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?


What do we do in the Humanities? I mean, in those classes and language-centered activities classified and pluralized on our UCSC administrative shelves as philosophy, literature, history, history of consciousness, linguistics, American studies, feminist studies, language and writing? Are they immaterial, uncompetitive (gasp) and self-defeating activities that a little engineering might revitalize? Yes they are, I’m afraid, and I can’t help, because looking for the "vital" in revitalize is deadening, as poems and prophetic-style literature keep reminding me.
Speaking of poems, here is one I like by Eugenio Montejo:

The Mill
Turn your blades, old mill, grind
without pause the hours of these days
tossing off husks.
Erase the poems in which I lied,
words that didn’t rise like fingernails
from my flesh; erase
the black guitar of my shadow,
failing to sing as it goes.
Grind this room full of books,
crush its walls stone by stone
until the window alone lifts like a bird
and bears me off on its wings.
Continue to turn at the edge of the world
between my eyes and the wide field.

(translation by Kirk Nesset,
*The Kenyon Review* 28.3[2006], 37)

UCSC strategic academic plan

The text of this strategic plan is available http://www.ucsc.edu/administration/evc/academic_affairs.html here. Page 28, in the section on the division of humanities, one reads that the third priority is to “maintain the strengths of the Language and Writing programs to continue academic service curriculum.” What do those last words exactly mean? The language program has lost many of its third-year courses, has also lost most of the equivalencies it had to do the follow-up and advising of students in their majors, and has seen the number of students enrolled in its courses jump from an average 17 to an average or 24 in about 4-5 years. The students need more third- and fourth-year courses that should be designed as widely as possible (theater, literature, sociology, history, etc.).


Personal and person, from Latin [i]persona[/i], theatrical mask (perhaps from Etruscan φersu. On my way to campus, I see four workers putting the last touch to a landscaping job. I have noticed them at work for a couple months now, removing the old soil, re-doing the retaining walls, installing a fountain, new smooth walls, painting them ochre, putting new soil, special grasses, bushes, and trees. The name of the landscaping company that employs them appeals to the person-enhancing aspect of its business, meaning that the personality of the owner of the property is ideally reflected in the landscaping job. And perhaps it is…. It might be a better reflection of the workers’, no matter their lack of access to similar property, propriety, and personality.


The US are said to seek ways to apply pressure to the “Iraqi government” they themselves put in place. The major goal is to rein in the militias (whether Shiite, especially the two major ones—the Mehdi army and the Badr Brigade— or the Sunni insurgents). This supposes that this puppet government, working from under the umbrella of US firing power, uses force, and quite a bit of it, to break those militias. In other words: the US is apparently encouraging a movement towards dictatorship to take care of its problem which is that it has painted itself into a corner politically and militarily.
I would think that the Maliki government is seen as weak by most Iraqis, because it was chosen by the US, it was selected on the basis of its connections to religiously significant, well-organized and armed movements, and it can’t deliver on promises of order and safety. The inherent weakness of this government means that any of its attempts to reduce the militias’ influence will lead to their further development, since they are the only organizations perceived as capable of delivering a minimum of protection. Unless great force is applied, that is, full dictatorship. In which case, a few hundreds of thousands of people will have died in about 3-4 years because of a war aiming among other things at removing a terrible dictatorship and having another kind of dictatorship as its immediate result. That alone is a terrible result.
But another effect of the war is to strengthen the hand of Iran, Syria, China, and others, without their having to do anything but watch very closely. From a capitalistic point of view (not mine!), it seems that the goal of maintaining control over the financial, political and military aspects of world energy production and consumption has been set back. Good job, white house strategists! The superficial decision-making done on the basis of the neo-cons’ moral and pro-market agenda has had the effect of moving the world towards an uncontrolled, conflict-enhancing, reallocation of resources. A disaster, unless the major actors can read their self-interest through the others’ eyes. The US just showed it couldn’t. Why would others be wiser?

Iraq and elections

A general or two, here and in the UK, talk about adapting to the situation in Iraq. James Baker, friend of the Bushes and ex-secretary of state, presides over a commission that finds there must be a midway between victory with a big V and “cut and run.” Many “sensible” Republicans (Warner first of all in the Senate) want a new strategy. Why now? The elections are looming, and the push for vast reforms in pension funds, social security, taxation, banking, commercial laws, etc. may be threatened. So time to retrench so as to safekeep the most important parts of the reactionary agenda. No thought here for the poor Irakis and neighbors whose life, past and future, we messed and are messing with. Their lives are not as important as safekeeping the essential, which is a capacity to rake it in globally. Terrorism? It was a useful theme and may be used again, but it is not the endgame.

Piracy and empire

What Augustine of Hippo says in Civitas Dei of banditry and empires reads well still today when the US empire doesn’t even admit to the name out of quaint and useful moral hypocrisy:

Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? Quia et latrocinia quid sunt nisi parva regna? Manus et ipsa hominum est, imperio principis regitur, pacto societatis astringitur, placiti lege praeda dividitur. Hoc malum si in tantum perditorum hominum accessibus crescit ut et loca teneat, sedes constituat, civitates occupet, populos subiuget, evidentius regni nomen adsumit, quod ei iam in manifesto confert non dempta cupiditas, sed addita inpunitas. Eleganter enim et veraciter Alexandro illi Magno quidam comprehensus pirata respondit. Nam cum idem rex hominem interrogaret, quid ei videretur, ut mare haberet infestum, ille libera contumacia: Quod tibi, inquit, ut orbem terrarum; sed quia id ego exiguo navigio facio, latro vocor; quia tu magna classe, imperator.

Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great confederacies of robbers? After all, what are confederacies of robbers unless they are small-scale governments? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment. The reply that a captured pirate made to Alexander the Great was apposite and legitimate. For when the ruler asked the man how he could justify making the sea a dangerous place, he answered, with defiant outspokenness, ‘In exactly the way that you justify doing the same to the whole world. But because I do it with a single paltry ship, I am called a robber; while you do it with a large navy, and are called an emperor.’

Civitas Dei, 4.4 (translation by Gillian Spraggs)

At the end of 4.6, after discussing the length of the Assyrian empire, Augustine continues: “to make war on one’s neighbors, to go from there further afield, to reduce to submission peoples who have not attacked, out of pure greed for domination, how should one call this if not banditry on a monumental scale?” Latin: Inferre autem bella finitimis et in cetera inde procedere ac populos sibi non molestos sola regni cupiditate conterere et subdere, quid aliud quam grande latrocinium nominandum est?

Gildas Hamel

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