Trump and Putin had their meeting in Helsinki, followed by a circus-like press conference. They looked and sounded like tiny excretive, enduring parts of Stalin’s enormous body, the huge towering figure that hanged a while over global labor and clouds as grasped by Vadim, the alter ego of Leonov in the latter’s last novel The pyramid (1994). Vadim has a glimpse of a meeting held by the providers of “forced happiness:”
[He] was able to peer, despite the egregious difference in height, into a railwaylike building, where a staff meeting was taking place, and the speaker appeared to be lopping off truths with his hand each time a new one arose. (Slezkine, The house of government: a saga of the Russian revolution, 950)
The pyramidal house of socialism has been abandoned. Now Dymkov the circus magician and Shatanitzky the behind-the-scene operator can work together while tossing soccer balls to each other. The House of Government can soon reclaim its old name, the Swamp, a place where you can romp, plan more towers and pipe gas to your kishkes’ content.
This is a comment on today’s NYTarticle on expression of thanks. In a study of language-based expressions of social reciprocity in eight languages, researchers discovered that requests for help were most often granted but thanks were rarely offered for the help received. I say “language-based,” as there are many ways, immediate or long delayed, to express something that the lexeme “Thanks!” is far from being alone in attempting to denote. I’m most interested in this something, which I follow tradition in calling “grace.”
One day in my childhood in Brittany—I may have been twelve or thirteen?—we were working on piling sheaves of wheat or barley on a cart, I needed a fork (two-tined!), asked my father for it, and said thank you when he passed it along. He stopped for a moment and told me thanking someone you were working with for passing a tool along was not done. I was surprised to discover that his hidden network of values and their expressions conflicted with what I was being taught at school, as I was on vacation from a Catholic boarding seminary. I was even shocked because I knew that my parents were extremely conscious of what they “owed” to their neighbors and extended family. In fact, it took me many years to realize how infinitely complex the sense of reciprocal duties was in the farming community we were in, and how it lived a hidden life, across time boundaries, below the world of social graces you encountered when you put on your Sunday finery or met, awkwardly, the powers that be: teachers, priests, banking officials, your landowner, etc…. It would take many pages to give a proper idea of this world of quietly enforced reciprocity, social status determination, and expectation of grace. This was a community of Breton speakers, with French fast becoming the main language. Breton has a “thank you” as I discovered later when I studied its “modern” form, but it was never used among my kins or neighbors. There was something at work that was more complex, it seems, than say, a surgeon not having to say thank you for every piece of equipment slapped into her expecting hand. More complex or far-ranging also than not expressing verbal thanks to your immediate family and siblings for the expected sharing of common goods or tools (or clothing!).
The presence and advertising of thank yous in US media is at the other extreme of the magic of giving or granting recognition. For each section of interview it makes, for instance, NPR makes sure I can hear the “thank you for coming on my show” and “thank you for having me,” instead of “my pleasure” or “you are welcome,” or clipping those extraneous remarks entirely. It usually cheapens the exchange as its material, economic components (recognition) are at odds with the expression of grace and sound fake and slightly repulsive, especially when the issues discussed are of the essence. BBC on the contrary doesn’t practice this tit for tat that I explain to myself as an intrusion of capitalist rationality in the shrinking world of grace.
Students who go to UCSC desperately need more housing. Ballooning education costs, low salaries in the region, transportation problems, and stratospheric rents have put many students in a bind. In response to demographic and financial pressures, UCOP (central administration of UC system) and local campuses have decided to go with private developers and move as rapidly as possible. Decisions have been taken since 2017 with little or no input from students, faculty, staff, or architects. For instance, the administration and the private partner it has contracted with (Capstone Development Partners) have decided to move Family Student Housing, now on west campus, to the southern end of east meadow, between Hagar and Coolidge drives. It makes sense for a private company to lower its investment costs by choosing a site near existing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense for the campus to build in the east meadow and ruin a protected environment when other possibilities exist.
I urge you to go to the website set up by the East Meadow Action Committee, and sign the petition. The website gives a brief history by Paul Schoellhamer of this calamitous, rushed decision by UCSC, under pressure from UCOP and private developers, to throw out responsible development and site part of the critically needed new student housing in the wrong place, the southern part of the East Meadow.
Large gathering and uplifting addresses this morning downtown Santa Cruz, in memory, celebration, and continuation of MLK’s spirit. Police officers didn’t wear weapons. “The time is now,” as David Anthony repeated and the crowd chanted. Let’s not wait for tomorrow’s managed messianisms.
I’ve been reading Victor Klemperer’s journal (Tagebücher 1933–1941 and Tagebücher 1942–45). It has numerous philological discussions on the evolution of German (LTI: lingua tertii imperii, a book he published in 1947 on the basis of his notes). I don’t have Jean-Pierre Faye’s Les langages totalitaires at hand (1972; 2d ed. 2004) to see what use if any he made of Klemperer’s work. As Camus said in Poésie 44 (1944): “mal nommer un objet, c’est ajouter au malheur de ce monde.” American language is evolving under the kind of political pressures that existed under the nazis. Even without the kind of economic pressures that existed in Germany in the twenties and thirties, our president speaks of “great victories to come” very much like Hitler. Hitler talked about “meine Soldaten” while Trump mentions “his generals.” Two small items among dozens or hundreds of rhetorical and semantic changes. There is nothing surprising in the existence of cracks and shifts in our language. It becomes worrisome when they reveal it to be a dried, thin shell that we cannot trust to carry us and will let us fall at any given moment into the lava flow.
Harari’s recent Homo deus plays with predictions of the collapse of the barrier between animals and machines, What is one to think? Another form of cartesianism? Will biochemical processes take second seat to big data that have been submitted to new barrages of algorithms? Will liberal humanism and its granting of a special privilege to human capacities, desires, and needs, become parochial or even go extinct? It is easy to see the dark side of a three-century old enlightenment and show how its belief in the power of reason—a large river or rather eddies—may have excused if not helped bring about the rise of communism and marxism. Harari is not really making serious, weighted arguments. He is writing for a general reader who is wont to toss large ideas on complicated topics that are not amenable to univocal answers. The takes on parenthetical topics like obesity or sugar—a grave danger—mean that I can safely leave the book aside. And more important, the para-scientificity seems to be a simplistic cover for the acceptance of traditional social frameworks and the absence of real political thinking.
It was shocking to read the unambiguous quotations in today’s Charles Blow’s NYT article on the fundamental racism of the modern Republican party. Most striking to me was a quotation of John Ehrlichman’s 1994 interview with Dan Baum regarding the southern strategy in Nixon days and ever since:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
The drug “war” was waged for entirely politic reasons. It was meant to disenfranchise black people and by extension poor people, streamline and scare the middle class into stupefied silence, fear or concern, and ensure that the profitable, unjust and unwise decisions in favor of capital and manufacturing be made by the “right,” entrenched political party. The moral or even health concerns that were sometimes expressed were cover in effect for a much nastier goal of maintaining power and ensuring the continued, expansive, extraction of riches from labor and environment in all kinds of way, including health insurance schemes and continuous need for expensive, cruel, wrong-headed, and wasteful wars. Many in the democratic party participate(d). It continues today with Sessions’ and Pruit’s policies as well as the sophisticated redistricting and gerrymandering that “big data” now allows. The present quiet and speedy removal of southern confederacy monuments triggered by the scandals of alt-right demonstrations at Charlottesville and Trump’s bigoted comments is part of a much larger struggle to allow all to reclaim the right of disposal of labor and body in dignity and not have them stolen and vilified by capitalist institutions whose visage (or at least one of its faces) is Trump’s.
Are there limits to desire(s)? Many think it is boundless. By allowing and selling a 24/7 fantasm of presence, our transportation and imaging instrumentation keeps building and increasing our distance from others and ourselves, in a fuite en avant of constantly distantiated objects that makes more poignantly frantic the still-hoped-for possibility of presence. Present-day adults spend about one third of their waking time on digital “distance reducers/maximizers” (my name for all machinery that moves and mobilizes us). Desire then becomes regret and even regression. We are creating a greater distance from objects that we set as projections of selves and that we believe we control via our putative mastery of discourse, instrumentation, ethic norms, and social constructions. Transcendence is “ingraved”—I want to say “enshrined,” “hacked” even—into these projections, yet tends to escape and become something all its own, part of the construction of distance that no one is in charge of. So, our distance from the world increases. If desire has as its main function the union with, or proximity of, a present world—including present as in “giving presents”—, this absence keeps tripping and reshaping desires as unquenchable. Capitalist institutions rely upon this fleeing and deepening distance and absence, including that from oneself, to offer their paying (re)mediations. Kings of ancient times did something similar in increasing a divine distance and power that in turn they re-presented and mediated in temples and altars they kept under the watchful eyes of their palaces.