Turtle theory (complete), grumpy comments on Adorno, and miscellaneous other constructive contributions to the dialogue.


Any Kantians in the audience? Is this Kant’s turtle? It seems much like Leibniz’s preestablished harmony:

“Critical philosophy must then acknowledge a correspondence between consciousness and the being-thus of the world, which it terms a ‘lucky chance’ (glücklicher Zufall; recall that we started with the necessary idea of necessity) but for which we it will seek and will secure a transcendent guarantee– which, one immediately realizes, actually overdetermined everything at the start. God alone, in fact, as a ‘transcendental ideal’, alone fully determines the sense of being.”

(Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, p. 342, citing Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, tr. Meredith, OUP, 1952 p. 23).

“Since the death of politics, radical theory has been above all about presenting oneself as superior. As such, theory must not be too easily understood, for readers must be tested and required to prove themselves. The theoretical concepts themselves might be difficult or they might be easy, but taking pains to present them intelligibly is not necessary. What is required, in fact, is quite the opposite.”

Adorno, Gesammelte Werke (my translation)

“What is needed is a definitive and tenable doctrine, not vagueness or inconsistency in adhering to an impossible one.”

Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy, p. 42.

“Poetry Chicago” actually paid money to poets for their poems, which is how Vachel Lindsay and T S Eliot sometimes ended up side by side

The Turtle Theory of Theory

The myth of barter (that money was developed to replace barter) is believed and taught by all American economists even though the historical facts are known and have shown the theory to be wrong. Much the same is true of the social contract myth taught by political philosophers, which actually explains the same transition as the barter theory does.

In other words, we Americans are taught the social contract myth and the barter myth, whereas primitive peoples were taught that the world rests on the back of a large turtle. (Paul Radin’s informant informed him that the turtle who created the universe was not the same as the turtle they saw scuttling into the ditch. Similarly, political philosophers have always known that there was no social contract).

The proletariat is the turtle of the left.

The “state of exception”, however, doesn’t need to stand on anything. If you have enough weaponry you can be your own turtle.

Once you see one turtle explanation anywhere, you see turtle explanations everywhere. Turtles all the way down.


The Asshole Theory of Theory

As Gödel has shown, aporiæ are like assholes. Every system has one. Theory explains everything, but theory itself is just one more great big hairy ball problem.

In short, theory rides on the back of a turtle, and every turtle has an asshole.

The Fundamental Turtle of Western Civilization

Original sin is the turtle upon which Western civilization was founded. In “The World of Late Antiquity” Brown described the world of the young Augustine, a deflated world in which weddings were still priced at the older, more opulent level so that marriage had to be deferred to middle age, or even forever. Augustine’s immorality (an affectionate unmarried relationship) rose from this. It was this deflation that gave us original sin (and “primordial debt”: see David Graeber).

With original sin there can be no innocent victims, and the righteous can wreak havoc just as they please. Its fundamentals live on today, even for unbelievers, as Social Darwinism (some races should die off), free market dogmatism (the unproductive should die off), imperialism (the strong should dispossess the weak), and finally the simple, unthought brutality of bandits and thugs. The evolutionary, economic, nationalist, theological, and criminal justifications for brutality are not necessarily consistent with one another, but they all are firmly grounded on that turtle.

The World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown


Lenin’s Turtle

Lenin’s turtle: “From the philosophy of Marxism, cast of one piece of steel, it is impossible to expunge a single basic premise, a single essential part, without deviating from objective truth.”

Pieces are just pieces, whether it’s a piece of steel or a piece of tin, and if you take something away from one if them what you get is just a smaller and differently shaped piece. What he presumably was trying to say was that Marx’s thought is systematic and that all parts of it are necessary for its functioning, but ten his steel fetishism took over.


Grumpy comments on Adorno

In Minima Moralia a member of the high bourgeoisie, dialectically transformed into a proletarian, expresses his dialectical sense of regret for the destruction of the hated class of his birth by an interloper who destroyed incorrectly.

“Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider and worse. (Adorno, Minima Moralia, #8).

I pretty much agree, but there’s a solution: don’t go to movies. What’s wrong with that guy.

Adorno, like me, is a grumpy old man, and people are surprised that I don’t like the guy. But that just shows their unawareness of how grumpiness works.


“Bad films cannot be put down to incompetence; the most gifted are broken by the business set-up, and that the untalented flock to it is due to the affinity between lying and swindling”. (Adorno, Minima Moralia).

That was exactly the opinion of Ben Hecht, the author of decadent novelist and friend of German Expressionists who later (strictly for the money) became one of the great screenwriters of all time — “Gone with the Wind”, “Front Page”, “Scarface”, etc. Decadence and kitsch (like the bohemians and the bourgeois, H. L. Mencken and the revivalists, and the revivalists and organized crime) are inextricably entwined, the two faces of the same coin.


“The unity of Expressionism consists in expressing that people wholly estranged from one another, life having receded within them, have thereby become, precisely, dead”. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 191.

“Language is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist”. Barthes, oral tradition.

“Precisely” and “quite simply” in the sense of “not at all, really”, just like the supposedly new usage of “literally” to mean “figuratively”, or the use of “of course” when you want to sneak in something doubtful.


Ticket balancing in national elections may seem like a bad idea, but without it the lives of John Wilkes Booth and Leon Czolgosz would have been tragically wasted.


Miscellaneous wisecracks

When George Will, David Brooks, et al express their doubts the possibility of solving problems in this fallen world, they never express doubts about the possibility of profit maximization.


All Is One and We Are The World, but not really in what you would call a good sense.


“The Confidence Man” is the greatest of all novels, the others are all at the retail level of dowries, inheritances, and who fucks whom, whereas Melville talks about the big realities.


I’ve probably seen 20 third parties come and go in my lifetime. So if a new one comes along, it’s not a third party, but a 23rd party.


For early October, yesterday’s weather was unbelievably nice. Portents of doom have never been so pleasant before.


Intimacy is a nice word for sex, but somehow “casual intimacy” still doesn’t sound right.


The people ahead of me in line were not really extras in a Fellini movie, my blood sugar was just low.


I determined, therefore, to attempt the reformation; I consulted the best lawyers, and the most skillful astronomers, and we cooked up a bill for that purpose. But then my difficulty began; I was to bring in this bill, which was necessarily composed of law jargon and astronomical calculations, to both of which I am an utter stranger. However, it was an absolute necessity to make the House of Lords think that I knew something of the matter; and also to make them believe that they knew something of it themselves, which they do not. For my own part, I could just as soon have talked Celtic or Sclavonian to them, as astronomy, and they would have understood me full as well: so I resolved to do better than speak to the purpose, and please instead of informing them. I gave them, therefore, only an historical account of calendars, from the Egyptian down to the Gregorian, amusing them now and then with little episodes; but I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to me action. This succeeded, and ever will succeed; they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and many of them said, that I had made the whole thing very clear to them; when, God knows, I had not even attempted it.

Lord Chesterfield, March 18 (o.s.) 1751, to his son

In a way, the preachers believe what they preach, but it is as men who have taken a bad £10 note and refuse to look at the evidence that makes for its badness, though, if the note were not theirs, they would see at a glance that it was not a good one.

Samuel Butler, Notebooks

Published in: on October 21, 2015 at 1:19 am  Leave a Comment  

The Fundamental Turtle of Western Civilization

Original sin is the turtle upon which Western civilization was founded. In “The World of Late Antiquity” Brown described the world of the young Augustine, a deflated world in which weddings were still priced at the older, more opulent level so that marriage had to be deferred to middle age, or even forever. Augustine’s immorality (an affectionate unmarried relationship) rose from this. It was this deflation that gave us original sin

Deflation, debt, social climbing, forced education, and immorality are all tied together, and by ruining young Augustine’s life they gave us the doctrine of Original Sin. (Attn. David Graeber).

With original sin there can be no innocent victims, and the righteous can wreak havoc just as they please. Its fundamentals live on today, even for unbelievers, as Social Darwinism (some races should die off), free market dogmatism (the unproductive should die off), imperialism (the strong should dispossess the weak), and finally the simple, unthought brutality of bandits and thugs. The evolutionary, economic, nationalist, theological, and criminal justifications for brutality are not necessarily consistent with one another, but they all are firmly grounded on that turtle.


A related article of mine: Ressentiment and Schooling. Nietzsche resented being such a nice boy, but he was still nice.

The World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown

Published in: on October 19, 2015 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  


Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gratuitous sour milk symbols

In “Milk Bottles” Sherwood Anderson, possibly writing on an unbearably hot summer night in Chicago, speaks in the voice of a writer much like Anderson. (Many of Anderson’s main characters are writers, often described by non-writers).   Writing on an unbearably hot summer night in Chicago, Anderson’s narrator, “goes off his head”. He quits writing to take a walk, and on his walk meets another writer — an advertising man who wants to be a serious writer. (As an advertising man this second writer is even more like Anderson, though in other ways he might be a bit more like the ex-realist romance writer Hamlin Garland). The second writer reads him what he himself thought was a great piece about Chicago writer that he had just written, but it’s really just wishful, dreamy romantic boosterism, though the narrator doesn’t tell him so.

It turns out, however, that before he had written the crappy piece, the second writer had written a much better piece about Chicago, bitter and realistic, but that since he had attributed its negative tone to the transient bad mood induced a day spent writing advertising copy (a successful day businesswise , but a horrible day otherwise), he had discarded the piece.

This advertising copy for condensed milk. We do not see the piece that had been thrown away, but we do know sour milk played a part in it. And all through Anderson’s own story sour milk keeps showing up — four times in nine pages. This is not unrealistic — on hot afternoons in Chicago before the coming of refrigeration, sour is what milk did — but four times is a lot.

But why is gratuitous sour milk symbolism so universally condemned? Why should authors try to fool readers by slipping the symbols in artfully? Why not just slam them in there and dare the readers to do something about it? Anderson’s narrator starts off by admitting to having gone almost nuts. Maybe the gratuitous symbolism is just a part of that, part of the characterization. The way the story is written we can’t even really be sure which of the three authors is responsible — the narrator, the author he tells about, or Anderson himself. By the end none of the three seemed really capable of keeping track of things and probably none of them could remember who was who.

Many of Anderson’s first person narrators are inarticulate, and there’s reason to believe that Anderson was bit inarticulate too. Faced with an inarticulate passage, we can never be sure whether Anderson had brilliantly succeeded in portraying the character’s inarticulation, the way Nabokov would, or whether the symbiosis between his own inarticulation and the character’s inarticulation allowed Anderson to find optimal inarticulation the ideal place where the two curves crossed — the very opposite of Flaubert’s cogent and perspicacious presentation of the confusion and incomprehension of his hapless, dumfounded subjects.

Anderson was poorly educated and not well read. His secret was that he had no censor, and while one thing this meant was that like Freudians and liberationists he wrote a lot about sex, it wasn’t the same thing at all. Freudians and liberationists still have the censor — they just adjust its settings and produce genteel, depressing smut. Anderson wrote about awkward and embarrassing things of all kinds, not just sex, and he didn’t write about dramatic maudit awkwardness but about boring, ordinary awkward people. Like Schnitzler, perhaps, Anderson was writing about Freud’s raw data, but without putting a Freudian analysis on it.

Anderson was much like the people he wrote about. At least since Henry James people in the biz have been assuring us that authenticity and sincerity are irrelevant to literary merit, but are they actually a detriment? It seems to me that when Flaubert or the Goncourts or Zola studied up on like zoo animals in order to write about ehm, people with whom they would never dream of socializing, regardless of how masterfully they wrote, something important was lost.

Anderson is generally regarded as proto-: proto-Hemingway, proto-Faulkner, proto- Southern Gothic. He could just as well be regarded as proto-Holden Caulfield or proto-noir or proto-absurdist, but why not take him for what he is? The Hemingway comparison is especially unjust, because one of Anderson’s great accomplishments was to succeed in writing non-edifying fiction, not merely because Hemingway was shitty to Anderson, but because what Hemingway ended up doing was write a new kind of edifying fiction, less genteel than the previous version but still glorifying his tragic, nobly damaged protagonists.

In real life, Anderson didn’t believe in the American Dream, but he lived three versions of it. First the rags-to-riches story when he became a paint manufacturer after a white trash upbringing, second the forget-about-success-and-throw-it-all-way escape-from-conventionality story when he left everything and never looked back, and finally the still-active advertising-man-writes-serious-literature story. Everyone since has just been replaying these cliches.


Here’s a weirdness sample, from a different book. The married narrator is thinking of his fantasy girl, Natalie. He is fully aware that he is being absurd, but the censor is off:

Down in the office he had thought of her body as a house within which she lived. Why could not more than one person live within such a house?….There was the thought about Natalie being a house kept clean and sweet for living, a house into which one might go gladly and joyfully.

Could he, a washing machine manufacturer of a Wisconsin town, stop on the street a college professor and say, “I want to know, Mr. College Professor, if your house is clean and sweet for living so that people may come and live in it and, if it is so, I want you to tell me how you went about it to cleanse your house”.

The notion was absurd. It made one laugh to even think of any such thing. There would have to be new figures of speech, a new way of looking at things. For one thing people would have to be more truly aware of themselves than they had ever been before.”


Published in: on September 11, 2015 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

History of the Caucasian Albanians

The History of the Caucasian Albanians by Movses Dasxuranci (a.k.a. Moses Kałankatuaçi; tr. C.J.F. Dowsett,Oxford, 1961)

Written in Armenian around 1000 A.D., this book relates the history from about 600 A.D. of a vanished people who spoke an exotic and now-extinct language. It’s not quite as exotic as that, however — the Albanians were very closely associated with the Armenians, and the book is basically a version of early Armenian history.

This isn’t the most obscure book I’ve ever looked at. That would probably be Cosmas Indicopleustes’ Cosmography, a sixth-century Greek work which purports to show that the Earth is oblong rather than spherical.1 Neither book is a lot of  fun in the strict sense of the word, but if you poke around Movses’ book, you will be transported to post-Roman, pre-Muslim world which is Christian but neither Western nor exotically Eastern – a world in which almost everything seems to have been put into the wrong pigeonhole.

So “Albania” in this book does not mean the Albania of today, but instead the present-day Azerbaijan.  The Romans were careless about names, putting Albanias, Iberias (once the name of Caucasian Georgia), Galicias, and Gauls here, there and everywhere — Galicias and Gauls were located in in Turkey, France, Wales, Poland, Belgium and Spain.

But history did take its revenge. For Movses the “Romans” are the Byzantine Greeks in Constantinople — despised Chalcedonian heretics like today’s Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians. It’s the Albanians, Armenians and (up to a certain point) Georgians who are “Orthodox” — meaning Monophysite.2  The Western Europe of the Dark Ages, and the Pope, are not even factors here – Movses’ chronicle begins two centuries before Charlemagne, at a time when many  Franks were still pagan and the pagan Anglo-Saxons were just getting settled in Britain. (But while there are no Catholics as we know them in this book, there is a Catholikos – a high-ranking Monophysite churchman).

Because of their enmity to the Romans (Greeks), at the beginning of the book the Albanians and Armenians are usually allied to the Persians, who were still Zoroastrian or “Magians”.  Soon enough, however, the Persians were overwhelmed by the Arab Muslims, who are called Tajiks — a word which now refers to Central Asians of Persian language and culture, notably (but not only) in Tajikistan.  (The word “Arab”, in turn, almost always refers to nomad bandits or Bedouins in Gibbs’ translation of Ibn Battuta.  Ibn Battuta himself was a Berber, though he wrote in Arabic, but this is probably not the reason he used the term thie way he did — only recently, under the influence of Western nationalism,  have the Arabic-speaking peoples begun to call themselves “Arabs”, rather than simply identifying themselves by religion and place of birth or residence.)

Foreign cultures appear in Movses’ book in a marvelously garbled form.  Muhammed was a “diabolical and ferocious archer who dwelt in the desert.  One day Satan, assuming the shape of a wild deer, led him to meet a false Arian hermit by the name of Bahira….. Bahira began to teach him from the Old and New Testaments after the manner of Arius, who held that the Son of God was a created thing, and commanded him to tell the barbarous Tajiks what he had learned from him, his foul teacher…. The gullible and erring Tajik tribe summoned a great assembly, went into the arid, demon-haunted desert, and welcomed the diabolically inspired Muhammed into their midst.” Muhammed is also revealed to be an adulterous lecher, a very old trope indeed.

Elsewhere Movses tells a garbled story merging the Iliad and the Aeneid: there are 2,000 Trojan horses instead of one, and the story ends with the founding of Rome by descendants of returning Greeks who had been  blown off-course to Italy, and stranded there when the captive Trojan women burned their ships. (Movses also seems to accept the Iliad as a holy book of the Christian Romans / Greeks, on a par with the Bible.)

The most interesting parts of this book are probably the tactful descriptions of the pagans – the devil-worshiping “thumb-cutters” and the Turkish Khazars.  The Khazars: “bestial, gold-loving tribes of hairy men…. an ugly, insolent, broadfaced, eyelashless mob in the shape of women with flowing hair….demented in their satanically deluded  tree-worshipping errors in accordance with their northern dull-witted stupidity, addicted to their fictitious and deceptive religion….There we observed them on their couches like rows of heavily laden camels.  Each had a bowl full of the flesh of unclean animals, and dishes containing salt water into which they dipped their food, and brimming silver cups and beakers chased with gold which had been taken from the plunder from Tiflis.  They also had drinking horns and gourd-shaped utensils from which they lapped their broth and similar greasy, congealed, unwashed abominations. Two or three of them to one cup, they greedily and bestially poured neat wine into their insatiable bellies which had the appearance of bloated goatskins….. Possessing completely anarchical minds, they stumble into every sort of error, beating drums and whistling over corpses, inflicting bloody sabre and dagger cuts on their cheeks and limbs, and engaging naked in sword fights – oh hellish sight! – at the graves, man against man and troop against troop, all stripped for battle….. They danced their dances with obscene acts, sunk in benighted filth and deprived of the sight of the light of the creator…. They were also incontinent sexually, and in accordance with their heathen, barbarous customs they married their father’s wife, shared one wife between two brothers, and married several women.”

In defiance of the retreating Khazar qagan, at one point  the Georgians “fetched a huge pumpkin upon which they drew an image of the king of the Honk’, a cubit broad and a cubit long.  In place of his eyelashes which no one could see they drew a jot; the region of his beard they left ignominiously naked, and they made the nostrils a span wide with a number of hairs under them in the form of a mustache so that all might recognize him. This they brought and placed upon the wall opposite them, and showing it to the armies, they called out ‘Behold the Emperor, your King! Turn and worship him for it is Jebu Qagan!'” (But this terrible insult only made the Huns’ revenge that much fiercer in the following year.)

As for the thumb-cutters (seemingly an indigenous Caucasian pagan cult): “The devil appears in human form and orders three ceremonies to be held, each one comprising three men; these are not to be wounded or slain, but while still alive are to have the skin and thumb of the right hand removed and drawn with the skin over the chest to the little finger of the left hand; the little finger is then to be cut and broken off inside the skin. The same is to be done with the feet while the victim is still alive, and then he is to be slain and flayed, arranged and placed in a basket.  When the time for the wicked service arrives, a folding iron chair is set up, the feet of which  are in the shape of human feet, and which many of us saw brought here.  A valuable garment is placed on this chair, and when the devil comes, he dons this garment, sits in the chair, and taking a weapon, he examines the skin of the man together with the fingers….. A saddled and harnessed horse is held ready, and mounting the horse, he gallops it to a standstill; then he becomes invisible and disappears.  This he repeats every year.”

Eventually, the Khazars (also called Huns, or “Honk'” in Armenian) were converted to Christianity.  The thumb-cutters were killed after an unsuccessful attempt at reforming them.  Later still the Khazars were to make quite a stir by converting again, to Judaism this time.3 

Those who have enjoyed the stories of the thumb-cutters and the Khazars will probably also enjoy Ibn Fadlan’s ninth-century description of a Rus’ human sacrifice and orgy among the Volga Bulgars.  The Rus’ were ancestors of the Russians but were probably mostly Scandinavian at the time when Ibn Fadlan observed them. (Marius Canard,  Miscellanea Orientalia, Variorum, 1973, XI: “La relation de la voyage d’Ibn Fadlan chez les Bulgares de la Volga.”)


1 “The Deity accordingly having founded the earth, which is oblong, upon its own stability, bound together the extremities of the heaven with the extremities of the earth, making the nether extremities of the heaven rest upon the four extremities of the earth, while on high he formed it into a most lofty vault overspanning the length of the earth. Along the breadth again of the earth he built a wall from the nethermost extremities of the heaven upwards to the summit, and having enclosed the place, made a house, as one might call it, of enormous size, like an oblong vaulted vapour-bath. For, saith the Prophet Isaiah (xlix, 22): He who established heaven as a vault. With regard, moreover, to the glueing together of the heaven and the earth, we find this written in Job: He has inclined heaven to earth, and it has been poured out as the dust of the earth. I have welded it as a square block of stone.”

Contemporary Bible literalists have enormous problems with the firmament which separates the waters above the earth from the waters below the earth. Evolution isn’t the only thing they have to worry about.

2 The “Rom” or “Rum” have variously been Greeks, Turks, Crusaders, Romanians, and Gypsies over the centuries, and as the capital of the Empire or as the center of Christendom, “Rome” has minimally been sited at Ravenna, Constantinople, Aachen/Aix, Salerno, Avignon, Moscow, Paris, and Vienna. During the modern colonial period “India” was also found everywhere: in India, Ethiopia, the Caribbean Americas, and Southeast Asia. (Guinea / Ghana / Guiana is another wandering colonial place name.)

The bird we call the “turkey” is often given a foreign geographical designation, being called “dinde” (or some equivalent meaning “bird of India”) in many languages (including Turkish); “peru” in Brazil (and in India, from the Portuguese); “bird of  Egypt” in Macedonian; “Dutch bird” in Malaysia; some derivative of “bird from Calicut” (India) in Dutch and in the Scandinavian languages; and “bird of India”, “bird of Ethiopia” or “bird of Rum” in Arabic dialects .  (Note that Rome shows up again: “Rum” = “Rome” = “Turkey”).

And there is another turkey-like bird called a “Guinea fowl” which was occasionally mistaken for the turkey during the early days. http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/7/7-174.html

The list of words in the modern Romanian language derived from the word  “Rome” is quite a motley one. (Note that “Rumanian” and “Romanian” have entirely different meanings):

“Rom”: Gypsy; rum.
“Roman”: Roman; novel , novellette, serialized story.
“Romanşă”: Romansch (Swiss dialect).
“Român”: Romanian (n, adj) .
“Română”: Romanian (language).
“Rumân”: Serf, villein, peasant.
“Rumânie”: Serfdom, villeinage, peasant dependency.

(Andrei Bantaş. Dicţionar Român-Englez, Teora, Bucareşti, 1995.)

3 Frankly, I’m not really sure that the Khazars and the Huns are the same people in this work, though they certainly seem to be in what I’ve read so far.

On the Jewish Khazars, see:
Dunlop, D. M., History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, 1964;
Golden, Peter, Khazaria and Judaism, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevii, vol. 3, 1983, 127-156;
Pritsak, Omeljan, “The Khazar King’s Conversion to Judaism”, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol. 2, 1978, pp. 261—281.

Published in: on September 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Daughter of the Pioneers


188 F.2d 577 (1951)


United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.
February 27, 1951.
Siegel, Mandell & Davidson, Lane, Young & Fox and Brooks & Brooks, Lane & Wallace and John D. Rode, all of New York City, associate counsel for appellee.
Before GARRETT, Chief Judge, and JACKSON, O’CONNELL, JOHNSON, and WORLEY, Associate Judges.

GARRETT, Chief Judge.

This is an appeal from the judgement of the United States Customs Court, First Division, C. D. 1203, 24 Cust.Ct.___, entered in conformity with the decision of the majority, Mollison, J. dissenting, sustaining importer’s protests claiming free entry for plates of kid skins imported from China and entered, under the Tariff Act of 1930, at the port of New York in February 1935.

Two protests, Nos. 811174-G and 909743-G, are involved. The merchandise being similar and the protests substantially identical, the cases were consolidated for trial and disposed of by the Customs Court in a single opinion and judgment.

The merchandise was classified by the Collector of Customs under paragraph 1519(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, 19 U.S. C.A. § 1001, par. 1519(a), which reads: “Par. 1519(a) Dressed furs and dressed fur skins (except silver or black fox), and plates, mats, linings, strips, and crosses of dressed dog, goat, or kid skins, 25 per centum ad valorem; all the foregoing, if dyed, 30 per centum ad valorem.”

Alert for bandits, his trusty rifle always by his side,  Susan Sontag’s birth father Jack Rosenblatt spent years  in Siberia , Mongolia and Manchuria among the Evenki, Yukagir, and Yakuts, exchanging glass beads for sable, wolf, fox, squirrel, kid, and dog skins and sending them on camelback to the coast. But when he died in Tientsin in 1939, his efforts had come to nothing, and all he left his fatherless five year old daughter was this law suit. Memories of this latter-day Natty Bumppo would always haunt her dreams.

Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century

Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century: An Autobiographical Approach to the History of Western Civilization


(Includes “Why Did Henry James Kill Daisy Miller?” and
“Could Friedrich Nietzsche have Married Jane Austen?”)

“The Sex Life of the Nineteenth Century: An Autobiographical Approach to the History of Western Civilization” is looking for its audience. In this apparently random assemblage of egregious code-switching, extravagant whimsy, pedantic smut, and tidbits of obscure trivia, an argument of uncertain affiliation and insidious intent reveals the dark side of truth, love, and seriousness. A perfect book for the right person.

About 80 posts, mostly from  Haquelebac and Idiocentrism. No political, philosophical, or economic rant, and nothing on Chinese philosophy or inner Eurasian history.

emersonj at gmail dot com.


Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast!”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
a voice fell, like a falling star,

Henry Wadworth Longfellow

 I would like to have [first editions of] Mademoiselle Maupin and Lélia. To me these books are very strange; they are analyses of Insatiability, the intellectual malady of our times.

Edmond de Goncourt, Journal, April 24, 1871

 The time will come — I firmly believe this — when every young person will not resolve to stick a pistol in his mouth if he can’t become a leading light of the century.

George Sand, Horace.

      The romantics used Idealist and Platonist terminology to express their boundless desire and their endless striving for the impossible and elusive ideal (e.g. the Ideal Woman or die Blaue Blume, which once discovered would fade and die, because no longer virgin or no longer ideal). Of course, this Platonism was not much like the old Platonism — it was  the product of the liberation of desire which followed from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the dissolution of the estates. Anyone could now wish for anything, but few could get what they reached for. The magic of the market did its work,  and the object of desire kept moving just beyond your grasp and had usually been devalued by the time you got it anyway. Everything that is solid melts in air / with usura hath no man a house of good stone, etc., etc.

In the United States das Blaue Blume was located in the frontier West and romantic idealism expressed itself in geographical expansion, with similarly disillusioning outcomes.  In his autobiography the realist novelist Hamlin Garland shows how his own father had been all but destroyed (and his beloved uncle destroyed) by the failure of their mad idealistic pursuit of perfect homesteads, always further west (first in Wisconsin, and then in Minnesota, Iowa, and finally South Dakota, with the uncle losing hope in Washington) until with the son finally persuades the aged romantic not to move on to even worse land in Montana:

My heart filled with bitterness and rebellion, bitterness against the pioneering madness which had scattered our family…. Doesn’t this whole migration of the Garlands and the McClintocks seem like madness?….”Father”, I bluntly said “you’ve been chasing a will-o’-the-wisp. For fifty years you’ve always been moving westwards, and always you have gone from certainty to uncertainty, from a comfortable home to a shanty.”

 Hamlin Garland, Son of the Middle Border

 Garland especially notes the destructive impact of frontier life on women. With idealism it is always the actual non-ideal woman who represents the mundane, the actual, and the imperfect, and she is the one who bears the brunt:

 Ella to some degree doubted whether the life they were all living was worth while. “We make the best of it”, she said “but none of us are living up to our dreams.”

Garland. p. 291

And for the romantic love objects it was much the same:

 Sylvie heaved a sigh. “My friend,” she said “one has to accept things; life doesn’t always turn out the way you want”.

Nerval, “Sylvie”, p. 163

     Westward the course of Empire takes its way:

 The road smokes beneath you, the bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind. What is the meaning of this horrific movement? Where are you racing to? Answer! — There is no answer. Everything on earth flies by, and looking askance, other nations and states step aside to make way.

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls

Published in: on June 18, 2014 at 9:51 pm  Comments (2)  

The co-optation of cynicism


I’ve been reading about Ben Hecht recently. He’s almost forgotten, but he scripted some great movies (Scarface, Front Page, Barbary Coast, Wuthering Heights, Monkey Business) and, because he was a complete master of Hollywood cliches, script-doctored a lot more (Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, His Girl Friday, Roman Holiday, Angels with Dirty Faces).

Before Hollywood Hecht had been a Serious Author who wrote novels meant to be decadent on the European pattern, and before that he had been a newspaperman. His reporter’s cynicism was equal to Mencken’s, and all in all he thought that film was a debased, stupid medium.

And that’s why he was so great! When he finally decided to switch teams and prostitute himself, his sharp awareness of the trite, cliche-ridden crappiness of film meant that he already knew the business. A sharp mind + cynicism + decadence + a complete contempt for the mass + a mercenary attitude = a genius awareness of what is commercially viable.

Hecht was not the only decadent in Hollywood, of course. Mercenary European decadents flocked to Hollywood by the boatload. Hollywood’s sophisticated, decadent mixture of puritanism and prurience, with happy endings often tacked on to the end, is one of the wonders of world culture.



Movies are all about storylines. What are Hecht’s own storylines?  I can find five — three of them movie cliches, two of them not.

1. Immigrants come to the US, struggle, do pretty well, and their American-born son fights his way to the top. Hecht’s is in the Jewish category of this story, with parents in the garment trade and so on.

2. Young guy goes to the big city to make his fortune, the boss likes his looks, he has tough mentors but proves himself, and he fights his way to the top in a dirty business. (Can be merged with #1 or run freestanding).

3. Tough, cynical writer sells out,  goes to Hollywood, big success, living  large,  wild and crazy, easy come, easy go. But in his heart he doesn’t feel good about it.(Combined with one or both of the others or run freestanding).

4. Chicago (and the whole Midwest) used to be the armpit of the universe and a cultural desert, but suddenly it’s a literary center.  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, The Little Review,  Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, young Ernest Hemingway, young Kenneth Rexroth. (Not yet a movie cliche.)

5. Ten or twenty years late, American bumpkins decide they want be decadent: Ben Hecht, James Gibbons Huneker, James Branch Cabell . They publish novels no one reads, with H. L. Mencken cheering them on,  and then mostly go on to other things. (Not yet a movie cliche).


Ben Hecht, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, Bibliobazaar, 2006 (1923).

Ben Hecht. A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, Google Books.

Ben Hecht, Fantazius Mallare, Frugoli and Taylor, 2001 (1922).

Ben Hecht, Fantazius Mallare, Google Books.

William MacAdams, Ben Hecht: A Biography, Barricade Books reprint, 1990.

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 6:14 am  Comments (1)  

Swedish Rosicrucianism

Queen Christina of Sweden and Her Circle: The Transformation of a Seventeenth-Century Philosophical Libertine

Rose Cross over the Baltic: The Spread of Rosicrucianism in Northern Europe

Fenixelden: Drottning Kristina som alkemist / The Phoenixfire: Queen Christina as Alchemist: not yet translated.

     The received opinion is that with the appearance of three comets, a planetary conjunction,  a nova, and the signifying garfish and herring all in the same  year, the seventeenth century Rosicrucians (allied with the Teutonic Knights and the Sword Brothers, working in conjunction with the British poets Spenser and Sidney and the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler) relied on occult alchemical, astrological, numerological, Pythagorean and Kabbalistic readings of the book of Enoch, the Gothic runes, Ethiopian, Coptic, Syriac, Greek and Hebrew prophesies, and the biblical books of Ezekiel, Ezra, Daniel, and Revelation (all interpreted in terms of Joachim de Fiore’s three-stage millennial prophecy and the Sabéans’  — not Sabaeans’ — seven-stage millennial prophecy) in order to predict the appearance of the Lion of the North: an English, Scottish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Brandenburger, or Wittenburger Prince or King who would save Christendom from the Papist Whore of Satan and bring on the Third Elijah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the millennium.

But it wasn’t as simple as that.

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 4:05 am  Leave a Comment