YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 26, 2013

Decoding “Call me Ishmael” and The Following

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

The new Fox horror-thriller series The Following has elicited mixed reviews, for instance though The Huffington Post welcomes the new arrival, a Los Angeles Times review is annoyed that the use of Edgar Allen Poe’s oeuvre is misleading, for Poe unambiguously took the side of detectives, not criminals. (http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-woe-is-poe-the-tv-show-the-following-is-a-horror-20130121,0,3709889.story).  But critic Carolyn Kellog distorts Poe’s writing, which, as a whole, takes a strong stand against the French Revolution, the fearsome guillotine (“The Pit and the Pendulum”?) and the entrance of mass politics upon the world scene, a locale that was formerly monopolized by aristocrats, Kings, and the Church. I have argued elsewhere that there is a strong Tory subtext to other popular detective television shows, binding autodidact, somewhat unstable detectives such as Bobby Goren (Law and Order Criminal Intent) or Patrick Jane (The Mentalist) to serial killers such as “Nicole Wallace” or “Red John.” (In both these series, Moby-Dick and the obsessive monomaniac Captain Ahab are frequently mentioned.)  In a related narrative, social psychologists and other academic liberals associated with the Roosevelt administration blamed mass murderer Adolf Hitler on mass politics and the deployment of propaganda through the burgeoning mass media. If my analysis is correct, then the “Hollywood liberals” who dominate movies and television writing are crypto-Tories and antidemocrats, notwithstanding their populist love for “the People” whom they defend against the depredations of finance capital and its offshoots in the “Nazi” Republican Party.

In the following excerpt from a draft of my book Hunting Captain Ahab, I mentioned Poe’s story “William Wilson”. I could have added his lesser known story “The Man of the Crowd” (a figure of the death-dealing Romantic Wandering Jew and a symbol of the revolutionary mob). This excerpt starts with the last words of the allegorical novel that preceded Moby-Dick, narrated by a character Melville named “Taji.”

[ms. excerpt:] Melville’s Mardi concludes with his salute to Milton and an acknowledgment of their shared peril, dove-like, god-like, “brooding on the vast abyss.” Taji has “seized the helm” with “eternity…in his eye.”

“Now I am my soul’s own emperor; and my first act is abdication! Hail! realm of shades!”–and turning my prow into the racing tide, which seized me like a hand omnipotent, I darted through.

Churned in foam, that outer ocean lashed the clouds; and straight in my white wake, headlong dashed a shallop, three fixed specters leaning o’er its prow: three arrows poising. And thus, pursuers and pursued flew on, over an endless sea.[end Mardi excerpt]

Melville’s Satanic self-assertion as writer and social critic was linked to ambivalent feelings about departed relatives whose deaths he imagined his (and their) flaws had hastened.  These were flaws he associated with Hebraic Puritans, the bad Jews whom Tories claimed had delivered the world-destroying materialist epistemology.  In his Tory mood, the “rebel senses” were the keys that unlocked state secrets to over-reaching “citizen-kings.” Father Mapple’s Sermon instructed Ahab; Taji, Mapple, and Ahab were repudiated by Ishmael.  Two incompatible definitions of “balance” were at odds: for Ishmael, the lesson of Narcissus was the key to it all.

“Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson.”

A depressed young man with a classical education, well-born but fallen on hard times, narrates the tale of a mad whale hunt from the vantage point of the lone survivor.  His first words, “Call me Ishmael” may be a rectification of the too deferential opening sentence of Poe’s “William Wilson,” the story of a dissipated student and his stalking conscience whom he finally stabs in the mirror, thus destroying himself.  Since Ishmael tells us at once that the legend of Narcissus is “the key to it all,” the reader may sense he is not reading the commonplace tale of a White Whale and his pursuers, but a work with literary ambitions and mythic resonances. And since the bargain between Faust and the devil is also discussed, and since Ahab instructs his first mate that the whale hunt is an allegory (Ahab to Starbuck: “Hark ye, the little lower layer,”) the reader might surmise that nothing that transpires is to be taken as a literal representation, that the unclassifiable composition has something to do with the search for knowledge in the modern world at a time of waning upper-class authority and the not unrelated encounter with non-Western societies.

[Poe:]  What say of it?  What say [of] CONSCIENCE grim.  That spectre in my path?  (Epigraph to Poe’s “William Wilson,” publ. 1839) [end, ms. excerpt]

FabularFilms_WilliamWilson

We are left with a looming question: What persons and what institutions determine the precise content of our superegos? And what institutions and practices have so weakened our “consciences” that serial killers and other psychopaths/sociopaths pick up a weapon and murder their families and/or their surrogates? Why does the auxiliary television material to THE FOLLOWING advertise “a love story” between the detective (played by Kevin Bacon) and the serial killer (played by James Purefoy)? Is Poe’s “William Wilson” more timely than ever? Hint: the answer will not be found in blaming modernity, the internet, public education,  and its alleged narcissistic and Faustian characters. (On the perils of the internet, see https://clarespark.com/2010/05/20/criminal-minds-and-the-pathology-of-rural-america/. The internet as a source of pathology was briefly mentioned in the second episode of THE FOLLOWING. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/17/moderate-men-and-dirty-jews-part-two/, on the general ignorance even among intellectuals regarding antisemitism and its dynamics.)


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September 3, 2012

Eros and the problem of solidarity

Rothschild and the money power

This is for Labor Day, September 3, 2012. I am trying to understand why a political party with such obvious internal conflicts of interest as the Democratic Party, is able to allege solidarity within what they now call “the middle class” (hence departing from their older appeals to the working class and forcing together groups with conflicting interests: see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/).

One can only conclude that our political culture is entirely irrational, and that appeals to economic interest and independence from collectivist demagoguery butters no parsnips in the American electorate—except for those louts who venture into the risky world of the market. These days everyone in “business” is a grasping, mendacious moneybags who should be punished by his victims. Who wants to be “jewified?” No wonder anxiety is the mental ailment of our time. But there is objective anxiety and neurotic anxiety, and the latter is encouraged by the mass media with their elevation of team spirit and hatred of “success”—an outcome that inevitably alienates those who stray from the reservation of political correctness.

Freud had something valuable to say about fears of separating from the group in 1922: “Dread in an individual is provoked either by the greatness of a danger or by the cessation of emotional ties (libidinal cathexes [Libidobesetzungen]); the latter is the case of neurotic dread. In just the same way panic arises either owing to an increase in the common danger or owing to the disappearance of the emotional ties which hold the group together; and the latter case is analogous to that of neurotic dread.” Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Chapter V, transl. James Strachey. Apply this suggestion to the assimilating immigrant or upwardly mobile ethnic individual or group. This view leaves out the anxiety stemming from mismanaged separation of child from mother, but reminds us that there are other equally problematic social bonds. Freud extends panic and anxiety to situations in any society with fluid class boundaries, such as our own.

Imagine the fear of loss of status during an economic downturn. Imagine the fear of abandoning one’s neighbors and ancestors when forced to “uproot” one self in moving to a different town, city, or state where employment is more attractive. Imagine the fear of losing touch with a family where you were the first one to get an advanced education, and where those left behind call you “uppity.” This is why “multicultural” appeals to “community” or “race” or “ethnicity” work, though they are weapons in the hands of demagogues. Might there be less anxiety, even less panic, in the false utopias that union bosses, race hustlers, or corrupt politicians and their ilk promise to voters? Have we not here the inefficacy of competing appeals to “individuality” and “equal opportunity” from anticommunists on the Right, even as conservatives and moderates alike strive to protect the integrity of families and voluntarism over bureaucratic strategies for an ever elusive unity? (For a recent blog on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

[For a popular blog that deals with separation anxiety from the mother, with remarks on modernist rejections of Victorian culture see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.]

August 26, 2012

Democratic Party talking points 2012

Pro-Andrew Jackson cartoon

[Read this along with https://clarespark.com/2012/06/26/aaron-sorkins-scottish-blood/. Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom (now complete) will preview Democrat talking points, without missing a beat.]

The Yankee Doodle Society is a 501©3 organization, and its purpose is education, not polemicizing for one party or the other. Nevertheless it is not unscholarly to note the ideology informing the talking points of the Democratic Party.  I start with my own list, then add several messages submitted by Facebook friends.

Clare (off the top of her head): [From NPR:] Voter fraud a bogus issue invented by the pigs (or as Aaron Sorkin calls them, “the American Taliban”) to negate minority voting

The War on Women/women’s health

Romney is waging war on the poor through clever evasion of income taxes [NPR interview with Nicolas Shaxon]

R wants to harm students and teachers

R is destroying Medicare and Social Security

FB friend: it’s all bush’s fault… the other guys want to return to the same failed policies that led us to the brink of disaster…mitt is out of touch with the voters.. flip floppers.. mormons are weird(unless of course they are senate majority leaders)… republicans want to lower taxes on the rich and raise them for the middle class…people who oppose obama must be racist… they will destroy medicare as we know it…. mitt’s a felon… mitt didnt pay his taxes for 10 years.. mitt likes to fire people… mitt is a job exporter… mitt and bain are tax cheats…ryan has dangerous randian notions… republicans are greedy and unfeeling , democrats are kind and generous…. republican party is the party of the rich, corrupted by evil corporations… we’ve created 4.4 million jobs since bo took office, more than george w or reagan did in recoveries(really false btw).”

FB friend Mike Murray: War on Women, White Privilege, Fat cats, Fair Share. On a local note, something I find absolutely fascinating.  The state of Minnesota would, per the language of the proposed amendment, provide a free photo ID for every eligible voter, as a photo ID would be required to vote.  Taxpayers would pay for this, of course, so it wouldn’t be “free,” yet this is somehow evidence of a war on the poor?

FB friend Randy Davidson: “Obama’s Pet Peeves: The Constitution, Congress,The Supreme Court, The separation of powers, Thomas Paine, Israel, Alexis de Tocqueville, Capitalism, Oil companies (even though he accepted more money from them than any other Presidential candidate in history), Thomas Jefferson, The free market, Private jets (with the exception of Air Force One, Pelosi One and Soros One), Hayek, Chevy Suburbans and Cadillac Escalades (with the exception of those used by Rap Stars and the Presidential motorcade – where is that fleet of Chevy Volts the White house ordered?), Montesquieu, Doctors (he accused them of unecessary amputation among other things, although he’s okay with late-term/partial-birth abortion), The private sector, Banks (see oil companies). Ironic afterthought: Although Barack Obama is a rabid anti-colonialist, he does in many ways bear a striking resemblance to the late King George III.” [Added by anon. FB friend: England… Arizona…Fox News… Health insurance industry.]

Taken as a whole, a detached observer might conclude that the Democratic Party is waging “total war” on their challengers for the presidency.  This is nothing new for the Democrats. As I showed in prior blogs, Claude Bowers laid out his program here: https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/. But see also the “progressive” appropriation of German/Nazi methods of mind management here: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.

These tried and true propaganda techniques were not once brought out in my graduate school education (not at Harvard, not at UCLA), nor have I seen an article or a book that identified them with a critical eye. We should all be asking, “why not”?

August 5, 2012

Hating finance capital

Big Money crushing the People

Much of this website has been devoted to decoding “liberal” propaganda, especially the repetitive strains of populism that will constitute the Democratic Party playbook in 2012 as we move toward an election that will either push us yet further on the path to communism or dirigisme (a form of elite rule where the state not only regulates the economy but directs investment), or that will reverse course and could restore the American economy along more laissez-faire lines. The rhetoric of “families” can be seen as entirely about collectivist identities, or it can be seen, also, as a plea to corporations to look upon their employees as children whose demands should be met through further concessions. The index that follows is only a small portion of what has been my major concern: the authoritarian character of American political culture since the New Deal. Sadly, Popular Front politics have masked the penetration of communist and other statist ideas into the mainstream political discourse.

In sum, the State exists to cage the octopus of “finance capital.” That is the unifying theme of today’s “progressives” and before that, the Progressive movement: such populist scapegoating provides a bogus image of unity in fragmented societies. And recall that Hitler thought that the Soviets were not really socialists like himself, but were the puppets of “finance capital” a.k.a. the Jews.

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/ (David Brooks separates populism from progressivism, which is wrong.)

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/

https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/ (On German Romantic predecessors to political correctness)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/15/the-politics-of-family-vs-mass-politics-altered/ (retitled Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero)

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