YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 13, 2014

Melville, Edmund Burke, and literary cubism

Picasso, 1910

Picasso, 1910

[My comment on Burke as reactionary raised a ruckus on Facebook (see http://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/), so here is some material from my book on Burke's neoclassical rage for order and rejection of both the Sublime and the Beautiful. It is also relevant to the practice of conservative psychiatry and mental health services.]

[Excerpt: Hunting Captain Ahab:] Since the nineteenth century, images of Melville have moved from lunatic to Fallen Superman to rootless cosmopolitan to rooted cosmopolitan, with the figure of the rooted cosmopolitan unmasking would-be tyrants posing as democrats.  Underneath the mixed, ever-ambiguous reception to Melville’s art is a larger impulse: the subliminal blue-penciling of natural rights.  The eighteenth-century organic conservative Edmund Burke, like Samuel Johnson, reacted to Bacon, Milton and Locke by nervously constructing a politicized aesthetics. Whether rendered as Sublime or Beautiful the seductive material world the neo-classicists called Nature was always subversive to rational inquiry.[1]  The Sublime was the terrifying but alluring romantic style associated with rupture or iconoclasm, unchecked fancy and speculation, unmonitored boundary-blurring science, and Hebraic “puritanism.” It was contrasted with its Beautiful rival, the soothing, bounded pastoral style associated with conservative reform.

Melville’s gigantic sin was, perhaps, also the source of his greatness to corporatist readers.  In cleaving to purple/black/brown sublimity, he jammed his poetic prose with too many images.  The disorienting view from mountain tops, foretops, and rooftops (the brain) bored within the psyche and without, and defied Ovid by mating “unlike things,” thus muddling distinctions between art and life, dreams and reality.[2]  While the literary cubist Melville melted walls between some categories and made them interpenetrate or turn into their opposites, he had a fitful but keen eye for structures that could not be washed away by his conservative narrators. The cubist Melville interrupted their moralistic admonitions with materialist expletives.  The Nation magazine had explained in 1919 (the year they helped initiate the Melville Revival) that “the inherent common sense” of the flexible “Anglo-Saxon race” would overcome Jewish Bolshevism in America.  Following their logic, Melville would have betrayed his Anglo-Saxon racial inheritance by describing group antagonisms and double binds that, in turn, suggested the necessity of structural reform. Structural reform would not only ameliorate the condition of labor and create “the first firm founding of the state,” but, in a related perception, it would prevent mental illness in the laps of “families” that wanted to erase the contradiction between (adolescent) truth and (parental) order, families that madly promoted the critical spirit while fencing the rebel senses.

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But even as a Burkean, Melville was subversive.  As Burke recognized, the relaxing Beautiful was not the antidote to the agitating Sublime, but a different style of Romantic seduction.  Melville’s “primitivist” or “reactionary” protests, no less than his “Marxian” moments, were utopian delegitimations of deceptive or heartless authority in the name of universal standards of truth and justice.  Such unsettling criticism as the desire for something better, as desire itself (as opposed to the impassibility [3] of “aestheticism”) may initiate processes that can get out of hand, that may lead to unpredicted developments more far-reaching than Machiavellian “moderate” conservatives, the managers of “ritual rebellions,” would like.  The impeccably WASP American writer, on closer scrutiny, turned out to be a bad Jew even when he tried to be good by working within the system.

BeautifulKantian

“The Melville problem” (what is he, where is he, why did he fail?), “the Jewish problem,” and the problem of the form and content of American democratic institutions trampled over the same dark and bloody ground.  The Melville scholars studied here were transmitters of his “Hebraic” utopian provocations, while dependent on “neutral” (but really conservative) institutions. They have, with frequent resentment, tightened their corsets, assaulting the body in repose, the body freed from intimidation, the relaxed body better able to exercise curiosity and formulate those worldly assessments of social relationships and domination that build confidence in rising groups.  The revivers anxiously merged with and simultaneously rejected their Hebraic monster/monument, fencing their own “rebel senses” as well as Melville’s.  Given the structural pressures in American universities after 1919, the ongoing appeal of crypto-Tory nostrums, and a series of fatal decisions by the Left, the Melville malaise was inevitable.

This study revealed the etiology of the Melville problem in the attempts of organic conservatives to contain the explosive forces unleashed by science, liberal nationalism, universal literacy and mass suffrage. Their reactive concept of national, ethnic, or racial character is the heart-string that constricts and arrests the questing or utopian imagination in either its sublime or beautiful expansiveness. Ahab’s quest was viewed by conservatives as leading to the creation of a rational-secular international order with universal standards of excellence and human rights.  Red pencils were flaunted in 1917-1919 with the stunning advent of Bolshevism and Wilson’s appealing concept of a New World Order.  The corporatists  forged a middle way between the “extremes” of right-wing reaction and revolutionary socialism in 1919, and similarly, between laissez-faire liberalism and Nazism/Communism in the mid-1930s.  The strategy of these “moderates” was to co-opt the scientific language of the Enlightenment. They purged or discredited class-conscious “Bolshevists,” left-liberal materialists, and laissez-faire liberals alike. As corporatist thinkers, they incorporated newly discovered “facts” into “totalities”or “organic wholes.” In doing so, they presented their blood and soil historicism as the democratic vanguard of progress; their interacting biological, geographical, psychological or cultural “types”were offered as novel interventions that protected the uninitiated reader from mad scientists and the Bomb.  I have neither typed nor stamped Melville; rather, I have followed his lead, noting the tight harness of nineteenth-century family loyalty (corporatism and hereditarian racism) that restrained the isolato’s equally stubborn efforts to depict, overturn, or escape illegitimate authority, to merge his interests with those of suffering humanity. Whether hiding or writhing under the boot, Melville was an insoluble problem for the moderate men in all factions of Melville studies after 1919.

By suggesting ongoing conflict between materialist and pseudo-materialist (organicist) thinkers in the West as the sub-text of the ‘Melville’ Revival, I implicitly criticize the notion of Cold War culture as the unique creation of “fascist” Republicans.  The identification of classical liberalism with “romantic fascism” has been the dubious construct of the corporatists and their Popular Front Left allies, supporters of the New Deal.  The same thinkers have identified Red Scares as hysterical over-reactions to a relatively insignificant Communist presence in the labor movement or to an exaggerated Soviet military threat after 1945: this is their explanation for assaults on civil liberties.  The picture changes when we take elite perceptions of lower-class autodidacts in a period of mass literacy and mass media as the subject of inquiry.  In my view, ongoing hostility to “materialism” and “insatiable curiosity” (self-assertion in the independent labor movement and its associated internationalism) explains the continuities in the Melville Revival and modifies the Cold War explanation for repression of civil liberties.  Rather than diagnosing Far Right hysteria or overreaction, I relocated “hysteria” in the moderate center, in its “cool” neo-classical (but not Beautiful) response to hot-headed romanticism or “paranoia” on the fringe.  There was an epochal emancipatory moment in the seventeenth century; all subsequent intellectual history in “the West” may be seen as counter-attack to the Titanic threat of universal democracy and scientific advance, grounded in economic arrangements that would facilitate that goal. I cannot think of a single political movement that has embraced the scientist’s open-ended and experimental program, though it should be implicit in the struggle for cultural freedom.

Enlightenment materialists argued for the universal natural rights of individuals; as republicans they demanded one set of rules for rich and poor, institutionalizing natural rights in the state as civil liberties.  In this context, the so-called eternal conflict between individual and society denotes rather a fight specific to bourgeois democracies: the defense of civil liberties against privileged minorities or intolerant or uninformed majorities.  Moreover, as Locke and Diderot insisted, the citizen protester demanded that authorities heed exactly their own rules and standards–the precepts that legitimated their power and signified superior competence.[4]  Transferring their own libertinage onto social rebels (in this case, the revolutionary bourgeoisie) the threatened aristocracy resorted to stereotypes that slandered democracy and The People.  In a scenario still played out in offices of conservative psychiatry, the conflict between the individual and “civilization” originates in self-indulgent acting-out of anti-social emotions and instincts, not legitimate grievances. Unlike Don Juan/Faust socially responsible elites possess an “inner check,” the measured response to provocation that staves off both violent, rigid responses in themselves and revolution by the desperate.[5] A rainbow (not reaction or rubble or rivers of blood) is dispensed by the good father and other mental health professionals. [6]

NOTES.

                [1] See two eighteenth-century works, both in Melville’s library: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, Introduction by Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1990, originally publ.1757); in Phillips’ opinion, the Sublime and the Beautiful were not antinomies for Burke: both were arousing and opposed to indifference and immobility; however, Phillips makes the comparison with rupture and continuity, Thanatos and Eros.  Also see Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759), especially Chapter XVII, the remarks on “fancy” (the meteor: transitory, irregular, delusive; i.e., the Melville career as read by conservatives) and Chapter XLIV “The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination.”  Both the pastoral (fantastic delight) and the visionary utopia (which Johnson connects) are dangerous and lead to fixed ideas, melancholy, insanity, parricide and fratricide. Rasselas (in subject matter and philosophy likened to Voltaire’s Candide) was Johnson’s most popular work, enjoying 450 editions by 1959. See Samuel Johnson, LL.D., An Exhibition of First Editions, Manuscripts, Letters and Portraits to Commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his Birth, and the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of his Rasselas (N.Y.: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1959). Cf. the attempt by Harry Hayden Clark, 1944, op.cit., to fasten Thomas Paine to this neo-classical literary tradition, cviii-cxviii.

[2] My reference to the mating of unlike things is from Ovid’s definition of Chaos that begins Metamorphoses as well as Melville’s poem “Art.” Burke describes the obscurity that results from Milton’s description of Satan (and poetry in general) as the consequence of compressing unlike things (a problem not shared by imitative painting), Philosophical Enquiry, Part II, Section IV (cont.), 57.  “Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture consist? in images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through the mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms.  The mind is hurried out of itself by a croud of great and confused images; which affect because they are crouded and confused.  For separate them, and you lose much of the greatness, and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness.”

                [3] See Piero Camporesi, The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily mutilation and mortification in religion and folklore, transl. Tania Croft-Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988): Chapter Two, “The Impassible Saint.”

                [4] See Denis Diderot, Memoirs of a Nun, transl. Frances Birrell (London: Elek Books, 1959).

                [5] See Heinrich Heine, Doktor Faust, A Dance Poem, transl. and ed. Basil Ashmore (London: Peter Nevill, 1952): 16,17 for the intertwining of the Don Juan/Faust legends and the threat of the autodidact; the conflation of printing with necromancy and compare to some criticism of mass media today: Heine wrote in 1851 (the same year Moby Dick was published), “The Church deliberately confused [the historic Faust, a magician, with the inventor of printing] because in its opinion, necromancy has found its most wicked tool in the diffusion of thought by means of printing.  To such minds Thought is a terrible menace to that blind credo demanded in the Middle Ages, which requires acceptance of the Church’s total authority in matters spiritual and temporal, and keeps the humble charcoal burner [the Carboneri!] on his knees.  Faust began to think.  His impious intellect rebelled against the meek acceptance of his forefathers.  He was not content to read in dark places and to trifle with simple arts.  He longed for scientific knowledge and lusted for worldly power.  He demanded to be allowed to think, to act and to enjoy life to its full extent, and so…to use the language of the ancients…he became an apostate, renounced all hope of heavenly bliss, and turned to Satan and his earthly ways and promises.  This single man’s revolt was most certainly spread abroad by means of the printer’s art, so that his doctrine was very soon assimilated, not merely by a handful of intellectual rebels, but by whole populaces.  Small wonder then, that men of God denounced the art of printing as an attribute of Satan.”

                [6] See Robert Filmer’s classic formulation of stealthily advancing, bloodthirsty, irrational democracies in Patriarcha, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford U.P. 1949: 89,90.

September 12, 2014

Ray Rice and domestic abuse of women

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:11 pm
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Misogyny-Dog-ILL-SHOW-YOU-CHILD-SUPThe news has been dominated this week by conflicting opinions on NFL star Ray Rice’s knockout punch to his then fiancée Janay Palmer. This blog is about the shallow coverage of a widespread and subtle problem: the generalized abuse of women, married or single. [For a related illustrated blog see http://clarespark.com/2009/10/25/the-ultimate-s-m-humiliation/.%5D

On Fox News Channel, only Dagen McDowell has appropriately addressed the issue of why abused women don’t leave their marriages or violent lovers. Look for the financial considerations, she cried, almost in an unplanned and exasperated outburst on Hannity. There is more to this story than even the Fox Business personality imagined.

Before I launch into the blog, let me clarify my own position: I take the battle of the sexes for granted. Men are stronger than women, and their much vaunted “protection” is offered only as long as the “girls” don’t cross the line into some version of egalitarianism grounded in rationalism. That line is constantly moving (especially with the revitalization of one version of feminism (see http://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/), but some features of misogyny and sexism remain invisible to mass media, which generally cater to men (in sports coverage), but must pull in women viewers as well.

Take the terror of aging for one example. We stigmatize pedophiles, while promoting the beauty ideal in  very young girls (or boys!), with perfect skin and little body fat, for breasts and bellies remind men of their mothers, from whom separation has never been achieved, or is at best, ambivalent. The mother-son dyad is probably the key to misogyny and few will talk about “attachment theory” for John Bowlby and his followers in psychiatry don’t sit well with feminists on the lam from the boredom of early child-rearing (see http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/).

Take the mandatory wearing of high heels for another. The Foxy ladies on Fox News Channel are not only heavily made up and “lookers” but invariably wear high heels, which orthopedists agree lead to ankle, feet, knee and back problems later in life. But what does the young hip woman care? She is competing with other women for the favors of powerful men with jobs and/or prospects, and will humiliate her body to cater to male fetishism that finds high heels sexy, signifying the inability to run away from [male] predators. And yet many Western women look down on Chinese foot binding from another era as hopelessly stupid and retrograde. Nothing so undesirable as the little old ladies from Pasadena wearing white sneakers.

When I first came to Los Angeles in 1959, I discovered that the wives of my husband’s local friends were able to talk ONLY about children, nursery schools, home decor, and vacations. I am not exaggerating. Those subjects encompassed their worlds, and the fact that I joined the men in discussing public affairs was awesome, but also a big freaky (did I even know what I was talking about? No, but I had a strong mother).

Has feminism changed all that? Do conservative advocates for two parent households emphasize the need for educated, outspoken, book-reading wives, or are they silent on matters of enormous import? (A reminder here that religion has long been the province of females in the home, as Ann Douglas complained long ago in The Feminization of American Culture. She was contradicted by “domestic feminists” who claimed that the rise of the “moral mother” since industrialism removed the paterfamilias from the home, thus empowered women to make the whole world home-like, i.e. to support the welfare state.) No one in academe will argue against the claim that paternal authority has been weakened over the last few centuries. Perhaps conservative initiatives to reinstate the two parent family aims to correct this imbalance. But will pater help with the labor of housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing? Not so fast: the vagueness of this call to papa-led families is silent on this crucial subject.

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Finally, many couples make a trade-off: men will meekly acquiesce to many female demands in the home, but she had better not depart from stereotyped female roles, including the supplying of sex on demand.

Is it any wonder that most women, even those in the Western world, are obsessed with plastic surgery, hair, make-up, and the exact amount of muscle “toning” to please the ever-dominant male? The silence on this subject of female powerlessness is deafening. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

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September 8, 2014

How “progressive” social psychologists make us crazy

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:09 pm
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femme-fatale2The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders, the condition of the postwar “progressivism,” is stressful for everyone.  Progressive institutions are only vaguely and intermittently committed to the no-holds-barred search for truth, while the very fact of any pluralism and relativism frighteningly destabilizes authority for the vertiginous veteran of authoritarian families.  The persons I have studied, Herman Melville, the Victorian poet James Thomson (“B.V.”), Columbia professor Raymond M. Weaver, Picasso, Hitler, Jungian psychoanalyst Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and other Symbolists, are all disturbed by Mother, the emblem of inscrutable modernity; it is Mother who sows confusion with mixed signals.  Melville has described such behavior in Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), exhibiting the institutional double binds that demanded both artistic truth and corporatist order, independence and loyalty, making it impossible for him to please authority whatever he did and terrifying him with the scowl that marred the placid maternal gaze, the cloud that scudded before the sun.  For Melville, one defense against such lingering big chills was to divide people (or himself) into all good or all bad (switching objects); he patrolled the wall that prevented the sadness of his own black bile from leaking into and depressing the happy mother giving her all to the “perfectly happy” family.  It is her failure that must be denied, her secrets that must be kept to spare the already overburdened mother further suffering.

      Ideally (for the Symbolists) authority should be rational and lucid: the good objects are predictable; they are not hypocrites; they would not suddenly turn on the child who valiantly has been trying to please them.  For Melville’s Ishmael it was the noble savage Queequeg who provided such a rescue; several Leninist critics have seen, not Ahab, but Queequeg and other non-whites on board the Pequod potentially leading the revolution (C.L.R. James, 1953, H. Bruce Franklin, 1978).  In the attempt to recapture an image of innocence, the Symbolist will defend the self from unfair and unmerited accusations.  Such crimes include soiling oneself in infancy or early childhood before one was physically ready to be “clean”; later, the budding scholar’s (solicited!) criticisms of illegitimate authority.  For the bewildered child/student, then, the bad object is above all the one who has switched, perhaps in retrospect seen as the peddler of false utopias (Mother the switching Jew of the Home) who encouraged her victim to let down his guard and then put him on trial for unpremeditated, unremembered, indescribable, but gruesome crimes.  In other words, here the urge to split has a rational component: It is the “liberals” who make us “crazy”; there was a different problem in families that demanded moral purity, conformity, and obedience.  Such environments were repressive in the sense that renunciations were excessive, but, theoretically at least, one conformed to a clear set of rules.  There were myths and rituals that channeled aggression away from the adorable new baby to defeat clearly defined enemies.  I use the past tense, because the localism of traditional societies has been destroyed by the penetration of cosmopolitan mass media and an expanding global market; the corrupting city, moral ambiguities in tow, has invaded the country.

The Symbolists are complaining about socialization in families or universities that seem to demand autonomy and unbounded criticism of their practices, but turn on the child/student when “difference” turns into opposition; again, opposition not to core values, but to hypocrisy, or what appear to be two sets of rules.  The frantic “paranoid” maintenance of firm, impermeable boundaries between good and evil might be understood in this context.  So might be the eagerness of radicals to defend blackened oppressed groups from distorted and hostile representations–other innocent children unfairly stigmatized by “Victorian culture” or “bourgeois morality.”  As academics, these radicals will pursue image studies and other variants of idealist sociology.  Believing that images, like “hegemonic” institutional forces, mold and stamp their victims, these radical pluralists move the furniture around to prevent wild “outbursts” from either Right or Left.  For this they are handsomely rewarded by élite universities invested in preventive politics.  The pluralists write funny:

 [Maurice H. Krout outlines the province of social psychiatry, 1933-34:]  It is concerned with the motivation of the hobo, the delinquent, the would-be-suicide, the prostitute, the drug-addict.  From the point of view of individual participation social psychiatry is interested in mass movements, viz., financial crazes, booms, migrations and rushes, panics and stampedes, war manias.  From the point of view of adjustment effected by deviate personalities it studies revivals, mob action, political campaigns, and organized gang rule.[1]

 [Neil Smelser, Talcott Parsons’ collaborator, declares his fitness to the Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959:]  At the present time my research interests have turned toward the field of mass behavior–those occasions on which organized human activity gives way to outbursts such as riot, panic, fad, boom, craze, hysteria, revivalism and revolutionary activity.  The aim of this study is to locate some of the determinants of these kinds of behavior in the social structure, and thereby attempt to distinguish the occasions on which one, rather than another, type of mass outburst is likely to occur.  The intended contribution of the study is to assemble much of what is known about mass behavior into a more satisfactory theoretical framework.[2]

 The Tory biases of Krout and Smelser are obvious: for Krout, evangelical protestantism, criminality, politics, and mob action are similarly deviant.  Smelser adds revolution to the witch’s brew.

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If institutional double-bind theory is more explanatory than the Krout-Smelser idealist sociology, the implications for psychological counseling would be clear: the issue for “splitting” liberals and radicals would not be owning up to one’s angry but forbidden impulses against authority, the repressed childhood memories to be retrieved in treatment so as to live with appropriately “mixed feelings” or “ambivalence.”  Probably this is the relevant problem for explicitly authoritarian families (ultra-Catholics, conservative evangelical protestants, Marxist-Leninists) whose veterans have been forced to idealize authority and who may not criticize the rules, not even in fantasy.  But the more heimlich approach to splitting would recognize double-binds in pseudo-liberal institutions, the Kafka-esque worlds that may not disclose their rules until they are broken, which trap parent and child, professor and student alike, and which send some of us scurrying away from “bureaucratic domination” to “alternative” “simpler” cultures or subjectivist epistemologies or levelling S-M rituals that affirm human weakness and brutality, mocking hopes for enlightenment and universal tenderness.  We have become “self-consumer[s] of [our] woes,” tubercular addicts of the disappearing body (Schwindsuchter).  I am quoting from “I am,” by the nineteenth-century “mad” peasant poet, John Clare:

 “I am–yet what I am, none cares or knows;

   My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes–

   They rise and vanish in oblivions host,

Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes

   And yet I am, and live–like vapours tost

 Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

   Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

   But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

   Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

 I long for scenes where man hath never trod

   A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator God,

   And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

   The grass below, above, the vaulted sky. [3]

The mad poet laments the abandonment of intimates who trouble him because he has troubled them: they did not wish to know him as he was, really, to himself.  He yearns for a virgin nature (his own), neither touched nor touching, where he would be neither crushed by father’s disapproval nor confused and made guilty by mother’s switching emotions.  In The Future of an Illusion, Freud did not blame the unruly masses for acting out if their societies were economically exploitative; such class societies did not deserve to exist.  Moreover, his unambiguous allegiance to scientific method deflects charges of orthodoxy and reproaches those followers who ignore institutional sources of social violence or refuse to revise psychoanalysis.

  Compare both John Clare and the radical Freud to conservative Freudians and Kleinians as they explain ambivalence and violence: Persecuting parents or their surrogates are containers of the denied and split-off (Oedipal) rage of the child; the switch from friend to fiend is what Freud meant by “the uncanny,” the heimlich object which disconcertingly becomes unheimlich; it is the return of the repressed.   [4]  In the Kleinian formulation, the loved one becomes threatening because s/he is invested with forbidden (pre-Oedipal) hostile feelings projected into her/him by the child.  As the child becomes more upset, the “angry” parent/love object appears to be more and more hostile and must be controlled; thus the troubled patient has a boundary problem, confusing the Self and Other.

The usefulness of the concept of displacement and projection is said to have been born out in clinical treatment of anxiety hysteria, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, etc., but I question its application to all violent social interactions as numerous progressive social psychologists analyzing the “scapegoating” of blacks by whites, Jews by Christians, and “business” by “labor” had implied in the 1930s and 1940s.[5]  Such cultural anthropologists and social psychologists were, like Ruth Benedict, adjusting society to the New Deal and circumscribing the proto-socialist imagination while deploying Marxian language.  If gut perceptions of danger are denied, will we not doubt our grasp on reality?[6]  Is it not also possible that the troubled patient with fluid boundaries, thus unable to differentiate the self from the parent and hence experiencing “projective identification” has not developed (or has not been allowed to develop) autonomy; has not established a boundary that protects the legitimacy of personal rights and entitlements from the assaults and confiscations of authoritarian parents or parental surrogates, primarily because the culture is premodern or covertly protofascist or fascist, i.e., its corporatist rulers view “bourgeois individualism” (a.k.a. “mechanical materialism,” the body free of original sin   [7]) as the source of vanitas, feminization and decadence; that what is really threatening about “individualism” is the stubborn notion advanced by recent “mechanical materialists” that there are social-economic antagonisms that cannot be ignored or passed off as delusional; universal facts perceivable by anyone that are not “group facts” dependent on blood, soil, and institutional context as Frederick Jackson Turner and other “materialist” social historians or “new historicists” would insist?

 [A former paranoid schizophrenic diagnoses modernity and fascism:]  Protestantism has indeed its share of responsibility for the tragic situation of today, but that responsibility is largely a result of its very successes.  It has helped to produce a new mechanized and urbanized and depersonalized world with which it is unable to cope.  Its exaltation of freedom of inquiry and freedom of trade has unlocked a Pandora’s box of uncontrollable furies.  The hope of the future, as I see it, lies in the development of the inner control of conscience which is so repugnant to Dr. Fromm and of the loyalty to that which transcends the Hitlers and Mussolinis of this war-stricken world.[8]

 [On persecution delusions: the paranoid fantasy contains a “kernel of truth”: the patient may experience empathy with an unconscious wish of the persecutor; also]  “The ‘truth’ may also relate to the observations of events during childhood that were denied at the time.  These elements later return to consciousness distorted and magnified in an irrational, delusional form. Paranoid character is the term applicable to an individual whose personality structure is dominated by marked suspiciousness, querulousness, and persistent rationalized hostility against other persons or groups.  The use of scapegoats or “enemies,” the need to ‘defend’ against a hostile world (representing externalized aggressive impulses within the individual himself), the tendency to fight excessively over minor causes (often becoming litigious), and frequent contempt for others are the traits usually observed in this disturbance.  Here the characteristic and most frequently observed defense is projection–the displacement of the individual’s unacceptable wishes and thoughts onto others, who then are felt to direct these ideas back to their source (i.e., I hate him; no, he hates me, and therefore I am justified in attacking and beating him).  This permits the rationalization of the individual’s hostility, and allows him to defend his megalomanic image and fantasies.  In spite of their pathology, however, certain paranoid characters have contributed to some of the basic systematic research in science, as well as classic works in art, music and literature.”[9]

 “…No personal experience has come to light which could help to explain the intensity of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews…It is a disturbing question to consider when was the last occasion on which this man, who was responsible for the death of six million Jews, actually spoke to or met a Jew in person.  But “the Jew” as one encounters him in the pages of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s ravings bears no resemblance to flesh-and-blood human beings of Jewish descent: he is an invention of Hitler’s obsessional fantasy, a Satanic creation, expressing his need to create an object on which he could concentrate his feelings of aggression and hatred.” [10]

The Kernel of Truth.  For conservative Freudians the return of the repressed marks a paranoid episode; for purposes of my argument here, reading Melville, reading myself, reading my friends, the return of the repressed may be the empirical reality that we have screened out while longing for good objects to rescue us from brutality and alienation.  In the discussion of stereotypes that follows, I do not want to be misunderstood as reinforcing the “truth” of “negative images”; rather I want to defend the common sense of “ordinary people” asking for realism; I want to criticize the tactics of recent media and curriculum reformers seeking “balance” through “positive images” rather than the thoroughgoing, unbounded pluralism that makes the achievement of more accurate histories a possibility.

Social critics (including feminists) condemn some or all of Freud’s ideas as neurotically or opportunistically formulated, while the rough formulations of anti-Freudian, Jungian social psychologists go uncriticized.  In order to demonstrate that group prejudice is irrational, the latter postulate an entirely socially constructed “Other” and, when it suits them, they deplore “scapegoating.”  Nor is it common to decry their definitions of fascism.  It is argued that the armored fascist/authoritarian personality projects his negative identity onto the Other or Alien.  We should be very suspicious of these tactics in “left” cultural criticism.  Such analyses are not only reductive, collapsing the various fascisms of the 1920s and 1930s into one vague and ahistoric hyper-nationalism and hyper-racism, moreover conflating negative images reinforcing sexism, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and class resentment into one all-purpose, “dirty” or “inferior” Alien (what an insult to protean Devils!). 

The theory of “projective identification” (a name object-relations psychoanalysts use instead of scapgoating or projection) can be a victim-blaming maneuver that implicitly requests the “prejudiced” person to cleanse himself  by embracing and then incorporating the evil he attributes to others; by regressively and primitivistically merging with his real “nature” as a diversion from possible political action.  (Hence the vogue for sadomasochistic forms of eroticism as mass media bring more and more of the world’s suffering to our attention, situations begging for intervention?)  Gordon Allport and his Harvard colleague Henry Murray criticized scapegoating as irrational when the target of lower-class wrath was upper-class or member of a protected group; scapegoating was encouraged when conflict managers needed to redirect resentment away from themselves toward a common enemy to enhance “group morale” or “group cohesion” (See worksheets for their seminar in Civilian Morale, Harvard 1941).  To be awarded the blue ribbon for social responsibility, then, the tolerant citizen must believe that his common sense evaluations of stubbornly hostile others are only projections of his own inner conflicts and deficiencies: there are no real individual or group conflicts out there resistant to mediation.  Sadly, the unwary youth who falls for such corporatist liberal ruses is already marching down the road to herrenvolk democracy and fascism.

By contrast, the theorists of democracy, from Locke to Jefferson to Walter Lippmann, have argued that the senses and universal reason produce useful knowledge of the visible world.  For Enlightenment rationalists the problem lay not in necessarily deluded perception by ever-passionate People, but in the invisible world erected or blanketed by arbitrary, secretive authority.  For Lippmann, stereotypes (“the pictures in our heads”) exist where we have not first-hand experience with the faraway or sequestered; such distortions were inevitable in complex industrial societies, but could be corrected by political scientists who would serve the public interest as independent fact-finders (i.e., experts separated from the policy-making function), who would then pass on their accurate pictures of reality via newspapers to laymen and their elected representatives.[11]  Lippmann referred only to situations where people could not encounter each other face-to-face over time.  Of course, for ordinary people today, unflattering “stereotypes” opposed by the media reformers are not confined to second-hand impressions, but are felt to be verified in everyday life; such shared perceptions have been the basis for popular humor and common sense.  The problem with such stereotypes may lie in their interpretation.

The angry, frightened “bigot” or “paranoid” imagines class, gender, racial or ethnic “character” as the primary source of threatening social evil (the bloated capitalist, the deceitful woman or “Oriental” or Jew, the lazy/violent black or brown person).  But this is a misconception: people are not born to be cunning or greedy; they respond to historically specific, systemic institutional imperatives; no one has yet demonstrated genes for troubling behavior resistant to self- or social correction.  Therefore to the extent that “negative” stereotypes are accurate, their “kernel of truth” is situational, a reflection of structural position (business or job competition, exclusion, dependency) not a typical or imperishable attribute like fallen flesh necessarily to be erased through mass death or iconoclasm, or its rage diverted into Sade’s/Gorer’s “constructive Sadism.”  So denying the validity of at least part of the cultural “stereotype” by labeling and ostracizing the frightened person as “hysterical” or “paranoid” or “racist” or “misogynist” disarms persons who need to defend themselves now against real (partly) hostile adversaries, who should not be asked to wait for the structural change (the reform or revolution) that promises relief.  The antidote to “negative” images of “The Other” is not a switch to a “positive image” or to an impossibly benign pluralistic society, a “multicultural curriculum” curiously lacking dissenting individuals, structural antagonisms, or hierarchy.  Rather, as Lippmann insisted in 1922, we must “see the world steadily and see it whole”; to be informed of current events is not the same as knowing the truth.  We urgently require an historical analysis which reconstructs all the institutional structures and the social relations such structures necessarily call forth, precisely recording the measurable behaviors of the state, the family, the market, education, and the media.   [12]  How do these institutions legitimate authority or create and discover new knowledge?

 Only then will we understand the opportunities and constraints within which individuals or artists are asked to make political, moral, or “aesthetic” choices in order to function and survive.  A leftist historian might argue that moral choices are ultimately produced or limited by abstract and impersonal social property relations; hence “stereotypes” are personified or frozen (“reified”) social processes.  Crucially, our analysis should note the presence or absence of social movements offering realistic options for more humane behavior and more cultural freedom by achieving the material preconditions for universal creativity, meaningful participation in decision-making, equality (of opportunity, not of condition) and tolerance.  The longed-for “self-esteem” that upper-class reformers would bestow upon “the oppressed” comes with increasing understanding and mastery of the material world, not moralistic admonitions and glorious ancestors.

DepressedMothersKids

NOTES.

                [1] Maurice H. Krout, “The Province of  Social Psychiatry,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychiatry, Vol.28 (Apr.1933-Mar.1934): 156.

                [2] Crane Brinton, ed., The Society of Fellows (Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959): 235-236.

                [3] Selected Poems and Prose of John Clare, ed. Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield (Oxford U.P., 1967).  In a recent essay “John Clare’s Madness,” Roy Porter suggests that the impossibility of pleasing everyone was at the heart of the poet’s difficulties.

                [4] Alex Bein uses the word “uncanny” three times in his discussion of the Wandering Jew in the 19th century; see The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem (Herzl Press, 1990): 155-156.  He does not cite Freud or see the uncanny as the switch.  Interestingly, the German adjective heimlich may mean home-like or stealthy or secret.

                [5] See Gordon Allport, ABC’s of Scapegoating (Anti-Defamation League, 1948).  Cf. Alford on Melanie Klein, fn. 366.

                [6] The feminists and Jeffrey Masson have pounced upon Freud’s rejection of his female patients’ reports of sexual abuse by male relatives, but this assault may be an irrationalist right-wing tactic to make the materialist Freud a deceiving Jew.  His (idealist) critics would be the genuine materialists.  There is a growing literature on child abuse that tends to avoid explaining family violence as differently motivated in differing individuals in historically specific contexts (as the case study method of Locke and Freud would demand).  Or, confusingly, the cases are historically situated and universal and separable from other forms of social violence, as the concepts of “child abuse” or “patriarchy.”  See Larry Wolff, Postcards From The End of Time (Athenaeum, 1980) for an example of the latter.

                [7] Roy Porter, The Enlightenment (Macmillan, 1990): 75.

                [8] Anton T. Boisen, responding to Fromm’s Escape From Freedom, in a symposium edited by Patrick Mullahey, Psychiatry 5 (Feb.1942): 117.

                [9] A Glossary of Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts, ed. B.E. Moore and B.F. Fine (The American Psychoanalytic Association, 1968): 70.

                [10] Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (London: HarperCollins, 1991):160.

                [11] Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1950, orig.publ. 1922): 31-32.  The Lippmann project has been turned upside down by Noam Chomsky in his constantly reiterated claim that Lippmann celebrated and advanced the project of “manufacturing consent.”

                [12] See Klausner, 1982, op.cit. for a contrast between positivist and idealist institutional analysis.  For the idealists, individuals cannot be examined apart from their institutional context. I partly agree with this formulation, but it entirely leaves out choice and free will, however ambiguous and predetermined these “choices” may remain.

September 3, 2014

Solidarity on “the Left” vs. disunity on “the Right”

conflictmanagementPOTUS delivered his usual mixed message today, first vowing to smash ISIS, then softening his stance to one of “managing conflict.” This blog is about why the Right can’t unify to defeat such typical ‘switcheroos.’

All graduate students in today’s better doctoral programs are marinated in the ideology of “progressivism.” How did this come about? I have traced the origins of managerial attempts to deal with the frightening rise of the “laissez-faire” bourgeoisie that threatened to spread Jacobin-type revolution in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.

To review: aristocrats in England bonded with the new industrial working class (drawn from deskilled artisans and peasants) against the bourgeoisie. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.) Disraeli’s Young England and its Christian Socialist allies provided a model for forward thinking politicians and journalists in the United States after the Civil War (the take-off period for rapid industrialization now that the agrarian South was supposedly vanquished). Enter the Progressive movement that skillfully co-opted the anti-elitist populist movement, a movement composed of small producers on the land, and directed against railroads for instance. But the progressives never stood with working class organizations or the dread specter of “proletarian internationalism”—rather, they installed “ethnicity” or “race” as the socio-economic division that mattered, erasing “class” as a category for sorting people’s interests out.

The Nation magazine moved sharply to the left in 1919, to avert bloody class warfare, but they supported populism, not communism. Their stance could not have been more elitist or counter-revolutionary. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.) Oswald Garrison Villard’s crypto-organic conservatism or a gentleman’s version of the route to social cohesion is obvious, and no communists were taken in by his anti-capitalist fulminations.

You could say, with accuracy, that progressives and leftists hated each others’ guts until the brilliant stroke of solidarity against “fascism” in the mid-1930s that was called “the Popular Front.” Such solidarity between social democrats and hard leftists continues to exist, scandalously in my view, with social democrats controlling the discourse. For no Marxist should abandon empiricism and materialism (i.e., empiricism) to be absorbed by the alleged management of structural conflicts offered by social democrats (i.e., progressives who don’t like Progress as delivered by relatively unregulated market economies).

Hence, the confusion today over Obama’s “true” loyalties: is he a Leninist or a managerial centrist? Opinion on the Right is sharply divided, perhaps because selected pieces of New Deal reformism still exist in the upper reaches of the Republican Party, for instance in the impetus toward Medicare accomplished during the Eisenhower administration, a statist remedy that would serve as models for other reforms in Big Government, such as Obamacare marching toward “Medicare for all.”

 

"community"

“community”

I cannot blame the Tea Party for its animus against what appears to be the passivity of Congress in resisting the Obama administration’s apparent big lurch to the Left, but I do fault them for unnecessary sectarianism, particularly among the social conservatives who appear to have abandoned the separation of Church and State, and look to a religious revival to repair structural problems in American society, all the  while denying that there is any racism on the Right.

Contra many conservatives, “liberalism” is not a religion, but an ideology that will triumph as long as the pseudo-leftist social democratic managerial discourse dominates popular culture/public and private speech.

"Progressive rock, Italian style

“Progressive rock, Italian style

 

Until the hopelessly corrupt Chicago machine is dislodged, there is no stopping Big Government. Whatever the flaws of the “Republican establishment” it would serve classical liberalism well to take a lesson from the leftist playbook and practice “solidarity forever.” [Update 9-4-14: There cannot be solidarity on the Right as long as mutual hostility exists between small and big business. See http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/08/the-u-s-government-isnt-friendly-enough-to-big-business/. This argues that [New Deal reformism] favored small business over big business. This will shock many in The Tea Party.]

August 29, 2014

LABOR DAY 2014

KOLsealLabor Day was a counter-revolutionary exercise in its very foundation during the administration of Grover Cleveland. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day. Revolutionary socialism was the last thing that the AFL or the less well-known and long defunct Knights of Labor desired.

This blog will focus on those aspects of our dominant sociology that seek to defang the labor movement. [For a blog that shows resistance to New Deal labor codes as dished out by the State by one black radical, see http://clarespark.com/2013/09/02/labor-day-2013/.%5D  But since I, unlike Sam Dorsey,  am not writing from the revolutionary Left (see http://clarespark.com/2014/05/10/why-i-left-the-left/), I will focus on those features that deter workers from acting in their own interest, for instance in their mindless capitulation to union bosses (a bureaucracy that is rarely mentioned these days).

  1. Populism versus revolutionary socialism. As I have written before, populism is a petit-bourgeois radical movement that seems to offer upward mobility to ambitious persons from humble backgrounds. Populism deploys such phrases as “the masses” or “the people” as if all but ruling elites formed a compact entity with identical economic and social interests. I don’t see why class analysis should be the monopoly of the Left. Clearly, small business and big business have different structures and problems; the same applies to male and female workers, especially with respect to child rearing and housework. (As to whether or not “class collaboration” between “business” and “labor” is a good thing or not, I leave to economists and other historians. The labor movement made its peace with capitalism during the 1930s and 1940s, and “big labor” has no revolutionary aspirations, to the disappointment of Leninists. The “labor movement” as it once existed, no longer exists in this “post-industrial” service-oriented economy.)

But even worse, populist politics, early on co-opted by “progressives” pervade popular culture, and are promiscuous in their antagonism toward “elites”. In its original form, populism was heavily antisemitic (i.e., bankers, like “Wall Street” were generically a Jewish cabal with ambitions to control the world), a fact brushed out by its New Left defenders. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/02/02/the-legitimate-aspirations-of-the-___-people/.)

I noted during the art world upheavals of the 1970s that protesters defined themselves as “populists”, not as “socialists,” for  the term “populism” however tainted by its initial anti-Semitism, was acceptable (for such intellectual celebrities as Hannah Arendt, “the people” was the opposite of a mob, implying that individuals believed in their particular individual rights; hence “the people’s” critique could apply to the supposed crimes of any elite suspected of taking away such rights, no matter how competent the elite’s members might be in their particular field). A particularly grotesque example is found in the Chomsky-ite attack on Walter Lippmann (again an antisemitic gesture) that spread the canard that Lippmann’s influential book Public Opinion (1922) called for the “manufacture of consent” in the newly developing mass media, in order to hornswoggle the gullible people-becoming-mobs. ( See http://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.) A similar condemnation of mass culture can be found in Hannah Arendt’s “must-read” tome The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950, 1958). And yet Arendt is worshipped by many academic radicals, as are other “critical theorists.”

A similar outrage was found in the counter-culture that continues to delight in technophobia and representations of mad scientists (see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Indeed, when I defended the Enlightenment on a Pacifica radio popular morning show in the 1990s, I was accused of being a CIA agent, hence the lowest form of animal life—this from listeners who believed themselves to be anticapitalist and pro-labor.

night-of-the-living-dead

 

Cultural pessimism. What could be more detrimental to working people than the current mood of doom and gloom? Is it any wonder that they seek refuge in sports and other forms of mass entertainment, that are predictably primitivist and (stylishly) loud?

Where does this doom and gloom originate? Surely not in the aspirations of the Founders, most of whom were avid followers of the various European enlightenments, and who were guardedly optimistic about the future of the republic. I locate the apocalyptic, technophobic, and anti-intellectual mood to the regnant populism and 1960s counter-culture that arguably never had the welfare of working people as their goal, but rather emancipation from their parents—stand-ins for the evil “jewified” bourgeoisie. Enter “youth culture” as revolt against “suburban sadness.”

Materialism and the working class. American reactionaries (among whom I count the populists and faux “liberals”) come out of German (philosophical) Idealism, which was always antidemocratic and protofascist. “Materialism” is now widely understood as an addiction to consumerism and similarly shallow values, whereas materialism used to signify a retreat from mysticism to the power of the individual to use her or his senses, to reason, and thus to defend her and his interests through making sense of the world and its institutions.  This older view of “materialism” is now blamed by culture warriors of the Right on “secular progressives”—meaning persons like me who praise cultural pluralism and stand up for education in the sciences, economics, and history, putting children ahead of teachers unions and their narrow interests.

I will end this Labor Day blog by observing that teachers are petit-bourgeois and definitely NOT working class, despite their enthusiasm for their “unions” in which they ape the organization of real laborers. When I trained to be a science teacher in the 1950s, we were constantly asked “is teaching a profession? And if so, should they strike for higher wages?” It is our teachers who are preparing their students for real life as mature adults. The least they could do is not succumb to those administrators who joyfully participate in the Democratic Party urban machines and the collectivist ideologies that these mobsters dispense to kids and their parents who could and should know better.

Postscript: I got this comment from a Facebook friend Stuart Creque this morning after I asked what was interesting about Labor Day: “ My dad was a trade unionist, which is funny because he was a high school teacher, not a laborer. Teachers unionizing is rather like Hollywood writers unionizing: it has nothing to do with collective bargaining power and everything to do with self-image as “working men and women.”

But what really fascinates me about labor today is the death of solidarity. My dad exposed me to what labor solidarity was. And the interesting thing is that nowadays it seems almost nonexistent. Each union seems out for its own interests, and more likely to focus on poaching from other unions than coordinating with them or even honoring their picket lines.

In the Writers Guild of America strike a few years ago, the union actually counseled its members to write and earn as much as possible in the days leading up to the strike deadline. They had no concept that they were giving management inventory to work on during the strike, reducing pressure for a settlement. They had no concept of collecting a strike fund over time and then ordering a work-to-rule slowdown leading into the strike. They also had no stomach to hold out for synchronizing contract deadlines with other Hollywood guilds and unions.” I can only add to Stuart Creque’s comment that writers are competing with each other and thus have little motivation for solidarity in protecting the quality of their work. They form a guild, not a union.

MightisRight 

August 27, 2014

The imagination going dark

cannibalferoxBefore I left for a summer jaunt, I reread George Fitzhugh’s CANNIBALS ALL! (1857), a defense of slavery as a benign institution, especially as compared to the voracious capitalism and radical politics he claims to have witnessed in the industrial revolution.  What makes this work important is hardly its timeless wisdom or exhaustive research into the historical record, but the stunning fact that C. Vann Woodward, the foremost (liberal) historian of the South, wrote a lengthy preface for its republication in 1960.

Why would a liberal resuscitate such a relic in the mid-20th century? Woodward doesn’t tell us, but it is a good bet that Fitzhugh’s enemies and his were cut from the same cloth; that Fitzhugh’s reactionary cooking the history books to make all slaveholders throughout the West and the American South the best of patriarchs: religious, classically educated, family oriented, agrarian, and never, never turning slaves into throwaway commodities as the materialistic, science driven Northern laissez-faire capitalists were allegedly doing. Woodward undoubtedly saw Fitzhugh as the model New Deal liberal, paternalistic, agrarian, and statist, avant la lettre.

On the airplane that took me back East I saw three movies, one older, two recent: Brazil, Divergent, and Transcendence. Before that, I had leafed through a large art history book, heavily illustrated, entitled Symbolism at my son’s house. I feel that I am drowning in postmodernist negativity regarding science, technology, “positivism,” and the modern world, for all these works were retreats into the Dark Ages, mysticism, and even postmodernism (even Christopher Nolan, who has a conservative following,  is awash in ambiguity and subjectivity.)

The Symbolist painters of the 19th century were lyrical and visually extravagant, carrying forth many of the themes developed on this website—escapism into a re-enchanted world: primitive, pagan, nature-loving, risqué, often Catholic. But the movies I watched on the airplane were typical film noir: As the Erudite want to take over the world (Divergent) choosing their version of “human nature” as justification for their oppressive and divisive leadership (compare to Fitzhugh’s hated abolitionists and utopians), the Abnegation faction that currently rules is under threat but ably defended by young misfits who see through the traps set by the (Űbermenschen). The symbolism is obvious to the audience: the rationalists have carved up the human personality according to the division of labor that Fitzhugh too criticized as dehumanizing.

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

It is this division of labor that has turned the lights out all over Europe and America, de-skilling honest craftsmen, and corrupting the new industrial working class, once the projected saviors of humanity, with cheap and abundant consumer goods.

Is it any wonder that nearly all our sci-fi movies are set in murderous, visually degraded, crazy-making cities, and that popular entertainment has gone dark and mobbish? For in olden times, there were heroes capable of slaying the monsters who stalked the land. Those days are gone forever, except in the imaginations of the younger filmmakers who, like Nolan, has his characters (apparently) join forces with eco-terrorists who confuse science with The Bomb. (Were Orwell alive today, he would see himself as a prophet, for the social democrats have inverted freedom and slavery. Don’t confuse the tenets of social democracy with communism, for the communists viewed technology and science as emancipating for toiling humanity.)

 

 

 

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

 

Nowadays, we have the dubious choice of eating or being eaten, dreaming in our pop culture of unpolluted Nature, meditating upon “whole foods.”

August 17, 2014

Improving “race relations”: Left, Right, and Middle

racerelationsThe race riot in Ferguson, Missouri (August 10, 2014 onward), is a reminder that we have made little progress in resolving the vexed question of “race relations” in America. This blog suggests that neither Leftists, Rightists, nor Moderates have a clue as to how to proceed in ameliorating what are called “race relations.”

 I became interested in this subject while researching my book on the so-called “revival” of Herman Melville, universally lauded for his allegedly advanced position on prejudice and “race.” So I read a book published during WW2, by Gunnar Myrdal, assisted by Ralph Bunche: An  American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (Harper, 1944), a massive research project funded by the Carnegie Corporation in order to fend off the race riots that were anticipated at the end of the looming conflict with Nazism and other fascisms.  Immersion in the Bunche Papers at UCLA and related materials alerted me to this volatile, incendiary, and unresolved subject.

First, an outline of the positions as put forth by American political factions and organizations:

The Left: American history is essentially racist and destructive; propertied white males have abused indigenous peoples, blacks, Nature, immigrants, and women. There is no solution to the race problem short of revolutionary transformation achieved through [inter-racial] class struggle directed against finance capital (the master puppeteers). After the revolution, all particularisms (e.g. “identity politics”) will disappear in an internationalist commitment to communism and true individuality.

Liberals and other anticommunist social democrats: It must be noted that Bunche and Myrdal were at odds over prior strategies to solve “the Negro problem.” Bunche was infuriated by the liberal solution of “better communication” between whites and blacks. At that time, Bunche was writing from the left of Myrdal (a Swedish social democrat), and urging that blacks join unions to overthrow autocratic union bosses and all other bureaucrats toward the objective of worker’s control. At times, he (or more likely Myrdal) called for a more effective welfare state. Myrdal’s responses to Bunche’s militant memoranda resulted in mischaracterizing Bunche as an “economic determinist,” while leaning on him to separate troublemaking black “betterment organizations” from the harmless ones. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) Bunche correctly identified the Marcus Garvey movement and its offshoots as fascist and escapist, while criticizing such venerable organizations as the NAACP and Urban League as indifferent to the cause of Labor.

[But during and after WW2, Bunche was successfully co-opted by the liberal establishment and became an ally of the State Department and its British counterparts in his mediation of the “insoluble” Jewish problem (see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/18/how-ralph-bunche-sold-out-and-failed-in-palestine/.)]

Since the acceleration of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the repertoire of non-solutions has been added to by liberals: affirmative action, separatist curricula in academe, multiculturalism, whiteness studies (the latter adopted by the far left since it damns Amerikkka and the West). Through dwelling on the errors of the  past, while ignoring present-day education and other practical solutions, black rage has probably accelerated, though prominent black writers were angry enough (e.g., James Baldwin, Chester Himes).

The Right: There is no cohesive conservative movement on this subject, but the most persistent call for relief from race riots, a threatening black underclass, incomplete transition to middle class status by American blacks, and female headed households (with excessive illegitimacy in “the black community”) has been a call for the rehabilitation of the patriarchal black family along with a religious revival, presumably headed by strong father figures willing to discipline and inspire children to study, to renounce gang membership, and to adhere to traditional religious principles. (The latter is expressed in support of school vouchers that would include sectarian religious schools, hence this strategy implicitly rejects “secular” solutions to group antagonisms.)

Given the sharp disagreements over strategy within the fighting factions of American politics, it is not surprising that Masters of Sex delivered a muddled episode on August 10, 2014 (see http://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/).

Clare’s advice: Had the phrase “move on” not been sullied by the ultra-liberal George Soros forces, I would advise concerned Americans to stop dwelling on past failures and errors, but to focus on a quality education for all children, neither idealizing nor demonizing those aspects of the Western past that are irrefutably “racist” and demeaning to non-whites. There is a heated debate right now regarding whether or not “race” even exists as it is currently imagined; a revival of Lamarckianism may be in the works. As for the father-led family, that mostly conservative strategy seems utopian to me, and would take to long to demonstrate results, unlike potential changes in school curricula and in the media. [Update 8-29-14: it has been objected on Facebook that women may be inadequate parents too. This is true, but it is one feature of conservative ideology to drastically separate male and female roles in the family: men are the disciplinarians, while women offer unconditional love. Why should parenting be taught in the schools to prepare youngsters for the likely road ahead? Both parents should be setting boundaries and educating their kids for real life which is always a struggle, whatever the period in which kids must function.]

One thing is for certain: Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem have established that black and brown children can “succeed” beyond our wildest dreams if there is strong cooperation between school staff and parents, and a challenging curriculum.

Hope looms on the horizon, but we are all responsible, white and non-white alike, for pushing Eva Moskowitz’s agenda forward, notwithstanding opposition from entrenched interests such as teachers unions (see comments below).

racerelations2

August 16, 2014

Ferguson MO, Masters of Sex, and the dilemma of the white liberal

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

[For my first take on this series, see http://clarespark.com/2013/10/22/masters-of-sex-and-70s-feminism/%5D

By an odd coincidence, the last episode of Showtime’s hit series Masters of Sex (10 August, 2014), took on the problem of race relations in St. Louis Missouri at the same time that the suburb of Ferguson was exploding in looting and confrontations between “militarized” police and blacks.

This blog is about the double bind white liberal writers are trapped in, given the particular history of race relations in the US. Should they rescue the black population from bigotry  (e.g., Huckleberry Finn, Intruder In The Dust, affirmative action/multiculturalism/whiteness studies) or is it up to blacks to save themselves (e.g., the Black Power movement “by any means necessary”)? (For my blogs on the black power movement see http://clarespark.com/2010/07/15/index-to-black-power-blogs/)

In the last episode of Masters of Sex, Courtney Vance plays Dr. Charles Hendricks, the head of Buell Green, a “Negro” hospital in St. Louis, who has hired the twice disgraced William Masters, expecting him to carry out (Vance’s) specifically “integrationist” project. But Dr. Masters doesn’t see that convincing his white patients to follow him to a dubious neighborhood in the era of segregation is not his, but Hendricks’s priority, a point missed by the Los Angeles Times recap (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-masters-of-sex-recap-racial-tension-flares-at-bills-new-hospital-20140810-story.html.) Masters tells Hendricks that he has his own battle ahead in pursuing his tabooed research on the physiology of sex, while handing off to his mistress the task of persuading his old patients off to follow him to an all black hospital. Virginia, stereotypically enough, is more emotionally attuned and hence more manipulative than he is. The last shots show “Hendricks” leaving in a huff, for the second time pulling down a flyer that Virginia Johnson had put up, soliciting volunteers for the sex study that she and Bill had initiated, and that is, like her, “ahead of her time.”

Disgusted "Hendricks"

Disgusted “Hendricks”

[Earlier in the episode, Masters had shown himself to be unusually empathic with blacks by chastising his reactionary wife “Libby” for forcing her black maid to wash her hair (under the delusion that “Coral” had brought lice into the house). She half-heartedly apologizes to Coral’s protective 'boyfriend', who classifies her with hopelessly insensitive “white people.” Yet both Bill and Virginia are seemingly floored by the request to adjust their priorities, putting militant integrationism ahead of their sex project.]

The producers and writers of Masters of Sex are nothing if not present-minded, inventing situations and characters that are the essence of political correctness. Seizing on snippets of the real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration and then their ultimately failed marriage (divorced in 1992), the creators populate their series with assertive women struggling against the odds, repressed authoritarian males, closeted lesbians, tormented homosexuals pretending to be straight then seeking “conversion,” aging women, prostitutes, oppressed but passive-aggressive blacks, outspoken blacks—all characters who have starred in the social movements of the 1960s and 70s; the target audience is presumably fascinated by the transformations they believe they have wrought via their activism.  

But with the presence of the ardently integrationist “Charles Hendricks” (who sees himself as a pioneer like William Masters) Showtime has placed itself in a political quagmire, for the American polity (both Left and Right) has no idea how to proceed in the romantic project of making up for generations of slavery, then Jim Crow. The real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration is interesting enough, but present-mindedness (judging the past through the lens of present mores) is the real spoiler. Like the shows on HBO, Showtime delivers soft porn and the frisson, whatever literary merit surfaces now and then (and it does in the episode where, through Virginia’s skillful extraction, Bill exposes his relations with his cold, abandoning father).

(PS. I could find zero pictures on the internet showing angry confrontations between Libby, Coral, or her ‘boyfriend’ Robert (really her half-brother as we will discover in episode 6), even though these tense encounters are in the script of episode 5. Real life does not imitate art.)

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

August 14, 2014

Understanding Obama’s ongoing appeal

Ridha Ridha "Normal Ambivalence"

Ridha Ridha “Normal Ambivalence”

Many dark thoughts cross my mind as I contemplate the list of failures attributable to POTUS, but ranking the reason for his continued popularity in some quarters goes beyond his obvious appeal to recipients of state largesse, proud or despised minorities, and guilty liberals.

Why has no one mentioned his stirring speeches promising national unity that helped elect him in the first place? For his healing messages imply that not only warring sections of our country shall be reunited, but that the disunity that we feel inside ourselves, and inside our supposedly harmonious “families” shall also be resolved.

And yet ambivalence is part of the human condition, as Freud controversially alleged in his formulation of the inescapable Oedipus Complex. One old standard partly and incompletely expresses these mixed feelings that occasionally surface, but are usually quickly repressed. (Here is Nat King Cole singing the Vincent Youmans tune “Sometimes I’m Happy” 1957: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtPeknt0mBA.)

Psychiatrists Melanie Klein, Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg, in their studies of “object relations” and “narcissism” all explored the common practice of “splitting” in which we escape ambiguity and ambivalence by turning those figures (public or private) who arouse deep emotions into all good or all bad figures. I find myself doing this myself, and it is only in retrospect that I correct these black and white divisions. For like most other people, I am capable of either demonizing or hero-worshipping figures who are themselves sometimes benign, sometimes threatening, but always struggling to stay afloat.

Perhaps it is the greatest challenge we face as historians, as journalists, or as citizen-critics of our leaders to understand that each of us lives within a controlling, often menacing, context that we did not choose; moreover that we struggle to rationalize our own self-interest and to conform to the imprecations of our parents and siblings to be like them, to maintain idealized attachments, and indeed to like them without ambivalence.

We would rather escape into desolation or into the illusion of unity than face “things as they are” (Melville, speaking through the dubious (?) narrator of Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), or try his The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857)—if you can take the challenge to your amour propre.)

Ryoshimizu, "Ambivalence"

Ryoshimizu, “Ambivalence”

Here is a related blog: http://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/, with a disquieting painting by Max Beckmann expressing alienation and lack of connection with others or “things as they are.”

Beckmann, Paris Gesellschaft 1931

Beckmann, Paris Gesellschaft 1931

August 7, 2014

Modernity versus modernism

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

modernity2Modernity may be said to start with the invention of the printing press, as ordinary people began to read religious texts for themselves, without priestly mediation and interpretation. So historians generally start “the early modern period” with the Reformation and the proliferation of “radical sects,” many of them utopian, such as the Diggers in England. (There had been outbreaks of communal democracy before this, e.g., the Lollards or some earlier apostolic Christians/Jews).

So from roughly the 16th century onward through European wars and revolutions, often couched in the language of religious controversy, modernity led to the contentious emancipation of women, Jews, and ordinary people, not without strenuous objection from the ruling aristocracies of Europe, who were themselves sharply divided but who united against “the People” upon whom they projected their own paranoia. (See the famous and entertaining fight between royalist Robert Filmer and Whiggish John Locke here: http://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.)

Modernity generated supporters and antagonists in the world of culture. It would be nice and easy to contrast order-loving neoclassicists with Romantics, but the Romantics were themselves divided, as were some neoclassicists. For instance, Wordsworth and Coleridge started out as enthusiasts for the French Revolution, but balked at the Jacobin takeover, worship of “the Goddess of Reason,” and the Reign of Terror, turning then sharply against science and Enlightenment. These were “right-wing” Romantics, to be sharply contrasted with the Promethean Lord Byron, the most prominent of the “left-wing” Romantic poets. ( The Danish critic Georg Brandes is very good on these distinctions.)

Just as people sorted themselves out according to how they felt about the French Revolution and its aftermath, the same happened after the Soviet coup of 1917. But the cat was out of the bag: the interior life was now fodder for artists and writers, and those “realists” and “naturalists” so beloved by the Soviet nomenklatura, were competing with those wild men and women influenced by Freud, Jung, and other explorers of the psyche. Some usually conservative writers, like Herman Melville, vacillated between Romanticism and neo-classicism, leading to the sharp divisions among Melville critics who find these turnabouts anxiety-provoking.

So modernity generated a usually reactive modernism. Modernism is an entirely different kettle of fish from “modernity,” being mostly a movement in the arts in reaction to the idea of progress, a shibboleth that had taken a big hit with the Great War. Even before the war, the rise of women (including “the moral mother” displacing paternal authority in the home), cities, industrialism, the loss of the agrarian myth, “the death of God,” mass politics, comparative luxury, and cultural pluralism inspired fears of decadence and mob rule. Even before WW1, Freud, Marx, and Darwin all discombobulated elites and in various ways inspired fears of decadence and the femme fatale—an all-purpose scary symbol representing all these trends (see http://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/).

The Great War that ended the lengthy “balance of power” among European states seemed like the logical culmination to these vast transformations, and the war itself that enabled the Soviet coup led to an earthquake in culture that made the French Revolution look tame, but also causal in imposing “state terror.”

I have written extensively about the turn toward the interior psyche in all its moods, particularly primitivism as ritual rebellion, and also about the recurrent image of Pierrot, an example of the alienated artist as murderer, as Cain, as zany. In prior blogs, I have mentioned Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Sartre, all experimenters with language and form and all modernists in revolt against some aspect of “modernity.” [I have not dealt with "postmodernity here, but it is directed against science and enlightenment too, viewed perhaps as too bourgeois.]

To end with a “relevant” observation, I would guess that the rise of the moral mother (along with the emancipation of Jews) was the most important and relatively neglected of the cataclysmic developments all too briefly outlined above. Not enough has been made of the linkage between antisemitism and misogyny. (None of my speculations is in the Wikipedia discussion of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernity.)

Many conservatives look longingly back at the time when “rational” men, not “irrational” women, ruled the roost. It is why I reject the “right-wing” strategy for taking back the culture from “the left.” (http://clarespark.com/2014/07/01/the-rightist-culture-war-strategy-wont-work/.)

Sonia Delaunay painting

Sonia Delaunay painting

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