—the costs associated therewith externalized, to use the rightwing lawyers’ term (54). Author draws the same parallel drawn by Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian (read through the conceptual lens of The Road): “after taking in its brooding slaughterhouses and its unearthly odors and the feeder lots that sprawl over the landscape like some post-Apocalyptic suburb of death” (54-55).
Urban blight in the ‘heartland’ “can’t easily be blamed on the usual suspects like government or counterculture or high-hat urban policy” (62), but rather the “culprit is the conservatives’ beloved free market capitalism.” Agriculture is no good in laissez faire capitalism, apparently, as it features an overproduction trap: “when they find themselves in a tough situation […] farmers do not have the option of cutting back production”; instead, “each of these millions of farmers works harder, competes better, becomes more efficient, cranks out more of the commodity in question and thus makes the glut even worse, and pushes prices lower” (63). Plenty of information here regarding the competitiveness of industrial agriculture; by the standards noted, it is no longer competitive in the capitalist sense, as four firms control large majorities of basic products. Author imputes to the oligopoly the position that “the competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy” (64). Much of the New Deal’s protections for agriculture was crushed out in 1996’s Orwellian “Freedom to Farm Act” (id.), which is an “exact antithesis to the Populist revolt” (66). The ‘Food Trust’ argues that vertical integration and whatnot is for the best: “we finally have to say goodbye to the Jeffersonian fantasy of the family farm” and “transform the prosperous farmer into a sharecropper and turn the countryside into an industrialized wasteland and destroy the small towns” (id.); author is apparently annoyed by this, which annoyance registers in a somewhat rightwing register, sadly. That said, this sets the stage for the explanation of the Great Backlash, as this type of economic crisis had in the past produced leftwing agitation, rather than mean-spirited and easily derailed conservatism.
Ultimately, culture war bullshit is mixed with conservative economic positions, a standard bait and switch that teabaggers seem unable to slip: "Moaning that ‘the signs of a degenerating society are all around us,’ railing against abortion and homosexuality and gun control and evolution (‘a theory, not a fact’), the [GOP state platform] went on to propound a list of demands as friendly to plutocracy [sic] as anything ever dreamed up by Monsanto or Microsoft” (75), including clichés such as flat sales tax, abolition of capital gains and estate taxes, no state intervention in health care, privatization of state assets, deregulation of private enterprise, surrender of federal property, and prohibition on public moneys in elections—all of which serves private property and none of which is involved in standard culture wars issues.
The mechanism is clever:
The pro-life origins of the Kansas conservative movement present us with a striking historical irony. Historians often attribute the withering and disappearance of the nineteenth-century Populist movement to its failure to achieve material, real-world goals. It never managed to nationalize the railroads, or set up an agricultural price-support system, or remonetize silver, the argument does, and eventually voters got sick of its endless calls to take a stand against the ‘money power.’ Yet with the pro-life movement, the material goal of stopping abortion is, almost by definition, beyond achieving. (96)
The point here is that the culture war is unwinnable by calculated intention. Both state and national Backlashers “have made virtually no headway in the culture wars” (101). They have failed to stop abortion or abolish public schools or refute evolutionary theory. Indeed, “the issues the Cons emphasize seem all to have been chosen precisely because they are not capable of being resolved by the judicious application of state power” (id.). By contrast, however, “in only one area have the Cons achieved a tangible, real-world victory. Their intractable hostility to taxes of all kinds has successfully brought disaster on the state government” (id.). Agitation in favor of “one’s material interests are suspended in favor of vague cultural grievances that are all-important and yet incapable of ever being assuaged”; in fact, as a movement, “the backlash has pretty much been a complete bust” (121). The culture war however was “born to lose,” and “its goal is not to win cultural battles but to take offense, conspicuously, vocally, even flamboyantly” (121-22). Anti-intellectualism “is one of the grand unifying themes” (191), which ties into a more sinister anti-judaism.
The way to build this into a state of perpetual outrage is to circulate “a horizontal rather than a vertical mode of criticism, aiming to infuriate us with dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories” (123).
Conservative listservs abound with bizarre speculation about what atrocity the liberals will inflict on us tomorrow, each wild suggestion made and received with complete seriousness. The liberal elite is going to outlaw major league sports. Forbid red meat. Mandate special holidays for transgendered war veterans. Hand our neighborhood over to an Indian tribe. Decree that only gay couples can adopt children. Ban the Bible. (125)
The next step in the process is to explain the failure of the culture war: “blame liberalism” (131). Texts from the backlash “abound with inventive ways of presenting this essentially conspiratorial understanding of culture” (id.), wherein the liberal elite always swindles and sabotages the virtuous acts of the culture warriors.
Author identifies this process as “class war” very plainly (102): “I mean this in the material, economic sense, not in the tastes-and-values way our punditry defines class” (104). (There is some Weberian analysis, however, elsewise (cf. e.g. 108).) This is all contingent upon a silence regarding the underlying economic basis, of course: “The erasure of the economic is a necessary precondition for most of the basic backlash ideas” (128). Notes that “conservatives love populism in theory, always imagining super-authentic working people as witnesses to nature’s endorsement of their privileges” (151).
Part of the reason this outrageously stupid process worked is that the Clinton Democrats’ “move to accommodate the right” (176) ceded economic issues and left the only contest to be culture war BS, which is a core competency of teabagger types. Even as the Clinton Dems moved to the right, the rightwing moved into overt totalitarianism, considering themselves persecuted—but “what they mean by persecution is not imprisonment or excommunication or disenfranchisement, but criticism, news reports that disagree with them” (213), an indication that they do not like democratic debate in the slightest.
Overall, entertaining, witty, plenty of great anecdotes that I’ve omitted on nasty rightists, but on the whole perhaps somewhat ephemeral. We shall see if teabagger politics is durable....more
Nutshell: always already dashing petit bourgeois outsider seeks to break interstellar monopoly of Old Money aristocrat via innovative stellar semioticNutshell: always already dashing petit bourgeois outsider seeks to break interstellar monopoly of Old Money aristocrat via innovative stellar semiotics.
Text is kickass in its presentation of celestial objects and outer space, “where night means forever and morning’s a recollection” (18). Space itself: “the vermillion rush, in which hung the charred stars” (90). Each star is similarly “a furnace where the very worlds of empire are smelted” (86). One planet’s inhabitants speak with a dicked-up Yodaesque syntax, which is mostly annoying, but does have its corollary moments of awesome: “Into the blasting sun, plunge?” (94).
Primary objective of protagonist and his seven samurai sub-protagonists is a fictive heavy element, ‘illyrion,’ found in the centers of stars, accessible during a nova, say—“the whole continuum in the area of a nova is space that has been twisted away” (21). Sufficient illyrion “to keep this moon’s core molten is measured in grams” (26); protagonist accordingly proposes to capture seven tons of the stuff (id.).
This is set in an interstellar society, which retains its proto-fascistic losers who complain about “moral degeneration of the young” (40-41), that “economic, political, and technological change have shattered all cultural tradition” (41), that “there’s no reservoir of national, or world solidarity, even on Earth” (id.), and instead “pseudo-interplanetary society” replaced “any real tradition,” a “tangle of decadence, scheming, corruption” (id.).
These losers respond with despair to interstellar society’s basic proposition that
given any product, half of it may be grown on one world, the other half mined a thousand light-years away. On Earth, seventeen out of the hundreds of possible elements make up ninety percent of the planet. Take any other world, and you’ll find a different dozen making up ninety to ninety-nine percent. (79)
This monologue leads up to the point that interstellar society is contingent fundamentally on transit so expensive that only “national governments on Earth, or corporations” “could afford the initial cost” (80). This leads to one sector of interstellar society having been “extended by the vastly monied classes of Earth,” whereas another sector “was populated by a comparatively middle-class movement” and a third sector, the newest, “comes from the lowest economic strata of the galaxy” (83). Protagonist is one of the principal nouveau riche greasers at the head of the ‘middle-class’ sector, and much of the conflict of the novel arises out of a silly set of childhood confrontations with antagonist from the ‘vast monied classes.’
Though the puerile sections are of little moment to the overall setting, the present moment conflict between them has world-historical significance, as though SRD were boiling down class struggle between an aristocracy and a bourgeoisie to these two principals. Protagonist reveals himself to be a ludic nihilist (is that a class-bound ideology?), which we shall recall is the upjumped cousin of lumpenized antisocial nihilism:
the worlds we’ve been through haven’t really fit us for meanings. If I survive, then a world, a hundred worlds, a way of life survives. If [antagonist] survives… […] Still, perhaps it is a game. They keep telling us we live in a meaningless society, that there is no solidity to our lives. Worlds are tottering about us now, and still I only want to play. (152)
This candor reveals protagonist to be not only a ludic nihilist, but likewise a bearer of Sloterdijk’s enlightened false consciousness: “the character I thought obsessed by purpose reveals his obsession is only a habit; his habits are gratuitously meaningless, while those actions I construed as gratuitous reveal a most demonic purpose” (166). Protagonist even informs antagonist that “the reason I must fight you is I think I can win” (183). So, he’s, like, supergross--and yet still better than antagonist, who’s merely an Old Right aristocrat.
An example of how alien interstellar society might appear:
There was a thousand-year period from about fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred, when people spent an incredible amount of time and energy keeping things clean. It ended when the last communicable disease finally became not only curable but impossible. There used to be an incredibility called ‘the common cold’ that even in the twenty-fifth century you could be fairly sure of having at least once a year. I suppose back then there was some excuse for the fetish: there seemed to have been some correlation between dirt and disease. But after contagion became an obsolescent concern, sanitation became equally obsolescent. (123)
Interstellar society also relies upon “a revolution in the concept of work” (195), arising out of the invention of “neural plugs,” whereby people plug their brain directly into machines to operate them: “All major industrial work began to be broken down into jobs that could be machined ‘directly’ by man.” This purportedly “returned humanity to the working man. Under this system, much of the endemic mental illness caused by feelings of alienation left society” (196). The conclusion is that this society has allegedly abolished Marxist ‘alienation’ caused by diremptions in the process of production, maybe (this is as yet still a class society based on private property, exploitation of wage labor, and suchlike, though).
Manifestly a precursor to Rothfuss (insofar as one sub-protagonist is an orphaned gypsy lutist of sorts) and to The Matrix to the extent that people are plugged directly into machines. Metatextualist component in another sub-protagonist who is “writing a novel” and records notes on his travels for the book, amounting to “some hundred thousand words of notes” (15). Novelist contends that “novels were primarily about relationships. […] Their potentiality lay in that they belied the loneliness of the people who read them, people essentially hypnotized by the machinations of their own consciousness” (159).
Something conceptually very interesting in “there are expressions that happen on the outside of the face; there are expressions that happen on the inside, with only quivers on the lips and eyelids” (93), a semiotics of face that we find most importantly later in R. Scott Bakker. One character notes that “on the ruptured features it was hard to read subtleties in [protagonist’s] emotions” (96) (emphasis added). Someone else’s “expression inside was a quick smile” (100).
You for a few seconds only [antagonist’s] face have seen. In the face the lines of a man’s fate mapped are. […] From the crack across mine, you where those lines my fate can tell will touch? (id.)
Similarly, dude notes “the smile the captain had not yet allowed on his face” (175). There is a cool concordance here—just as there are internal and external signifiers for persons, both of which can be read by the trained interlocutor, so too the star has its own semiotics, both internal and external: “Because the make-up of a star doesn’t change in a nova, you can’t detect the build-up over any distance with spectranalysis or anything like that” (88).
Much is therefore made of the astrophysics of the nova, which are noted to be “implosions, not explosions” (86); the ultimate explanation for this is kinda cool (not gonna spoil it). This is important because protagonist wishes to pass to the center of a star while nova is in flagrante delicto in order to harvest his unobtainium; he had already done as much by accident when “our ship was funneled directly through the center of the sun—and out the other side” (89). Novel reveals astrophysicist opinion to be lacking consensus on the question:
After a thousand years of study [!!!], from close up and far away, it’s a bit unnerving how much we don’t know about what happens in the center of the most calamitous of stellar catastrophes [!]. The make-up of the star stays the same, only the organization of the matter within the star is disrupted by a process that is still not quite understood. It could be an effect of tidal harmonics. It could even be a prank of Maxwell’s demon. (95)
So, after 1,000 years of study, the results of astrophysics is to note that the signifier changes but the underlying signified is self-identical (that’s synonymy, I think).
Because it’s a Delany book, it can be labor intensive at times, though not so much as Babel, Einstein, or heavens forfend, Dhalgren. Contains however the normal SRD fixation on some body of mythological content, here, working with the Tarot and Arthurian sangraal. Authorial alter ego asks in this connection:
I haven’t seen anybody read the Tarot since I was in school. […] I suppose at one time you could have called me quite an amateur aficionado of the Book of Toth [sic] as they were incorrectly labeled in the seventeenth century. I would say rather […] the Book of the Grail? (100)
(Am uncertain what the ‘Book of the Grail’ means; there’s a few allegedly lost things out there by that name, but it’s apparently not the name of any standard Arthurian text.) Author’s alter ego explains that “the cards don’t actually predict anything. They simply propagate an educated commentary on present situations” (101), which is innocuous enough. But:
the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot present symbols and mythological images that have recurred and reverberated through forty-five centuries of human history. Someone who understands these symbols can construct a dialogue about a given situation. There’s nothing superstitious about it. The Book of Changes, even Chaldean Astrology only become superstitious when they are abused, employed to direct rather than guide and suggest. (id.)
Uh, okay? It gets worse: “If somebody had told me I’d be working in the same crew, today, in the thirty-first century, with somebody who could honestly be skeptical about the Tarot, I don’t think I would have believed it” (110). Dude will “doubt if such fossilized ideas could have come from anywhere else but Earth” (id.); he “wouldn’t be surprised if in some upper Mongolian desert town there isn’t someone who still thinks Earth floats on a dish on the back of an elephant who stands on a serpent coiled on a turtle swimming in the sea of forever” (id.); indeed, this setting is so inverted that alter ego will carp “here you are, flying this star-freighter, a product of thirty-first century technology, and at the same time your head full of a petrified ideas a thousand years out of date” (id.). Alter ego can therefore proclaim that the thesis that the Tarot was faked by gypsies is “a very romantic notion” (111): “the idea that all those symbols, filtered down through five thousand years of mythology, are basically meaningless and have no bearing on man’s mind and actions [NB: idealist collective subject as per similar juvenile ideas in Ayn Rand], strikes a little bell of nihilism ringing” (id.). I suppose the basis of accusing Tarot skepticism of nihilism must be a hasty and unwarranted vulgar jungianism. Ugh.
Despite all that, alter ego is an interesting cat, who believes that he needs “an awareness of my time’s conception of history” in order to write his novel, which is a fairly Benjaminian approach (cf. the ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ especially No. VI, VII, & IX). History begins with the ancient Greeks as “the study of whatever had happened during their own lives” (116), and became in the hands of Anna Komnena “the study of those events of man’s actions that had been documented” (id.); a thousand years thereafter, it morphed again into “a series of cyclic rises and falls as one civilization overtook another” (id.), with events outside the cycle as “unimportant.” It may be “difficult for us today to appreciate the differences between Spengler and Toynbee, though from all accounts their approaches were considered polar in their day” (id.). Dude’s theory of history is revealed, after several deferrals, as “a great net, spreading among the stars, through time” (126), which is kinda philistine as a figuration, but may have some applicability when diffusion is dependent upon interstellar transit. A “great web that spreads across the galaxy,” “the matrix in which history happens” (155). Each person is a “junction” and each event “like a ripple” (id.).
The effect of this doctrine:
The United States was a product of that whole communication explosion, movements of people, movements of information, the development of movies, radio, and television that standardized speech and the framework of thought—not thought itself, however—which meant that person A could understand not only person B, but person W, X and W as well. People, information, and ideas move across the galaxy much faster today than they moved across the United States in 1950. You and I were born a third of a galaxy apart […] Still, you and I are much closer in information structure than a Cornishman and Welshman a thousand years ago. (137-38)
Recommended for those who make a last stand for cultural autonomy and all that, readers unable to distinguish between laughter and rage, and persons who between you and your flaming sun will come. ...more
Probably ironic insofar as it is a programmatic statement for lumpenized antisocial nihilists (not the sort who abide a programme, normally), which meProbably ironic insofar as it is a programmatic statement for lumpenized antisocial nihilists (not the sort who abide a programme, normally), which means that it is less LANish itself than metaLANish, a scholarly study that seeks to inhabit the ‘mind’ of the LAN and explore the contours thereof. Ultimately defines the group as
the shin jin rui--that’s what the Japanese newspapers call people like those kids in their twenties at the office--new human beings. It’s hard to explain. We have the same group over here and it’s just as large, but it doesn’t have a name—an X generation—purposefully hiding itself. (56)
We note that though the phenomenon is indigenous in this conception, the text very carefully must describe it with reference to an international phenomenon, an interpenetration by free movement of peoples in the post-war period. Despite the international bona fides, X generation is post-market, annoyed that “our parents’ generation seems neither able nor interested in understanding how marketers exploit them. They take shopping at face value” (68). Even if it’s hiding itself, it’s not really a secret among the cool kids, as they might taunt each other with such insults as “fin de siècle existentialist poseur” (85). They display the normal proto-fascist nietzschean ennui in leaving “their old lives behind them and set forth to make new lives for themselves in the name of adventure,” during the course of which they search for “personal truth” and “willingly put themselves on the margins of society” (88). Rather, “when you’re middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact the history will never champion your causes and that history will never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happinesses are sterile; all sadnesses go unpitied” (147). OH NOS!
X generation’s cynicism is complete, however: “You are such a victim, you pea-brained dimwit—no one believes the government” (77). Fairly illiberal to the extent it condemns “the people of my own generation who used all that was good in themselves just to make money; who use their votes for short term gain. Who ended up blissful in the bottom feeding jobs—marketing, land flipping, ambulance chasing, and money brokering” (81). Perfectly willing to mock others who want the same depth of lumpenization:
They’re nice kids. None of their folks can complain. They’re perky. They embrace and believe the pseudo-globalism add ersatz racial harmony of ad campaigns engineered by the makers of soft drinks and computer inventoried sweaters. […] But in some dark and undefinable way, these kids are also Dow, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, and the military. (106)
Those who “live in a permanent 1950s” “still believe in a greeting card future” (112); despite the “mild racist quirks and planet destroying peccadillos” of this type, “their existence acts as a tranquilizer in an otherwise slightly out-of-control world” (id.), which is the standard degeneracy language used by right-populists who seek regeneration of nation through spiritual renewal and manliness in war, incidentally.
Great enemies of this group are yuppies, normally, who “won in a genetic lottery […] having been born at the right moment in history” (21). Protagonists take a calvinist view of property acquisition, however, insofar as “I see all of us trying so hard to acquire so much stuff, but I can’t help but feeling that we didn’t merit it” (23), an odd conflation of self-loathing consumerism and anti-consumerist asceticism. Adopts an anti-Adorno position with “we’re not built for free time as a species” (id.), suggesting that most of us have “only two or three genuinely interesting moments in our lives, the rest is filler, and that at the end of our lives, most of us will be lucky if any of those moments connect together to form a story that anyone would find remotely interesting” (24), which is kinda gross proto-fascistic talk.
Friend of mine saw me reading this and asked ‘Are you learning some good cliché aphorisms about yourself?’ which is a decent approximation. And I must admit, this is probably the easiest book that I’ve read in terms of situating myself inside it; it was indeed written for persons like me. (I suppose that means that the irreducible foundation of my ideological composition is lumpen antisocial nihilist?)
Narrator concedes in the opening that he acquired a “mood of darkness and inevitability and fascination” (3) at age fifteen and retained thereafter the same “ambivalence” at fifteen years later (4). Given this premise, it not difficult to understand that narrator is otherwise a mix of potentially inconsistent ideas: postmodern rootlessness (“where you’re from feels sort of irrelevant these days” (4)), economic dissatisfaction (“after eight hours of working his McJob (‘Low pay, low prestige, low benefits, low future’)” (5)), and proto-fascistic degeneracy theory conflated with fugly localism (“whether I feel more that I want to punish some aging crock for frittering away my world, or whether I’m just upset that the world has gotten too big” (id.)).
Part of the LAN ideological mix here is what Sloterdijk designated as ‘enlightened false consciousness’:
[deuteragonists] smile a lot, as do many people I know. But I have always wonder if there is something either mechanical or malignant to their smiles, for the way they keep their outer lips propped up seems a bit, not false, but protective. A minor realization hits me as I sit with the two of them. It is the realization that the smiles that they wear in their daily lives are the same as the smiles worn by people who have been good-naturedly fleeced, but fleeced nonetheless, in public and on a New York sidewalk by card sharks, and who are unable because of social convention to show their anger, who don’t want to look like poor sports. (7)
Narrators will adopt (on the next page, even) a second pomo conceit: “‘Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.’ I agree. Dag agrees. We know that this is why the three of us left our lives behind us and came to the desert—to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales” (8)—which is immediately recognizable as Baudrillard’s simulacrum argument, as delivered however by Zizek (& Laurence Fishburne): ‘Welcome to the desert of the real, motherfuckers.’ It becomes so ludicrous that deuteragonist must confirm “Wait […] this is a true story?” (54).
Text has a fine sense of humor, such as in comparing rich people shopping for luxuries to “hundreds of greedy little children who are so spoiled, and so impatient, that the can’t even wait for food to be prepared. They have to reach for live animals on the table and suck the food right out of them” (9). (Elsewise, however, narrator will note that “we had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity” (11), so he’s not immune.) The objection remains cultural, ‘spiritual,’ idealist, right-populist—rather than ‘the international proletariat starves because of exploitation,’ which is how a leftwing objection might read, by contrast.
Novel is printed on weird 7.75 x 8.875 paper (not a standard paper size); text is within the bounds of a typical octavo, whereas large margin is filled with ancient-seeming glosses and little cutesy graphics—an illuminated manuscript, as though text were scripture and marginal glosses are the comments by learned scribes of the monastery. In some ways the supplied marginalia is one of the best features of the novel, and provides at times the apparatus for reading, such as when, say, the gloss on ‘historical slumming’ suggests that one might visit ‘locations where time appears to have been frozen many years back—so as to experience relief when one returns back ‘to the present’” (11). Similarly, ‘decade blending’ is “the indiscriminate combination of two or more items from various decades” (15). Novel in text proper lays out its basic principle of reading:
I’ve seen the process of onedownmanship in action—and been angry at not having sordid enough tales of debauchery of my own to share. ‘Never be afraid to cough up a bit of diseased lung for spectators,’ said a man who sat next to me at a meeting once, a man with skin like a half-cooked pie crust and who had five grown children who would no longer take his phone calls: ‘How are people ever going to help themselves if they can’t grab onto a fragment of your own horror? People want that little fragment, they need it.’ I’m still looking for a description of storytelling as vital as this. (13)
Novel proceeds along this objective, as narrator and deuteragonists share sub-narratives with regularity. We as readers might take note of the consistent slumming and onedownmanship in the narration, as it heads toward ugly right-populist and proto-fascistic conclusions.
Lays down slackerist principles such as “occupational slumming” (working below one’s abilities) (26). Also—“Voter’s block”: the "attempt, however futile, to register dissent with the current political system by simply not voting” (80). But the slacker eventually comes to Hegelian confrontation:
”We all go through a crisis point, or, I suppose, or we’re not complete. I can’t tell you how many people I know who claim to have had a midlife crisis early in life. But there invariably comes a certain point where our youth fails us; […] But my crisis wasn’t just the failure of youth but also a failure of class and of sex and the future. (30)
Dude resolves this crisis by becoming Ballard’s protagonist from Crash: “I began to see this world as one where citizens stare, say, at the armless Venus de Milo and fantasize about amputee sex or self-righteously apply a fig leaf to the statue of David, but not before breaking off his dick as a souvenir” (31). Result: “All events become omens; I lost the ability to take anything literally” (id.), which is a distinctly nihilist position. Remedy: “I needed a clean slate with no one to read it. I needed to drop out even further. My life had become a series of scary incidents that simply weren’t stringing together to make for an interesting book” (id.). This last reveals that the nihilism is baudrillardian, born out of semiurgical overload, which requires the material historical world to mean more than its mere existence, and prescribes one’s life, making it adhere to the manifestly hyperreal narratives that precede the life in question. It’s all friggin’ gross, of course. (Dude will refer to his crew as “a blue jeans ad come to life” (54).)
This sort of semiurgical-excess nihilism (what Mieville might mean by ‘lumpen postmodern’) does not arise out of nothing (though the nihilist may believe as much), but is rather related plainly to the economic basis, “the year is permanently 1974, the year after the oil shock and the year starting from which real wages in the U.S. never grew ever again” (40). The X generation nihilist wants to tell his parents “that I envy their upbringings that were so clean, so free of futurelessness. And I want to throttle them for blithely handing over the world to us like so much skid-marked underwear” (86)—cf. Griffin’s Modernism & Fascism, maybe? Much of the fear of futurelessness arises from nuclear warfare (plenty of images and sub-narratives there), including the great gloss on ‘strangelove reproduction’ wherein one has “children to make up for the fact that no one believes in the future” (135).
Part of the dysfunctional relation to the future is a pathological relation to the past. The Vietnam war in the US was “ugly times,” but “they were also the only times I’ll ever get—genuine capital H history times, before history turned into a press release […] In the bizarre absence of all time cues, I need a connection to a past of some importance” (151), a necessity for connection even to the Ugly, apparently.
There may be a bizarre anti-corporeality running through, too, such as being “disembodied from the vulgarities of gravity” (146). Protagonist notes that his father “discovered his body late in life” and sought to “deprogram himself of dietary fictions invented by railroaders, cattlemen, and petrochemical and pharmaceutical firms over the centuries” (142). Weird.
Recommended for those who think it unhealthy to live life as a succession of isolated little cool moments, readers trying to erase all traces of history from their pasts, and the persons who unable to feel rooted, move continually in the hopes of finding an idealized sense of community. ...more
Apparently Rothfuss was a reader of a draft of this text in 2004 (see 387), which makes some sense, as it is similar in formal terms to his writings iApparently Rothfuss was a reader of a draft of this text in 2004 (see 387), which makes some sense, as it is similar in formal terms to his writings in several respects, even though the details of the setting differ in content quite a bit. Basic premise of both is that protagonist attends sorcerer school in order to avenge parents, as told by protagonist after the fact to a third party historian.
Somewhat undecidable throughout the novel as to the locus and tempus of the narrative; is it a bizarre contemporary tale set in the wasteland of an ongoing war (such as the Great Lakes conflicts and the Congo wars), with magical realist inversions, or featuring characters who falsely believe in the supernatural? We might understand if the modern, western reader (who knows little of African history, geography, and language) interprets this text as set in the real world during the present moment.
(view spoiler)[As it turns out, text reveals that it is some sort of fantastical post-apocalypse, set in “the Seven Rivers Kingdom, this place that used to be part of the Kingdom of Sudan” (381), where apparently magickes are real &c. It outs itself somewhat definitively a bit earlier than the end by noting certain creatures who “rise from the salt of long dead oceans. […] My mother was one of the only people I knew who spoke of oceans as they’d truly existed” (283). The undecidability may say less about the writing than about me as a reader, who is apparently able to mistake a post-apocalyptic setting for a real world conflict. Is that a racist defect on my end? Perhaps—though I would suggest that texts such as Decade of Death Secret Wars and Genocide in Africa 1993-2003 identify an ongoing seeming apocalyptic conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, much how Cormac McCarthy through the conjunction of Blood Meridian and The Road identifies the American Old West as apocalyptic for real. (hide spoiler)]
Part of the undecidability is that narrator recalls the story and rehearses for an interlocutor in relative tranquility (as does Rothfuss’ later narrator, recall), marked out in moments such as: “I laugh at these thoughts now” (138). Protagonist is the child of an inter-tribal rape, which marks her out as Evil according to the race doctrines of the tribes, as handed down by a bullshit religious text, the Great Book. Fairly express descriptions of rapes, female genital mutilation, genocidal acts. As to the FGM, it is presented as “a girl’s choice. Only in the past had girls been forced” (39), which is a bit of false consciousness, considering that narrator feels compelled for local gemeinschafty reasons to undergo the ritual. (Her own mother is horrified by the practice, and by narrator’s sneaking out to have it done—so it is presented as a profoundly antisocial act, at odds with sense & decency.)
Narrator begins to learn shapeshifting and stepping into the spirit world kinda on her own, but eventually has to attend school. The shapeshifting is apparently unlimited, except that the irreducible minimum of her ontological permanence is sex/gender: “No, you can’t ever change that” (63), which is kinda gross, if ‘true.’ School will involve animal-talking and other thingies. Sorcery school kinda empties the FGM stuff of its poignancy:
That tiny piece of flesh made all the difference. Growing it back hadn’t been hard and it pleased me that for once in my life obtaining something of importance was easy. (130)
Text reveals itself as definitely post-tolkienian insofar as villain appears at first as a dreamy “red eye popping into my head” (47). (view spoiler)[Eventually it’s revealed that red eye is protagonist’s father, also a sorcerer, who raped her mother in order to produce a sorcerer offspring. Narrator will later explain her objective as “To kill my father” ((154) (which is also the purported rationale motivating R. Scott Bakker’s analogous protagonist, recall), so it’s got a Freudian’s household melodrama, too. (hide spoiler)] Text also relies on prophetics, a quest of world-historical import, a seven samurai, and other instances of the sub-subgenre.
Narrator in the grasp of commodity fetishism insofar as “two items had become part of my identity” (76), and is vulnerable to Ryle’s critique of volition (75). She nevertheless is to train as a sorcerer; “there are few true sorcerers in these lands,” “it’s not by their choice,” as they are “plagued by death, pain, and rage” (119).
Some readers have unhelpfully suggested that narrator is a ‘Mary Sue,’ which is of course a worthless pseudo-critical apparatus likely inapplicable outside the realm of Star Trek slashfic. This text lacks the pertinent hallmarks, except perhaps in caricature arising out of the first person narrator’s recollections (as in Rothfuss), which would make it somewhat the point of the exercise, i.e., authorial wish-fulfillment for the narrator, rather than the author. That said, narrator lacks what we might otherwise term an undeconstructible sense of justice, illustrated by her response to the murder of one of her seven samurai:
I wanted to show them darkness. They were all blind and that’s what I made them. The entire town. Men, women, and children. I took the very ability that they chose not to use. (240)
This is an act of irredeemable villainy, inflicting vengeance pursuant to the doctrine of collective responsibility and thereby living up to the setting’s racist narrative that miscegenated children are Evil and prone to violence; it is substantially identical to Basil II's signature infliction upon the defeated Bulgars, recall. Narrator advises her chronicler in the present moment: “We left the town blind as they’d always been. You must have heard rumors of the famous Town of the Sightless. It’s no legend.” (241). On the basis of this act of genocide, she’s probably inconsistent with the everyday ‘Mary Sue’ of juvenile fan fiction. It’s not a one-time lapse, either: “If even one bit him, I would seek out and kill every single one of these creatures and then hunt them down in the spirit world and destroy them again. Every single one” (333). (view spoiler)[And then in the catastrophe, of course: “Every single male human in the central town of Durfa capable of impregnating a woman was dead. My actions had killed them. The armies I had seen, every single one of those men had instantly died” (370). (hide spoiler)]
Despite protagonist’s affirmative villainy, there’s a committed perspective here, good politics on race and gender ultimately, all working in the well-worn post-tolkienian tradition, but shifted to a new but still recognizable setting. Conceptually a lot going on: I have some ‘cf. Hegel’ and ‘cf. Derrida’ in the margins, but that’s all inchoate, so am skipping it for now.
Recommended for those who hate like a middle-aged man at the end of his prime, readers pure enough to bring pleasure to the marriage bed, and ghosts of the future. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Nutshell: civilization funds imperialist war effort by committing genocide against own geriatric population.
Manifestly in the tradition of Heinlein’sNutshell: civilization funds imperialist war effort by committing genocide against own geriatric population.
Manifestly in the tradition of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s Forever War, this one involves the gerontocidal thought experiment that removes elders from the boule and pops them in the phalanx.
Basic premise is that those inducted into the military are cloned, enhanced with all kindsa biotruth magickes, and then copies of the relevant persons' brains are uploaded into their respective bodily clones. During this process, the individual 'mind' apparently functions in two bodies at once:
And then I’m me again, staring into Dr. Russell’s room feeling dizzy and looking straight at Dr. Russell’s face and also the back of his head and thinking to myself, Damn, that’s a neat trick, and it seems like I just thought in stereo. And it hits me. I’m in two places at the same time. (79)
Okay, nifty, if a bit mystical (“breaking the laws of physics” (80)). But then it gets ugly:
And then he taps that goddammed PDA of his. And there’s just one of me again. The other me. I can tell because I’m no longer staring at the new me anymore. I’m looking at the old me. And it stares at me like it knows something truly strange has just happened. And then the stare seems to say, I’m no longer needed. And then it closes its eyes. (80)
So, yeah, the same problem as in other brain-uploader fictions, which treat the brain-scan and DNA-scan as two sets of data that can be copied and transferred and whatnot. If a copy is made, that's cute--but it’s another friggin’ guy, and if the ‘original’ is killed off, it is no solace to that biological organism (AKA ‘person’) that the ‘information’ will carry on as a copy. Quite literally, then, this society enacts a genocide against its elderly persons, copying their mental data and then re-inscribing it in younger corporeal forms of the genetic data; it is not at all an ‘old man’s war,’ but rather the experienced mind is copied and the aged body is killed.
On the other hand, “Your new skin (Kloraderm) incorporates chlorophyll” (83), so it is a blow in favor of miscegenation of Animalia with Plantae, a eukaryotic union contra the Evil Prokaryotes. (No need to spoiler that, because I just made it up. I hope the sequels don’t go that way, because it would be a good example of Plato’s special bearer of the Form of the Stupid.)
Objective of the transformations aforesaid is that the soldiers will have been required to have “gone to new places, met new races, and exterminated them on sight” (101). Charming! Some of the aliens are kinda nifty, but not sufficiently well developed to trigger an undeconstructible sense of justice that overrides my apparent anthropocentrism; a successful novel perhaps would have attempted to present the victims of extermination with some nuance, provoking my higher functions to turn their batteries upon and thereby destroy the troglodytic loyalties subsisting thereunder. The humans v. aliens thing is nevertheless undermined by the fact that “none of you is human anymore” (129)—the modifications have apparently made the soldiers a different species. (cf. the 'weapon races' of RSB!)
Narrative follows a familiar pattern of basic training (asshole drill sergeant included at no extra cost) and thence to combat missions where mostly everyone is killed. Primary antagonist appears to engage in “”not war but sport” (150), which is a nasty ludic nihilism (a gross cousin of lumpenized antisocial nihilism, for those keeping track).
FTL magic is presented as a law of “conservation of unlikeliness” (196), which is cool, but, yaknow, FTL magic. Something nifty in the third part introduced with the re-use of cloned bodies in the absence of the corresponding mental imprints, but it’s inchoate in this first installment of what seems to be another interminable speculative fiction serial.
Not difficult to discern the reasons that the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy greasers dislike Scalzi: this text opens on the premise that the United States is not in control (the military in question is international) and racists are mocked as persons whose flatus is less offensive than their ideas (21-22). Similarly, a character who’d “been in sales most of his life” is described casually as “more mouth than brains” (136).
Recommended for those from whom HP Lovecraft would run screaming, readers consecrated in blood, and brains floating in tanks, going insane from the lack of outside stimuli. ...more
Nutshell: abstruse hegelian doctrine very reasonably dramatized by surly sentient spacecraft.
Two oddities are immediately apparent. Oddity No. 1—protaNutshell: abstruse hegelian doctrine very reasonably dramatized by surly sentient spacecraft.
Two oddities are immediately apparent. Oddity No. 1—protagonist civilization “don’t care much about gender, and the language they speak—my own first language—doesn’t mark gender in any way” (3), which leads to statements such as “She was probably male” (id.). It’s kinda nifty, though hardly dispositive of any plot point; the language of the protagonist does not mark out gender, which is an internal point regarding the setting that should cause all the douches to lose their shit (ZOMG REALISM!! WARE IS ORE BIOTROOTHS?!).
Because however English lacks a third person singular gender neutral pronoun, we normally must rely upon solecisms or arbitrary deployment of one or the other existing pronouns. This text, in ‘translating’ to English, elects to default to she--no big deal, really, which is an external point regarding the rhetoric of the presentation that should cause all of the douches to lose their shit again (ZOMG MENSRITES!! WARE IS ORE PRONONE?!).
Author apparently wanted a setting wherein gender neutrality confronts gender significance and thereby produces a text for real that confronts our own gender significance as a political statement, pissing off the teabaggers and NRx greasers. Overall, the election of English feminine third person singular pronouns is unobtrusive and fails to interfere with or otherwise serve any narrative function, which aptly demonstrates the abject worthlessness of the contrary position.
This point about the setting comes up at the margins of the protagonist civilization, when it confronts societies that feature gender ideology:
The society she lived in professed at the same time to believe gender was insignificant. Males and females dressed, spoke, acted indistinguishably. And yet no one I’d met had ever hesitated, or guessed wrong. And they had invariably been offended when I did hesitate or guess wrong. (76-77)
That there is probably the object of the critique & deconstruction of gender: reduce it to the point of undecidability, where hesitancy becomes asymptotic rather than perpendicular to gender determination, and wherein further no one is offended by hesitancy or error. (I am interested in this less for the inherent rightness of it and more for the fact that it really really angers teabaggers and sets NRx fedoras on fire.)
Oddity No. 2—narrator is a “piece of equipment, a part of a ship” (2), an ancillary, i.e., “walking corpses, slaved to your ships” (18), kidnapped from the populations of planets annexed to the interstellar empire. So, gross. Space vessels however “have feelings,” in the absence of which “insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare needless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s just easier to handle those with emotions” (88), which is kinda a cool way to capture sentiment as inherent to cognition & rationality (cf. Foucault).
Immediate setting is however the planet of “the last annexation” (21), as the empire has initiated reforms, such as the end of annexations and ancillarizations. Emperor is 3,000 years old and has thousands of bodies (95). Empire is some kind of borderline socialist, it seems, as “food and shelter any [citizen] was guaranteed” (130) is assumed without controversion.
Religion is apparently a part of interstellar society, as the imperials are theological determinists (33), at times fairly obviously polytheists, but also with a pantheist notion of “the universe as being God itself” (54). More cool is a planetary thesis that
In the middle lay the natural environment of humans—space stations, ships, constructed habitats. Outside those was the Black—heaven, the home of God and everything holy. And within the gravity well of [planets] lay the Underworld, the land of the dead from which humanity had had to escape in order to become fully free of its demonic influence. (54-55)
The distinction between atheism and monotheism is “invisible” in the empire, NB (315). Their religion does not of course prevent them from living with the knowledge that their “luxury always comes at someone else’s expense” (63); “you’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are” (id.). All of the rapes, kidnappings, thefts, murders of imperials annexations are “a difference of degree, not a difference of kind” when compared with how the empire treats its own citizens (id.). So, yeah, these motherfuckers are ugly; bismarckian welfare statism does not prevent the formation of aristocracies, but rather is engineered precisely to prevent revolutions against them. Religion revealed further as tool of imperial maintenance, insofar as
It was normal practice to absorb any religion the [Empire] ran across, to fit its gods into an already blindingly complex genealogy, or to say merely that the supreme creator deity was Amaat under another name and let the rest sort themselves out. (175)
Regardless, ship/narrator is also theistic: “I intoned the first of the 322 names of the Hundred of White Lily” (262).
Narrative is progeny of Asimov’s notion that the detective story is a form that might be grafted onto any mode or setting—here, again, sciencey fictiony things need investigated (it’s actually two overlapping mysteries, set in different time periods, through which protagonist must work). Main narrative should annoy teabaggers because it involves the gubmint trying to confiscate someone’s firearm. (OH NO they’re gonna take our grrrrrns! They took our grrrrns! Dedurgrrrns! Grrrrrrns!) Firearm in question apparently can pierce imperial armors (“an essentially impenetrable force shield” (48)), a novelty, so the culture responsible for same was subject to complete extermination (35). As it turns out, this crime is a primary engine of the narrative. There’s a history on this point:
When [emperor] had taken control of the core of [the Empire] some few ships had destroyed themselves upon the death or captivity of their captains, and rumor said some others still wandered space in the three thousand years since, half-mad, despairing. (136)
(view spoiler)[Ship is slaved to empire, controlled by emperor who was no longer one person but two, in conflict with each other” (204). We should furthermore wonder that "is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction?" (207). That narrator has had something nasty happen ”makes history hard to convey. Because "still, ‘I’ was me, unitary, one thing, and yet I acted against myself, contrary to my interests and desires, sometimes secretly, deceiving myself as to what I knew and did” (207-08). That’s probably the best effort at making false consciousness manifest in speculative fiction that I’ve seen.
Ultimately, diremption in emperor is caused by the crime aforesaid, leading on the one hand toward reformism and on the other toward hyper-aggressive fascism—but also to “I am at war with myself […] I have been for nearly a thousand years” (245). Protagonist’s objective becomes the prevention of the diremption being communicated to the entirety of the emperor. It might be argued therefore that the condition of possibility for protagonist coming to self-consciousness is the prevention of emperor from coming to self-consciousness--the prevention of the formation of an imperial class-for-itself. That makes the result of this narrative tragic in Hegelian terms, as protagonist's conduct is to impede the dialectic of the totality. That marks it out as unprogressive, retrograde, fugly--and yet protagonist is charming, whereas emperor is manifestly a dick. (hide spoiler)]
Overall strong, though some markers of rhetorical coyness (e.g., “Any reply would reveal more than I wished” (138) (i.e., to reader, not to interlocutor in narrative!)) weakens the presentation. Hegel/Marx dramatization is great. Plenty of adrenaline. The gender stuff is not obviously connected into the dialectical development of ship and setting, as described, supra.
Recommended for persons who make a difference through small actions that cumulatively over time or in great numbers steer the course of events in ways too chaotic or subtle to trace, readers who can only remember by piecing separate experiences together, and useless daughters of prestigious houses. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
First person narrator in this police procedural with noir overtones presents us with an undecidability between natural and supernatural explanations oFirst person narrator in this police procedural with noir overtones presents us with an undecidability between natural and supernatural explanations of plot events, such as how bizarre things are understood as a “hoax” (12) or through characters “who don’t find anything strange” in manifestly fucked up things (13). (view spoiler)[Narration is narrator’s testimony to an unidentified interlocutor after a criminal conviction and therefore partakes of the same formal presentation as Nabokov’s Lolita. (hide spoiler)]
First, the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader’s role is entrusted to a character … the hesitation is represented, it becomes one of the themes of the work. Third, the reader must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject allegorical as well as ‘poetic’ interpretations. (loc cit. at 28)
(By contrast, Todorov’s ‘mimetic’ is realistic representation; the ‘uncanny’ is where weirdnesses are captured as subjective, psychological distortions; and the ‘marvelous’ is where the weird is plainly and uncontrovertibly supernatural.)
Text is pregnant with the liminal: the locus at issue “merged with that part of town in a way, and I’m still not clear where the park ends and where the rest of the city begins” (8), a borderland status of the setting that reiterates. By contrast the outsider status of the protagonist is emphasized (detailed at 9): whatever this place is (as the setting is liminal and thus undecidable, the text is unable to say what sort of place), it is not her place. I’d commented in other reviews of horror texts that, as a genre, modern horror is concerned to some extent with how all that is solid melts into air, a standard conservative lament—if the Old Ways are being abolished, it is like super scary &c. That is an oddity, considering that many practitioners have good lefty bona fides (King, say, Ligotti—author here is also not rightwing; on the other hand: HPL is a fucking fascist). In this text, the free movement of persons (outsider comes to new town, is of a noticeably different ethnicity, “a little too swarthy and, well, Mediterranean for my fellow police” (9)), the second wave of feminism regarding employment and sexuality, the right to divorce, and anti-natalism are the perfect storm for this protagonist to represent the end of the world to a small Alabama town. That is, not so much that the text adopts a far right attitude, like HPL, but rather that text presents the critique that rural troglodytes can imagine no greater horror than the emancipatory potential of the enlightenment project in the fullness of its development (such as in the persons of Simone de Beauvoir and WEB duBois). I’ve got no problem with that; in my not at all humble opinion, rural troglodytes make fine food for monsters generated by the sleep of their own reason.
Liminal setting is moreover marked by “dilapidated” and “defunct” (8). Primary locus involves “closure and abandonment” of industrial production (13). Setting is therefore post-industrial or perhaps even de-industrializing. Thing is (and this is part of the undecidability), setting’s “smoke was due to some kind of lingering, toxic effect of the old factory’s presence” (14), suggesting that deindustrialization does not decrease environmental toxicity—likely this is part of the fantasy (unless the primitivists are just dead wrong). Air pollution itself is rendered as an “aquarium” (16), “underwater quiet” and “brownish murk” (17), snowglobes (18), and so on. If Marx is correct that all that is solid has melted into air, this text steps further with all that is air has coalesced back to liquid. Eww?
Creepy, complicated, worthy of one’s attention. (view spoiler)[Ties into author’s flawless short fiction “Twenty Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” in The Grimscribe’s Puppets to the extent that narrator is at one point subject to the mesmerism of the town sage, who refers to her as “dummy” repeatedly while giving her direction (30-31), plainly invoking the(view spoiler)[ ‘greater ventriloquism’ (hide spoiler)]of the former story. (hide spoiler)]
Visceral horror substitutes in for (and thereby supplements?) modern art in “they were composite pieces of bones welded together by a talented but whacked local artist” (11). Makes use of Jewish mysticism, regarding the kabalistic presentation of qliphoth, which is cool, pregnant, and not overdone. (view spoiler)[Detective protagonist does appear to uncover a mystery or conspiracy of lovecraftian scope—but narrator’s abject failure otherwise means that Evil wins. Ergo: kickass. (hide spoiler)] And: nice bit of authorial self-denigration in having one character describe something as “appendaged” and then having narrator complain “Who writes like that?” (9).
Recommended for those subject to a series of internal detonations, readers who connect the dots out of sheer boredom, and persons who see through the eyes of a fucking shark. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
My favorite Delillo so far, by a wide margin, inclusive of Underworld.
First Nobel in mathematics goes to teenage protagonist, whose work was “understoMy favorite Delillo so far, by a wide margin, inclusive of Underworld.
First Nobel in mathematics goes to teenage protagonist, whose work was “understood by only three or four people” (4), which work kid has designated as “zorgs” (20): “it’s pretty impossible to understand unless you know the language. A zorg is a kind of number. You can’t use zorgs for anything except in mathematics. Zorgs are useless. In other words they don’t apply” (id.). These statements are of course manifestly dishonest, as kid was really saying on the inside (i.e., the same manner in which I launch dreadful broadsides contra wife when her wrath is upon her), that “beauty was mere scenery unless it was severe, adhering strictly to a set of consistent inner codes, and this he clearly perceived, the arch-reality of pure mathematics, its austere disposition, its links to simplicity and permanence” (13) (emphases added).
We should expect therefore that the aesthetic principles of this novel are laid out strictly as a consistent inner code, insofar as the text discloses rules for its own construction. It is of course pleasant when one’s expectations come to fruition, such as in one character’s description of her own writing, which is appropriately self-referential: “it’s an experimental novel, an allegory, a lunar geography, an artful autobiography, a cryptic scientific tract, a work of science fiction” (57). We know that “strict rules add dignity to a game” (334).
I plan to make strict rules that I plan to follow. Reading my book will be a game with specific rules that have to be learned. I’m free to make whatever rules I want as long as there’s an inner firmness and cohesion, right? Just like mathematics.” (352)
Certain ‘notes’ on the final third’s ‘Logicon’ project might serve as hermeneutic rules here (cf. 330-332, 365-66, 383, 391-92); a clever reading might work through those, as well as any mandatory grammars or peremptory language otherwise deployed in the text—I’m not doing it because that’s work and this is pro bono. Regardless, “This is where zorgs fit in, the technicality, the precision, the mathematics, the language. Strict rules” (359).
Text proceeds as kid’s somewhat picaresque journey through several special projects related (vel non) to an alleged alien broadcast. He meets many other science types, all memorable, witty confrontations. A few of these characters recur, but many of them are pynchonian one-offs. There are nevertheless some basic principles that recur with regularity, and might be the rules of the text.
For instance, protagonist’s “kind of mathematics are undertaken solely to advance the art. In time to come, of course, what had been pure might finally be applied” (33). The most important rule, then: “There is no reality more independent of our perception and more true to itself than mathematical reality” (48). Mathematics
has no content. Form, it’s nothing but form. It stands on thin air. The symbols we use are everything. What they represent we discard without the slightest misgiving. The focus of our thought, the object of our examination, our analysis, our passion if you will, is the notation itself. (286)
The next recognizable rule is “the terror of the irrational” (22), specifically that “no definition of science is complete without a reference to terror” (36). We then see ‘terror’ (lovecraftian terror, rather than osamaniac) reiterate often: “Of course if evidence of universal blueshifting is ever found, it will merit the smallest note. This is documentary void. Not void whose essence is terror. Not the human sensorium streaked with darkness” (50); “There may be a lot of crazy things in the world that scare you and me but mathematics is the one thing where there’s nothing to be afraid of or stupid about or think it’s a big mystery” (67); “Terror is everywhere. […] Take demons, for example. You wouldn’t think there’s a connection between demons and the sperm in your testicles. The terror of onanism is that bodiless demons are able to make bodies for themselves from the spilled seed” (227); “But math struck terror” (234); Protagonist hasn’t “had time to drift away from your psychic origins, whatever these may have been, however replete with terror, darkness and fetal shrieks. Routine horripilation” (265).
The terror of the irrational that is inherent to the definition of science leads quite plainly into the second rule of the text: “By common consent the star code is no longer an ongoing project. I’m amazed anyone took it seriously in the first place. Radio signals weren’t even repeated. A jumble of pulses” (264) (emphasis added). That is to say, the rules of the text are no longer an ongoing project, a baudrillardian dissimulation that disavows rules even while following them. Consider the following constantly changing reports of the scientist administrators regarding the text’s underlying mystery, the receipt of an apparent transmission from the eponymous celestial object:
1: “We’ve been contacted by someone or something in outer space” (46);
2: “The star is a common G dwarf. It’s called Ratner’s Star. It lies away from us a bit toward the galactic center. We’ve analyzed the variation or wiggle in its path and we believe the object in question is a low-mass planet that occupies the star’s habitable zone” (50);
3: “Is Ratner’s star an illusion? Of course not. It’s out there and everyone knows it. Is the planet’s existence a hoax? Ridiculous. There’s clear evidence of a planet in orbit around the star. Is someone transmitting signals? Absolutely. Is our synthesis telescope receiving on the secret frequency? Nods of affirmation” (63);
4: “The star is part of a two-star system” (93);
5: “Ratner’s star is a main sequence star and its sister star is a black hole” (101);
6: “Ratner’s star is on the verge of becoming a red giant […] increase in luminosity. Startling increase in radius” (140);
7: “Space Brain has now confirmed a two-satellite configuration” (151);
8: “the computer retrovert we’ve just run indicates error in the receiving equipment” (240);
9: “I’d like everyone to stop using expressions like ‘Ratnerians,’ ‘superbeings,’ ‘extraterrestrials’ and so forth. It’s a radio source we’re in touch with. If Moholean relativity is the real thing, the source isn’t even where it seems to be. So why assume it’s a planet orbiting a star? Remember the homely adage: ‘Belief in the causal nexus is superstition.’ So let’s from now on be sure to use the term ‘artificial radio source.’ And let’s find a more precise name for the so-called beings who are presumed to have initiated the transmission. How about ‘artificial radio source extants’? ARS extants” (274);
10: “Because Ratner’s star lies within a suspected Mohole, which is a fractional part, as I understand it, of the value-dark dimension, meaning no spatial area and no time, it was thought the signal picked up by the synthesis telescope was originating from Ratner’s star. But it wasn’t […] It was just that the Mohole had trapped the signal and sent it our way. Ratner’s star is a binary dwarf. Couldn’t possibly sustain a planet of any size” (357);
11: “Using information gathered by satellite, balloon-borne instruments, and, most of all, by a device of recent concoction called an echolocation quantifier, we believe we have traced the radio signals to their source […] The source of the message is the planet Earth […] The signals originated somewhere in this planet. Were absorbed in some component of the Mohole totality. Were eventually reflected back this way” (402);
12: “What we’ve apparently discovered is that we are in the Mohole, if that’s the way to phrase it. This solar system appears to be what we call Mohole-intense. We are part of the value-dark dimension” (410).
I’m sufficiently Hegelian to recognize this process as a dialectical reversal of some sort or another; either “the solidarity of opposites is completely shattered” thereby, reduced to “essential dichotomies” (34), or it’s just a pedestrian “reconciliation of opposites” (313). (As M&E otherwise lay out in the Manifesto, class struggle shall result either in the ‘revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.’)
It may well be swiftian satire of science, though of course Swift was misanthropically rightwing, whereas Delillo strikes me as nothing if not a strident exemplar of enlightenment. (One may be forgiven if one is confused however by such bits as “He was part of a committee formed to define the word ‘science’ […] the debate continued to drag on and the definition at present ran some five hundred pages” (30).) Text presents plenty of bogus theory at the research compound: ‘slyphing’ (49 et seq.); ‘bi-levelism (66); challenge to phenomenal basis of empiricism (87); a “lust for abstraction” that leads inexorably and completely reasonably to the grafting of a brain on a computer (146, 244); and then moholes (179 ff.), which are the undisputed champion of douchitude in the text.
Anyway, most of these clowns win Nobel prizes (306). As the text is pleased to reiterate, “keep believing it, shit for brains” (27, 57, 167, 258). (KBISFB is likely a rule of the text, of course.)
There likely a rule in the recurrent discrete/continuous binary (95, 245, 348, 389), but am not sure about it beyond the punchline: “The discrete-continuous quality of zorgs is what really helped us work out the necessary mathematics of Moholean relativity and made Mohole identification practically inevitable” (418).
A further rule: We are assured that there’s “something about waste material that defied systematic naming” (38), which is of course the primary concern of the epistemology of the accursed share provided by Underworld. But this is also a consideration of “things beyond expression” in general:
the names of deities, infernal beings, totemic animals and plants; the names of an individual’s blood relatives of the opposite sex (a ban related to incest restrictions); the new name given a boy at his initiation; the names of certain organs of the body; the names of the recently dead; the names of sacred objects, profane acts, leaders of cults, the cults themselves. Double substitutes must be used.” (38)
Looping back to the rule on terror:
To bear a name is both terrible and necessary. The child, emerging from the space-filling chaos of names, comes eventually to see that escape from verbal designation is never complete, never more than a delay in meeting one’s substitute, that alphabetic shadow abstracted from its physical source. (19)
We might consider these comments in connection with Derrida’s On the Name (not now; that’s work).
Derridean concerns will provide other rules of the text, which notes a “direct correlation between writing and memory” (361-62) (that’s the Speech & Phenomena, yo); “writing is memory, she thought, and memory is the fictional self” (362). We are presented with “the very uselessness of Logicon” project (409), which seeks to develop an ideal language to correspond with the ARS extants, who of course, supra, turn out to be Earthlings. The uselessness (‘it does not apply,’ recall) is considered a virtue by those who do ‘pure work’: “I do pure work. A lot of it is so abstract it can’t be put on paper or even talked about. I deal with proof and nonproof” (46), which is both uselessly virtuous but also another “thing beyond expression,” an excess exorbitant to language. “There are things past spelling and far beyond counting” (147).
Other interesting bits in this connection: a guy’s voice is a “proto-laryngeal reconstruction of the sound of a lost language” (147-48); another guy believes in “the secret power of the alphabet, the unnameable name, the literal contraction of the superdivinity, fear of sperm demons” (215) (KBISFB?). Something about the Heideggerian polemos (217), the “beginning of distinctions.” Elsewise, a “thing beyond naming” (226). One guy eats post-circumcision foreskin (105); another guy eats post-natal placenta (140).
As our teen protagonist notes, “I make no reply” (9, 155).
We make a brief listing of other potential miscellaneous rules of the text: a typology of ignorance (157); “truth accumulates. It can be borrowed and paid back” (193); “The whole history of mathematics is subterranean, taking place beneath history itself” (195); “worship of the body always ends in fascism” (361); “latent in any period’s estimation of itself as an age of reason is the specific history of the insane” (387) (cf. Foucault!).
Not rules, but kinda cool: teen protagonist’s mentor is a brilliant, extremely sexually active person afflicted by dwarfism, and is described as an “idealized Hollywood dwarf” (312). Perhaps a source for Tyrion Lannister?
Teen protagonist is the inventor of the “stellated twilligon” (116-17), a quadrilateral of some alleged import in the setting, and which shows up repeatedly throughout. Kid receives fill-in-blank quiz questions in the mails (294 ff.) from one of the other Nobel prize winners: “In a tricky situation it is your best friend, above all others, who would find it easiest to ___________ you. ___Deceive ___Believe.”
So, am wondering: After reading Ratner’s Star, the fictive quadrilateral is best described as a _________________? ___stellated twilligon __fellated dellilogon?
(view spoiler)[By the end, kid deciphers the signal, which communicates a specific time, which time marks the end of the world. That end is appropriately named a “noncognate celestial anomaly” (420, 434) by some characters, which is the most kickass name for the end of the world that I’ve seen. Teen protagonist by contrast refers to it simply as “zorgasm” (438). That is also kickass. (hide spoiler)]
Recommended for readers who touch themselves in the male or female region, persons who wonder how we can learn from the past unless we repeat it, and those who slowly have begun to understand the higher reality of nonobjective truth. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Further eratonian fiction (i.e., sustained lyric narration, as with previously published Skinny), here chronicling one Vitalis (“V.”) Cleb, debauchedFurther eratonian fiction (i.e., sustained lyric narration, as with previously published Skinny), here chronicling one Vitalis (“V.”) Cleb, debauched member of a pentecostal ophidian cult in Appalachia (and perhaps partaking of a similar topos as Gass’ priest in Omensetter’s Luck).
The opening movement, ‘Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine & Other Ways to Escape a Plague,’ is presented in the imperative mood, e.g., “Kill the harbinger” (presumably the plague vector), “Ironclad your nerves,” and so on (3), in the same manner as 1 Corinthians 11: 24-25, wherein Christ lays out, in the imperative, instructions for the Eucharist. Text’s penultimate imperative here is appropriately (or inappropriately, as it may be) “Take the host: / your incisors tweeze stamen from honeysuckle” (6); the ultimate command is “Face the ghosts: / those twin petal lobes you’ve unbuckled” (id.).
Fairly certain therefore that ‘Host,’ supra, is the ancient sacrificial hostia, which has therefore been consecrated by the Words of Institution and thereby transubstantiated (or rendered transignificatory). The Host here, however, is tenor to the vehicle ‘stamen’ (the flowery bits that dispense pollen, i.e., ‘male’ reproductive material) which I suppose likens the sacrament inexorably to fellatio—body of Christ in your mouth and whatnot.
As the doctrine of transignification makes plain, the eucharist is primarily a semiotic event, and here the text therefore double voices, invoking both the Latin root semen and the Greek root semeion, which is an old derridean joke, as it happens. (Far be it from me to impugn that.) What is interesting, though, is the consequent chain of inferences that this duplication requires. If the Host is the phallos/semeion (transcendental signified, yo), then the preceding section of versed imperatives is scriptural injunction—and therefore author here, by intoning an original set of Words of Institution, must accordingly be Jesus. We may wonder where this text locates her crucifixion even while recognizing that the doctrine of transubstantiation requires the final inference that Jesus is also the Host; this text is consequently an ambitious moment of authorial self-derogation, insofar as author has proclaimed, however obliquely, I am a dick.
The pneuma to hagion (spiritus sanctus) is something that recurs throughout the text, as do fevers and oneiric moments (& other indicia of that may interest dreamers of Foucault’s political dream of the plague), and transubstantiations/transignifications (i.e., substitutions, such as an entire sequence like “Eyecandy / in place of a wife” (7), emphasis added). Rigorous and complicated otherwise, strong rhetorically, &c. There’s plenty more that might be said, but I’ve done exhausted myself already, supra; I haven’t thought through all of the science fiction stuff (time machine &c.).
Recommended for those hiding some kind of plague under a fig leaf, persons whose gizzard mess is seeping through, and readers who boil out the lead. ...more
Narrator, a master criminal, is hired by interstellar cops to be their James Bond. He’s right for the job, apparently, because normal people “exist inNarrator, a master criminal, is hired by interstellar cops to be their James Bond. He’s right for the job, apparently, because normal people “exist in a fat, rich union of worlds that have almost forgotten the meaning of the word crime” (8), because of “centuries of genetic control”; he therefore exists as a rat “in the wainscoting of society,” operating “outside of their barriers and outside of their rules. Society has more rats when the rules are looser, just as the old wooden buildings had more rats when than the concrete buildings that came later. But they still had rats. Now that society is all ferroconcrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps between the joints, and it takes a smart rat to find them. A stainless steel rat is right at home in this environment” (id.). That is, the SSR resides in the interstices of the hypermodern world.
The SSR is interstitial not because of psychological disorder, but rather “the realization strikes through that one must either live outside of society’s bonds or die of absolute boredom” (9); “there is no longer room for the soldier of fortune of the gentleman adventurer who can live both within and outside society. Today it is all or nothing. To save my own sanity I chose the nothing” (id). By electing an interstitial life because the preference for the liminoid life is no longer available, on the nietzschean aesthetic ground that boredom must be warded off, the SSR is intentionally a nihilist. Later, he will confide that his time with the cops has made him “lose the ingrained habits of a lifetime” (61) (which kinda undercuts the notion that criminals need be brainwashed out of crime)—so he seeks to “reestablish my identity” as the cops were “working like a blight to destroy all of my best anti-scoail tendencies” (id). Okay: nihilist, check; antisocial, check. As opening scene involves narrator engaging in a bank robbery, we might conclude: lumpenprole, check. Dude is accordingly expressly a lumpenized antisocial nihilist and is proud of it.
This then is the protagonist of the series; I have no idea it is archetypical or prototypical, but it does stand as an antecedent to Scott Lynch, say, and is part of the long tradition of anti-heroics in speculative fiction. (What is it, anyway, with the easy familiarity that bourgeois fiction products have with greasy lumpenproles: movies about the mafia small time criminals, drug addled kids, and so on? The lumpenprole embodies the proclaimed virtues of neither the conservative old right, nor classical liberals, nor the far left. Even fascists won’t agree with lumpenprole nihilism, though they may be pleased to hire LANs as their street-fighting thugs, ‘course. So why the fascination? The Marxist answer is probably something like baudrillardian dissimulation, hiding liberal excess in plain sight, as well as a silencing of emergent left positions along with dying residuals of the right, or so. That leaves lumpenproles as the stars of the show, and as everyone hates them, it’s not really a problem for bourgeois class rule.)
Anyway, narrator is deployed to fight mega-criminals out in the aether. First one involves someone secretly constructing a warship, apparently for purposes worse than piracy, a “giant Warlord battleship,” a “this bad memory from the past” (25). In order to catch the villain, dude undergoes a radical corporeal disaggregation, i.e.,
[physician] did a good job in the times when he wasn’t moaning aboiut the absence of spirituous beverages or nubile females. Bending and shortening my femurs altered my height and walk. Hands, face, skull, ears—all of these were changed permanently to build a new individual. Skillful use of the correct hormones caused a change in the pigment cells, darkening the natural color of my skin and hair, even altering the hair pattern itself. The last thing done, when [physician’s] skill was at its peak, was a delicate touch on my vocal cords that deepened and roughened my speech. (77)
It’s similar, I suppose, to Morgan’s Kovacs, who downloads into a new body every time he gets killed—though technically one Kovacs is dead and his brain has been backup for re-insertion—that makes each iteration a new guy. Here, though, narrator does not die, but rather revises his anatomy for the needs of whatever caper he’s doing. Climactic confrontation with villain of part I occurs on an “old, caste-ridden, feudalistic” planet (79), which nevertheless has mixed in modern things from the interstellar League such as “computers, mechanization, robots, and an ever-vigilant police force” (id.)—the mix allowing room for the SSR to work (the old system would recognize a stranger, whereas the new regiments everything and prevents crime). Part II begins with dude’s marriage to the villain of Part I, after she had been brainwashed of her antisocial disorders. Villain is “some numbskull government so stupid as to think that it can succeed in an interplanetary war” (141)—numbskull “because it just doesn’t work” (142), unless “local conditions are right, say a solar system with two inhabited planets. If pone planet is backward and the other advanced” (id.). Issue is that the “distance-time relationships just don’t make this kind of warfare practical. When every soldier and weapon and ration has to be lifted form the gravity well of a planet and carried across space [perhaps a slight failure of imagination here, if not by author, then by the setting’s astrostructural engineers? Cf. Fountains of Paradise! cf. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress! cf. Leinster’s “Exploration Team”!] the energy expenditure is considerable, the transport demands incredible and the cost unbelievable” (id.).
Dude is tasked therefore in Part II with unravelling the mystery of a series of successful interplanetary invasions, and must learn the enemy language and whatnot through a “stamping machine” that “recorded the material directly on my cortex with the boring time-consuming intermediary of any learning process” (143)—i.e., like in The Matrix. When he finds the enemy planet, he infiltrates, &c. (What is noteworthy for me is that all of its nomenclature is drawn, inexplicably, from serbocroatian. Enemy city is ‘Dosadanglup’ (167), which is ‘boring-stupid,’ say. I think I’m annoyed by this, but dunno.) This is a cold war text, so it might be possible to mistake the villains here for commies, especially with their Yugoslav names. They are certainly militarists and imperialists, but they appear to maintain private ownership, such as “a planet-wide chain of hotels that specialized in non-human service” (169), which strikes me as the indicia of capitalism. Anyway, more capers and improbable action and so on; dude’s success is normally contingent upon his numerous foes being unprepared for his soporific grenades.
Part III is a time travel narrative, and the villain is creepy (posthuman, very inchoroi), but not really explained. Narrator must go back in time prior to the time when enemy is erasing interstellar cops from existence, &c. Lotsa paradox, though they are nullified for the narrative’s sake by fancy temporal gadgets. A more overt Morgan/Kovacs moment when narrator must use the stored memory of a time travel professor, which he installs in his brain temporarily (professor is otherwise erased from the space-time continuum) (331).
Recommended for persons whose egos are the only thing that keeps them operating, readers who singlehandedly organize revolutions on peaceful planets, and one-dimensional peasants who mistake the painted flats and props of their existence as the only reality. ...more