YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 9, 2015

Monster Moms

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

Ever since I read Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers (1942) I have been racking my brains for the origins of his diatribe against MOM. Here is how Wylie, later to be matched by the fictional mother in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), or the frequent naming of the welfare state as “nanny state” by conservative journalists, described the transformation of the faultless Cinderella into a (secret) monster:

[Wylie:] “MOM is the end product of SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis,  of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)

[Clare:] Here are some of my prior musings upon the origin of the Bad Mother, ambivalently celebrated in film noir and pop culture: First, Freud described the Oedipus complex, in which daughters would inevitably compete with Mom for the favors of Dad. This can’t end well.

Second, the Switch from smiling caretaker to Bitch Goddess, of good Mother to bad: (This is an excerpt from an MLA paper I delivered in 2002 to the Melville Society):

“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 was an inference only. I have never seen it described in the psychoanalytic literature, let alone by feminists.]

Third, political scientists and historians agree that since the Industrial Revolution, paternal authority in the home has diminished, giving rise to “domestic feminism.” Men would be the absent breadwinner, no longer paterfamilias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pater_familias), while Mom now (seemingly) ruled the roost, then, in her moralistic way, going on to invent progressivism and its welfare state. Simultaneously, Jesus became feminized, as Ann Douglas pointed out in her overwrought defense of traditional, masculinist Calvinism in The Feminization of American Culture (1977).

Fourth, “splitting” as the Kleinian object relations analysts describe it: Romantic attachments, whether to the family or to other love objects, often entail idealization. The [narcissist], depleted of “narcissistic supplies” demonizes what was once a perfect creature. Which brings us back to Papa Freud, who had already figured this out in his descriptions of romantic love and idealization.

Fifth, and perhaps the most current and relevant. Mom’s are supposed to keep us safe, but I hear reports that pre-teens and teens are suffering from OCD and related problems (e.g. eating disorders) because the world is perceived as just too dangerous. Even omnipotent Mom is helpless against these real-life monsters: jihadism, global warming, race relations gone wrong, etc. Hence the pop culture vogue for zombies, werewolves, vampires, etc. who have nothing to do with the return of the repressed but are signs of objective media-fortified anxieties.

There is no escaping from the Good-Bad Mother (or Father either), for these imagos are reinforced in popular culture, but rarely analyzed in journalism, not even by many feminists.

All attachments are problematic. Get used to ambivalence, and if your parent is gone, my advice is to focus on her or his strengths, not her weaknesses. (https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.)

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March 13, 2014

What is cultural relativism?

culturalrelativism2Briefly, cultural relativism does NOT mean that there are no impermissible human actions—sex and violence for instance, but that different cultures have ethical systems that make sense to them, given their state of material development and the belief systems that sustain them.  Cultural relativism exists in tension with human rights and ethical universalism. The Left uses that contradiction to trash the “bourgeois” notion of human rights advanced by ethical systems as diverse as the Catholic Church and freethinking. (Multiculturalism, a form of relativism, does not acknowledge this contradiction, but imagines different cultures united without conflict as in this illustration. This is the dream world of Wilsonian internationalism and today’s multiculturalism or rooted cosmopolitanism.)

I recall a period when leftists commonly attacked “imperialism” for destroying native “communities”—no matter how backward and horrifically sexist these pre-scientific/pre-capitalist cultures were. It was also the case that some Enlightenment freethinkers (Diderot for example), imagined that “primitive” cultures were free from the instinctual repression that they attributed to the West and its strict religions. (I have written about the fantastic nature of primitives earlier on this website: see https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/.)

Or, some European leftists imagined that native Africans lived in untroubled harmony with Nature: the late Roger Garaudy for example. This was yet another common idealization of the primitive, following Rousseau or the multitudes who celebrated noble savages as a critique of surplus repression in their families of origin. The Melville Revival was partly motivated by his first two novels–the best sellers Typee and Omoo.

Turn now to Andrew Klavan’s booklet The Crisis in the Arts: Why the Left Owns the Culture and How Conservatives can Begin To Take it Back (David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2014). Klavan, a  crime fiction novelist, wants “conservatives” to open up a new front in the culture wars, by leaving off their censorious ways, and exploring the inner lives of humans, as if human nature has been the same no matter what stage of development a particular society may be in. The irony is that Klavan is addressing religious persons, either Catholics or evangelical Protestants, many of whom have been complaining about hypersexuality and violence in the media, and in popular or high culture in general. He wants their money to support Klavan-approved artists, and he wants them to create “conservative” art—art that would disseminate a new, conservatively constructed conscience, thence to rule the world, as Shelley advised in one of his most Romantic moments. Klavan also appeals to the late activist Andrew Breitbart, claiming that this was Breitbart’s hope before he died at the age of 43.

But Klavan is deeply unaware of art history, literary history, the history of popular culture, and of the marketplace of ideas that he presumably wants to extend to include his monolithic notion of conservatism (as if there were not deeply conservative trends in culture already). First, he imagines that there is something called the Left, monolithic and unified, that is currently in control of both high and popular culture. Take popular culture for instance: as a watchful consumer of both high and pop culture, I am struck by its populism, not its Leninism. The working class is not depicted as the vanguard of communist revolution, but as worthy of our compassion and respect, just as it is. Moreover, pop culture celebrates the tastes of the Common Man and Common Woman: for spectacle, for glitter, suspicion of hanky-panky in high places, and for shows of military force and physical virtuosity.

Such shows as Law and Order resemble other socially responsible capitalist productions, taking their marching orders from those institutions attacking irresponsible rich people (often Jews), whose instinctual excesses will, unchecked, instigate revolts from below. (For detailed blogs analyzing television programming see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/16/index-to-blogs-on-popular-tv-shows/.)

hornedhunk

To conclude, Klavan is still living in a magical world of mystery and simplicity, where there are no troublesome clashing world views, where families can be depicted as always happy and unified, where soldiers come home without PTSD or missing limbs, and where women would rather leave the workplace and go back home to the kitchen and multiple pregnancies. He means well; he wants an art that is so powerful it will defeat the big bad Left, to reinstitute a culture of conscience that never co-existed with the libertarian values that he simultaneously champions in this confusing booklet.

culturalrelativism1

You can stop reading here, or go on with an endnote to my book on the Melville Revival, along with some statements by powerful figures in the history of Western civilization; they deal with monsters and monstrous ideas. Monsters are one target of Klavan’s wrath, when he is in his conscience-instructing mood (as opposed to the libertarian mood):

An endnote from Hunting Captain Ahab: See John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981), 35, 47-49, 53. The Attic sensibility was viewed by medieval (Aristotelian) Catholics as moderate, disciplined and balanced, while its monstrous antitheses represented “emotion, redundance, and formal disorder”; monstrosity was correlated with “the enigmatic, the inflated and the grandiose.” The hot, deserted antipodes were linked to the vaguely situated Ethiopia, and found at the most extreme distances from the Greek center of the world; its perverse inhabitants had feet turned backwards and walked upside down; i.e., they were out of reach of the Christian gospel.

[From Chapter Five of HCA:]

For Thomas Hobbes (1651), curiosity was not an aid to reason, but an indomitable passion of the mind that could overpower and displace the less troublesome pleasures of food and sex:

Desire to know why, and how, <is> CURIOSITY; such as is in no living creature but Man; so that Man is distinguished, not onely by his reason; but also by this singular Passion from other Animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of Sense, by praedominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a Lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continuall and indefatigable generation of Knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnall Pleasure.”[i]

In 1659 “Committees of the Good Old Cause” were virtuous vampires: “This Dragon it was and a monstrous Beast,/ With fourty or fifty heads at least,/ And still as this Dragon drank down Blood/ Those heads would wag and cry “good-good-good!”[ii] Not surprisingly, the same tumescent Heads exasperated Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel:

The Jews, a Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race,

As ever tri’d the’extent and stretch of grace;

God’s pampered People, whom, debauch’d with ease,

No King could govern, nor no God could please;

(God they had tri’d of every shape and size,

That God-smiths would produce, or Priests devise:)

These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,

Began to dream they wanted liberty;

And when no rule, no president was found

Of men, by Laws less circumscrib’d and bound,

They led their wild desires to Woods and Caves,

And thought that all but Savages were Slaves.[i]


NOTES to book excerpts


[i] 6. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Part I, Chapter 6, 26. Do Melville’s rebel senses refer only to repressed sexuality, or are they the necessary stimulus to thought, reflection, and the perilous search for “why” and “how”?

[ii] 7. “Sir Eglamor and the Dragon, How General George Monck slew a most Cruell Dragon, Feb.11, 1659,” Rump: or an Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times (London, 1662), 371-2.

[iii]  8. Quoted in Cicely V. Wedgwood, Politics and Poetry Under the Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1960), 165-166. Dryden’s fears have not been quieted in her commentary: “Leaving aside this sidelong shot at current political theories about noble savages, this is the statement of a man who remembers the excesses of the sects and disorders of the Civil War, who sees how fatally easy it is to kindle into flame a ‘Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race’–a one-sided but not untrue description of the seventeenth-century English–and who knows how difficult it will be to put out the flame once kindled?” Her obituary (NYT, 3/11/97) credits her with “vivid narratives [that] told the story of Britain with the common man in mind.” A fellow at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, 1953-68, Dame Veronica was born in 1910 to Sir Ralph Wedgwood, a baronet and former head of British Railways, and was great-great granddaughter to Josiah Wedgwood (identified here as a potter).

July 31, 2012

Censorship, bohemia, and the Big Sleep

Haruhi Gothic Lolita

Having announced that I was thinking of writing a new blog on censorship in the arts and in the media, numerous Facebook friends sent me comments expressing their own disgust with the mass media, with the ineffective ratings system that fails to protect children from exposure to excessive violence, and with the general coarsening of our culture.

In prior blogs, I have complained mightily about what I perceive to be a loss of standards throughout the culture, sometimes focusing on primitivism, rappers, Tom Wolfe’s genteel variant of primitivism (https://clarespark.com/2011/09/08/getting-down-with-tom-wolfe/), and the Great Dumbing Down. One friend starts the dumbing down with the revolts of the 1960s, and there is something to be said for that turning point. Another blames the movies and mass culture in general. Many believe that the Aurora massacre was stimulated at least in part by the increasing violence of Hollywood movies. Indeed, I had already noticed the disturbing abundance of horror movies directed to adolescents. What was the appeal, I wondered, and still can’t answer that, other than speculating that youngsters are terrified of the modern world in ways that have not been adequately described: Feeling perhaps impotent in the face of predators, they Identify with the Aggressor, to use a once well-known Freudian formulation.

What could I possibly add to this discussion now, I wonder? In the past, I argued that cultural radicalism was not only wrong-headed, but a distraction from other questions that were not focused solely on sex and violence or political correctness.  I had insisted that the idea that words and images created reality for readers and viewers was in itself deeply ideological. But I did not dismiss the power of propaganda, but rather pointed out that popular explanations for the rise of Hitler among allies to the Roosevelt administration had blamed mass culture as the primary explanation for the bond of Hitler with the German people, thus discarding political errors, economics, and diplomacy. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/.)

I must say the same for the rowdy arts, whether found in pop culture or in the highest reaches of Kultur. While bohemians were kicking up their heels and converting adolescents to drugs, sex, and rock and roll as transformative politics, petit-bourgeois media reformers wanted positive images of their group, acting on the belief that “role models” (and “inclusion”) would repair grave deficiencies in education or family life. But these same reformers were reinforcing ethnic or racial ties, thus undermining the search for explanations of poverty that are more properly found in political and economic institutions, not just “discourses.”

Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, intellectuals have been fighting over the effects of pornography: Plato would have banished poets from the Republic, while Aristotle believed that catharsis through the arousal of pity and terror would keep the masses in line. I adhere to neither of these philosophies. Either we have a marketplace of ideas or we do not. What matters is the critical context surrounding controversial works of art or other toys and entertainments. Sadly, perhaps disastrously, the “critics” and other explicators of cultural artifacts tend to share the same ideology as those who produce the “edgier” pieces, and leave the field to those whose own sensibilities are disgusted  by “vanguard” works. Hence, our culture is impoverished. Vanguard artists and critics stand together, while “philistines” remain bemused and angry. The feedback loop is thus severed and everyone loses.

But more, what may be decisive is the deliberate silence around certain issues; e.g. the increasing acceptance of sadomasochism, Satanism, misogyny and antisemitism, or the opacity of governments, or the widely held belief that there is no truth, or the power of some families to screw up their kids, or limited interest in the great issues of our time, such as the causes of mass death in the 20th century—a subject that has been hitherto dominated by left-leaning statists with designs on the public.

vagina dentata vampire shoes

June 16, 2012

The social history racket

 [Nothing in this blog should be taken as an attack on the writing of social history. What I object to is the abandonment of diplomatic and military history as “elitist,” a perverse populist move.]

I have not blogged the last several weeks because I have been immersed in the study of Ernest Hemingway and his relations with women. I have agreed to write a review of the widely seen HBO biopic Hemingway-Gellhorn (first broadcast May 28, 2012, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman), and since the show elevates Martha Gellhorn above Hemingway, perhaps as some kind of feminist statement, I have been focusing on the startling arrival of the New Woman in Western culture, a development that was greeted with anguish and screams by numerous male artists, and no more insistently than in the Hemingway oeuvre. (See for example  the illustration by Edvard Munch, “Love and Pain,” widely interpreted as his “vampire” painting, unveiled in 1894.)

At the same time, I carefully studied Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War (1998). This massive history argues that it was not foreordained that Britain enter the Great War, and that it was the mishandling of the postwar economic crisis that laid the groundwork for WW2, not excessive reparations as Lord Keynes had averred in his famous Economic Consequences of the Peace. But more, Ferguson’s method is a powerful rebuke to the entire field of social history that gained legitimacy by allying itself with “the grass roots” and the suffering of “the people” victimized by the diplomatic and military elites. This nearly hegemonic move away from the “elitist” study of statesmen and their decisions, in effect, undermined any possible understanding of the causes of conflict and mass death, while pandering to a gruesome tendency of readers to get off on atrocity stories, presumably to mobilize them for either revolution or “progressive” reform. But most significantly, Ferguson reintroduced the notion of human agency, as against structural or teleological reasons alone in explaining great wars and revolutions. Things could have turned out differently, he says. Such a thought puts us on notice that we are not helpless witnesses to history.

John Collier: Lilith, 1892

When I was in graduate school, social history or cultural history were all the rage, and it was widely acknowledged that diplomatic history was tedious and passé: better to focus on the sufferings of the little people, the better to advance communist revolution, or at least progressive reform. True, we  had to rely upon court records and other non-literary sources, for common people did not always leave diaries or similar source materials, inarticulate as they were often held to be,  but that made them all the more amenable to our sympathies. What diplomatic or military history is, however, is labor intensive and demanding, for without the study of economics and finance, it is impossible to write about wars (or revolutions) at all. Not surprisingly, Niall Ferguson rapidly climbed to the top of his profession, having acquired these skills as part of his academic training,  and then applied them in books directed not only to colleagues, but to a general public.  The latter is a radical move in itself. (None of what I have written about NF implies that he is indifferent to human suffering: far from it.)

Niall Ferguson

But Ferguson is the exception. Our major historians (the ones with jobs) are too often an elevated version of the sob sister, attuned to the dreadful ways that wars affect ordinary people. Surely this was Martha Gellhorn’s strong point in her fiction and journalism. And she did it with competence and audacity, often risking her life to get to the fighting fronts where the mayhem could be seen up close and personal, and her indignation and compassion displayed.

The reason for this particular blog is to criticize the lamentable turn solely toward “compassion”  in both journalism and in academe. Are we not losing the capacity to pinpoint the causes of conflict? For instance, journalists affiliated with the Democratic Party and/or the Left are ignoring the Constitutional implications of Obama’s executive order to grant work permits to a class of young illegal aliens, a move by POTUS that is widely read by his critics to be a play for “the Hispanic vote.” Meanwhile, television news leads us to rejoice with the Latina UCLA graduate, educated at state expense, who feels a burden of anxiety magically removed. We can sing along together.

Are we more lawless than usual in 2012? Perhaps politics in America has always been corrupt, more’s the pity. Such a fine ideal, equality before the law: one set of rules for rich and poor alike. We should tell the children about it. (For more on Gellhorn’s populism see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-2/.)

March 14, 2012

History as trauma

Bruce Bartlett

This blog started out as a meditation on Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). (For a conversation between the author and Clarence Page, see http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/204475-1.] A better discussion is here: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/1494. Glenn C. Loury, professor of economics at Brown University is a far sharper partner to Bartlett, and enunciates the same take on elite micromanagement of racial politics in the universities as the views advanced on my website. For a graduation speech that explicates Loury’s view of “identity” see http://today.brown.edu/articles/2008/09/loury.)

Bruce Bartlett has been a widely read policy adviser to the Republican Party; he says that he has libertarian leanings; he seems to have switched to the Democratic Party recently. But in the very last words of his history of the close ties of the Democratic Party with white supremacist doctrines, he writes “The purpose of this book is to encourage Republicans to compete for the black vote and at the same time show blacks why they should be receptive if Republicans should ask for a hearing. Blacks deserve better than being pawns in the political game. It is very much in their interest to be players. But that won’t happen unless they are willing to loosen the ties that bind them almost exclusively to the Democratic Party, the party to which their greatest oppressors belonged (p. 194).

This blog attempts to complicate Bartlett’s proposed outreach to black Americans by the Republican Party with some thoughts gleaned from another book that I have been reading: Robert C. Scaer, M.D., The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease, second ed. (Routledge, 2007). Dr. Scaer, a neurologist, lays out a materialist explanation for psychogenic illnesses that stem from earlier traumas, such as military combat, assault, rape, incest, spousal abuse, lack of mother-child bonding, child abuse, torture, messy divorces, and other stressors that may be re-enacted even when the traumatized individual suffers from mild shocks, such as whiplash. Scaer does not mention the teaching of history as one possible source of trauma, but I have observed in my own grandchildren that when such horrors as chattel slavery in the American South are taught at an inappropriately early age, the student may be terrified to the point of trauma; s/he can find no safe place to hide from the predator, especially when leftists proclaim that white supremacy will endure until there is a violent overthrow of the status quo. And the same may be said of other events in U.S. and world history: the destruction of indigenous peoples, or the mass death that was enabled by mechanized warfare, starting with the American Civil War. And of course, the teaching of the Holocaust is another potentially traumatizing practice. Add to these gothic moments, the impending destruction of the environment advanced by deep ecologists.

In Bartlett’s book, his notion of reparations suggests free college scholarships to the descendants of slaves, but he does not consider teaching the dubious origin of race theory itself as a strategy. I remind  the reader of my blogs that “race” is a social construction, not an objective fact. Race thinking is filled with nonsense such as the “one-drop” rule for blackness. We are all in the same species, whatever the variation in physical characteristics. What racists do is to claim that “race,” a collective category, predicts mental and emotional characteristics, usually within a hierarchy. Who turns out to be the top dog depends on the group constructing the hierarchy. For a German Romantic’s view of the hierarchy see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/. Obviously, a Chinese or Japanese nationalist would have a different arrangement of the hierarchy of races, as would Pan-African nationalists such as James Cone (https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/).   If you watch the dialogue between Glenn C. Loury and Bruce Bartlett, cited above, you will hear Loury criticize the notion of race as such.

Glenn C. Loury

I don’t look to ultra-social conservatives in the Republican Party to consider trauma or to deploy any other toolbox that smells like neo-Freudianism, for such believers are not worldly, in contrast to Dr. Scaer and other mental health professionals. Indeed, as fundamentalists, these denizens of the far Right are not in history at all, for this world is but the prelude to a better one, and disasters are part of God’s plan. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.) It is no accident that the impetus for education reform through school choice is emanating from within the Democratic Party (though Milton Friedman suggested it long ago), with little encouragement from social conservatives demanding local control and the choice of a religious education. For public schools are a scary site that could alienate the child of the ultra-conservative from the family of origin. What all of us need to do, whether we are of the [modernized] Center Right, or Independents or Liberals, is to think of the curriculum as a mine field when we attempt to teach the dark side of human history. I could have entitled this blog “Freezing fear in the classroom.” We may be traumatizing and re-traumatizing our children, not willfully, but as a side effect of our ignorance of the effect of the emotions on physical health; an ignorance that subsequently diminishes our capacity to be rational actors in a representative republic. In our attempts to educate the young are we teaching learned helplessness? For the youngster cannot change the awful past we transmit with the best of intentions.

Perhaps the current vogue for vampires, zombies, and other terrifying monsters (e.g. wolverines as illustrated), is a defense mechanism by adolescents and pre-teens and even younger children; i.e., identifying with the cruel individuals and events that they can never master in their own real lives. But this is a defense only, and does not get us closer to releasing the terrors that remain locked within the psyche, and that might be among the potential cause(s) for auto-immune diseases. Lest anyone be discouraged by this blog: Dr. Scaer argues that medicine is still in its infancy. It is a great advance in human history that we are learning so much about the physiology of stress, as opposed to relying upon supernatural explanations for the ups and downs of living. Perhaps one strategy to mitigate learned helplessness (not within the scope of Scaer’s book)  is to relate through education and through popular and high culture how both inviduals and groups have banded together to overcome threats to survival. Call such tactics a promising form of preventive medicine. For part 2 of this essay, see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/18/history-as-trauma-2-rosebud-version/.

February 13, 2012

Whitney’s spectacular demise

Whitney with snakylocks

I have written many blogs complaining about primitivism, racism, and the decline of American civilization. (see https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.) I am so disturbed by the mindless media frenzy following Whitney Houston’s not-so-sudden death on Feb.11, 2012, that I am incapable of more than an outline.

1. The main lesson for everyone: don’t mix alcohol with xanax or other sedatives. If you need anti-anxiety drugs, beware of addiction and read the warning label.

2. Her deterioration became a spectacle; where were her friends and physicians?

3. The Grammies celebrate a drug culture common to the music industry and its fans; the latest casualties appear to have died from mixing booze with anti-anxiety drugs. Before that, cocaine was understood to be factored into the cost of hip pop music record production.

4. (On The Grammies) From 1960s-70s light shows to the current sports-inflected pop culture world, there is barely a gap. Only the technology, athleticism, and virtuosity have advanced. The audience remains high and hypnotized by flashing lights and gaudy colors and glitter, including the clothes worn by black and brown performers of both sexes. Barbaric ornament is in, republican simplicity is out and associated with Victorian battle-axes who marched for abolition, then temperance, then urban uplift of fallen women.

5. With respect to culture, the South won the Civil War and later these organic conservatives may  have stopped the civil rights movement cold by its condemnation of [New England] “puritanism,” supposedly the force behind the mechanized slaughter and the materialistic, divisive culture that followed the conflict. The mystical white Left and counter-culture helped out by separating black culture from an integrated American history. They also shook their booties (sp?) and went primitive. 19th century blackface minstrel shows, once considered racist, are now celebrated by some folklorists as populist and satirical.

6. The plundering, vicious, modernizing “North” of the 1860s, in some cases, may return as monsters and vampires in popular films and comics of today.* Universities call for conferences on this mysterious phenomenon, while ignoring the growing public expression of antisemitism. Some cool black entrepreneurs (starting with Spike Lee?) blame Jewish money managers for stealing the money earned by superstars in the music industry.  Part of the Southern patrician legacy is responsible for this complaint, for New England=fanatical abolitionist=puritan killjoy=Sherman’s march through Georgia=predatory Yankee- Jewish commerce/filthy lucre, now famously controlling all of mass media and destroying all “communities.”

7. Whitney Houston will always be good because she sang the national anthem better than anybody, also (Dolly Parton’s) “I Will Always Love You,” attaching unconditional love to objects of dubious worth to herself, i.e. “bad boy” Bobby Brown and her entourage. The blending of the demonic with art-making is an old Romantic tic that should be recognized and condemned.  See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/. The same with sadomasochism, no longer a symptom to be identified and treated, or, more judgmentally, as a perversion, but an acceptable, even fashionable form of sexuality. Even a cursory examination of this culture will find a fountain of misogyny and hatred of moral mothers–the mothers who replaced male authority in the teaching of religion and other “civilizing” functions after patriarchs left the household for work in offices, factories, etc.

8. I am horrified by those doctors and hangers-on who not only failed to help Whitney Houston, but by those in the tabloids who have profited from her spectacular public deterioration. Equally, I am disappointed by those activists who oppose public health measures or the teaching of human biology/hygiene at the earliest possible age in our schools.

9. [Added 2-14-12] I have not mentioned the cost of celebrity; the loss of  privacy; the pressure to perform in order to support others; the internal pressure not to lose skill and/or fire; the fear of aging; performance anxiety. This goes for opera singers and all public performers who impersonate others. Who was Whitney Houston impersonating? What was her relationship with her singer mother? Did she adhere to the myth of the tragic mulatto? How did she respond to her own motherhood?  Journalists invested in the reproduction of “celebrity” will not ask these very obvious questions, for the answers would shorten the distance between audience and performer, and would raise the troubling issue of race and stardom. [Added 2-17-12: I wrote this blog a week ago. I saw the funeral service. Nowhere in all the media coverage has there been the mention of a strong, nurturing father in her family of origin. Presumably Clive Davis tried to fill that function, but why the silence about her biological father, John Russell Houston, Jr. (d. 2003)? Thanks to my daughter Jennifer Loeb Chocron for pointing this out to me.]

*Monsters and vampires are not limited to the rampaging “North”, but may represent “the return of the repressed,” i.e., images of forbidden rage against authoritarian, abusive/negligent parents or other illegitimate authority.

Recommended reading. Daniel Aaron, The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War (N.Y.: Knopf, 1973). This pathbreaking book in American Studies faulted most American authors as mostly  patricians unable to share in the experience of ordinary soldiers, and who also ignored the centrality of slaves and free blacks in their fiction and poetry.  Those who did best were Melville, Whitman, De Forest, Bierce, Mark Twain, and Faulkner. Highly readable and beautifully written.

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

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