The Clare Spark Blog

November 12, 2011

The Woman Question in Saul Bellow’s Herzog

Saul Bellow

It is easy to see why Saul Bellow, the son of Jewish Russian émigrés who were as declassed as many French aristocrats during the French Revolution, would be attracted to Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857), for Melville not only paraded his gallery of intriguing grotesques in that novel (written in the same Berkshires that are the setting for the final passages of Herzog) ; HM declared his unambiguous opposition to the money-mad materialist civilization that had brought his own family down.*

And Melville could be as misogynistic (see his description of the promethean “Goneril” in CM) as Moses Herzog, the chief character and semi-narrator of a novel that is considered to be one of the 100 most important books ever written.  I have not surveyed the literary criticism of Bellow’s novel, but have noted that his novels are said to be frankly barely disguised autobiography, and that Sam Tanenhaus, for one, has criticized Bellow for his unflattering portraits of ex-wives in that novel. What is striking to me, however, is the venom that is directed toward the second wife, “Madeleine”— a stunningly beautiful but hyper-critical, unfaithful woman who, like Melville’s own mother after the publication of Pierre, believes him to be mad and wants him to be institutionalized.  “Madeleine” is an intellectual and a graduate student in Russian literature and philosophy. Her real life counterpart was the second of five wives, Alexandra Tsachacbasov, perhaps a woman who could challenge him in the field said to be influential in his own development: the Russian 19th century novel.

In Bellow’s novel, lodged in the Berkshires (near Pittsfield, Melville’s home for his most productive years, called Arrowhead)  in a country home that Herzog has improved with his own hands, he comes to a belief that he is not crazy, and ceases writing messages to persons living and dead, never sent, but sprinkled throughout the tale.

One of these unsent messages is to his discarded psychiatrist “Edvig”: “You gave me good value for my money when you explained that neuroses might be graded by the inability to tolerate ambiguous situations.  I have just read a certain verdict in Madeleine’s eyes, “For cowards, Not-being!” Her disorder is super-clarity. Allow me modestly to claim that I am much better now at ambiguities. I think I can say, however, that I have been spared the chief ambiguity that afflicts intellectuals, and this is that civilized individuals hate and resent the civilization that has made their lives possible. What they love is an imaginary human situation invented by their own genius and which they believe is the only true and the only human reality. How odd! But the best treated, most favored and intelligent part of any society is often the most ungrateful. Ingratitude, however, is its social function. Now there’s an ambiguity for you!….” (p.304)

Is it any wonder that Herzog became a best-seller and marked the turning point in Bellow’s reputation? Not only has Bellow tossed overboard the hope of human amelioration as idiotically utopian, we are  supposed to despise Freudians ( because the latter rejected religion for a materialist, historical understanding of human suffering, and even proposed in The Future of an Illusion that a society tolerating unnecessary poverty did not deserve to persist?).  As for Melville and ambiguity, his much-ridiculed novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), limned the conflict between a complacent upper-class life versus one committed to the rescue of abandoned suffering humanity. His hero, the romantic Pierre, does not regret his decision to choose originality in form and content over conventional narratives like Typee, no matter whose ox is gored. The ambiguity lay in the possibly mixed motives in choosing the orphaned Dark Lady “Isabel” over his genteel fiancée, Lucy.  For Freudians, and for Melville in other works, ambiguity lay in separating out free will from determinism.  Is the “truth” we seek a straightforward matter, or is it clouded in subjective dispositions, selective amnesia, and self-interest? (For ambiguity in Melville see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

Clearly, “Madeleine” is guilty of “super-clarity.”  She thinks she can see through her husband, diagnose his disorder while cracked herself, and perhaps she is overconfident in her intellectual competence as compared to Herzog, who conveniently has rejected both Marx and Freud, at a time (1964) when the U.S. counter-culture had moved sharply into anti-materialist New Ageism and other forms of “spirituality”—perhaps the kind offered by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, studied by Bellow at one time.

I have argued elsewhere on this website, that misogyny and antisemitism are linked, and that the key to their twinning is the Medusa/Gorgon stare of the modern mother, who, since the late 18th century and the rise of capitalism that elevated her as the bearer of morality,  first lays down the law for the child–perhaps in the case of this poetic author,  a  child who never severed the cord, for Bellow’s own mother had died when he was only seventeen years old. If my inferences are correct, it was no accident that Bellow named his doppelgänger Moses.

*See the Bellow bio on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Bellow. It is curious that Melville is not seen as a literary influence, especially given the specificity of Pittsfield, Mass. as the location where Herzog finds peace and stability ensconced in nature. However, Melville did not find peace anywhere, and as for nature, its deceptively benign, beckoning  exterior could conceal “the charnel house within.”

Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea and Bellow

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November 14, 2010

The ABC’s of Antisemitism

19th C. image of The Wandering Jew

[For an index to many of my blogs on antisemitism, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/.]

Antisemitism entails much more than a direct assault upon Jewish life. But as a multifaceted part of the imagination, certain aspects of this phobia emerge at different moments in the history of the West.  These notes are a crude, first attempt to locate particular aspects of modern antisemitism in the turning points listed below. I list them so that readers can identify certain tropes that evoke images of the Bad Jew* even when Jews themselves are not directly under investigation.

It is widely recognized that Jews have come to represent modernity in the eyes of their enemies, but the entire history of the West contributes to the power of the antagonism.

Legacy of Greek antiquity: gloom and narcissism. Narcissus was in love with himself, hence deaf to cries from community, self-destructs. Matthew Arnold famously contrasted gloomy Hebraism with the sweetness and light of Hellenism, a distinction that Herman Melville, for one, internalized.

Legacy of New Testament antisemitism: lucre-loving hence materialistic, demonic, legalistic and unforgiving (Shylock); Christ-hating hence antithesis to Christian love; carnal “Chosen People” seek subjugation of all non-Jews. The Jewish God is wrathful and genocidal, transmitting these characteristics  to his “chosen” ones. Hence, “Wall Street” under the guise of “wealth creation” is out to “slaughter” the (non-Jewish) “middle class.” A Jewified (modern, secular) world is infested with bloodsucking vampires. (I do not deny that many Christians have denounced this legacy, and now stand with Jews against antisemitism and against anti-Israel policies. See http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-jews-should-know-about-christians.html).

Legacy of Reformation: Protestants seen as Church-destroying Jews, and as such lack reverence for established authority. These Faustians focus on worldliness as opposed to other-worldliness. The Christian myth of the repentant, indestructible Wandering Jew takes hold (see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/). Jews will always be alien, “a people apart,” even if they convert or are born into a family of converts.  They can never be rooted in the nation, no matter how assimilated they may appear to be (see the Nazi movie Der ewige Jude with its emphasis on the masked Jew).

Legacy of Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and market societies/capitalism: the innovating (mad) scientist seeking perfection and direct contact with reality (cf. the contrasting views of Plato, Matthew Arnold, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The Jew becomes associated with the rise of the moral mother (Locke says mothers imprint tabula rasa), and misogyny results as woman becomes the Jew of the Home, the voice of conscience: clinging, criticizing, and kvetching. Romantic poets are attracted to Prometheus and the Romantic Wandering Jew myth as limited revolt against philistine (Jewish) materialists and their “leveling,” historicizing (i.e., desacralizing) analyses of the Bible, of “traditional” social structures and ideologies, with their utopian mishegas.

Legacy of German Romanticism/Aufklärung: Jews are natural destroyers of the Volk, Gemeinschaft (the organic community mystically bound by language, blood and soil). Jew becomes incarnation of selfish individualism, universal ethics, and resistance to the national, ethical, racial state. In Germany’s case, Deutschland is chosen by Fate to purify the world of the “Jewish” idea of individual responsibility and free will. The German Romantic idea of “national character” (the primacy of ethnicity over class) takes hold in American universities during the late 1960s, but was already trotted out in the nineteen teens by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen, in the latter case to oppose the rootless cosmopolitanism advocated by “proletarian internationalism.”

The Bolshevik triumph of October 1917. Antisemites often view all Jews as either communists or potential communists, latter-day self-righteous Jacobins bending human nature to make the new man and heaven on earth.** Even as conservative businessmen, Jews are agents of modernity, and modernity, having given birth to a new industrial working class,  spawned the likes of Marx and Lenin. Scholars of Hitler and the Nazis frequently neglect mentioning this crucial component of their antisemitism. Similarly, many Jewish scholars think it is irrational to conflate themselves as liberal capitalists with communists, whom they often vigorously oppose to protect social democracy.

Prominence of “Jewish” Communists in civil rights movement. It is no secret that persons of Jewish ancestry were prominent supporters of blacks in the civil rights movement–even during the 1930s, though with the rise of black nationalism, that relationship became strained to the breaking point. Although “Jews” who joined the Communist Party gave up their “particularist” Jewish identity to join “proletarian internationalism,” that renunciation means nothing to far right racists, whose antisemitism is intertwined with white supremacy. For them, Jews are not white people at all, but the red enemy who supports either the Democratic Party or some leftist variant. They may seize upon the supposedly “Jewish” Frankfurt School critical theorists as the source of decadence, though these same individuals (e.g. Adorno and Horkheimer) bonded with mainstream Protestant-progressive social psychologists, and abjured the “materialist” Enlightenment.

*By “Bad Jew” I do not mean a non-observant Jew as judged by orthodox Jews, but rather the antithesis of the Good Jew who is considered “useful” to European ruling classes, or who joins with upper-class businessmen as “socially responsible capitalists.” Hence the Good Jew is accepted insofar as s/he is “assimilated.” For more, see my blog Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews. https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/.

**Crane Brinton, the influential Harvard historian characterized the Jacobins as possessed by “Hebraic fury” and in their self-deceiving, fanatical, revolutionary virtue, were allied to Calvinism. This link between the angry God of the Old Testament Jews and Calvinism is often applied to puritanism in general by organic conservative scholars. It is entirely ahistoric, for there is no one brand of puritanism. For a case study of how colonial puritans have been lumped together and stigmatized as persecuting, see https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/.

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

August 9, 2009

What is a corporatist liberal? And why should they frighten us?

Tony Grist Janus 2011[Janus painting by Anthony Grist,2011]To those practiced in political theory, the term is an obvious oxymoron. That is, a corporatist thinks in collectivist terms, while a liberal (at least in the eighteenth century version) focuses on individual rights, competitive markets, and advance through merit. During the 1960s-70s New Left radicalism, “corporate liberalism” usually referred to the despised Democratic Party that was seen, as all capitalist parties were, as part of the business-oriented state that was therefore irrevocably set against the working class. It was my teacher at UCLA, Robert Brenner, who suggested that I use the term “corporatist liberal” instead; he may have wanted to emphasize the protofascist character of the “progressive” capitalist state whose psychological warfare I was studying (and in this case referring to Italian Fascism, with its organization by occupation, the so-called sindicati, with the [corporatist or corporative] state imposing harmony on capitalists and workers from above, in similar fashion as the New Deal intended.

But I liked the term because it suggested the institutional double-binds that Herman Melville had revealed in some of his more autobiographical texts, so the oxymoron formulation brought that out. For instance, he was to search for truth as an original artist, but not upset the conservative* formulations or belief systems of his patrons and family–clearly an impossible task (see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/). Similarly, in graduate school, I discovered that original historical research was demanded, but not so original that it undermined the published work of the faculty that awarded the Ph.D.  [8/11/09: I have been criticized by one academic  for sounding like a disgruntled failed graduate student here, so let me give an example: in a course on women reformers of the nineteenth century, I was punished for using class analysis, indeed one well-known feminist historian stated outright that I should have been thrown out of the program (apparently for noting that not all women had the same economic  interests). In general, class was collapsed into ‘race’ and gender at UCLA, in keeping with the “anti-imperialist” and anti-Western orientation of UCLA at that time. Similarly, I was accused of racism for opposing cultural nationalism as an inevitable outgrowth of separate “ethnic studies” programs. Still, I stuck to my guns and after only eleven years got my Ph.D. in U.S. history.]

In other double binds, I found contradictions between loyalty to one’s country of origin while simultaneously becoming a citizen of the world, sensitive to suffering humanity wherever it might be found. Hence the compromise of “the rooted cosmopolitan” as opposed to the unreliable “rootless cosmopolitan” that I have written about in other blogs and in my book on the Melville revival. This notion of the compatibility of [moderate] “nationalism” and “internationalism” is everywhere today, and must immobilize those who think that all conflicts with other nations can be negotiated peacefully. As I saw while researching Ralph Bunche’s actions as mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the notion propagated by progressives such as Elmore Jackson that an artful and rational mediator could manipulate irrational warring parties to come to their senses and compromise, came straight out of strategies emanating from capitalist managers that disagreements between capital and labor* could be arbitrated by skilled mediation. So much for peace studies or conflict-resolution in general. They are part of the utopian thought of populist-progressives and dominate the mainstream media.

positive state

Briefly, what corporatist liberals do is switch from one P.O.V. to its opposite, as if no contradictions were involved. I trace the aversion to this tactic and to its association with Women to early childhood impressions. What follows is a brief but meaty extract from my conference paper given at the Modern Language Association in 2002. Do not despair if it is too much for you. Just read it, or skip it, and move on below.

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This will be hard going for many readers. To see the original MLA paper, please write to clarespark@verizon.net. It is both psychodynamic and anchored in Melville’s texts, but I think, clear enough.]

What I wrote is an hypothesis only, and to be persuasive, would have to be verified through examination of the early childhood brain under similar stress, that is, so far as I know, currently beyond the capacity of physiologists (neurologist Robert Scaer has observed this as traumatic to the child). But it intrigues me and seems plausible  for it links the intertwining of misogyny and antisemitism that I observed in the biographies of Melville readers: Woman is the [switching] Jew of the Home.

In all the academic literature I have read recently, no explanation is offered that adequately explains why antisemites are so often fearful of women, especially mothers, clinging or otherwise: the important feature to me is their inexplicable switching. I am not satisfied with explanations that refer to “the Other” as produced by the projection of forbidden aggression onto Others who must then be controlled (the Kleinian object- relations explanation pervasive in “cultural studies” with its generally post-colonial slant).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, that formulation of “scapegoating” was produced by the very social psychologists who, during the late 1930s and 1940s, created programs of “civilian morale” and “preventive politics” through psychological testing in order to provide consensus and order. Their goal was not discovery of new and useful truth and/or an informed and appropriately educated clear-eyed and critical citizenry. (I am referring to such corporatist liberals as Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and Harold Lasswell, with allies among the much lauded “critical theorists” whose influence in the humanities remains powerful. See especially chapters two and nine in my book Hunting Captain Ahab for documentation that shocked my doctoral reading committee, but, not surprisingly, remained invisible in published reviews of my book.

Compare this emphasis on the double-bind with Jonah Goldberg’s scathing critique of the Progressives, who are nailed for statism and authoritarianism but not for immobilizing us through the double bind. For instance, if you compromise your art or writing to please authoritarians of the Left or Right, then you are not an original artist/writer, but a courtier. If you sacrifice “order” to be true to your vision, you may not be able to support yourself through your craft–you are what Melville called a castaway. The consequence: those with independent incomes make art or saleable books, and their life experience may estrange them from the various less fortunate whose  vision could enrich their own. )

    Which brings us to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war on terror. As long as we pretend that all conflicts can be compromised through skillful (i.e. manipulative) mediation, we are helpless to defend ourselves or our allies against determined enemies for whom “peace treaties” (i.e., the rule of law) are irrelevant and tactical only. What I have been arguing here, as elsewhere on this site, is that corporatist liberalism, the ideology of “civilized” progress, indeed, of the United Nations itself, does not only make us crazy in attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable (such as Truth versus Order), its continued hegemony may threaten all life on our planet as we ignobly submit to determined aggressors in thrall to premodern and antisecular ideologies, and who will stop at nothing to maintain traditional hierarchies and privilege. (By secular, I mean the older definition that specified the separation of Church and State; I did not mean the newer meaning where “secular” equals “atheistic” or suggests Jacobin hubris/popular sovereignty.)

Janus_fmt

*Marxists postulate that there is a structural antagonism between capital and labor. In later years, I have rejected that formulation, and prefer to look at concrete situations, for instance, where there is either a labor shortage or a labor surplus. Moreover, as Michael Mann and other sociologist have argued, the state is not simply dependent upon capital, but has its own particular interests. This should be obvious from the recent brouhaha in Wisconsin with respect to teachers unions. And when I used the term “conservative” with respect to Melville’s relatives, I did not mean to equate the religious conservative Democrats who supported his projects, with the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, especially Hamilton. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/10/31/gossip-and-the-gullible/, for links to blogs on Hamilton.)

August 6, 2009

The “Money Power,” material forces versus leader decision-making, separatism as strategy for women and minorities, and misogyny/antisemitism

 This blog is an expanded answer to “Michael” who wrote a lengthy comment to one of my recent blogs (see the comments on this site). First, Michael thinks that I am asking readers to ignore money altogether. This is a crucial point. It is not the power of money itself that determines our prosperity or poverty, but appropriate monetary policy, as economic historian Niall Ferguson has shown in book after book, most recently The Ascent of Money, but also in The War of the World (the latter work arguing that the first and second world wars are better seen as one continuous global conflict). Also, if you saw the recent Bill Maher show on HBO with Ferguson as panelist, he vigorously defended “the Fed” against the ignorance and misconceptions of populists. You might want to read John Maynard Keynes book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace on the question of monetary policy after the Great War. Had different arrangements regarding German reparations been made during the post-armistice settlement  subsequent history would have been different, and there would have been no Nazi victory. For one who is concerned about mass death, as Michael obviously is, this book is crucial.

     What I have implied in my various blogs is that “the Jews” as some kind of cabal should be left out of discussions of the source of the most recent and previous financial crises. Criticize capitalism and either its flaws or its corrupt operatives to your heart’s content, but do it with the tools of material analysis, not with the manipulation of negative images. As long as the image of a fat Jewish plutocrat battening on the misery of “the goyim,” or King of Jews Rothschild with his claws encircling the globe or, the carnal Jewish whoremaster, with his hypersexuality, polluting innocent Christian or Muslim womanhood, inhabits the political imagination, there can be no amelioration in the lot of the poor and deprived,  any more than the belief that this world, unlike the next, is controlled by the Devil. And do not underestimate the salience of the Devil to the historical narratives propagated by the “Christian Right” and other authoritarian ideologies opposed to science, the rule of law, and the materialist analysis attributed to the Jews by their most extreme nativist, white supremacist proponents or other premoderns.
    Second, Michael raises the question of “material forces” as the primary source of historical change. This sounds like standard Marxist boiler plate to me. To be sure, material conditions and conflicts are very important, but so are the decisions made by individual leaders. Had Woodrow Wilson used his influence at the Versailles conference to stop the self-serving ambitions of France and the U.K., there might not have been a second world war with all its horrific suffering and lingering effects. Or to take a different case, in thinking about diversity in the multicultural university, administrators could have, but did not, integrate the history of women and minorities into the general curriculum. Because they chose segregated departments of Women’s Studies or Ethnic Studies, they relieved white male professors of the necessity of thinking about these movements in a rigorous way and then teaching their students appropriately. (And moreover, many professors had already incorporated the travails of women and minorities and labor into their syntheses.) So instead of creating a new synthesis, the more retrograde historians could ignore the woman question or the history of various peoples if they chose, for some other course would make up for their deficiencies. The most we got was “whiteness studies” that were no more than covers for Leninist anti-imperialist orthodoxy and yet another capitulation to anti-Western cultural nationalism (see the lethal influence of triumphalist black liberation theology, and its shameless annexation of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the side of his bitterest enemies in this vast and influential body of pseudo-scholarship).
    As for the power of motherhood that Michael mentions briefly, this is one of the great lacunae in the work of scholarship. The issue of separation from the supposedly omnipotent good/bad mother is one of the themes most ignored by theorists of the psyche, and I refer the reader once again to my essay on panic attacks that summarizes recent thought among professionals on the subject, along with some references to reactionary modernism,  Goldfinger, Pandora’s Box, film noir, and Captain Ahab’s “monomania.”  I have thought a lot about this issue as Herman Melville is obsessed with the mother-son attachment in his much-abused novel PIERRE, OR THE AMBIGUITIES (1852) There is an obvious link between misogyny and antisemitism that has not gotten the attention it should. I would add here that feminists do not always recognize that men feel women, especially modern women, like Jews or other advancing groups, have too much power over their lives, and put cotton in their ears when feminists speak. Meanwhile some women use their sexual/maternal power to advance themselves at the expense of other women and give weight to the claims of misogynists. It is a huge subject that I suppose a few others have explored at greater length than I can here, but I did notice as I researched my book on the revivers of Herman Melville between the world wars that the most conservative of them were terrified of modern women and felt themselves to be puppets manipulated by these castrating and ever-changeable scheming women, leading to my slogan that “Woman is the Jew of the home.” Think about it. Captain Ahab as the Bad [Jewish] Mother.

     Finally, I would note that the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s were acceptable as long as they joined the anti-imperialist Left, and that meant that they did not subsequently defend “the West” but instead attacked it (along with Israel, often), notwithstanding the deplorable condition of women in non-Western societies. This gave the Christian far Right a great excuse to attack feminism as such.

July 13, 2009

Eros and the Middle Manager: S-M with implications for Multiculturalism

Advertisement, Los Angeles Weekly, Nov. 10-16, 1989

Advertisement, Los Angeles Weekly, Nov. 10-16, 1989

I’m reposting in response to my enigmatic statement on Facebook that “Masochism Builds Character.” Also because of the wide distribution on a related blog https://clarespark.com/2014/09/21/spanking-sex-and-the-nfl-fracas/.

This  essay was originally delivered on Pacifica Radio as the first installment of my series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” [Added 3-24-10:  This essay contains my inferences from the study of one particular collection of materials, and is not intended as a formula or a scientific law. But compare it to Peter Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud (1993), chapter one on the German dueling societies and bourgeois adolescent aspirations to join an aristocracy. Gay sees adolescent homosexuality as a defense against terrifying relations with women (see Gorer on Sade, mocking romantic love as slavery). Also, materials from the Steadman Thompson collection are scattered throughout this website, particulary in the essays on Dr. Henry A. Murray of Harvard University, Director of the Harvard Clinic and a practicing S-M connoisseur.]

[excerpt from a fantasy by Steadman Thompson, middle-management at the Armstrong Cork Company, Akron, Pennsylvania, in the Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA, added 1/28/06:] “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.”

EROS AND THE MIDDLE-MANAGER, KPFK, 9/89. [slightly revised 7-13-09, revised again 2-14-15]

Fascism may be seen as an attack on the Brain and the color Grey, that is, on the rationalism of the Enlightenment. It wants to restore or perpetuate the corporatism and militarism of the feudal world. Its targets are the newly literate, politicized, and partly emancipated groups of modernity: labor, women, non-whites, Jews: the rising groups of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who were using Universal Reason to discredit the claims of the old aristocracies. Trusting the evidence of their senses, they challenged the notion that élites were more intelligent, more socially responsible, more moral, more balanced than the “lower orders.” Their arts were realistic and naturalistic; their philosophy was materialism, [some of?] their anthropology suggested that “we are one”: “races” would soon be obsolete.

The technology made possible by science raised hopes for a world freed of unnecessary toil, of leisure that would give all people the opportunities for creativity and self-development that had been possible only for the very wealthy. Dispossessed or threatened élites counter-attacked with the ideology of “scientific racism”: there were imperishable differences between “races,” between all men and all women, geniuses and dolts. Blurring the boundaries, muddying distinctions led to degeneration and decay; the rationalists and materialists were un-natural, turning supple social organisms into machines; they were setting classes and genders against each other by insisting that there were conflicts of interest in the real world: theirs was a delusion caused by a foolish reliance on “the rebel senses.” Rebel senses created extremists. The good father, the Good King would restore a lost harmony to the mutinous and riven modern world; the Heart would conquer the wandering Mind. With a wave of his magic wand, pink and red children would see the old light. Only the Mind forg’d manacles. The Heart was the site of liberation.

The test of Freedom was easily comprehended but harder to enforce; the rebel senses kept coming back.

This is the Test: Iron collars, high-heels, corsets, all the iron cages, were not confining, as the naked eye would suggest. In the pastoral ruled by the Heart People, we were all frolicking lambs & skylarks, appearances notwithstanding. We were all artists and craftsmen: inventive, spontaneous, unchecked. Marx called these Heart People feudal socialists. Some of their mentors were Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, William Morris, Eric Gill, Lewis Mumford, and Carl Jung. After the rationalists of the 1930s were purged (while at the same time master race theories were in disgrace) the Heart People became ideologists of “democratic pluralism” (now called either ethnopluralism or multiculturalism, C.S. 7-13-2009): A pluralism without the classical liberal bourgeoisie, a pluralism that said all blacks or whites or reds or browns, whatever their social class or particular life experience, naturally cohered into ethnic or racial groups, each with its own distinct ideology, by definition mysterious to other ethnic or racial groups. Mental health, emotional maturity, physical well-being, and a blossoming individuality depended on acceptance of such natural facts.

But we were not fascists. Harvard psychologists warned us of the dangers of scapegoating. Christians must stop scapegoating Jews, whites must stop scapegoating blacks, and labor must stop scapegoating business, as Gordon Allport insisted in 1948. The corporatist triumph was complete. Disputes that might be grounded in ideological differences were to be resolved through self-control. An emotionally mature person would beat down the rebel senses to use the social institutions that, properly manipulated, would bring rewards to the truly meritorious; would resolve all conflicts. Any stray rationalist who said it couldn’t be done was stamped with the label: outside agitator, melancholy baby, the secret agent bringing a grey conformity to a spotless black and white world. Greyness brought artificial enmity to the body politic; even dangerous illness. The remedy was the purge of this foreign body, only then there could be healing and a restoration of harmony and order.

A Quack Remedy. The outcome for rational self-defense in the face of real dangers was disastrous. Social problems that required rational deliberation, analysis, and social action to be solved were turned into questions of decorum: politeness, respectability and moderation meant identifying social irritants in order to purge and heal. We were a nation of muckrakers, each group identified its enemies as was naturally apparent: modern artists, homosexuals, feminists, pawnbrokers, polluters, media moguls, demagogues, Klansmen, Willie Horton, mobs, white supremacists, consumer society, Pharisees, psychiatrists, midwestern Protestants and fundamentalists, commie-Jews, technocrats, mad scientists, Palestinians, and Zionists. Respectability, success, sanity, realism and group acceptance were all linked. Groups cohered only around the identification of the source of the disease, not because of underlying unity in a shared humanity, a commitment to open-ended inquiry and creativity for all, or a clear-eyed view of institutions that hamper the growth of democracy and solidarity.

If your rebel senses told you that freedom was domination, that praise was humiliation, that community was only a definition imposed on warring fragments by bureaucrats, you were blessed by the magic wand/rod until greyness gave way to the blaze of pseudo-enlightenment, the halo of the moderate man. In such a condition you were qualified to manage the health and education of those below: humane, competent, and calm, you were the good mother, the labor bureaucrat, the schoolteacher, the historian. Our humanity, our competence, our serenity comes from the certainty that is the lesson of the beaten child: we are too weak to overthrow the illegitimate, hurtful authority that trained us. (See Terry Gilliam’s recent film, Brazil.) We patrol the boundaries that divide artist from non-artist, black from white, good from evil, male from female, professor from student, expert from amateur, parent from child, clean from dirty, rational from irrational.

In this context, sexuality (which may be intense) becomes a performance of, a metaphor for, irrational hierarchies, and is an occasion for punishment, not pleasure, intimacy, or mutuality. Sadomasochism expresses the power relations of the middle manager, who is masochistically submissive to her/his superiors, sadistic to those under her/his supervision–to the extent that human possibilities for growth, change, and cooperation are stifled by the imposition of learned helplessness and misrepresentations of ourselves, of other societies, and of world, group, and individual history. Whether or not we literally are tied-up and whipped, as “middle-management” we are no less in bondage than our explicitly histrionic brothers and sisters. It is this terrible resonance that has provoked, I believe, the furor over the art of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

Sources: besides the life and art of Herman Melville and his Anglo-American revivers, the collection of Steadman Thompson, an employee of the Armstrong Cork Company in Ohio and Pennsylvania, who later moved to San Francisco. He collected the Justice Weekly (a libertarian newspaper dedicated to the civil rights of the bizarre), the photographs and pamphlets manufactured by professional writers and illustrators catering to this trade; movie stills–all showing scenes of bondage and humiliation; scrapbooks which montaged his own drawings and compositions with typed excerpts from pulps, novels, and literary criticism, and newspaper clippings about transvestitism, the New Look, crinolines and girdles. The collection spans the mid 1940s-mid 1960s.

First impressions: 1. These lovers of the bizarre identify with the aristocracy against the grey world of the urban proletariat. The corset symbolizes superior self-control. 2. S-M is a purification ritual. Messy, impudent, uppity children are switched until they declare that the whip is a magic wand bringing transcendence. [I am not certain that they confuse pain and pleasure, perhaps they become one big scar.] 3. In the photos and stories, women torture other women; the observer is a respectable male, who identifies with the tormented victim. In some pictures, young men wear the clothes and make-up of middle-aged housewives, chained to a stove or sink or vacuum cleaner; frequently the victim is arranged as Christ on the cross. In some stories, the victim is assigned impossible tasks: wading through muck without spotting his/her shiny black and white uniform, carrying a dominatrix on his back. 4. The reward is a promotion, but not to a position of dominance: one aspires to be mistress of the manor, not the Lord; the servant hopes to displace the selfish and hard-hearted wife. 5. The transformations are sudden, but not stable. Slaves and masters merely change places at breakneck speed [this is not a foolish reading of much history, C.S.]. 6. The writers of the S-M material have contempt for the servility of others, i.e., the upwardly mobile person who enters the houses of torture, then complains about the beatings. “She asked for it,” says my man, the S-M artist and consumer. SHE wears red panties and is from the upper-classes, not the working-class or jobless poor. SHE is the parlor pink or swimming pool liberal; SHE is the mother demanding service both to God and Mammon, separation and dependency, self-interest and Christian charity. 7. The practitioners I have studied do not seek pain as such, rather the serenity and sense of family reunification that follows purification. Their sin is the perception that family relations are duplicitous, that demands cannot be met: such insights lead to dangerous and intolerable anxiety and divisions: the purging restores the child to the lap of benignant authority and family unity, however bogus, is restored.

The beating is not about poor self-control, reining in antisocial “instincts.” The crime is not resistance to socialization as such, some timeless conflict between the individual and society expressed in adolescent defiance, but double-binds specific to modernity and its constantly innovating science and technology which preserve the need for some cultural freedom while braking the momentum toward more broadly shared self-management.

Why are the victims tied up? Perhaps the bondage expresses the passivity and immobility of the so-called objective and independent creative professional and middle-manager, performing a masquerade of self-assertion. In the 1930s, our cultural freedom was used to distinguish democratic capitalism from its proposed alternative, democratic socialism (that went well, didn’t it?) Today we promote the resegregation of women and non-whites into ethnic studies departments. Our professionals, by contrast with their projected harnessed competitors, are frank, socially responsible, neutral, and disinterested: that is, pure. According to the corporatist, facts are group facts. But what if they are not? Then you may lose your job and be invited to step out into a hostile world, for independence may not lead to institutional adjustments; that is, structural change that does not simply co-opt dissidents or display tokens from below. But if such loyalty to old structures or authority figures is paramount, then science and rationalism are betrayed; the modern world, so rich in promise, turns into a death-trap.

What are the implications for artist and intellectuals who want to be “progressive?” We might understand how vanguard arts have been used to prop up the status quo, pleasing an élite clientele through: 1. Playing up to the “superior” by creating puzzles and enigmas to titillate bored would-be aristocrats. 2. By providing ritual rebellions: donning the primitivist mask to discharge tensions. 3. By equating social change with asceticism, sacrifice, and self-denial, symbolized in submission to the oppressed person with a whip; by equating social change with violent revolution and terror; using shock techniques and calling it advanced art: “Making it new” [Ezra Pound] does not have to mean killing it.

What to do now? We should call into question hard and fast distinctions between artists and non-artists; but separate art from life: art is a realm of fantasy, play, and experimentation, where no human experience or feeling is off-limits; but understand that veterans of authoritarian families will be scared of such art, possibly believing that their own violent fantasies are real, have killed others, caused divorces, etc. We should stop begging institutions to love our rebelliousness, but use contradictions within them to secure maximum autonomy, while building alternatives to prefigure a better society, staying alert, clear, appropriately angry at hypocrisy and unnecessary suffering, and desirous of the material preconditions that make a measure of egalitarian love and friendship possible.

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