All posts by Gildas Hamel

War and peace

Why did we go to war in Iraq? Many reasons were given by the US government, most or all of them false. But which did neo-cons and willing politicians believe in and did many in the public accept (still accept)? Did we go to war, in the end, believing in a teleology of peace and dismissing the sort of consequences that Rousseau saw, namely that its mirror image is the use of systematic violence? Does a variant of that supposed future peace, to be brought by democratization and its supposed accompanying good, absence of conflict, justify any means, including constant war? and war to the “end” (complete victory, as our government still says occasionally)? A future, perfect, lasting peace is being presented as having to come about, no matter the cost. This peace, defined as an absence of hostilities (or even further, hostile parties) would finally set right our messy, disorderly human affairs. This is a far cry from what common language tells us about making peace.


The intrusion of money and management rationality—or what passes for rationality— at the heart of the university belongs to a wider movement: the transformation and measured flattening of all social bonds. A positive aspect of this is the freedom from hierarchical and religious bonds, including the “mandarinat” and certain types of selection. Accessibility becomes a permanent question. Negative aspects are obvious: the grabbing of the minds and especially public resources. The inexorable flattening of social bonds, however, is a new praeparatio evangelica, in the sense that modern individuals are progressively freed from the survivalist need to abide by the social network to which they belong and may become more open to the risks of living a more universal life in which generosity of spirit does not abide by the old “do ut des.” This is the spirit, one hopes, of modern taxation and social security systems (see Maimonides on this, and to the contrary, Bush et co). In the pursuit of knowledge, the grace spoken of by Plato in the Republic becomes accessible to all. Yet, here too, the “signs” or markers of knowledge have become liquid, not only because one can buy ever more discrete parts of it but also because the nature of what passes now for knowledge is a collection of ingenious transactions, a recomposition of notions and symbols, in a notation system (quotes, footnotes, CVs, departmental accounting, etc.) where the share of discovery becomes more and more mysterious. But here too I think of something similar to the praeparatio evangelica: beyond a transaction that has knowledge as its proclaimed goal (but in reality survival and power), more people than ever are free to seek further, knowing that the more specific the prize, the more suspect it is of manipulation or at least inadequacy. The pricing of knowledge leads to a reflection on the pricelessness of knowledge, on its gift aspects, much as in the economic domain the more specific and universal pricing is, the deeper the realization that the real value of certain objects is beyond price.


The deck planking is dark with slippery water, the orange tree’s branches stoop to the ground, heavy with winter fruit and drops left by a storm that has swept through and vanished. The earth, mountains and dark woods rise daringly and wearingly against the turquoise sky. Prophets’ words echo beyond blue and green comforts. Does the middle-aged man often posted at Safeway’s entrance have a tarp?


I’m looking at the entrance to a clothing store on Pacific Avenue. It is strange to think that this action, to enter someone else’s property and rifle through “their” clothes (owned in what way?), not necessarily because one needs new ones, is taken to be normal, benign, necessary even.

SBL in Washington

Washington: a few thousand scholars are gathered within the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion to talk about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, assorted methods to query the object (religion), and parenthetical enterprises like archaeology. So many books on the bible, exegesis, moral theology, etc.: would Jesus have been surprised? Lichtenberg was not.

On my way back along K street, I glance at the windows of a Catholic Association’s bookstore: a new book on the greatness of christianity and how it has enriched the world materially is out. On a stone sill in the second window next to last, I can only guess a human form under a large blanket, sleeping in the cold.

More on the monuments to the dead and the political center: when one walks the whole length of the Mall and back, one can’t help but think that the White House, the Capitol and other political organizations of the state are the pullies of an engine that partly comes to life, better, that draws much of its life from the glorified dead of previous wars (Arlington cemetery across the river, the Vietnam Memorial, now the Holocaust monument, etc.). Round and round it goes, gathering steam from its contact with the magic transformation of tears and nightmares into hopes. Is this any different from what the Kremlin did and does when it momified and keeps on re-presentation the body of Lenin? Any different from the late Roman re-inscribing of the body of Jesus, the cross, etc. into the landscape of what became the “holy land?” Any different from the cult of relics, the cult of the shroud of Turin since the fourteenth century?

That aspect of politics is a radical problem if confronted to some of the most important texts in the Hebrew bible and the Christian canon. The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 questions precisely the compulsion to glory and the fascination for the magic, frightening, pity-producing, and violence-justifying machinery that ancient and modern societies invoke in their effort to ground politics as usual. Isaac was not sacrificed, pace some commentaries. Neither was Ishmael? And more on bodies: that of Moses, the Solon-like law giver, was buried but is not to be found “to this day,” says Deuteronomy 34.6, no matter the Nebi Musa tomb in the slopes above Jericho. That of Elijah is even more fleeting, in life (a resident! an interstitial body) and even more in death. And to crown it all: the story of Jesus’ end, the story of the resurrection, is first and foremost the precise account of an absent body. It has a corrosive effect on the ever-renewed attempts to practice a politics of relics, pace Bush et al. The body politic is elsewhere, beyond the touch of the naïve and beyond the hypocritical attempts by the greedy to profit from human sufferings.


On passe dans les rues à côté de gens sans domicile. Quel sens cela a-t-il d’aller voir les oeuvres à la National Gallery? Je me retrouve au beau milieu d’énormes concrétions émaillées secrétées par des corps doués d’une énergie bien mal dirigée. Vastes bureaux dont le financement suffirait à mettre d’aplomb tous les miséreux des Etats-Unis? Non. D’autres pauvres viendront, ou nous en ferons. Ils seront toujours avec nous, un appel pour leurs frères plus chanceux.

Washington Memorial, face à la Maison Blanche. Trouz ar moteuriou en-dro deomp: ur c’hwezh, un heklev eus labour milionou a dud. Entre les deux centres du pouvoir, ou les poulies principales, une grande bande d’histoire, en défilé de galeries. Pour élever l’âme? C’est-à-dire pour former les désirs polymorphes et polytèles de millions qui y passent, les tirer vers le haut, une expansion de l’âme qui ne peut être qu’en contradiction avec les murs (les concrétions) érigés au sein du processus de pompage des énergies humaines, et du fond de cette contradiction pouvoir sentir comme Augustin l’appel à servir, à répondre à la souffrance humaine.

Je vais au Vietnam Memorial comme Américain, encore français de culture et de tête, mais le coeur partagé. C’est moi aussi que ces gens ont cru défendre, et je leur dois le respect, quelles qu’aient pu être leurs opinions de la guerre, une guerre menée par la propagande politique. Le mémorial s’enfonce dans la nuit des temps. Des poussières viendront en faire un tumulus. Où est le mémorial des Vietnamiens de tous bords également fauchés ou marqués par le “grim reaper”? C’est ce qu’avait voulu marquer l’étudiante à l’origine du monument: pas d’inscriptions, une pierre mémoire. Une compagnie de film tourne une publicité qui a le monument à Washington pour fonds de scène. Voilà une des poussières futures: il en sera fait de semblables près du monument aux morts du Vietnam dans quelques générations.
Réflexions sur la vénération des tombeaux….
Le bassin près du Lincoln Memorial, discret, mais “expliqué” (une manie américaine, fruit d’un complexe aussi?) comme une imitation des bassins de Versailles, etc. Pour moi, c’est tout simplement le ciel sur la terre, ou dans la terre, du moins un moment, celui des amoureux sur un banc public, dont le baiser est le signe d’une suspension des hostilités à l’infini.
Face au Smithsonian, quelques concessionnaires d’origine chinoise, il me semble, peut-être même vietnamiens? De l’autre côté, un bâtiment grotesque, néo-classique, probablement le secrétariat au commerce ou quelqu’entreprise de ce ce genre. Au tympan de gauche, un bel homme solide à la bite naturellement proportionnée, plus grande que sur les statues grecques. Sur le tympan de droite, la femme est belle également, de beaux seins ronds bien détachés, un ventre encore lisse, mais son corps, surtout les jambes, est nettement moins musclé que chez l’homme dont les genoux et les mollets se détachent nettement. Je ne continue pas à regarder par crainte d’être pris pour un voyeur.

On forgiveness

Another thing I didn’t say Saturday: that the quiet, unrecognizable forgiving that lies at the heart of my being, I mean that makes it possible, has a face. To see a face that comes from a soul and not from a mechanics of forgiveness, requires the eyes and ears of the soul. How can I accept the notion of being forgiven, how can I listen to this music? And if I do, what is justice going to be? What am I going to do: give of this impossibly proprietary “myself” in return, in the space opened by forgiveness, a response therefore? It is a response to a call, a “dialectical” seeking of each other, from which flow covenants and contracts that found institutions, laws and codes.

Partita 2 and forgiveness

What do an act of forgiveness (an “act,” how frozen already in the isolating tagging of our languages, how calculating, how habit-creating and secure) and the second partita of Bach have in common? Does the uniqueness of each reverberate in a similar fashion through consciousness? One can’t write another ciaconna (but adapt it, as for piano, the piece Hélène Grimaud played this week at the Carnegie) or repeat the act of forgiveness, without destroying (attempting to destroy) the original, but one can play it forever, everyday, with an ever renewed pleasure, and act from within the shelter, aura, reverberating spirit of a once created forgiving. There is no limit to the replaying of a once created vision. Another question lurks in the background: does the partita move me because I’ve heard a kind of music and singing that prepares me to recognize the arrangement of chords as a new dramatic creation? and the forgiving by another I also recognize as a dramatic re-creation of an all-too defined world, a known, or thought known, world of relationships and social structures.
But how does this play in another culture, say India? another music, another forgiveness?


Dec’h, war ur bank e skolaj Cowell, dirak ar mor:

an daoulagad digor
a glask dre ar gweledva
un ene kuzhet pell
en tu-all d’ar golo, d’an trouz ha da fiñv ar vuhez.
skrammoù gwer an deiz a sav war an aod
a-us d’an tossennoù ha menezhioù sec’h
e-lec’h en em vesk mouezhioù ha selloù

Une machine voyante, חוֹזֶה, avec une âme: nous croyons savoir ce qu’est une machine: un réseau ou tissu de règles plus ou moins amovibles. Dans la préface à la traduction en anglais d’une grosse collection de ses poèmes, Czeslaw Milosz écrit:

The history of the twentieth century prompted many poets to design images that conveyed their moral protest. Yet to remain aware of the weight of fact without yielding to the temptation to become only a reporter is one of the most difficult puzzles confronting a practitioner of poetry …. (Introduction to his New and collected poems, 1931–2001. New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

Les deux petits rats grignotent, tournent, remontent dans leur hamac bleu, se grattent, alors qu’une pluie lente et parcimonieuse a déjà trempé l’herbe sous le pommier et que la sixième suite jouée par Navarra m’emporte.


I found it strange to vote today: the list of candidates and propositions was very long, the process cumbersome. One had to link the two severed parts of an arrow in the hope of signifying one’s choice. No signature, no filling of a rectangle, no punching holes, no cross in a box…. I haven’t totalled the sum in billions that the propositions put before Californian voters would entail if all passed, but it looked pretty frightening: 40 billions or so? We already have been issuing bonds to pay the interest on previous bonds or shortfalls. To present this raising of money as “no taxes” is a strange act of magic. “No taxes now” would be more accurate. The voter’s pamphlet has an analysis of cost and relation of debt to budget that is enlightening: it shows that the share of the California budget taken by interest payment has been going up steeply since the early nineties, dipping somewhat in the mid-nineties (bubble — better revenues), and going up again since (towards 6%). It also seems to suppose that no new bonds are going to be issued in the future, meaning that the curve comes to rest gently again towards a no debt payment point. Who is naïve enough to believe this?