Thursday, June 22, 2017

Excerpts from Laurent Binet's Infranovel



202

Rene Bousquet was a lifelong friend of Francois Mitterand. But that is far from his worst offense.

Bousquet is not a cop like Barbie, or a militiaman like Touvier; nor is he a prefect like Papon in Bordeaux. He is a high-level politician destined for a brilliant career, but who chooses the path of collaboration and gets mixed up in the deportation of Jews. He is the one who ensures that the raid on Vel d’Hiv (code name Spring Wind) is carried out by the French police rather than the Germans. He is thus responsible for what is probably the most infamous deed in the history of the French nation [the raid on the Velodrome d’Hiver took place on July 16-17, 1942, And involved the arrests of 13,152 Jews, including 5,802 women and 4,051 children. They were sent to concentration camps. Only 25 people survived].  That it was committed in the name of the French state obviously changes nothing. How many World Cups will we have to win in order to erase such a stain?


After the war, Bousquet survives the purge of Nazi collaborators that took place in France, but his participation in the Vichy government nevertheless deprives him of the political career that appeared to be his destiny. He doesn’t live on the streets, though, and gets positions on various boards of directors, including that of the newspaper La Depeche du Midi; he is the main force behind its hardline anti-Gaullist stance between 1959 and 1971. So, basically, he benefits from the usual tolerance of the ruling class for its most compromised members. He also enjoys the company – not without malice, I imagine- of Simone Weil, an Auschwitz survivor who knows nothing of Bousquet’s collaborationist activities.


His past finally catches up with him in the 1980s, however, and in 1991 he is charged with crimes against humanity.

The investigation ends two years later when he is shot in his own house by a madman. I vividly remember seeing that guy give a press conference just after killing Bousquet and just before the cops arrested him. I remember how pleased with himself he looked as he calmly explained that he’ done it to make people talk about him. I found that utterly idiotic.


This ridiculous moron deprived us of a trial that would have been ten times more interesting than those of Papon and Barbie [put together, more interesting than those of Petain and Laval .  .  . the trial of the century. As punishment for this outrageous attack on history, this unimaginably  cretinous man was given ten years; he served seven, and is now free. I feel a great repulsion and mistrust for someone like Bousquet, but when I think of his assassin, of the immense historical loss that his act represents, of the revelations the trial would have produced and which he has forever denied us, I feel overwhelmed by hate. He didn’t kill any innocents, that’s true, but he is the destroyer of truth. And all so he could appear on TV for three minutes! What a monstrous, stupid, Warholian piece of shit! The only ones that ought to have a moral right to judge whether this man should live or die are his victims- the living and the dead who fell into the Nazis’ claws because of men like him – but I am sure they wanted him alive. How disappointed they musty have been when the heard about this absurd murder! I can feel openly disgust for a society thjat produces such behavior, such lunatics. Pasternak wrote: “I don’t like people who are indifferent to truth.” And worse still are those bastards who are not only indifferent to it but work actively against it. All the secrets that Bousquet took with him to his grave .  .  . I have to stop thinking about this because its making me ill.

Bousquet’s trial: that would have been the French equivalent of Eichmann in Jerusalem.


203


Anyway, let’s talk about something else. I have just discovered the testimony of Helmut Knochen, appointed chief of the German police in France by Heydrich. He claims to reveal something that Heydrich told him in confidence and which he never repeated to anyone until now,. His testimony dates from June 2000-. Fifty-eight years later!


Heydrich supposedly told him: “The war can no longer be won. We must reach a negotiated peace and I am afraid that Hitler can’t accept that. We must think about this.” We are meant to believe that Heydrich reached this conclusion in May 1942 – before Stalingrad at a time when the Reich had never looked stronger..

Knochen sees in that an extraordinary clairvoyancy on Heydrich’s part. He considers the Blond Beast much more intelligent than all the other Nazi dignitaries. He also believes that Heydrich was thinking of overthrowing Hitler. And based on this he proposes the following theory: that the assassination of Heydrich would have been a high priority for Churchill, who absolutely refused to be deprived of a total victory over Hitler. In other words, the British would have supported the Czech’s  because they were afraid that  a wise Nazi like Heydrich might remove Hitler and save the regime through a negotiated peace.


I suspect it’s in Knochen’s interest to associate himself with the theory of the plot against Hitler, in order to minimize his own (very real) role in the police machine of the Third Reich. It is even perfectly conceivable  that, sixty years later, he actually believes what he is saying. Personally, I think it’s bullshit. But I report it anyway.


204


A poster on an Internet forum expresses the opinion that Max Aue, Jonathan Littell’s protagonist in The Kindly Ones, ‘rings true because he is the mirror of his age.” What? No! He rings true (for certain, easily duped readers) because he is the mirror of our age: a postmodern nihilist, essentially. At no moment in the novel is it suggested that this character believes in Nazism. On the contrary, he displays an often critical detachment towards National Socialist doctrine – and in that sense, he can hardly be said to reflect the delirious fanaticism prevalent in his time. On the other hand, this detachment, this blasé attitude toward everything, this permanent malaise, this taste for philosophizing, this unspoken amorality, this morose sadism, and this terrible sexual frustration that constantly twists his guts . . .but of course! How did I not see it before? Suddenly, everything is clear. The Kindly Ones is simply “Houellebecq does Nazism.”


205


I think I’m beginning to understand. What I’m writing is an infranovel.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Caesar by Thomas De Quincey



It is very evident that Dr. Arnold could not have understood the position of politic  in Rome, when he allowed himself to make a favorite of Pompey. The doctor hated aristocrats as he hated the gates of Erebus. Now Pompey was not only the leader of a most selfish aristocracy, but also their tool. Secondly, as if this were not bad enough, that section of the aristocracy to which he had dedicated his services was an odious oligarchy; and to this oligarchy, again, though nominally its head, he was in effect its most submissive tool.

Caesar, on the other hand, if a democrat in the sense of working by democratic agencies, was bending all his efforts to the reconstruction of a new, purer, and enlarged aristocracy, no longer reduced to the necessity of buying and selling the people in mere self-defense. The ever-lasting war of bribery, operating upon universal poverty, the internal disease of Roman society, would have been redressed by Caesar’s measures, and was redressed according to the degree in  which those measures were really brought into action. New judicatures were wanted, new judicial laws, a new aristocracy; by slow degrees a new people, and the right of suffrage exercised within new restrictions – all these things were needed for the cleansing of Rome; and that Caesar would have accomplished this labor of Hercules was the true cause of his assassination. The scoundrels of the  oligarchy felt their doom to be approaching.  It was the just remark of Napoleon, that Brutus (but still more, we may say, Cicero), though falsely accredited as a patriot, was, in fact, the most exclusive and the most selfish of aristocrats.

Yet,

The graves of the best men, of the noblest martyrs, are, like the graves of the Herrnhuters (the Moravian Brethren), level and indistinguishable from the universal earth:, and, if the earth could give up her secrets, our whole globe would appear a Westminster Abbey laid flat. Ah! What a multitude of tears, what myriads of bloody drops have been shed in secrecy about the three corner trees of earthy – the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, and the tree of freedom – shed, but never reckoned! It is only great periods of calamity that reveal to us our great men, as comets are revealed by total eclipses of the sun. Not merely on the field of battle, but also upon the consecrated soil of virtue, and on the classic ground of truth, thousands of nameless heroes must fall and struggle to build up the footstool from which history surveys the one hero, whose name is embalmed, bleeding –conquering – and resplendent. The grandest of heroic deeds are those which are performed within four walls and in domestic privacy. And, because history records only the self-sacrifice of the male sex, and because she dips her hands only in blood, therefore is it that in the eyes of the unseen spirit of the world our annals appear doubtless far more beautiful and noble than in our own.


To die for truth – is not to die for one’s country, but to die for the world. Truth like the Venus de Medici, will pass down in thirty fragments to posterity: but posterity will collect and recompose them into a goddess. Then also thy temple, O eternal Truth! That now stands half below the earth, made hollow by the sepulchers of its witnesses, will raise itself in the total majesty of its proportions; and will stand in monumental granite; and every pillar on which it rests, will fixed in the grave of a martyr. [Analects of Richter]

Immunology by Yiyun Li


I came to this country as an aspiring immunologist. I had chosen the field – if one does not count the practical motive of wanting a reason to leave China and of having a skill to make a living – because I had liked the working concept of the immune system.. Its job is to detect and attack non-self; it has memories, some as long lasting as life; its memories can go awry selectively, or worse, indiscriminately, leading the system to mistake self as foreign, as something to eliminate. The word immune (from the Latin immunis, in - + munia, services, obligations) is among my favorites in the English language, the possession of immunity – to illnesses, to follies, to love and loneliness and troubling thoughts and unalleviated pains – a trait I desired for my characters and myself, knowing all the while the futility of such a wish. Only the lifeless can be immune to life.


One’s intuition is to acquire immunity to those who confirm one’s beliefs about life, and to those who turn one’s beliefs into nothing. The latter are the natural predators of our hearts, the former made into enemies because we are, unlike other species, capable of not only enlarging but also diminishing our precarious selves. .  .  .


There was a time I could write well in Chinese. In school my essays were used as models; in the army, our squad leader gave me the choice between drafting a speech for her and cleaning the toilets or the pigsties – I always chose to write. Once in high school, several classmates and I entered an oratory contest. The winner would represent the class in a patriotic event. When I went on stage, for some mischievous reason, I saw to it that many of the listeners were moved to tears by the poetic and insincere lies I had made up; I moved myself to tears, too. That I could become a successful propaganda writer crossed my mind. I was disturbed. A young person wants to be true to herself and to the world. But what did not occur to me then was to ask: Can one’s intelligence rely entirely on the public language; can one form a precise thought, recall an accurate memory, or even feel a genuine feeling, with only the public language?



In the ideal, argument is a commitment- both parties, by giving and taking, discover something new. But this belief is as naïve as a young person’s idea about the perfection of love. The possessiveness in human nature turns loving or arguing into something entirely different: winning, conquering, owning, destroying.


The talent of argument becomes about finding the right rivals – those who can be awed or bullied into agreement- and dismissing those who cannot be as irrelevant. That talent needs an audience. The world will always quote Mann on Zweig’s death. Yet the latter’s silence prevails.


There is another way to cope with the  same autoimmune condition. A friend is good at arguing against herself from the perspective of others, even when she sees through the fallacy of their arguments. The mind, to avoid targeting itself, becomes two: one which, by aligning with others, is protected; and one which, by staying quiet, eludes being conquered. A self preserved by restraint is the self that will prevail.


To be more than one, to be several, and to live with the consequences, is inevitable. One can err the opposite way, and the belief in being nothing used to seem to me the most logical way to live. Being nothing is being invisible and replaceable; being nothing to others means remaining everything to oneself.  Being nothing is one way to battle the autoimmune condition of the mind. 

My intention  is not to defend suicide. I might have done so at many other times in my life, but I have arrived at a point where defending and disputing my actions are the same argument. Everything I say is scrutinized by myself; not only the words and their logic but also my motives. As a body suffers from an autoimmune disease, my mind targets every feeling and thought it created; a self dissecting itself finds little repose.

 Years ago my husband cautioned me  that writing would require more than a scientific career. No real madness, no real art, he quoted the old Chinese saying, but I had refused to consider it an obstacle. If I had writing, what was there to fear?



Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Second All-Russian Congress by China Mieville


For those who cleave to it, a paradox of actually existing revolution is that in its potential for utter reconfiguration, it is, precisely, beyond words, a messianic interruption – one that emerges from the quotidian. Unsayable, yet the culmination of everyday exhortations. Beyond language and of it, beyond representation and not.


The All – Russian Congress, 27 October, 1917


Martov remained in the Assembly Hall with the mass meeting. He was still desperate for a compromise. Now he tabled a motion criticizing the Bolsheviks for pre-empting Congress’s will, suggesting – again – that negotiations begin for a broad, inclusive socialist government. This was close to his proposal two hours before – which, Lenin’s desire to break with the moderates notwithstanding, the Bolsheviks did not oppose.

But two hours was a long time.

As Martov sat, there was a commotion, and the Bolsheviks Duma faction pushed into the hall, to the delegates delight and surprise. They had come, they said, ‘to triumph or dies with the All-Russian Congress.’

When the cheering subsided, Trotsky himself rose to respond to Martov.

The rising of the masses of the people requires no justification. What has happened is an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. We hardened the revolutionary energy of the Petersburg workers and soldiers. We openly forged the will of the masses for an insurrection, and not a conspiracy. The masses of the people followed our banner, and our insurrection was victorious. Now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with whom ought we to compromise ?With those wretched groups which have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russian is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by millions of workers and peasants represented in this congress, who they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out. Go where you ought to go: into the dustbin of history!

The room erupted. Amid the loud sustained applause, Martov stood up. “Then we’ll leave! He shouted.

As he turned, a delegate barred his way. The man stated at him with an expression of sorrow and accusation.

‘And we had thought’, he said, ‘that Martov at least would remain with us.’

“One day you will understand’, said Martov, his voice shaking, ‘the crime in which you are taking part.’

He walked out.


As if to underline the point. The departed moderates were, at that very moment, labeling the meeting only a ‘private gathering of Bolshevik  delegates.’ ‘The Central Executive Committee’, they announced, ‘considers the Second Congress as not having taken place.”

In the hall, the debate about conciliation dragged into the darkest hours. But by now the weight of opinion was with Lunacharsky, and with Trotsky.


 .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .  .

There have been a hundred years of crude, ahistorical, ignorant, bad-faith and opportunist attacks on October. Without echoing such sneers, we must nonetheless interrogate the revolution.


The old regime was vile and violent, while Russian liberalism was weak, and quick to make common cause with reaction. All the same, did October lead inexorably to Stalin? It is an old question, but one still very much alive. Is the gulag the telos of 1917?


That objective strains faced the new regime is clear. There are subjective factors, too, questions we must pose about decisions made.


The left Mensheviks, committed anti-war internationalists, have a case to answer, with their walk-out in October 1917. Coming straight after the congress voted for coalition, this decision shocked and upset even some of those who went along with it. “I was thunderstruck,’ said Sukhanov, of an action he never ceased to regret. ‘No one contested the legality of the congress .  .  .  [This action] meant a formal break with the masses and with the revolution.”


Nothing is given. But had the internationalists of the other groups remained within the Second Congress, Lenin and Trotsky’s intransigence and skepticism about the coalition might have been undercut, given how many other Bolsheviks, at all levels of the party, were advocates of cooperation. A less monolithic and embattled government just might have been the outcome.


This is not to deny the constraints and impact of isolation – nor to exonerate the Bolsheviks for their own mistakes, or worse.


In his short piece “Our Revolution”, written in 1923 in response to Sukhanov’s memoir, Lenin rather startlingly allows as ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia had not been ‘ready’ for revolution. He wonders pugnaciously, however, whether a people ‘influenced by the hopelessness of the situation’ could be blamed for ‘flinging itself into a struggle that would offer it at least some chance of securing conditions for the further development of civilization that were somewhat unusual.’

It is not absurd to argue that the ground-down of Russia had no real choice but to act, on the chance that in doing so they might alter the very parameters of the situation. That things might thereby improve.  

The party’s shift after Lenin’s death, from the plaintive, embattled sense that there had been little alternative but to strive in imperfect conditions, to the later bad hope of Socialism in One Country, is the baleful result of recasting necessity as a virtue.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Time by Edward Said


.  .  . my sense of time was essentially primitive and constricting. Time seemed forever against me, and except for a brief period in the morning when I sensed the day ahead as a possibility, I was boxed in by schedules, chores, assignments, with not a moment for leisurely enjoyment or reflection. I was given my first watch, an insipid-looking Tissot, at age eleven or twelve; for several days I spent hours staring at it obsessively, mystified by my inability to see its movement, constantly worried whether it had stopped or not. I suspected at first that it was not entirely new, since thee seemed to be something suspiciously worn about it, but was assured by my parents that it was indeed new, and that its slightly yellowed (tinged orange) face was characteristic of the model. There the discussion ended. But the watch obsessed me. I compared it first with what my CSAC schoolmates wore, which, except the Mickey Mouse and Popeye models  that symbolized the America I didn’t belong to, struck me as inferior to mine. There was an early period of experimenting with different ways of wearing it: the face turned inward; on the sleeve; underneath it; fastened tightly; fastened loosely; pushed forward onto my wrist and on the right hand. I ended up with it on my left wrist, where for a long time it gave me the decidedly positive feeling of being dressed up.

But the watch never failed to impress me with its unimpeded forward movement, which ibn nearly every way added to my feeling of being behind and at odds with my duties and commitments. I do not recall ever being much of a sleeper, but I do remember the faultless punctuality of early morning reveille and the immediate sense of anxious urgency I felt the moment I got out of bed. There was never any time to dawdle or loiter, though I was inclined to both,.  I began a life-long habit then of simultaneously experiencing time as wasting, and of resisting it by subjectively trying to prolong the time I had by doing more and more (reading furtively, staring out the window, looking for a superfluous object like a penknife  or yesterday’s shirt) in the few moments left to me before the inexorable deadline. My watch was sometimes a help, when it showed me that there was time left, but most often it guarded my life like a sentinel, on the side of an external order imposed by parents, teachers, and inflexible appointments.


In my early adolescence I was completely in the grip, at once ambiguously pleasant and unpleasant, of time passing as a series of deadlines – an experience that has remained with me ever since. The day’s milestones were set relatively early in that period and have not varied. Six-thirty (or in cases of great pressure six; I still use the phrase “I’ll get up a six to finish this”) was the time to get up; seven-thirty started the meter running, at which point I entered the strict regime of hours and half-hours governed by classes, church, private lessons, homework, piano practice, and sports, until bedtime. This sense of the day divided into periods of appointed labor has never left me, has indeed intensified. Eleven a.m. still imbues me with a guilty awareness that the morning has passed without enough be-ng accomplished – it is eleven- twenty as I write these very words – and nine p.m. still represents “lateness,” that moment which connotes the end of the day, the hastening needs to begin thinking about bed, the time beyond which to do work means to do it at the wrong time, fatigue and a sense of having failed all creeping up on one, time slowly getting past its proper period, lateness in fact in all the word’s senses.


My watch furnished the basic motif underlying all this, a kind of impersonal discipline that somehow kept the system in order. Leisure was unavailable. I recall with stunning clarity my father’s early injunction against remaining in pajamas and dressing gown: the combined feeling of time-wasting guilt and lazy impropriety simply overwhelms me. As a way of getting around the discipline, illness (sometimes feigned, sometimes exaggerated) made life away from school positively acceptable. I became the family joke for being especially gratified by, even soliciting, an unnecessary bandage on my finger, knee, or arm. And now by some devilish irony I find myself with an intransigent, treacherous leukemia, which ostrich-like I try to banish from my mind entirely, attempting with reasonable success to live in my system of time, working, sensing lateness and deadlines and that feeling of insufficient accomplishment I learned fifty years ago and have so remarkably internalized. But, in another odd reversal, I secretly wonder to myself whether the system of duties and deadlines may now save me, although of course I know that my illness creeps invisibly on, more secretly and insidiously than the time announced by my first watch, which I carried with so little awareness then of how it numbered my mortality, divided it up into perfect, unchanging intervals of unfulfilled time forever and ever.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Speech at Maria's Wedding



I want to say the experience of marriage, is a discourse- not only between two people, though mainly that- but including many others :  past, present and future. Sometimes it even seems to include specters or ghosts, but at any rate marriage is a discourse, a conversation in the world, of the world and about the world. 

 

By the way , how well do we know the world? It's shifting sands  of humanity, changing weather, oceanic  depths, astronomical heights,  frames of finite and infinite time?  A large part of our experience of life is  not knowing and precarious,  Isn't that true in a marriage also?

 
Well, I say that it is, AND  just being married  doesn't  give anyone some kind of  Bible or  automatic regulatory system that will set the unknown and the precarious right. See, we don't know everything about the world, and there is nothing guaranteed about the world as we like to think of it. Neither the world, nor our partners in marriage.

The real difference  between the discourse of marriage (the conversations which are its life's blood) is that it not like the other discourses/conversations we have, say political, administrative, scientific- it is not undertaken to gain mastery, to ward off the dangers of the unknown, the evade the precarious , to gain power , to put ourselves in the thrall of a certain doctrine. Happily married people do not insist on strict conformity, or common conviction in all things. They do not subjugate or attempt to subjugate one another.  Its not about answering or insisting that every question be answered. Sometimes in marriage its best to say nothing at all, just wait for another time or occasion when a contentious matter can be handled without recrimination or regret, completely differently than you first imagined.

 The marriage discourse is not about power.

The 'secret' method of  the marriage discourse is the loosening, baffling, or at the very least,  lightening and letting go of  power so  that the uncertain character of the world and of the spoken word of this world is aware of itself, comfortable with its uncertainty and incompleteness with  and always ready to learn something new, about the world and each other.

Marriage, and the discourse of marriage helps us redeem ourselves from our only too human desire to control and dominate.

In so far as the letter of democracy arrives in the envelope of radical subjectivity, who could object?


 


Monday, May 29, 2017

Mercilessness by Bryan Stevenson


Stevenson is the director of The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, working on appeals for those condemned to death, juveniles serving life-without-parole sentences, and women jailed under laws that criminalize bad parenting or the murder of abusive husbands  and partners. The book exposes the mercilessness of the judicial system in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and in the U.S. generally. He portrays the sense of helplessness, injustice, dread and plain terror experienced by African American communities when their members are  accused, incarcerated and/or executed without evidence and with few opportunities for appeal. He also describes the courage and resilience of folks suffering  almost unimaginably horrible conditions of poverty and repression; their capacity to maintain hope and to find redemption in understanding, and mercy. He describes the brutal futility of American prisons in the age of mass incarceration.

In perpetuating these injustices politicians, prosecutors, judges, prison officials and guards all seem to be operating in line with public sympathy and the will of the voters. But one aspect of the scenes and events that struck me forcefully was the passivity, unwarranted trust and sense of helpless subordination that characterized southern white society’s relationship to their  superiors. African Americans suffered the most under this hierarchal social system, but all seemed afflicted to one degree or another, to whatever degree they imagined they were free or self-determining. It was “only a pawn in their game” , a situation which Stevenson could have discussed at greater length, or drawn more vividly, in my opinion.

The book didn’t seem to me particularly  well written though what is to be expected from someone with a mainly legal education who life was so massively devoted to  work for thousands of individual clients ensnared in a harsh and insensitive judicial system? If he wants to describe events and his reactions to them over the course of thirty years in ways  that ordinary human memory would seem naturally unable to support, who can justly gainsay him?



Here is the passage where Stevenson gets closest to what might be said to underpin Justice in the best possible sense. See http://johnshaplin.blogspot.com/2009/05/mystery-of-judicial-performance.html

 Paul Farmer, the renown physician who spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, once quoted me something the writer Thomas Merton said: we are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’s always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we are  shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.

We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and ,as a result, deny our own humanity . . .there is no wholeness outside our reciprocal humanity.


Is it really a question  of imperfection, of ‘shared’ experience’ or such a stark- one way or the other- choice?  Isn’t ‘brokenness’ a bit of a cop out, short-hand for something more complex and disarming?