March 31, 2004 at 11:59 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Kate Bush wrote (and performed) this weird, enigmatic song called Get out of my house. It begins with an image of separation anxiety (“When you left the door was [slamming] / You paused in the doorway. / As though a thought stole you away. / I watch the world pull you away.”) From there, we’re launched into a full-blown anxiety-attack: “(lock it) / So I run into the hall. / (lock it) / Into the corridor. / There’s a door in the house (slamming) / I hear the lift descending / I hear it hit the landing / See the hackles on the cat, standing / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it up) / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it up)” The refrain, which follows, seems to come from a dissociated personality. Bush assumes an old woman’s voice and croons “I am the concierge, chez-moi, honey / Won’t letcha in for love nor money.” Then her voice rises again to a youthful pitch, but she’s wary now, even paranoid: “My home, my joy, / I’m barred and bolted and I / Won’t letcha in.” I find the chorus uncanny and heartbreaking: “(Get out of my house) / No strangers feet / Will enter me / I wash the panes / I clean the stains away. / This house is as old as I am / This house knows all I have done / They come with their weather hanging around them / But can’t knock my door down. / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it) / This house is full of m-m-m-my mess / This house is full of m-m-mistakes. / This house is full of m-m-madness / This house is full of, full of, full of fight. / With my keeper I (clean up) / With my keeper I (clean it all up) / With my keeper I (clean up) / With my keeper I (clean it all up).” The chorus repeats, and becomes creepier since it suggests a threatening verbal transaction between a man and a woman. The initial separation anxiety becomes a scene of warfare between the sexes, and the outcome is murky and unhappy. It’s one of those grim Grimm fairytales with horrifying transformation from human to animal at the end: in these cases trying to remain safe means escaping from the human condition, and what kind of an answer is that? First, Bush sings the beginning again in her usual high-pitched (female) voice: “(Get out of my house) / No strangers feet / Will enter me / I wash the panes / I clean the stains.” But then her voice drops in pitch to imitate a man’s, and she sings, “Woman, let me in / Let me bring in the memories / Woman, let me in, / Let me bring in the Devil Dreams.” She answers in her voice, “I will not let you in / Don’t you bring back the reveries / I turn into a bird / Carry further than the word is heard.” His reply, “Woman, let me in, / I turn into the wind / I blow you a cold kiss / Stronger than the song’s hit.” “Stronger than the song’s hit”? Meaning stronger than the birdsong of the bird she first imagines transforming into? Which leaves what option? She answers, “I will not let you in / I face towards the wind, / I change into the Mule. / ‘Hee-Haw’ / ‘Hee-Haw’ … ” That last bit, “hee-haw,” sounds corny written out like this, but it’s hair-raisingly spooky when you hear it. Bush makes of it something so viscerally and violently un-human that it becomes frightening. I kept thinking on the one hand of Philomena whose tongue was cut out by Tereus so she couldn’t report her abuse, and who changed into a swallow after she and her sister Procne (who was changed into a nightingale) got their monstrous revenge (they cooked and served Itys, Tereus and Procne’s son, to Tereus for dinner). That was one thing. The other was Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 movie O Lucky Man (with Malcolm McDowell), in particular the scene where McDowell’s character stumbles onto the animal-human experiments going on at the farm laboratories. His discovery of the man whose head had been grafted to a pig’s body, the personified alienation from the self expressed in that now so quaint-looking hokey filmic surprise, the character’s face expressing disbelief, the pig’s body jerking uncontrollably — no human (self-)control …. Well, if your body is your temple, “get out of my house” is a powerful metaphorical phrase for so much.

Orgasms make you smarter! Hooray!

March 29, 2004 at 8:42 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

This gives new meaning to sleeping your way to the top of your (academic) profession and / or jerking off to a new (non-needed) PhD topic: according to Hamburg sex researcher Werner Habermehl, more sex increases one’s intelligence. Yippee! Seriously now, and this applies to couples and DIYers (in either case, it helps if you’re good with your hands): during lovemaking and/ or sexual stimulation, the hormones adrenalin and cortisol stimulate the brain. Bingo: more stimulation, more pathways, and so on. You know the drill, right? So, assume the position. Sex is also associative: the experiences you collect during sex help you out in other, not necessarily related, life-experiences. Sailing, for example: it’s always a good thing to know how to tie knots. Or HR (believed by some to refer to Human Resources, but in reality referring to Human Remains): who wouldn’t benefit from having sexual experience when negotiating with a prick of a boss? Furthermore, during orgasm, your brain bangs out endorphins and serotonin, which in turn enhance your — wait for it! — self-esteem! Hence we see a basic biological connection between sex and self-esteem, one which of course is exploited to the hilt by our marketing culture. ‘Cause c’mon, we all know where your wandering l’il fingers go… And it ain’t up your nose: it’s to your cheque-book. So ask yourself: is your finger on a remote control tonight, or on something a tad more stimulation-worthy? Or on something that will really get you into trouble, such as your credit card? An English-language link for further consideration: regular sex helps prevent headache. Oh, and another PS:
Look at this picture, taken from another site discussing Habermehl’s research on why men take at most 15 minutes to come, while women need longer. (Hint: there’s an evolutionary reason: men needed to shoot fast, in case they get nabbed by a hungry saber tooth tiger and haven’t had time to plant their seed …or — and this is the really-real reason: the woman decides he’s a crap shoot and loses interest in the jerk. Hence, in evolutionary terms, it’s to his (genetic) advantage to come to the finish line quickly. Ha, and you thought it was some crappy Mars-Venus thing, you fool! Anyway, consider this picture:

Clearly, what’s missing here is any sort of hand-action. This picture is a visual construction geared to the adolescent male who hasn’t a detailed idea of female anatomy, or the middle-aged fossil who hasn’t had enough sex to wake his brain up. The illustration of this athletic adventure (attractive as it may be) misses out on a key component in sex: girls and boys, repeat after me, use of hands is a good thing. A woman shouldn’t have to use both of hers to prop herself up against a wall….

Mechanical girls, conversational cogs, whatever next?

March 26, 2004 at 11:31 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment


What fun! I am listed on Kombinat!‘s blogroll, darn those jolly folks in the Jesus Bunker! Thanks!

Gleaning the logic behind the business plan, I can face the world assured of a place in the matrix. For sure not “your Father’s Matrix,” ’cause pops can’t hold on to that matrix (= mater = material = female), nfw. She’s automatic now, everywhere at once…!


Soldiers can die several ways

March 25, 2004 at 9:46 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Via BBC today, this item:

US army acts on soldier suicides
by Nick Childs
The US army is planning to improve its mental health care practices because of concern about the number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait. A report by an army medical health team which visited that region also showed low morale among troops and units. At least 23 US soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait committed suicide last year. As a proportion of the number of troops deployed, that is more than a third higher than the rate for the US army as a whole in 2003. The army says it cannot find any clear reason for this but there is concern about whether more can be done to bring the rate down. [More…]

I don’t think that this is in any way an isolated or “special” phenomenon: there is a history to soldier suicide which suggests that it’s not a problem of the individual soldier, and is instead more likely to be endemic and symptomatic of a larger problem. I was reminded of something I came across while researching “the image of man” in the immediate post-WWII period in western Germany:

When it became clear after the battle of Stalingrad in 1943 that Germany was losing on the Russian front, the military leadership was confronted with the phenomenon of soldier suicide. As the beginning of 1944 saw a repeat of the defeats of Stalingrad, both German and Soviet resistance movements tried to fortify their gains in the propaganda war for the German soldier’s mind. One such group was known as the Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschlandd (NKFD). Its goal was to convince German soldiers to capitulate and defect to the Soviet side. [n.b.: The NKFD was composed of high-ranking, generally ultra-conservative army officers who had turned against Hitler; with Soviet support, they were waging a propaganda war against the Nazi leadership from within Russia. And obviously they were detested and distrusted and discredited by the Western Allies, Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, et al. Nor were they in the least democratic in the western liberal sense of the word, as they typically came from the Prussian Junker class. Hence, they had nearly no resonance in the West, even though they did understand a thing or two about life behind the Soviet lines, including insights into death camps and soldier suicide, since they had eye-witness access to matters known mainly via hearsay in the West.]
Suicide, practiced by an increasing number of German soldiers, appeared to the NKFD as proof of a deep crisis in individualism and self-conception. In one of their propaganda leaflets dropped behind the German lines, the officers tried to analyze the causes for suicide. Why was suicide preferable to capitulation? [The NKFD obviously wanted to persuade the German soldier to rise against Hitler (defecting to the Soviet side) vs. committing suicide.] According to the leaflet, Hitler’s demand for total and unwavering identification with his causes, concerns, and paranoias provoked this response. This total identification with Hitler, most effective with the generation born around 1920-25, left an enormous vacuum once Nazism was defeated, and provided the basis for the subsequent crisis in “the image of man.”
The response [to soldier suicide] by the [Nazi] Party Chancellery on 17 July 1944 exposes the cynical attitude toward human life endorsed by the Nazi leadership: suicide [the Chancellery proclaimed] is not dishonorable “in those cases, in which no further exertion for the people is any longer possible, or when impending Soviet imprisonment could make the continuation of [one’s] life into a danger for one’s own people.” What is implied is that “man” is to be made over as “Nazi,” fully and completely, and that individuality is relinquinshed in favor of total identification with the leader. One is provided with a ready-made “image of man” that claims totality, to know all the answers and define all the questions. [Reconstructing the Subject, p.18.]

Presumably the US military will never behave in as misanthropic a fashion as the Nazi Party Chancellery did — today we have our counsellors and chaplains and other various ministrations for soul-care — but military structures haven’t changed fundamentally. The soldier is still supposed to identify 100% and unquestioningly with his / her leadership, and soldier suicide is still a huge warning sign that something is snapping beyond any margin of human flexibility. This entry is a continuation of entries posted on March 23, March 22, and March 21.

Oh Henry, or, we’re all chameleons now

March 23, 2004 at 9:56 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

So, tell me what you think: is truth and beauty somehow “out there,” already in form, or is it something created by you in your mind? Do you recognise it (think carefully — are you sure?) or do you make it up as you go along? Instead of either-or, is it perhaps both? If it is both, how does expression factor into the mix? What is expressed? The thing-in-form, already out there? Or the recognition of it? Or the process — mental, social, interactive — whereby the thing is being engendered? Hmmm? Personally, I think it’s both. There is a truth and a beauty out there which you have no idea existed until you see it and it smacks you upside the head, at which point you may or may not wish or be able to express it. And I feel pretty sure that you are constantly making it up as you go along, too, interactively, and very very unstable-y, in an interminable game that doesn’t end until you die, and that this, too, may or may not be expressed. Well, what I think is neither here nor there. I’m just interested in expression. And I’m interested in how expression channels and shapes us. Like, if I like talk like a Valley Girl, do I, like, start to become a Valley Girl? Or if I express myself like a Gangsta (and no, I won’t embarass myself by trying to fake that), how much of that identity do I assume? If I talk like the talking heads on tv, will I start to be like them? Will their language — the Valley Girl’s, the Gangsta’s, the prig’s — invade my personality and turn me into the “thing” I happen to be using? Of course it will. See Pygmalion. See My Fair Lady. While we manipulate language ourselves, we ourselves are also constantly being manipulated by language, which is a truth we ignore at our own peril. Inspired by the raging gag reflex I felt upon hearing George Bush mark the 1-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, here’s yet another seemingly unrelated long quote from my book, a kind of cut-and-paste cry in the wilderness that continues from this and this entry. You can read this obliquely and consider it in relation to the relentless shaping we experience today via media. In the quote that follows, I’m examining a 1947 article by a languages scholar who presents some interesting theses on the relationship between slang and what amounts to pornography on the one hand, and official prudery and relentless exhortation to achieve more on the other. As before, the initial blockquoted/ indented stuff is me, and the further-indented stuff is material I’m quoting:

The military state of Nazism usurped a masculinist expressivity for its own ends, which in the postwar period resulted in a distrust of (but perhaps also lingering fascination with) such displays. The well-known Romance languages scholar Werner Krauss analyzed this phenomenon in a 1947 article for Die Gegenwart. Quoting a passage from a short story used in a National Socialist school textbook, Krauss examines how and why this passage, full of animistic, vitalist argot, has more “authenticity” and appeal than the sterile, official flood of slogans of the Hitler regime. First, the passage from the short story about a fighter pilot:

When the pilot has a forced landing, he just plops down or loses it if he bangs up. …Emil guns the throttle and zooms off. A fighter gets on top of him, shoots for what he’s worth and blows him full of holes. When one of his [Emil’s] own fighters comes along, the Brit gets cold feet. He takes his backside out fast and hightails it to avoid getting snuffed. By now we’ve laid our eggs and go home. That’s when the right motor chokes up, gags, and finally croaks. [Werner Krauss, “�ber den Zustand unserer Sprache,” Die Gegenwart 2, nr.2/3 (1947), p.30; my translation. I noted in a footnote, p.168, that “The German reader will note the frequent, almost untranslatable references to bodily fluids and involuntary functions.” See PS at end for original.]

The story leads Krauss to examine its language and its connection to a base, lower-class existence exemplified by argot. He observes that one of the most peculiar effects of the story is the “not to be denied impression that here indeed something authentic is happening.” Despite the technical milieu, it gives “a correct picture of the real live language that millions of German privates spoke on a daily basis.” The representation of their “base” argot, in other words, is a form of realism that more pristine language cannot begin to approximate.
At the same time, this naturalist realism is not mere reproduction; it is a formal strategy that actually molds or shapes thoughts, events, actions.

Argot does not replace language for anyone. Certain expressive tendencies, however, which are strongly tied up in slang figures of speech, are transferred in creative speech acts to new situations. In this way, argot can become the frame for new language behaviour. Precisely because of the acuteness of its stylistic means, argot forces its world view on all those who speak it. As long as one spoke the language of the infantryman, he was bound to the infantryman’s faith. [Ibid.]

This form of language, in other words, has a compelling, and hence even dangerous quality to it.
In large part its compelling aspect is due to its reliance on “animistic” metaphor, its out and out devotion to “thinking” through the body — a strategy, however, that leaves the subject with too little critical distance.

In the rapt attention to the events of an occurence, reflexion stays thoroughly disengaged. Through the dense deployment of bodily related metaphors, the event moves into almost oppressive nearness. Shot off airplane parts become amputated limbs, weapons and men gag and choke and act like organisms charged with gigantic impulses. …In the animalistic [animistic] events, a general principle for explaining one’s own life experiences seems to intrude. Even the human being is after all nothing but the stage for these unceasingly recurring processes. …Unswerving identification of all life processes with one’s own body-experience may also be observed in other collective states that produce argot: here, the accumulation of animistic metaphors is a characteristic phenomenon. [Ibid.]

“Reflection” — the ability to distance oneself, to assess — is cancelled by this too-close, too bound-to-the-body representation: the discrete, separate image of man is here just as endangered as by the authoritarian make-over of enforced collectivization via propaganda. This time it is not the coercive force of denunciation and concentration camps, but that of “primal warmth” or “tribal belonging” (all-male), of regressing willingly to a pre-“I” state.
Krauss has here also described what happens to the base or bodily under the National Socialist regime, which was in all ways prudish and hostile to the liberal enjoyment of the body. The National Socialist regime practiced a grim idealization of the mother (the “original” body) and expected German men to be “hard as Krupp steel.” From Krauss’ observations it seems that under these conditions the bodily has nowhere to go but the obscene, to drift off into argot, slang, pornography. [From Reconstructing the Subject, pp.69-70.]

As I said, read obliquely. I just think it’s interesting to contrast these historical snippets with contemporary manipulations of / by / with language …and technology, as the latter is an extension of language. PS: This is the German original of the story that Krauss quotes; I’m including it for any German readers as it’s really quite something in the original. It was apparently used in a NS-approved school textbook:

Wenn der Flieger eine Notlandung baut, setzt er sich einfach hin oder rotzt die M�hle hin, wenn er dabei Bruch macht. …Emil schiebt die Pulle rein und zischt los. Ein J�ger setzt sich hinter ihn, schiesst aus allen Knopfl�chern und rotzt ihm den Laden voll. Als ein eigener J�ger kommt, saust dem Tommy der Frack. Er nimmt das Schw�nzchen hoch und geht t�rmen, um nicht abgeknipst zu werden. Wir haben inzwischen unsere Eier gelegt und fahren nach Hause. Da meckert der rechte Motor, dann kotzt und schliesslich verreckt er.

Reading this passage again, I realise how little my translation did its sly but vigorous obscenity justice.

Too slow? Too fast? The speed of change affects recognition

March 22, 2004 at 9:07 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

This is a continuation from yesterday when I wrote that I’d like to make available some things I learned in my research over ten years ago. I learned that sometimes terror takes its time, coming in slow increments via the “administrative route,” so “normal”-seeming that it’s difficult to understand what it will do. In 1989-90, I was in Berlin researching my dissertation, and since it was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the now defunct formerly western branch of the Federal Republic of Germany, all sorts of interesting symposia and exhibitions were on offer. One such exhibition was “Konzentrationslager Buchenwald,” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau [Building] in Berlin (April 10 to June 4, 1990), which coincided with the publication of and related exhibition Topographie des Terrors (edited by Reinhard R�rup, a professor of history at the Technische Universit�t, Berlin), as well as a discussion series (April 25 to May 23, 1990) that featured specialist historians from both East and West Germany: Hans Mommsen, Manfred Weissbecker, Ulrich Herbert, Kurt P�tzold, Klaus Drobisch, Eberhard Kolb, Kurt Finker, Peter Steinbach, Rolf Badst�bner, Wolfgang Benz, Wolfgang Meinecke, and Lutz Niethammer. (You will note that it appears as though Germany disallows women in the serious strata of historical scholarship….) R�rup was the discussion chair. On May 9, 1990 the symposium focussed on the camp system in Nazi Germany. It’s just something to think about, how slowly-subtly, yet inexorably, terrible things can happen if there are administrative blessings attached. From my book, in a footnote, on p.150-151, some notes I took at that symposium, a portrait of banal evil:

Klaus Drobisch and Eberhard Kolb elaborated the following: the first concentration camp was not at Dachau, but at Nohra, west of Weimar, and the pupils of the F�hrerschule (a Hitler-Youth school) were its first guards; a total of 19 camps already existed prior to Dachau. From 1933-34, the concentration camp system was established, and from 1934-36, the SS took over its perfection. The period from 1936-39 was essentially one of preparing for war (1939-42 is but an extension). In 1942-44, death camps were instituted and mass murder began taking place on an industrial scale; from 1944-45 there was a period of chaos, evacuation, and “final solution.”
The concentration camps (or “KZ”s) were the Nazis’ most significant means of power over the citizenry. The basic right of sovereignty of the person had been abolished at the start of the Nazi regime, which meant among other things that individuals could be arrested and held without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time (the so-called Schutzhaft). The KZs initially were filled will “political prisoners,” i.e., opponents of the Nazi regime. By March/April 1933 there were between 46,000 to 49,000 prisoners in KZs; by 1936 the number was up to over 100,000. At the beginning, all the KZs were manned at least in part by local police, and were financed by state money. Around 1935, a new type of KZ was developed, one that was expandable; this is explained by the increasing mobilization for war: while the Nazis had extensive lists of potential oppositionists to their regime, not all of them had yet been locked up, but with the outbreak of war, the people on these lists could immediately be rounded up and shipped to the new, expandable camps (Sachsenhausen was one of the first examples). Between 1936-39 there was also an upswing of camp construction on the Eastern border, in preparation for imperialist expansion. By 1937-38, the so-called “asocials” (homosexuals, prostitutes, etc.) were locked up, and by 1938-39, KZ inmates were used for industrial labor. Every major capitalist business in Germany employed slave labor from the KZs, and continued to do so through 1944. Mass murder started around 1938-39.
The KZs were never meant to be temporary; they were the Nazis’ best way of disabling opponents via the “administrative route.” They imply a fundamental systematic and structural change from anything that existed previously; their potential for intimidation initially depended on their ubiquity coupled with their invisibility — not until 1942, when KZ inmates were used on a massive scale for slave labor (by which time they were primarily foreigners), did the inmates become visible to the general populace. But everyone knew about the KZs — which, however, were initially different from death camps: a concentration camp is not a death camp, even though in the second half of 1942 alone, for example, c.57,000 of 100,000 KZ inmates died due to overwork and malnutrition. By the end of the war, 18 million persons were imprisoned in concentration and death camps, and c.11-12 million persons perished in concentration and death camps (including the “inmates” of enforced ghettos). These are estimates, as it is practically impossible to ascertain exact numbers. Also, by war’s end, c.90 percent of inmates were foreigners.
A brief note on postwar camp historiography: according to Drobisch and Kolb, the topic was taboo, especially in the West, from 1945 into the 1960s. In May 1945, Bergen-Belsen was razed by the British (due to plague fears). Almost all other camps were maintained, at least initially; Dachau was used as a refugee camp, until the 1960s, when it was razed (and was later rebuilt as an example of a death camp, which it never in reality was, thus feeding neo-Nazi charges that the death camps are merely an “invention”). Only around 1955 did camp survivors begin calling for a remembrance of the sites. In the 1970s and 1980s, a more persistent, constant interest developed.

It’s not a nice topic, and perhaps it’s inappropriate even to bring it up. And anyway, disasters probably don’t appear in the same guise twice. But criminal leadership and the workings of the administrative route are infamous partners wherever they appear. Nothing wrong with a backward glance at history, s’far as I can say…

Just for the heck of it, for Ben Sidran

March 21, 2004 at 8:50 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Some readers here already know that I don’t have tv access. I have a tv, a vcr, and a dvd, but I don’t get any channels because I don’t have an antenna or cable. But I do listen to radio — not often enough, but occasionally. Usually, we’ve got music on. Today I enjoyed a Ben Sidran groove — um, that man is still as hunky as he was 25 years ago when I bought Free in America. Terrific lyrics, can’t find them online, but they go something like this: “The nice thing about the United States, Everyone’s free to make their own mistakes. For example, you’re free to vote, you’re free to hope against hope, You’re free to quit if you don’t like the stroke. Might not sound like much, but it’ll do in a clutch, Step right up sucker, Don’t be afraid of the touch.” And so on in that vein. Wonderful song, and the whole album is an inspiration. Anyway. Freedom. On Friday (March 19) I wrote about the Vernal Equinox, but I was in fact also thinking about how to blow out of my system the feelings that George Bush’s voice had provoked in me. At least I don’t have to see him on tv — there would be vacuum tube explosions around here if I could. Listening to Mr. Bush makes me feel physically ill. It’s a visceral reaction I have trouble controlling. George was talking about the “anniversary” of the US invasion of Iraq, and I was again dumbstruck that he is getting away with it. The getting-away-with-it is a singular fact that shocks and awes me: how can this be happening? I know that comparisons to 1930s Germany are unfair, and many Americans resent them. But while history doesn’t repeat itself, and while cyclical notions of history are conceptually suspect and regressive, it’s obviously clear that we can learn from history, too. With that in mind, I decided to offer, without commentary, some quotes and sections from my book, specifically passages that deal with language — remember, this started because hearing Bush makes me want to puke. I will probably keep this up for a couple of days, not least because it’s gonna be long. There will be passages about the concentration camp system in Nazi Germany; about re-education; and about German emigr�s and inner-emigr�s who wrote about totalitarianism. So let’s start with something “easy”: Ernst Cassirer (see links above), who managed to escape from Nazi Germany to the United States. I’m especially interested in excerpts based on his book Myth of the State. Cassirer was a Kantian philosopher, but Myth of the State is fascinating for how it analyses the conditions of production — and I think we can take production to include the economic Unterbau — in the manufacture of myth:

One has always assumed that myths derive from the unconscious and that they are the free products of imagination. They do not grow, they are not, as in ancient times, the wild impulses of an overactive imagination. They are, rather, artificially fabricated by skillful and clever experts. It was left to the twentieth-century, our great age of technology, also to discover a new technique of myths. From now on, myths can be manufactured in the same sense and with the same methods as machine guns and airplanes. This is what is completely new, and a matter of great significance. The form of our entire social life is hereby altered. [published as “Der Mythos als politische Waffe,” Amerikanische Rundschau 3, nr.11 (1947), p.32; my translation.]

From that quote, I go on, p.26 ff, as follows:

Cassirer locates two bewildering “perversions” here: first, the catalyzing of “myth” from a passive, cultural context — a sort of content — into a formal instrument of manipulation; and second, the utilizing of modern means of production, of “know-how,” to create these new formal structures that allow content to become virulent in a culture. The form in effect determines the content:

With closer inspection of our political myths and the use one makes of them, we discover — to our great surprise — a revaluation not only of all of our ethical values, but also of language. The semantic word yields priority to the magical. … One is now in fact using formerly descriptive, logical — in short: semantic — words like magical ones which can have effects and are supposed to excite emotions. Our everyday words mean something; the new-fangled ones, however, are charged with feelings and passions. The men who coined these expressions were masters in the art of political propaganda. They achieved their goal — to excite vehement political passions — with the simplest means. A single word, or even the alteration of a syllable, was often enough to achieve the desired effect. The entire scale of human emotion resounds in these new words: hatred, rage, arrogance, contempt, pretention, and disdain.

Finally, of greatest significance in this alteration, or even perversion, of form is that the destruction of language is linked to the creation of new rituals that serve to destroy the distinction between the public and the private sphere, that serve radically to remake civil life; and by extension and implication, this destruction of difference — which is, in plain terms, nothing less than the destruction of the ability to perceive quality — also destroys individuality.

But the magical word requires completion through new rites if it is to have its full effect. This task, too, was solved as thoroughly as it was methodically by the political leaders. Every political action was surrounded by its own ritual. And since there is no private sphere independent of political life in the totalitarian state, the entire life of people was suddenly flooded with new rites. They were as regular, strict, and unrelenting as the rites of primitive societies. There was a special rite for every age and every sex, for every class. One could not even go into the street and greet one’s friend and neighbour without undergoing a political rite. [Cassirer refers to the rule that one was always required to greet with “Heil Hitler.”] And exactly as in primitive societies, the negligent ones were threatened with death and wretchedness.

The effect of all of this is to eradicate the subject’s sense of self, of individuality. And in the final analysis, this amounts to an alteration of the concept — or the image — of man itself.

The effect of the new rites is apparent. Nothing is more suited to crippling our power to act, to discern, and critically to differentiate, as well as to robbing us of our sense of personality and individual responsibility, than the steady, uniform, monotone exercise of the same rites. Just as there is only collective, but not individual, responsibility in primitive societies in which the rite dominates everything. Not the individual, but the group, is the “moral subject.” The family, the clan, and the entire tribe are responsible for the deeds of its members.

It is striking that Cassirer, who had died before the end of the war, should have formulated so accurately the charge of “collective guilt,” and link it so convincingly to the social form, not just the actual crime committed.
Collective guilt is an appropriate verdict, insofar as it assesses Nazi strategies of “tribalizing” society. It does not offer an accurate assessment of responsibility, however, as Cassirer’s comparison to the Odyssey indicates.

We have learned that modern man, despite — or perhaps as a result of — his inner turmoil has not really elevated himself above the savage. When he is exposed to the same powers that held the savage enthralled, he compliantly returns to the old condition of malleability. He ceases to maintain a critical relationship to his environment, and instead accepts it as a given.
Of all the terrible experiences of the last twleve years [the Third Reich], this might be the worst. One could compare it to Odysseus’s experience on Circe’s island. But it is even more horrifying. The friends and companions of Odysseus were turned into animals by Circe; but here there were intelligent and educated people, honest and upright men, who, of their own volition, threw away the highest privilege of man: to be sovereign persons. By carrying out the same rites, they soon also had the same feelings and thoughts, and began to speak the same language. Even if their gestures were lively and even vehement, they actually only led a shadow existence. They were marionettes — and did not even know that those pulling the strings in this theatre were their own political leaders.
This circumstance is of decisive significance for understanding the problem at hand. Political methods have always employed force and oppression. But they mostly pursued material goals. …The modern political myths achieve their effect in a totally different manner. They did not start by dictating man’s ability to do or not do. Rather, they undertook in the first instance to alter man himself, in order then to regulate and control his actions.

To be continued… And as always, it appears that it behooves all of us, if we have a “public” voice, to think about how and to what ends we are altering “man himself, in order then to regulate and control his actions.” Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters.

We interrupt our regular programming…

March 20, 2004 at 12:16 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

… for this news bulletin: my blog is Feedster’s feed of the day today! I’m amazed — and readers who stop by regularly or occasionally should know that it’s all because of my husband that I started blogging at all. (His field is in tech, and he read about the Harvard blogs project on Dave Winer’s Scripting.) So, thank you Werner, and thanks also to readers, lurkers, commenters, other writer-bloggers, and anyone who has gotten anything of value from what I write here. And thanks to Feedster, too. The “feed” thing has been on my mind lately. Some days I really identify with Travis Bickle, with his sad sack self, and I especially flash back to the scene where he quotes a joke that plays on the disorganisation of those who wish to get organised. The quote has to do with garbling the word “organised,” which ends up with additional unnecessary syllables to sound something like “orgaminised.” That’s me, that’s what I’ve been struggling with: too many attempts to get organised are turning into the background for burlesque, not to mention a background for the noise of added syllables. But just as the additional syllables were necessary to make Travis’s joke work, the additional noise probably serves a purpose. Beats me what it might be, but meanwhile, I’ll strive on diligently in my quest to get orgaminised. And perhaps it entails learning about feeds and feed readers. Gulp. Tech-phobia time…. I hope it doesn’t amount to insider trading if I say that the divine Betsy Devine now works for Feedster (she sent me the official email announcement) and that it was her blog’s comments board that started my involvement with the interesting folks who make up a significant chunk of my virtual universe. It was her post on Wacky unrequired reading which started me on a rant in her comments board that day on my economic theory of postmodernism, which in turn started a dialogue with Frank Paynter, which got me reading Shelley Powers, Chris Locke, and so many others that I now have this Taxi Driver problem: the meter is running overtime and the fare is deranged! So many others, so many good reads out there. The party keeps getting bigger, too. The taxi is at least a bus. Hell, it’s a train. A train with lots of wagons, and engines that could. More later, I wasn’t going to blog today at all. But I couldn’t let this special feed-of-the-day lead to an empty plate. On this blog train, the dining car is a movable feast.

Spring in the air

March 19, 2004 at 11:32 am | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

According to this site, the 2004 Vernal Equinox happens at 6:41 UT (Universal Time) on March 20, which puts it at 23:41 Pacific Standard Time on March 19. According to this other site, the Vernal Equinox is observed as a holiday from 6pm of the evening prior to the day listed, but I bet they’re not terribly scientific about it, fiddling with UT and PST and all that. I think the basic message for us on the other side of UT is that tonight, regardless of atomic clocks, we fly our tulips.

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