YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 18, 2014

“Feminized” and “jewified” modernity, and my breakup with Ralph Bunche

palestinetugofwarI recently went through my notes from the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA. You may remember that he became Acting Mediator for the Arab-Israeli conflict after the Stern Gang assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, September 17, 1948; the [pseudo] settlement of this conflict was a test case for the efficacy of the new United Nations after WW2. Indeed, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘successful’ mediation that resulted in the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and her neighbors.

Earlier, in the 1930s, Bunche was a leftist, possibly a member of the CPUSA, though that is hard to pin down, as he was all over the various left factions that fought with each other during the Great Depression. Some will see him as solely as a follower of Norman Thomas or A. Philip Randolph. But he wrote to Alger Hiss in support of his struggle with the anticommunists, and he was also on the editorial board of Science and Society (though he later resigned). I made a photocopy of a strongly anti-imperialist, anti-racist declaration of W. E. B. Dubois from the mid-1930s, and find little in Bunche that deviated from the DuBois anti-capitalist positions. Indeed, Bunche’s pamphlet A World View of Race, autographed by DuBois, is an anti-racist, anti-imperialist classic of the genre.

Bunche was effectively co-opted during and after his stint as Gunnar Myrdal’s chief research associate while the latter was writing about An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy ) published 1944. By then, Bunche had proven his usefulness to the liberal elite by identifying those “Negro betterment organizations” that were likely to get out of hand and effectively upset the status quo. His next job was with the OSS, where he downplayed US influence in Africa, then he was hired by the State Department, to which he remained loyal during his time with the UN. During the summer of 1948, he addressed the top dogs in that department to warn them that Israel was inevitably “expansionist” [and trouble owing to increased immigration], a warning he later repeated to upper-class Americans in private meetings. [Added 6-24-14: this "expansionist" line would come to duplicate radical jihadist propaganda that Israel and its Western allies were seeking to destroy Palestinians and other Muslims through "expansion" into territories once held by Islam, including Muslim penetration into the Europe that the Arab world had ostensibly civilized.]

By that, I mean that he aligned with those State Department figures who wished to cooperate with Arabs (whose oil was crucial), and who were also eager to maintain an increasingly shaky alliance with Great Britain against the Soviet threat. But perhaps the most important point to take away from this brief summary of Bunche’s politics is this: RB entirely accepted the UN and State Department line that the question of a Jewish state must be framed as two victimized peoples fighting over a small strip of land, strategically located for the failing British Empire. Nearly all the scholarship that followed takes this identical, incorrect line.

What is modernity? To its reactionary enemies, modernity signifies economic development along with the rise of banks and financiers, political democracy, the emancipation of the inquiring mind, a free quality education for all children, urbanization, secularism and pluralism, but above all, equality under the law for rich and poor alike. But for the Muslim world, the emancipation of women was probably one of the most painful developments as it was a symptom of reduced paternal authority in the family. I remember reading a book from the late 1940s that registered the indignation that Israel’s enemies expressed at the sight of sabra women going about, unaccompanied, wearing shorts and sandals.

1922 antimodern image

1922 antimodern image

Even my most erudite friends fail to see this distinction between fighting over land and borders and the “Pan-Arab” resistance to modernity. An incorrect analysis leads to bad strategy, destructive school curricula, and worse journalism that more often than not, concludes in some form of moral equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian atrocities: an ideological analysis based on irrational antagonism toward “the Other.” (see http://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/).

What neither Bunche nor pundits in our own time saw with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict was as follows: It was never about land and borders or “Otherness.” The “question of Palestine” was always about Muslim resistance to modernity. And Jews along with emancipated women signified a rupture in human history that was intolerable. Modern machines, modernist skyscrapers, and technology, along with other common antimodern tropes, had nothing to do with their animus against a Jewish state. Most disturbingly, Bunche made it his mission to preserve the legend of Count Bernadotte’s greatness; agreeing with him that the displaced “Palestinians” should enjoy the “right of return”, and carefully editing out of Bernadotte’s memoir all evidence of hostility to the Jewish leaders they encountered during their “peace” efforts in 1948.


It is astonishing that Bunche, a very astute person, did not see that at the time; perhaps it was a leftover from his days on the anti-imperialist Left. Moreover, his lack of understanding (the Palestine problem is insoluble), suggests that though he was a highly educated person and very liberal and systematic in his notes on Africa, he was morally compromised by his alliance with more powerful men. Bunche’s disgust with antisemitism, the main subject of my article on his relations with Myrdal, probably reflected 1. The communist line at the time, and 2. The Jews he praised were probably communists supportive of the labor movement; his anti-antisemitism probably did not reflect his deeply held beliefs. I find it painful to acknowledge this. His diaries are not free from disdain at Jews who fawned over him.

Bunche Nobel

June 14, 2014

Is the US feminized? A Father’s Day blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:40 pm
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Virginia_Woolf_PaintingThis blog is about the branch of feminism that focuses on fathers sharing child care responsibilities, unlike many of my previous blogs on feminism and sexual liberation (see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/).

I have been reading Louise DeSalvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sex Abuse on her Life and Work (Ballantine Books, 1989). The author is deeply influenced by the late Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller’s many recent books that relativize child-rearing practices, and also by Florence Rush, a feminist who, like Jeffrey Masson, chastised and rejected Freud as a traitor to his female patients when he substituted the seduction theory for the testimony of real sex abuse experienced by many of his female patients in Vienna. In other words, Freud was loyal to the fathers, uncles, brothers, and male friends who were guilty of everything from incest to less overt forms of harassment.

Although DeSalvo counts herself among the “race, class, and gender” contingent on the left, she writes about a bohemian family she classifies as upper-middle class (the Bloomsbury set), stating flat out that prior biographers of Woolf and her famous family, are guilty of a massive cover-up.


Frankly, though I like much of what Alice Miller has to say about the need for echoing and mirroring in early childhood (so as not to confuse the child by imputing socially acceptable feelings to the developing toddler, against justified feelings of rage at being over-controlled by the parents), I am not certain that Miller, a practicing psychoanalyst, would have gone so far as to throw out Freud entirely. Practicing psychoanalysts of my acquaintance try to dredge up past traumas to evaluate their lingering effects into the present. The better therapists do not tell their neurotic clients that “it’s all in your head”.

DeSalvo’s book is sensational, with detailed readings of hanky-panky in the Bloomsbury set, some derived from Woolf’s writings. It is also repetitious and too long, even unreadable. It reminds me of other feminist intellectuals, who, untrained in the appropriate fields, deem themselves authoritative on any historical events derived from the urgent task to “rewrite women’s history,” even if it entails dubious inferences.

Which brings me to her major claim that I do agree with: early childhood neglect and parental authoritarianism is a recipe for lifelong emotional problems—-problems that may not be talked about frankly within families. Such loss of memory and silences are devastating to mental health and surely are responsible for apathetic depressed lives, and even sadomasochism.

But what do these feminists expect from men? How will well-intentioned [would-be] “feminist” men overcome a life of socializing into their positions as masters of the universe, and I refer not only to wealthy males, but to working class males who look forward to mastery in the home, if not the workplace?


I can answer that. Parents and schools must start paying attention to the emotions and to the irrational components of our nature. So called “liberals” and conservatives will resist these calls for massive curricular change, for their most cherished senses of who they are in the world could be challenged. Hence, I must conclude, that Louise DeSalvo, a creative writing professor, is utopian in her aspirations, and she is not alone.

Would we, as highly evolved women, not all prefer sensitive males who are more like us? I’m not holding my breath. As it stands, “metrosexuals” are mocked in conservative media as sissies and ‘homos’, latent or practicing.

Meanwhile, happy father’s day to all my readers who dare to look inside themselves and who resist idealizing the nuclear, father-led family. It is a long, hard slog for both genders.


June 11, 2014

Karl Marx on individuality: the impossible dream?

social relationsThe problem: how to separate communists from social democrats; is “the Left” the same “left” opposed by bourgeois apologists in prior periods? The “McCarthyism” accusation that reproaches anticommunists is derived from the liberals defending the bureaucratic collectivism of the New Deal: “liberals” attacked those “fascists” from the Republican Party who opposed FDR’s remedies for the Depression. Similarly, FDR called his opponents “economic royalists.” This vituperative playbook still exists, with many conservatives conflating communists and Democratic Party stalwarts, as “the Left.”

The key to understanding the difficulty of separating communists from liberals is here: “Liberals” (not to be confused with classical liberals) selectively co-opted and defanged communist social thought in order to preserve their own elite rule, above all focusing on the working class as the likely red specter. The notion of “proletarian internationalism” was replaced with “ethnicity” or “race” as the mode of sorting people out. Both communism and liberalism partake of collectivist terms. The ‘individual’ is pathological and an outcast. Some organic conservatives agree, imagining mystical bonds (the “rootedness” of local attachments) as the route to “social cohesion” and “political stability.” Organic conservatives need not be on “the Right.” Democratic president Woodrow Wilson was surely one these localist agrarians who spurned the materialism of science.

Here is the key move for “socially responsible capitalists”: the “individual” only exists in repressive ideologies like supposedly unregulated “laissez-faire capitalism” and Darwinist competition. It must be defeated in favor of “the individual-in-society” who is situated in a [statist] “cooperative commonwealth.” Stubborn laissez-faire types are “narcissistic”, given to “huckstering” (Mad Men!) and must be defeated in order to emancipate the truly progressive society from “the Jews” or their surrogates.

Under the leadership and rules of “liberals” mental health professionals emphasize not autonomy and individuality, but “relationships” to groups, including sex partners, families, and workplaces. In all cases these mental health professionals, like the neutral state they unknowingly defend, preach “adjustment” and “integration” of interior, often irreconcilable conflicts, such as mothering infants versus interests outside the home and family. I personally have been subjected to this well-meaning, but futile, advice.


Finding out “who you really are” is all about limiting, not extending choices in the face of personal evolution. It is part and parcel of today’s “identity politics” —more collectivist groupiness, for only “groups” can “make a difference.” Marxists have demolished the notion of the individual, deeming such a one “atomized” or “anomic”—a version of the murderous Cain, builder of cities; similarly artists are stigmatized as Pierrots, also tied to Cain and to the Romantic Wandering Jew. After the revolution, one orthodox Marxist told me, “everyone will be a Mozart.”


Although many persons would like better control over their work processes and over aggression (as did Freud), for Marx the only route to such individual empowerment is through working class consciousness followed by working class revolution: in his view, a progressive, enlightened move that would make the politically emancipated individual able to experience “species being” (a term that he never defines comprehensibly to me, but it has some relationship to nature: enter the Red Greens). [Need I add that the Progressive movement had a drastically different definition of "progress"?]

Nor do these [social workers] expand the imagination, as do our better artists. Instead, following Marx’s necessarily limited vocabulary (he never was able to suggest just how the state would “wither away” ), he brings up earlier forms of human organization (primitivism)—see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/ (the quoted passage from “The German Ideology”), and my index to blogs on primitivism: http://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/. Note that in the “individuality image, a couple drawn in the primitivist style of Picasso, defines the “individual” who can “make a difference.”

Finally, reading early Marx (the mid-1840s), I have the impression that his entire conception of worker alienation might be derived from his antagonism to all religion, in which he alleges that the worshipper gives away his body and mind to God (I don’t see how this applies to Judaism, which emphasizes free will and personal responsibility for the wrongs we inflict on others, not blind obedience). This is only a hunch, but it would explain why there has been no working class revolution of the kind Marx anticipated. Most workers probably want the benefits of what Marxists derisively call consumerism, and the pursuit of creature comforts (including the comfort and consolations of religion) does not entail an assault on their individuality, but instead enhances it. But then I am a bourgeois, so should not be trusted to interpret, even tentatively, the major exponent of communism.

June 8, 2014

“Narcissism”: healthy vs. unhealthy

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:30 pm
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Echo and Narcissus: Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus: Waterhouse

These sources are what I found in a quick search around the internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism




http://psychology.about.com/od/psychiatricdisorders/a/history-Of-narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm (NPD excluded from DSM-5.)


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22729454 (on narcissism and S-M behavior)

None of them steps outside of personal psychosexual development in the family to explore the institutional or ideological context in which “narcissistic personality disorder” either occurs or never shows itself.

My blog on the subject constitutes my personal experience and is not the result of clinical training, though the word “narcissistic” is thrown around in popular culture, sometimes to characterize women, but lately to characterize the grandiosity attributed by classical liberals and conservatives to Barack Obama. “Progressives” return the favor by describing all classical liberals and conservatives as heartless, uncompassionate individualists, oblivious to cries from their [imagined communities].


First, “healthy narcissism.” All my work has been driven by the search for creativity and how to impart it to students of all ages. In my view, such originality and discovery is linked to a healthy sense of self, that is, a person with healthy narcissism is not afraid to plunge into deep and uncharted waters to gain an accurate picture of ourselves and the institutions in which we function, no matter what pathology powerful professionals attribute to this search for truth.

But in the [neoclassical] Greek myth, Narcissus is so captivated by his image in a pond, that he is oblivious to the voice of Echo (society), so that he thoughtlessly falls into the pond and drowns. That is how Melville’s character “Ishmael” (the foil to narcissistic Captain Ahab) describes the tale in the first chapter of Moby-Dick: “Narcissus is the key to it all.” And indeed, Ahab does drown, strangled by the rope with which he would revengefully harpoon the White Whale, oblivious to the crew who will also perish. (The link to progressivism’s emphasis on social relationships as opposed to personal self-absorption should be obvious.) [Wikipedia dates the painting by Waterhouse as painted in 1903, after Ovid, in time for the progressive movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echo_and_Narcissus_(Waterhouse_painting.%5D

The insult of the narcissism label is often felt by women. On the one hand, women are supposed to be protective mothers and wives, attuned to the most subtle emotions and symptoms of their charges, while they are simultaneously driven to defy aging and yet to be well turned outward to the opinions of relatives and then future mates. When the late academic Christopher Lasch wrote his famous The Culture of Narcissism (Norton, 1979) I bristled. It was an obvious slap at the fashionable notion that “culture” had been “feminized” since the emancipation of women. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Culture_of_Narcissism which argues that Lasch was reacting to militant student activists and to the decline of the family.)

Narcissism and attachment theory. It cannot be emphasized enough that pathological narcissists are unable to form attachments to others, whether these be persons or causes. In order to maintain their self-images as high achievers, for instance, they need a steady stream of “narcissistic supplies” from an adoring public. Although they tend to vacillate between idealizing and demonizing other persons, they can’t take criticism, even of the most tactful kind. For as “perfectionists” in the face of deflating errors or rejection, they are incapable of soothing themselves, for they are devoid of internal good objects (i.e., the mother’s unconditional approval).

I don’t know what a psychoanalyst would say about my claim, but every mother knows that the management of separation from young children so that they may attend nursery school or play with other children (out of mother’s sight), is a challenge. This process gets even more complicated when weaning is premature, or when a succession of nannies are the primary caretakers of children, for “object constancy” is vital to building self-confidence in the child who is expected to stand “alone” apart from mother. The resultant “separation anxiety” can be experienced by either the child or the mother or both. (See my essay http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.) I often wonder how many Sixties radicals embraced collectivist ideologies in hopes of finding a stable, nurturing family that would compensate for feelings of abandonment by parent(s) and society alike. Had socializing institutions not idealized authority, would these often privileged youngsters identified with causes that were seemingly designed to punish them by losing caste?


Second, which leads to me the question of narcissism and sadomasochism. I have known several men of high intellectual attainment who were 1. panicked at the thought of criticism but who sought punishment in sexual situations. (They might take the role of sadist or masochist, depending on their personal histories with mom), and 2. lived with simultaneous feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness in their psyches, hence were unable to enjoy their achievements in the eyes of others; moreover they were exceedingly manipulative in personal situations. Whether these symptoms were caused by particular family practices and configurations or are institutionally-induced, are beyond my capacities to identify. But here is one quote from my research in the Sadomasochism Collection at UCLA, that sums up the gratification that follows the beating administered by a mother-substitute:

[excerpt from a fantasy by Steadman Thompson, middle-management at the Armstrong Cork Company, Akron, Pennsylvania, in the Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA:] “As I stood up, she came forward with the silver collar. I was aghast at what I had said and done but I stood still and let her fit the cold metal around my neck. As the lock clicked with an icy finality my misgivings rose to an apex.
“Now look, Vivienne,” I whined.
The wand whistled and struck stingingly before I could flinch. “Speak when spoken to, slave and address me as “Mistress” unless I give you another title to use. Now take a hold of the back of my robe.
As I timidly obeyed, she raised her wand and from the wand and the ball on her crown came a light so intense it washed away all our surroundings.”

Steadman Thompson had been subjected to a magic wand, to a “switch” and after taking his punishment, he was returned to the lap of benignant authority, or what I have called elsewhere “Conservative Enlightenment” (a form of pseudo-enlightenment that fails to liberate us from illegitimate authority). How many of our “professionals” in middle management are sadistic with respect to the students (or others) in their charge, while being masochistic with respect to the orders and curricula dished out by their powerful superiors in administrative capacities?

Or, as Melville’s Ishmael queried? “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” (http://clarespark.com/2011/04/10/who-aint-a-slave/, and/or http://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/.)


June 7, 2014

Marx vs. Lenin

Masks_weird_wonderfulMany of my conservative and neocon friends on Facebook have difficulty in separating “socially responsible capitalists” from hard-core revolutionary socialists. This blog continues my rumination on The Hunger Games, but with an emphasis on the sharp differences regarding the shape of the future utopia within “the Left.” I am particularly interested in the power of the state as embodied in any kind of planning bureaucracy, as this notion of “Big Government” is under assault from the Right.

I started reading Marx while at Pacifica Radio. I was most interested in Marx’s theory of alienation (an emotion I strongly felt as a married woman), but was not aware at that time of how different the original Marxian vision was compared to Marxist-Leninism as it is called, and that became familiar to me primarily through Stalinists and Trotskyists whom I met at the radio station and in graduate school. Upon reflection, I was probably closer to Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism, which sharply differed from the Third Worldism (Maoism) that dominates academe today. She was a strong adherent to the views of early Marx, that proposed that the socialist revolution could only come when the entire world was industrialized, and the working class sufficiently educated to take power, abolishing the exploitation and alienation that Marxists insisted was present in capitalist (classical liberal) society.

Here is a quote from The German Ideology that I found while wondering why Katniss Everdeen was so keen on hunting and gathering (see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/01/the-hunger-games-trilogy-reactionary-and-postmodern/, and note my recent discussion of Hobson’s influence on Lenin here: http://clarespark.com/2014/06/04/did-bureaucratic-rationality-cause-the-holocaust/.

[Marx:] “…as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. …”

Note that Marx’s examples all refer back to pre-capitalist stages of social organization, and are silent regarding what future work might look like, apart from the work we associate with primitive cultures. And yet a few pages on, he explains that without technological innovation, world-wide, there can be no conditions for overthrowing modern industrial exploitation and alienation:

{Marx arguing against German counter-Enlightenment philosophers:] …it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and…people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about my historical conditions, the [development] of industry, commerce, (agri)culture, the [conditions of intercourse]….[Robert C. Tucker translation: On the relatively recent publication of this work see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_German_Ideology.%5D

While still at UCLA, some undergraduates approached me to observe what they viewed as bullying in a class taught jointly by Robert Brenner and Perry Anderson, two commanding presences in the history department. Lucky me, I chanced to attend the class where the Luxemburg-Lenin-Stalin debate was covered. The issue was whether revolutionary socialists should leap-frog over capitalism and support “reactionary” liberation movements in colonized undeveloped countries, with Luxemburg arguing against such tactics, but Lenin (like Mao after him) was all for fighting [the Western oppressor], no matter how backward the society. This was surely not Marx’s vision.


“Bureaucratic centralism” is of course the preferred form of statism for the Leninist Left, while Marx was a strong advocate for the withering away of the state after a brief period of popular worker rule.

It was the genius of the progressive movement that they selectively appropriated those features of revolutionary socialism that buttressed elite rule, but in their statism, they should be associated with the “anti-imperialist” Lenin, and to a lesser extent with Marx and Luxemburg. But one should not blame conservatives for confusing New Deal liberals with communists. The Popular Front against “fascism” (i.e., the limited government of the classical liberals) made that bewilderment possible. (For more in this vein see http://clarespark.com/2009/09/21/managerial-psychiatry-jung-henry-a-murray-and-sadomasochism-1/.)

Hugo Gellert poster, 1924

Hugo Gellert poster, 1924

June 4, 2014

Did “bureaucratic rationality” cause the Holocaust?

"Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process": Dream Theater

“Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process”: Dream Theater

Don’t expect a sophisticated, historically correct account of either antisemitism or “the Holocaust” to come out of the European or American Left. They have abandoned the pro-Enlightenment Marx for Lenin, Norbert Elias, and Foucault, and have gone native as well.

I have just finished reading Enzo Traverso’s The Origins of Nazi Violence (The New Press, 2003), which seeks to set us straight about the vexed questions raised by the “historians’ debate” of 1986. Traverso takes on Ernst Nolte (the rightist who blames Nazism on the Soviet revolution), Francois Furet (the liberal who uses the word “totalitarian” to equate Nazism and Communism), in favor of such fashionable figures as Norbert Elias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Civilizing_Process), Max Weber, Adorno, Horkheimer, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Zygmunt Bauman.

Traverso, an Italian Trotskyist now teaching at Cornell University, fits perfectly into the academic Left in America, for (unlike Marx who favored the progressive bourgeosie), he pushes the Leninist line influenced by the antisemitic journalist J. A. Hobson (but also early Marx, as in “On The Jewish Question”), but with a twist. Whereas Hobson (like Marx) blamed the rule of money, specifically an international cabal of Jewish financiers and their seizing of mass media for modern wars, Traverso follows the Max Weber/Frankfurt School/cultural studies analyses that pin modern antisemitism on the Enlightenment, the all-controlling machines and division of labor initiated by the Industrial Revolution, and the brutalizing imperialism that it spawned. Traverso’s imagination contains an anti-Promethean Frankenstein fantasy populated by imperialists of Europe who flocked into Africa to swipe all their raw materials, open markets, massacred millions of “inferior” natives, and because of their rivalries initiated the Great War that further brutalized humanity and nationalized the masses. Enter Nazism and the steel helmet, symbol of the demise of the noble ancient warrior.

But wait! There is more. As a postmodernist and fierce opponent of science in service to the monsters, Traverso focuses on the biological metaphors applied to hapless victims. These images take on a life of their own, impelling the mass murders of Jews. Representations rule, ignoring the material interests that motivate leaders and the led. In the process, Traverso claims that the antisemitism of medieval or antique societies was entirely displaced in favor of scientific racism/social Darwinism. Thus the reader must not consider the lingering effects of Christian antisemitism in the 20th Century. (Or by extension, Muslim antisemitism today.)

Maddening science itself is to blame, but of course not the “science” of dialectical materialism. Or the pseudo-science of “social engineering” that explains Lysenkoism. For Traverso entirely discounts any role of heredity: all is environment in the shaping of human character.

I find it interesting that Traverso, a highly educated Europeanist, can utterly ignore the roles of the Germans Herder, Kant, and Fichte, in his intellectual history that nails the “Western” 19th century to the wall. For it was they who started the war on the “mechanical materialism” of the French Enlightenment, disempowering the all-too empirical, increasingly literate masses with their German Romantic notions of national character and the superiority of the Greek-influenced Germanic culture: a culture that celebrated the “rooted cosmopolitan” and laid the groundwork for today’s multiculturalism and cultural relativism. (See http://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and http://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.

If it is difficult today to separate out progressive capitalists in the Democratic Party from hard-core communists, it may be their shared optimism that explains this strange alliance that is mis-educating our children. Taking heredity into account spoils their fun in demolishing the positive material and moral achievements of “civilization.” (For early Marx’s view of industrialism, technology, and the progressive bourgeoisie see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.)

Oh, did I mention that the subjugation of women in non-Western countries elicits not a peep from the esteemed cultural historian from the Trotskyist Left?


June 1, 2014

The Hunger Games trilogy: reactionary and postmodern

Catching_Fire_Katniss_Everdeen_WallpaperI am going to try not to have any spoilers in this blog, so will be more general in my critique than usual.

I have now read all three volumes of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, at the request of my daughter Jenny who studied with Jacques Derrida and Samuel Weber, champion promoters of postmodernism. It was she who made the connection between the film version of The Hunger Games and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, especially in its posing of the question “Real or Fake?”

Before this latest read, I had thought primarily of the anticapitalist, antimodern aspect of postmodernism: its emphasis on indeterminacy/uncertainty, the fallibility of the human senses, its critique of science as a bourgeois plot to snare the unwary mass man and woman (misappropriating Thomas Kuhn), but above all its assault on the ordinary, overly credulous reader of “texts.” And for the “pomo” everything is a text to be “deconstructed” for the purpose of revealing the silences of official language, the relevant clues pushed to the margins or entirely submerged. I find postmodern theory useful in many cases; see http://clarespark.com/2013/09/08/postmodernism-cultural-pluralism-and-the-will-to-power/–retitled “Reading between the lines.”

Postmodernists believe they are enablers of the voices that have been submerged by official inhuman modern cultures—worshippers of consumerism and nature-killing technology. Hence their primitivism, celebration of the archaic and/or tradition (potlatches!), including the empirical wisdom of hunting societies, but also peasant cunning and use of herbal remedies for injuries and disease, and above all the celebration of Greek popular culture as I laid out here: http://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/.

Especially read this paragraph:”Think of the good king, the paternalistic welfare state, the touching loyalty of its servants, fatalism, magic, the intervention of wise god figures in daily life (grey-eyed Athena or a wise Latina), superheroes, shape-changing creatures, gorgeous tall women and men, the glitter of gold and silver along with artisanal triumphs designed for the aristocracy, the increasing blending of gymnastics with dance, but most of all, the aestheticization of violence that Walter Benjamin described as the culture of fascism and Nazism in his famous defense of modern mass media “The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction.” Writing at the same time as Freeman and Crossman, Benjamin declared that such artists as Marinetti had glorified war to the point where humanity was contemplating its own destruction as an aesthetic experience. What would Benjamin have said about the humanizing beauty of Odysseus’s slaughter of the suitors and the female slaves who had slept with them?– A slaughter that left the poet in awe of the “lion” figure of Odysseus, covered as he was with the blood and gore of his enemies.”

Has not Suzanne Collins aestheticized violence in her trilogy? And why do so many of our young people live without hope, expecting to die young?

During the second wave of feminism, there was a strong tendency on behalf of matriarchy and Amazon- or Goddess worship: the long-dead and discredited Bachofen was de rigueur in some circles. The left feminists thought that goddesses were bogus and reactionary, but to the extent that the audience for The Hunger Games is “feminist,” it is the goddess-worshipping counter-cultural tendency that has prevailed.

Suzanne Collins, a Roman Catholic and an admirer of Greek antiquity, the daughter of an officer in the Viet Nam war, probably set out to write a dystopian novel attacking war, income inequality, and modern mind-control, in the spirit of Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four. But she has instead arguably added to modern paranoia, and undermined the confidence of the ordinary people she ostensibly wishes to protect, like the Übermenschen (Gale, Peeta, and Katniss), oddly (given the multicultural times we live in), all white people of apparently Northern European extraction. (And who are the agricultural workers in District 11, obviously all black people, like Katniss’s pet “Rue”?)

By naming the President of the rebels “Coin,” Collins takes her place among petit-bourgeois populists of the past.

Prometheus, once the friend of humanity, is vanquished, along with world-destroying and Nazified industrial capitalism: Oh so “Green” Katniss Everdeen has taken their places. Has anyone noticed that the novels and movies are culture war events that deserve our close attention, especially as its target audience won’t know how to read its sub-text? For more on reactionary nostalgia see http://clarespark.com/2014/05/03/elie-kedouries-nationalism-am-i-stumped/ (retitled “The Good Old Days”).

The author in her favorite color

The author in her favorite color

May 26, 2014

Triumphalism, dogma, and the Left or Right

benshapirodestroy.jpgI was distressed to see a new booklet distributed David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, penned by Ben Shapiro. Its title is “How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them.”

Much as I have condemned the moderate men on this website with their ruling idea that all conflict can be conciliated without war (see http://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/), I balk at any variety of triumphalism on either Left or Right, unless we are already living under a fascist (one party) dictatorship. If we want to find the truth, while mired in the many controversies that beset us, the absence of countervailing argument is lethal to fixing that which ails us, in private or public life alike.

Moreover, it is un-Jewish to be dogmatic. Despite efforts of antisemites to describe Jews as bent on conquest of the world’s economies and the elimination of all belief systems except for their own, the hard fact remains that to be Jewish is to live in a constant state of questioning, of intellectual combat, not destruction of the enemy or of competing arguments. Without pluralism and civility, that task is impossible, for the irrational parts of our makeup will overtake good sense. “Tory” (i.e., reactionary) artists and writers understand this very well, and seek to terrorize us with images of the inquiring mind and modernity as lethal and disgusting. They offer us countless variations of the Frankenstein myth, lately visible in the new Penny Dreadful series on Showtime. This is right-wing Romanticism with a vengeance directed against “the mob” supposedly empowered by literacy, numeracy, and practice in critical thought, though you would never know that from the reviews.

In order to sniff out liars and ideologues, institutions must be pluralistic, or, as the US Constitution demands, institutions must provide for checks and balances, so that no element of government or of the electorate can impose its will on others without a cautious, careful weighing of facts, many of which remain in dispute or indeterminable. To say that it is too soon to draw conclusions, is considered to be a sign of weakness or feminization. Yet this task of weighing and measuring in a humble state of mind is the very essence of modernity and of the most radical elements of the Enlightenment.

Some “traditionalists” find this imperative dangerous and unsettling, so they pin derogatory labels on their “secular progressive” opponents, projecting their own theocratic and bullying propensities upon persons who are innocent of the same dogmatism. Enter the culture wars.

To practice this demanding habit of mind and heart is very difficult for most persons, who seek group identity/“social cohesion” and “political stability” above the search for the best form of social organization to protect individuality, and one most conducive to well-being for the majority of its citizens. One could look at this “Talmudic” approach to life as either tormenting or stimulating. Obviously, I prefer the latter, which reflects my restless, buzzing brain that finds a home everywhere and nowhere.


May 25, 2014

Links to blogs on mass murder/pop culture

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

(Image from populist website: painting by Herbert James Draper (1909) attacks “vampire bankers” who send Sirens to destroy Ulysses—an image of The People beset by finance capital. By using this painting, I am not endorsing populist demagoguery. See comments below.)

http://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/ (Ulysses)

http://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/ (“Christian” love as antidote “Jewish” hate)

http://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/ (Jared Lee Loughner)

http://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/ (James Eagan Holmes)

http://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/ (Adam Lanza)

http://clarespark.com/2013/08/22/how-i-spent-my-summer-vacation/ (retitled “The Godfather….)


http://clarespark.com/2014/03/02/roy-porter-and-the-anti-psychiatry-movement/ (How the punkish Foucauldians discourage mental health interventions.)

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

May 23, 2014

Gentleman’s Agreement, Remains of the Day, “professionalism” and “prejudice”

tabudergerechten Who defines professionalism nowadays? In Melville’s The Confidence-Man (1857), “the Man from Missouri” casts a jaundiced eye on the soporifics offered by the herb-doctor. Should we not be equally skeptical? Should we not be more aware of elite resistance to modernity, a modernity that has elevated and emancipated ordinary people, including Jews, women, and labor from the “professionalism” that turns out to be yet another variant of servitude to the ambitions of arbitrary and irresponsible elites? Where are the social justice warriors when you need them?

After seeing the much-admired movie Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), I was curious to see how it might have departed from the best-selling novel. It turned out that Moss Hart’s screenplay stuck very close to the Hobson novel; moreover, both novelist and playwright were the children of Jewish immigrants; both married non-Jews, and Wikipedia reports that Hobson’s parents were socialists, while silent on Hart’s parents who are described simply as “English-born.”

It is worth noting that Hobson’s novel, like the movie, gets off to an agonizingly slow start as the hero, Phil Green, searches for an “angle” that will help him avoid the boredom of statistics and worked-over arguments regarding the Jewish problem. So, remembering that he had pretended to be of the working class in prior magazine exposés, in a Eureka! moment he decides to assume a Jewish identity. He is stunned and infuriated by the rejections he experiences and goes on to write a masterpiece of journalistic guilt-instilling that even converts his now-and- then genteel girlfriend away from silent disapproval to “action” in confronting “prejudice”. (Was this an anticipation of “the action faction” of the New Left?)

Both novel and movie carried the same theme: antisemitism was a “prejudice” that was decidedly un-Christian. Such class disdain for “the Jews” interfered with the tolerance advocated by the Founders of the US, and with the internationalism promoted by FDR and his progressive supporters. Hobson’s novel paired anti-Negro racism with antisemitism as if they were variants on the same theme. I wonder if her parents were communists in the 1930s, because the CPUSA famously opposed both antisemitism and racism during the Depression, blaming such Nazi-like appeals to the mob on Republicans. Whatever Hobson’s motives might have been, she brought up, but was non-committal on the hairy question of Zionism and Palestine, a hot and controversial subject while she was writing her big interventionist and daring book. Such identification of “prejudice” with intolerance was an effective strategy for assimilating Jews for it cleared the way for “socially responsible capitalism” and later, the notion of hate speech and political correctness in order to assuage social conflict.

Then I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s postmodern tour de force The Remains of the Day. Like Gentleman’s Agreement, the screenplay stuck fairly close to the letter and spirit of the novel (though it made “Miss Kenton” somewhat anarchistic, a departure from the novel) , and like Hobson’s novel, brought up the question of antisemitism in the British upper-classes (especially in the “Cliveden Set”, manifested in their misguided sympathy with the Germans: “gentlemen” do not abuse a defeated nation, and the Versailles treaty was un-sportsman like.

Powderham Castle/Darlington Hall

Powderham Castle/Darlington Hall

What I have written so far is easily gleaned by the attentive viewer and reader of these important works of art, but they do not address the theme of “professionalism” – a word that is repeated over and over in Ishiguro’s novel. Moreover, the theme of “professionalization” is one major focus of cultural histories that take on the trendy theme of “institutionalization.” What these studies leave out is the observation that hierarchies breed deceit, arguably the theme of Melville’s “Billy Budd.” Postmodernist critics (academics) who have praised Ishiguro’s skillfully wrought novel do not bring up the problem so obviously tormenting “Stevens” the butler of Darlington Hall, perhaps because such an emphasis would cast doubt on their internalized allegiance to their own masters.

This morning’s NPR offering waxed indignant over the Koch brother’s alleged control of economics and related fields in the University of South Florida’s colleges. It was suggested that without such “conservative” bribes, there would be no crisis of objectivity in the university system, as if today’s pacifying postmodern professoriate in the humanities adhered to the search for truth. Click on the illustration below and see what standards evaluate today’s “professionals.”


Among the sources consulted:




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