February 06, 2019

355

Wafers-

So, the 2019 SOTU has come and gone. Yawn. Nothing we didn't expect. The fact that Trumpola didn't have me write it for him has hurt my feelings more than I can say. Because if he had, I would have brought him outta the closet:

"My fellow Americans. On some level, all of you know that my job, historically speaking, is to dismantle the United States. The place isn't doing anyone any good; it's long overdue to retire the whole project. I think I can take a lot of credit for the damage I've inflicted on the country since I took office. Now, I pledge to you, my dear citizens, that you ain't seen nothing yet. The gloves are off; by November 2020, the place will be a shambles. Liz Warren, ha ha, turned out not to be Pocahontas after all; and I shall be bringing in Lorenzo Riggins to head up the State Dept. As for P. Snoots, just take a guess.

"All of us are turkeys, myself included. I thank you and good night.

"Oh, I almost forgot: Morris Berman will be heading up the dept. of Total and Massive Destruction (TMD)."

-mb

January 22, 2019

354

Wafers-

Nothing really new to report. Every day brings yet another instance of CRE (Cranial-Rectal Embedment), whether on the part of Trumpi, Congress, or our enlightened citizens. I am still excited about the possibility of Tulsi Gabbard marching into the White House in 2021, flanked by Lorenzo Riggins and Penny Snoots. Our greatness is unchallenged.

-mb

January 10, 2019

353

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore!"

Was Poe predicting the end of the United States? Was he a far-seeing clairvoyant? One has to wonder. Meanwhile, we have Trumpi doing his best to discredit himself and perhaps the country as well. I'm a believer that we get the leaders we deserve, and if he is behaving like a choleric child, so is a good part of the nation. No suaveness, no finesse, no social skills--just acting like a buffoon and throwing tantrums. Which is good, from a declinist point of view: Trumpi was "hired" by history to accelerate our decline and he is clearly doing his job. Rave on, Trumpi; you have 168 Wafers cheering you on. Only 9 days into 2019, and the possibilities for further damage seem endless.

As for the rest of the population, I can't help thinking of those lines from my favorite Christmas carol:"Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/The silent stars go by..."

mb

December 29, 2018

Populist Imperialism

"The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted."--D.H. Lawrence

"An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation; he would be put to death and eaten up by the wolves."
--Sauk leader Black Hawk (1832)

The following is from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States:

"Reconciling empire and liberty--based on the violent taking of Indigenous lands--into a usable myth allowed for the emergence of an enduring populist imperialism. Wars of conquest and ethnic cleansing could be sold to 'the people'--indeed could be fought for by the young men of those very people--by promising to expand economic opportunity, democracy, and freedom for all....

"It's not that Andrew Jackson had a 'dark side,' as his apologists rationalize and which all human beings have, but rather that Jackson was the the Dark Knight in the formation of the United States as a colonialist, imperialist democracy, a dynamic formation that continues to constitute the core of US patriotism. The most revered presidents--Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Obama--have each advanced populist imperialism while gradually increasing inclusion of other groups beyond the core of descendants of old settlers into the ruling mythology. All the presidents after Jackson march in his footsteps. Consciously or not, they refer back to him on what is acceptable, how to reconcile democracy and genocide and characterize it as freedom for the people."

A few observations:

1. Note the reference to "inclusion of other groups...into the ruling mythology." This is what constitutes progressive politics and political correctness in the US. Populist imperialism, the ruling mythology (and integrally tied to the American Dream), never gets criticized or even recognized in this process. MLK, however, was not fooled. Just prior to his assassination, he began to have doubts about his life mission, namely getting black people to have an equal share of the economic and social pie. But what if the whole pie was rotten, was a lie? Who wants a larger share of a rotten pie? (He also began to make connections between foreign and domestic policy. Uh-oh.)

2. None of the presidents cited above questioned the ruling mythology, and it's a fair bet that all of them believed it. (JFK, for example, was very much a Cold Warrior, and "Camelot" was hardly a critique of populist imperialism.) How much more so, then, the typical American zhlob walking down the street? Could any of them, progressives included, stand outside of the American mythology, as did D.H. Lawrence and Black Hawk and MLK toward the end of his life? Progressives, for example, don't want a different type of nation; they just want a better version of the same nation. Bandaids for cancer, in effect.

3. Who are the true dissenters from this vision, then? Hard to say. Maybe, a few Native American tribes, along with 167 Wafers? I'm just guessing here, but I can't imagine that the total number of Americans who see through the b.s. amounts to more than 10,000 people. The remainder--on the order of 327 million--are enveloped in a mythological fog from which they will never escape (the Matrix, if you will).

4. The fog seems to get denser with each passing year. 2019 should be one of the foggiest on record.

5. Which is to say that the zhlobs cannot be stopped; if you think they can, you are a damn fool. (They are an elemental force, like the Amazon.) They march on blindly, into the future, overwhelming everything in their path, both at home and abroad; and the more the American Dream and populist imperialism fails them, the more patriotic they become (this has been documented statistically). And so to all reading this, whether zhlob or anti-zhlob, I say:

Happy New Year!

-mb

December 17, 2018

Against the Current

In 1980, Isaiah Berlin published a collection of essays entitled Against the Current. the book has an intro written by someone named Roger Hausheer, dated 1979. It contains the following long paragraph (italics are mine):

"Surveying the mondern world, Berlin detects at the heart of the most disparate movements, from the nationalist tide in the Third World to the radical unrest among the disaffected young in the industrial technocracies, what may be the early stirrings of a reaction destined to grow into a world-transforming movement. It is the reaction of some irreducible core of free, creative, spontaneous human nature, of some elementary sense of identity, dignity and worth, against all that patronises and diminishes men, and threatens to rob them of themselves. This is but a modern expression, taking novel but recognisable forms, of the great battle begun by Hamann and Herder against the central values of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century faith in liberal rationalism, cosmopolitanism, science, progress, and rational organisation: a battle waged throughout the nineteenth century by the great unsettling rebels, Fourier, Proudhon, Stirner, Kierkegaard, Carlyle, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Sorel; and continued in the twentieth by existentialists, anarchists and irrationalists, and all the varying strains of contemporary rebellion and revolt. For all their deep differences, these thinkers, groups and movements are brothers beneath the skin: they fight in the name of some direct inward knowledge of self and free causal agency, and an irreducible sense of specific concrete identity. Rational and benevolent colonial masters and technocratic specialists and experts, no matter how altruistic and honourable their intentions, precisely because they view men as in the first place heteronomous objects to be administered, regimented, and controlled, not free and unpredictably self-transforming causal agents, must necessarily fail to respect and understand this fundamental human craving, and often enough ignore, crush or eradicate it. Rebellion against regimentation takes the form of a demand to do and be something in the world, to be one's own master, free of external intereference--an independent self, whether individual or collective, not dictated to or organised by others. The long and heated contest, which stretches back at least to the middle of the eighteenth century, has never been more alive than it is today."

I was, am, struck by how dated this text is, at least as a portrait of Americans. Certainly it spoke to me, inasmuch as it reflects the aspirations and consciousness of those of us who came of age in the fifties and sixties. But imagine the following experiment: You come up to any random American walking down the street (especially one less than 50 years of age), and somehow manage to separate him or her from his cell fone for 2 seconds. You read him the above paragraph and ask him to tell you what he thinks; what his or her reaction is.

1. On the intellectual level: what are the chances that this poor shmuck recognizes any of the names cited, Nietzsche and Tolstoy included? Pretty small, I'm guessing.

2. On the ontological level: what do the phrases "irreducible core of free, creative, spontaneous human nature," or "fundamental human craving," mean to this guy? Can he or she make sense of them at all? For in order to have that core, that craving, you have to not only be intelligent, but also have a sense of yourself, and these are things that most contemporary Americans simply don't possess. Rather than self-awareness, they have cellfone-awareness, or screen-awareness (not that technology is the only cause of American soul-death). If they ever did have that core or craving, it was erased or co-opted years ago. It is a fair bet that your question will be met with blank incomprehension, for it's not merely that you are talking to a moron (true enough); you are actually talking to a robot. I suspect that nearly 40 years after 1979, no one on this blog would believe that the fight for an independent self "has never been more alive than it is today"--at least,as far as the US is concerned.

From a declinist point of view, of course, the fact that a nation managed, in 40 years, to snuff out what it means to be a human being in most of its population, is no mean achievement. In the Twilight book I argue that one of the key factors in civilizational decline, whether in ancient Rome or contemporary America, is spiritual death. Well, folks, this is what it looks like. Welcome to our world.

-mb

December 03, 2018

Thoughts on Proust

For a long time now, my life has run on two parallel tracks. One has been to make sense of that life; the other, to make sense of the world. I attempted to do these things, in part, through writing. Of the fifteen books I have written, thirteen fall into the latter category, and two into the former (one of these being a volume of poetry). This is to be expected. In the case of relatively unknown authors such as myself, the public can hardly be expected to be interested in the details of their lives, and publishing an autobiography would be grandiosity, a species of delusion. And yet, we have something like this in the case of Marcel Proust, when he was still relatively unknown. His somewhat autobiographical novel, In Search of Lost Time, managed to make sense of both his life and the world at the same time. The profundity of his study of soul and society rendered it the greatest novel of the twentieth century.

I came to Proust early, and then late. In my thirties, I read the first two volumes of the work, then got distracted, moved on to other things. In my seventies, I turned to the Search in depth, wanting to learn more about my own life; really, to see if it made sense thus far. What follows, however, is not a study of myself, but of Proust, and what he ultimately concluded about the individual and the world. In a word, I see the Search as a guide for the soul, a roadmap of spiritual liberation, and thus of potential value to us all.

During the sixties and seventies, in the U.S. and elsewhere, many young people discovered LSD, and it changed their lives forever. The vision, as LSD-guru Timothy Leary explained it, was that of a spiritual life, as opposed to the one offered by mainstream America: the worship of money and power. This led many to believe that if everyone took the drug, it would change the entire country, and usher in the Age of Aquarius. Rumors were rife that there was a hippie plot afoot to put acid in the water supply, for example. In any case, the Summer of Love came and went, and America became even more materialistic and power-driven, taking most of the hippies along with it. Turns out, they were not all that averse to money and power.

Proust experienced something similar, but without drugs, and called it "involuntary memory." The paradigm example is by now quite famous: dipping a madeleine (fluted cookie) in a cup of tea, drinking the tea, and suddenly having a detailed vision of "Combray" (Illiers, in Normandy), where he spent part of his childhood years. For the benefit of those who have not read Proust, I quote this section at some length:

"...weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?...

"And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea...

" And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea."

If mysticism involves contact with some nonordinary reality, if it is an altered state of consciousness, then Proust became a mystic at that moment. But then, there is mysticism and there is mysticism. The experience with the madeleine was not a transcendent one, Freud's "oceanic experience," or what I have called elsewhere the "ascent experience." No, this was "horizontal," a kind of Zen satori, that sees reality for what it really is, without any filters. With this, says Malcolm Bowie (in Proust Among the Stars), Proust found "the lost key to the nature of things." And this, as Proust himself said, became the point of his book, namely to illustrate involuntary memory, to demonstrate the sheer power of it. He also wanted to (metaphorically) put this "acid" into the drinking water, so that everyone might stop wallowing in b.s., pursuing status, "love," and art as a fetish--all of which he regarded as illusory--and instead see art and creativity as the "true life." Our true nature, said Proust, is outside of time, and involuntary memory is the gateway to redemption. Roland Barthes said that Search was a gospel rather than a novel; the writer Maurice Rostand asserted that it was "a soul in the guise of a book." Proust was, in effect, offering his readers the divine without God or religion.

Of course, LSD didn't change the U.S., the Search didn't change France, and St. Francis didn't change Italy. As one pope, a contemporary of the latter, wisely remarked, not everyone can be St. Francis. Proust juxtaposed what he regarded as the "true life" with the false one; and although he believed that the former was available to all, most are inevitably going to choose the latter. What, then, was the point of the exercise?

Good question. One answer is that truth is not a matter of majority vote. What LSD, the Search, and St. Francis revealed was the possibility of living a different type of life, whether it appealed to the masses or not. An ideal, if you will; a window onto another world, for those few who might wish to pursue it. "True life" means true happiness; false life means chasing after substitute satisfactions, all the while having the haunting feeling that something is terribly wrong.

One thing that is wrong is what Proust biographer Roger Shattuck called "soul error." Plainly put, most of us are not happy with who we are. We have this gnawing doubt, believe that we are inherently defective in some way. "I would never join a club that would accept me as a member," Groucho Marx famously quipped. It's a kind of reverse Midas touch, that everything you put your hands on turns to shit. Friendships go sour, sexual relations get screwed up, my writing is inadequate, I am inadequate, etc. Proust (as narrator) states this belief about himself many times throughout the book until the very end, at which point, as many critics have observed, "loser takes all." Withthe aid of involuntary memory, he turns his life around.

Soul error is the belief that there is no inner worth in here; that only what is outside of me, that which I can't obtain, has value. This is what renders social life a farce, a gigantic waste of time. Feeling deeply inadequate, we are driven, forever on edge, always out to impress others that we are special, better than everyone else. This renders social interaction sterile, a vapid charade. The same dynamic applies to friendship and "love." Involuntary memory, as far as Proust is concerned, is the only way out. It amounts to epiphany, revelation. It comes unbidden: suddenly, you are purely a body, purely kinesthetic awareness, existing outside of time. This is what feeds the soul; this is the soul's true need. At the end of the day, this is all we have. Tolstoy said much the same thing.

Can everyone choose this path, as Proust believed? The historical record would suggest not, and the word utopia literally means "nowhere." Plato's assertion, that most people mistake illusion for reality, and are thus in effect sleepwalking through their lives, would seem to be the case. Sokei-An, the first Buddhist teacher to come to America (in 1945), finally observed that trying to turn Americans into Buddhists was like "holding a lotus to a rock." After ten years, say, you lift the lotus up off the rock and discover that its roots didn't penetrate the rock--not even slightly. And so the charade of status and power and so on will go on, and history will remain the nightmare that James Joyce said it was. We may wish to awaken from it, but somehow never manage to do so. Enlightenment is, at best, an individual quest, a private "solution."

(c)Morris Berman, 2018