Numero Uno—“Mark Twain
If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough. The squabble arose apropos of Paul Bourget’s new book on America, Outre Mer, a book which deals more fairly and generously with this country than any book yet written in a foreign tongue. Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming personal and insulting. He cannot be scathing without being a blackguard. He tried to demolish a serious and well considered work by publishing a scurrilous, slangy and loosely written article about it. In this article Mr. Clemens proves very little against Mr. Bourget and a very great deal against himself. He demonstrates clearly that he is neither a scholar, a reader or a man of letters and very little of a gentleman. His ignorance of French literature is something appalling. Why, in these days it is as necessary for a literary man to have a wide knowledge of the French masterpieces as it is for him to have read Shakespeare or the Bible. What man who pretends to be an author can afford to neglect those models of style and composition. George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James excepted, the great living novelists are Frenchmen.
Mr. Clemens asks what the French sensualists can possibly teach the great American people about novel writing or morality? Well, it would not seriously hurt the art of the classic author of “Puddin’ Head Wilson” to study Daudet, De Maupassant, Hugo, and George Sand, whatever it might do to his morals. Mark Twain is a humorist of a kind. His humor is always rather broad, so broad that the polite world can justly call it coarse. He is not a reader nor a thinker nor a man who loves art of any kind. He is a clever Yankee who has made a ‘good thing’ out of writing. He has been published in the North American Review and in the Century, but he is not and never will be a part of literature. The association and companionship of cultured men has given Mark Twain a sort of professional veneer, but it could not give him fine instincts or nice discriminations or elevated tastes. His works are pure and suitable for children, just as the work of most shallow and mediocre fellows. House dogs and donkeys make the most harmless and chaste companions for young innocence in the world. Mark Twain’s humor is of the kind that teamsters use in bantering with each other, and his laugh is the gruff ‘haw-haw’ of the backwoodsman. He is still the rough, awkward, good-natured boy who swore at the deck hands on the river steamer and chewed uncured tobacco when he was three years old. Thoroughly likeable as a good fellow, but impossible as a man of letters. It is an unfortunate feature of American literature that a hostler with some natural cleverness and a great deal of assertion receives the same recognition as a standard American author that a man like Lowell does. The French academy is a good thing after all. It at least divides the sheep from the goats and gives a sheep the consolation of knowing that he is a sheep.
It is rather a pity that Paul Bourget should have written Outre Mer, thoroughly creditable book though it is. Mr. Bourget is a novelist, and he should not content himself with being an essayist, there are far too many of them in the world already. He can develop strong characters, invent strong situations, he can write the truth and he should not drift into penning opinions and platitudes. When God has made a man a creator, it is a great mistake for him to turn critic. It is rather an insult to God and certainly a very great wrong to man.
Nebraska State Journal, May 5, 1895
I got a letter last week from a little boy just half-past seven who had just read “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” He said: “If there are any more books like them in the world, send them to me quick.” I had to humbly confess to him that if there were any others I had not the good fortune to know of them. What a red-letter-day it is to a boy, the day he first opens “Tom Sawyer.” I would rather sail on the raft down the Missouri again with “Huck” Finn and Jim than go down the Nile in December or see Venice from a gondola in May. Certainly Mark Twain is much better when he writes of his Missouri boys than when he makes sickley romances about Joan of Arc. And certainly he never did a better piece of work than “Prince and Pauper.” One seems to get at the very heart of old England in that dearest of children’s books, and in its pages the frail boy king, and his gloomy sister Mary who in her day wrought so much woe for unhappy England, and the dashing Princess Elizabeth who lived to rule so well, seem to live again. A friend of Mr. Clemens’ once told me that he said he wrote that book so that when his little daughters grew up they might know that their tired old jester of a father could be serious and gentle sometimes.
The Home Monthly, May 1897 … .
Edgar Allan Poe
My tantalized spirit
Here blandly reposes,
Forgetting, or never
Regretting its roses,
Its old agitations
Of myrtles and roses.
For now, while so quietly
Lying, it fancies
A holier odor
About it, of pansies—
A rosemary odor
Commingled with pansies.
With rue and the beautiful
—Edgar Allan Poe.
The Shakespeare society of New York, which is really about the only useful literary organization in this country, is making vigorous efforts to redress an old wrong and atone for a long neglect. Sunday, Sept. 22, it held a meeting at the Poe cottage on Kingsbridge road near Fordham, for the purpose of starting an organized movement to buy back the cottage, restore it to its original condition and preserve it as a memorial of Poe. So it has come at last. After helping build monuments to Shelley, Keats and Carlyle we have at last remembered this man, the greatest of our poets and the most unhappy. I am glad that this movement is in the hands of American actors, for it was among them that Poe found his best friends and warmest admirers. Some way he always seemed to belong to the strolling Thespians who were his mother’s people.
Among all the thousands of life’s little ironies that make history so diverting, there is none more paradoxical than that Edgar Poe should have been an American. Look at his face. Had we ever another like it? He must have been a strange figure in his youth, among those genial, courtly Virginians, this handsome, pale fellow, violent in his enthusiasm, ardent in his worship, but spiritually cold in his affections. Now playing heavily for the mere excitement of play, now worshipping at the shrine of a woman old enough to be his mother, merely because her voice was beautiful; now swimming six miles up the James river against a heavy current in the glaring sun of a June midday. He must have seemed to them an unreal figure, a sort of stage man who was wandering about the streets with his mask and buskins on, a theatrical figure who had escaped by some strange mischance into the prosaic daylight. His speech and actions were unconsciously and sincerely dramatic, always as though done for effect. He had that nervous, egotistic, self-centered nature common to stage children who seem to have been dazzled by the footlights and maddened by the applause before they are born. It was in his blood. With the exception of two women who loved him, lived for him, died for him, he went through life friendless, misunderstood, with that dense, complete, hopeless misunderstanding which, as Amiel said, is the secret of that sad smile upon the lips of the great. Men tried to befriend him, but in some way or other he hurt and disappointed them. He tried to mingle and share with other men, but he was always shut from them by that shadow, light as gossamer but unyielding as adamant, by which, from the beginning of the world, art has shielded and guarded and protected her own, that God-concealing mist in which the heroes of old were hidden, immersed in that gloom and solitude which, if we could but know it here, is but the shadow of God’s hand as it falls upon his elect.
We lament our dearth of great prose. With the exception of Henry James and Hawthorne, Poe is our only master of pure prose. We lament our dearth of poets. With the exception of Lowell, Poe is our only great poet. Poe found short story writing a bungling makeshift. He left it a perfect art. He wrote the first perfect short stories in the English language. He first gave the short story purpose, method, and artistic form. In a careless reading one can not realize the wonderful literary art, the cunning devices, the masterly effects that those entrancing tales conceal. They are simple and direct enough to delight us when we are children, subtle and artistic enough to be our marvel when we are old. To this day they are the wonder and admiration of the French, who are the acknowledged masters of craft and form. How in his wandering, laborious life, bound to the hack work of the press and crushed by an ever-growing burden of want and debt, did he ever come upon all this deep and mystical lore, this knowledge of all history, of all languages, of all art, this penetration into the hidden things of the East? As Steadman says, “The self training of genius is always a marvel.” The past is spread before us all and most of us spend our lives in learning those things which we do not need to know, but genius reaches out instinctively and takes only the vital detail, by some sort of spiritual gravitation goes directly to the right thing.
Poe belonged to the modern French school of decorative and discriminating prose before it ever existed in France. He rivalled Gautier, Flaubert and de Maupassant before they were born. He clothed his tales in a barbaric splendor and persuasive unreality never before heard of in English. No such profusion of color, oriental splendor of detail, grotesque combinations and mystical effects had ever before been wrought into language. There are tales as grotesque, as monstrous, unearthly as the stone griffens and gargoyles that are cut up among the unvisited niches and towers of Notre Dame, stories as poetic and delicately beautiful as the golden lace work chased upon an Etruscan ring. He fitted his words together as the Byzantine jewelers fitted priceless stones. He found the inner harmony and kinship of words. Where lived another man who could blend the beautiful and the horrible, the gorgeous and the grotesque in such intricate and inexplicable fashion? Who could delight you with his noun and disgust you with his verb, thrill you with his adjective and chill you with his adverb, make you run the whole gamut of human emotions in a single sentence? Sitting in that miserable cottage at Fordham he wrote of the splendor of dream palaces beyond the dreams of art. He hung those grimy walls with dream tapestries, paved those narrow halls with black marble and polished onyx, and into those low-roofed chambers he brought all the treasured imagery of fancy, from the “huge carvings of untutored Egypt” to “mingled and conflicting perfumes, reeking up from strange convolute censers, together with multitudinous, flaring and flickering tongues of purple and violet fire.” Hungry and ragged he wrote of Epicurean feasts and luxury that would have beggared the purpled pomp of pagan Rome and put Nero and his Golden House to shame.
And this mighty master of the organ of language, who knew its every stop and pipe, who could awaken at will the thin silver tones of its slenderest reeds or the solemn cadence of its deepest thunder, who could make it sing like a flute or roar like a cataract, he was born into a country without a literature. He was of that ornate school which usually comes last in a national literature, and he came first. American taste had been vitiated by men like Griswold and N. P. Willis until it was at the lowest possible ebb. Willis was considered a genius, that is the worst that could possibly be said. In the North a new race of great philosophers was growing up, but Poe had neither their friendship nor encouragement. He went indeed, sometimes, to the chilly salon of Margaret Fuller, but he was always a discord there. He was a mere artist and he had no business with philosophy, he had no theories as to the “higher life” and the “true happiness.” He had only his unshapen dreams that battled with him in dark places, the unborn that struggled in his brain for birth. What time has an artist to learn the multiplication table or to talk philosophy? He was not afraid of them. He laughed at Willis, and flung Longfellow’s lie in his teeth, the lie the rest of the world was twenty years in finding. He scorned the obtrusive learning of the transcendentalists and he disliked their hard talkative women. He left them and went back to his dream women, his Berenice, his Ligeia, his Marchesa Aphrodite, pale and cold as the mist maidens of the North, sad as the Norns who weep for human woe.
The tragedy of Poe’s life was not alcohol, but hunger. He died when he was forty, when his work was just beginning. Thackeray had not touched his great novels at forty, George Eliot was almost unknown at that age. Hugo, Goethe, Hawthorne, Lowell and Dumas all did their great work after they were forty years old. Poe never did his great work. He could not endure the hunger. This year the Drexel Institute has put over sixty thousand dollars into a new edition of Poe’s poems and stories. He himself never got six thousand for them altogether. If one of the great and learned institutions of the land had invested one tenth of that amount in the living author forty years ago we should have had from him such works as would have made the name of this nation great. But he sold “The Masque of the Red Death” for a few dollars, and now the Drexel Institute pays a publisher thousands to publish it beautifully. It is enough to make Satan laugh until his ribs ache, and all the little devils laugh and heap on fresh coals. I don’t wonder they hate humanity. It’s so dense, so hopelessly stupid.
Only a few weeks before Poe’s death he said he had never had time or opportunity to make a serious effort. All his tales were merely experiments, thrown off when his day’s work as a journalist was over, when he should have been asleep. All those voyages into the mystical unknown, into the gleaming, impalpable kingdom of pure romance from which he brought back such splendid trophies, were but experiments. He was only getting his tools into shape getting ready for his great effort, the effort that never came.
Bread seems a little thing to stand in the way of genius, but it can. The simple sordid facts were these, that in the bitterest storms of winter Poe seldom wrote by a fire, that after he was twenty-five years old he never knew what it was to have enough to eat without dreading tomorrow’s hunger. Chatterton had only himself to sacrifice, but Poe saw the woman he loved die of want before his very eyes, die smiling and begging him not to give up his work. They saw the depths together in those long winter nights when she lay in that cold room, wrapped in Poe’s only coat, he, with one hand holding hers, and with the other dashing off some of the most perfect masterpieces of English prose. And when he would wince and turn white at her coughing, she would always whisper: “Work on, my poet, and when you have finished read it to me. I am happy when I listen.” O, the devotion of women and the madness of art! They are the two most awesome things on earth, and surely this man knew both to the full.
I have wondered so often how he did it. How he kept his purpose always clean and his taste always perfect. How it was that hard labor never wearied nor jaded him, never limited his imagination, that the jarring clamor about him never drowned the fine harmonies of his fancy. His discrimination remained always delicate, and from the constant strain of toil his fancy always rose strong and unfettered. Without encouragement or appreciation of any sort, without models or precedents he built up that pure style of his that is without peer in the language, that style of which every sentence is a drawing by Vedder. Elizabeth Barrett and a few great artists over in France knew what he was doing, they knew that in literature he was making possible a new heaven and a new earth. But he never knew that they knew it. He died without the assurance that he was or ever would be understood. And yet through all this, with the whole world of art and letters against him, betrayed by his own people, he managed to keep that lofty ideal of perfect work. What he suffered never touched or marred his work, but it wrecked his character. Poe’s character was made by his necessity. He was a liar and an egotist; a man who had to beg for bread at the hands of his publishers and critics could be nothing but a liar, and had he not had the insane egotism and conviction of genius, he would have broken down and written the drivelling trash that his countrymen delighted to read. Poe lied to his publishers sometimes, there is no doubt of that, but there were two to whom he was never false, his wife and his muse. He drank sometimes too, when for very ugly and relentless reasons he could not eat. And then he forgot what he suffered. For Bacchus is the kindest of the gods after all. When Aphrodite has fooled us and left us and Athene has betrayed us in battle, then poor tipsy Bacchus, who covers his head with vine leaves where the curls are getting thin, holds out his cup to us and says, “forget.” It’s poor consolation, but he means it well.
The Transcendentalists were good conversationalists, that in fact was their principal accomplishment. They used to talk a great deal of genius, that rare and capricious spirit that visits earth so seldom, that is wooed by so many, and won by so few. They had grand theories that all men should be poets, that the visits of that rare spirit should be made as frequent and universal as afternoon calls. O, they had plans to make a whole generation of little geniuses. But she only laughed her scornful laughter, that deathless lady of the immortals, up in her echoing chambers that are floored with dawn and roofed with the spangled stars. And she snatched from them the only man of their nation she had ever deigned to love, whose lips she had touched with music and whose soul with song. In his youth she had shown him the secrets of her beauty and his manhood had been one pursuit of her, blind to all else, like Anchises, who on the night that he knew the love of Venus, was struck sightless, that he might never behold the face of a mortal woman. For Our Lady of Genius has no care for the prayers and groans of mortals, nor for their hecatombs sweet of savor. Many a time of old she has foiled the plans of seers and none may entreat her or take her by force. She favors no one nation or clime. She takes one from the millions, and when she gives herself unto a man it is without his will or that of his fellows, and he pays for it, dear heaven, he pays!
“The sun comes forth and many reptiles spawn,
He sets and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered unto death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.”
Yes, “and the immortal stars awake again.” None may thwart the unerring justice of the gods, not even the Transcendentalists. What matter that one man’s life was miserable, that one man was broken on the wheel? His work lives and his crown is eternal. That the work of his age was undone, that is the pity, that the work of his youth was done, that is the glory. The man is nothing. There are millions of men. The work is everything. There is so little perfection. We lament our dearth of poets when we let Poe starve. We are like the Hebrews who stoned their prophets and then marvelled that the voice of God was silent. We will wait a long time for another. There are Griswold and N. P. Willis, our chosen ones, let us turn to them. Their names are forgotten. God is just. They are,
“Gathered unto death without a dawn.
And the immortal stars awake again.”
The Courier, October 12, 1895
You can afford to give a little more care and attention to this imaginative boy of yours than to any of your other children. His nerves are more finely strung and all his life he will need your love more than the others. Be careful to get him the books he likes and see that they are good ones. Get him a volume of Poe’s short stories. I know many people are prejudiced against Poe because of the story that he drank himself to death. But that myth has been exploded long ago. Poe drank less than even the average man of his time. No, the most artistic of all American story tellers did not die because he drank too much, but because he ate too little. And yet we, his own countrymen who should be so proud of him, are not content with having starved him and wronged him while he lived, we must even go on slandering him after he has been dead almost fifty years. But get his works for this imaginative boy of yours and he will tell you how great a man the author of “The Gold Bug” and “The Masque of the Red Death” was. Children are impartial critics and sometimes very good ones. They do not reason about a book, they just like it or dislike it intensely, and after all that is the conclusion of the whole matter. I am very sure that “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Black Cat” will give this woolgathering lad of yours more pleasure than a new bicycle could.
The Home Monthly, May 1897 … .
Their mania for careless and hasty work is not confined to the lesser men. Howells and Hardy have gone with the crowd. Now that Stevenson is dead I can think of but one English speaking author who is really keeping his self-respect and sticking for perfection. Of course I refer to that mighty master of language and keen student of human actions and motives, Henry James. In the last four years he has published, I believe, just two small volumes, “The Lesson of the Master” and “Terminations,” and in those two little volumes of short stories he who will may find out something of what it means to be really an artist. The framework is perfect and the polish is absolutely without flaw. They are sometimes a little hard, always calculating and dispassionate, but they are perfect. I wish James would write about modern society, about “degeneracy” and the new woman and all the rest of it. Not that he would throw any light on it. He seldom does; but he would say such awfully clever things about it, and turn on so many side-lights. And then his sentences! If his character novels were all wrong one could read him forever for the mere beauty of his sentences. He never lets his phrases run away with him. They are never dull and never too brilliant. He subjects them to the general tone of his sentence and has his whole paragraph partake of the same predominating color. You are never startled, never surprised, never thrilled or never enraptured; always delighted by that masterly prose that is as correct, as classical, as calm and as subtle as the music of Mozart.
The Courier, November 16, 1895
It is strange that from “Felicia” down, the stage novel has never been a success. Henry James’ “Tragic Muse” is the only theatrical novel that has a particle of the real spirit of the stage in it, a glimpse of the enthusiasm, the devotion, the exaltation and the sordid, the frivolous and the vulgar which are so strangely and inextricably blended in that life of the green room. For although Henry James cannot write plays he can write passing well of the people who enact them. He has put into one book all those inevitable attendants of the drama, the patronizing theatre goer who loves it above all things and yet feels so far superior to it personally; the old tragedienne, the queen of a dying school whose word is law and whose judgments are to a young actor as the judgments of God; and of course there is the girl, the aspirant, the tragic muse who beats and beats upon those brazen doors that guard the unapproachable until one fine morning she beats them down and comes into her kingdom, the kingdom of unborn beauty that is to live through her. It is a great novel, that book of the master’s, so perfect as a novel that one does not realize what a masterly study it is of the life and ends and aims of the people who make plays live.
Nebraska State Journal, March 29, 1896 … .
A Creole ‘Bovary’ is this little novel of Miss Chopin’s. Not that the heroine is a creole exactly, or that Miss Chopin is a Flaubert—save the mark!—but the theme is similar to that which occupied Flaubert. There was, indeed, no need that a second “Madame Bovary” should be written, but an author’s choice of themes is frequently as inexplicable as his choice of a wife. It is governed by some innate temperamental bias that cannot be diagrammed. This is particularly so in women who write, and I shall not attempt to say why Miss Chopin has devoted so exquisite and sensitive, well-governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme. She writes much better than it is ever given to most people to write, and hers is a genuinely literary style; of no great elegance or solidity; but light, flexible, subtle and capable of producing telling effects directly and simply. The story she has to tell in the present instance is new neither in matter nor treatment. “Edna Pontellier,” a Kentucky girl, who, like “Emma Bovary,” had been in love with innumerable dream heroes before she was out of short skirts, married “Leonce Pontellier” as a sort of reaction from a vague and visionary passion for a tragedian whose unresponsive picture she used to kiss. She acquired the habit of liking her husband in time, and even of liking her children. Though we are not justified in presuming that she ever threw articles from her dressing table at them, as the charming “Emma” had a winsome habit of doing, we are told that “she would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart, she would sometimes forget them.” At a creole watering place, which is admirably and deftly sketched by Miss Chopin, “Edna” met “Robert Lebrun,” son of the landlady, who dreamed of a fortune awaiting him in Mexico while he occupied a petty clerical position in New Orleans. “Robert” made it his business to be agreeable to his mother’s boarders, and “Edna,” not being a creole, much against his wish and will, took him seriously. “Robert” went to Mexico but found that fortunes were no easier to make there than in New Orleans. He returns and does not even call to pay his respects to her. She encounters him at the home of a friend and takes him home with her. She wheedles him into staying for dinner, and we are told she sent the maid off “in search of some delicacy she had not thought of for herself, and she recommended great care in the dripping of the coffee and having the omelet done to a turn.”Only a few pages back we were informed that the husband, “M. Pontellier,” had cold soup and burnt fish for his dinner. Such is life. The lover of course disappointed her, was a coward and ran away from his responsibilities before they began. He was afraid to begin a chapter with so serious and limited a woman. She remembered the sea where she had first met “Robert.” Perhaps from the same motive which threw “Anna Keraninna” under the engine wheels, she threw herself into the sea, swam until she was tired and then let go.
“She looked into the distance, and for a moment the old terror flamed up, then sank again. She heard her father’s voice, and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was a hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
“Edna Pontellier” and “Emma Bovary” are studies in the same feminine type; one a finished and complete portrayal, the other a hasty sketch, but the theme is essentially the same. Both women belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it. Mr. G. Barnard Shaw would say that they are the victims of the over-idealization of love. They are the spoil of the poets, the Iphigenias of sentiment. The unfortunate feature of their disease is that it attacks only women of brains, at least of rudimentary brains, but whose development is one-sided; women of strong and fine intuitions, but without the faculty of observation, comparison, reasoning about things. Probably, for emotional people, the most convenient thing about being able to think is that it occasionally gives them a rest from feeling. Now with women of the “Bovary” type, this relaxation and recreation is impossible. They are not critics of life, but, in the most personal sense, partakers of life. They receive impressions through the fancy. With them everything begins with fancy, and passions rise in the brain rather than in the blood, the poor, neglected, limited one-sided brain that might do so much better things than badgering itself into frantic endeavors to love. For these are the people who pay with their blood for the fine ideals of the poets, as Marie Delclasse paid for Dumas’ great creation, “Marguerite Gauthier.” These people really expect the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only intended that it should meet one of many demands. They insist upon making it stand for all the emotional pleasures of life and art, expecting an individual and self-limited passion to yield infinite variety, pleasure and distraction, to contribute to their lives what the arts and the pleasurable exercise of the intellect gives to less limited and less intense idealists. So this passion, when set up against Shakespeare, Balzac, Wagner, Raphael, fails them. They have staked everything on one hand, and they lose. They have driven the blood until it will drive no further, they have played their nerves up to the point where any relaxation short of absolute annihilation is impossible. Every idealist abuses his nerves, and every sentimentalist brutally abuses them. And in the end, the nerves get even. Nobody ever cheats them, really. Then “the awakening” comes. Sometimes it comes in the form of arsenic, as it came to “Emma Bovary,” sometimes it is carbolic acid taken covertly in the police station, a goal to which unbalanced idealism not infrequently leads. “Edna Pontellier,” fanciful and romantic to the last, chose the sea on a summer night and went down with the sound of her first lover’s spurs in her ears, and the scent of pinks about her. And next time I hope that Miss Chopin will devote that flexible, iridescent style of hers to a better cause.
Pittsburg Leader, July 8, 1899
This truly remarkable book is printed on dirty gray blotting paper, on each page of which is a mere dot of print over a large I of vacancy. There are seldom more than ten lines on a page, and it would be better if most of those lines were not there at all. Either Mr. Crane is insulting the public or insulting himself, or he has developed a case of atavism and is chattering the primeval nonsense of the apes. His “Black Riders,” uneven as it was, was a casket of polished masterpieces when compared with “War Is Kind.” And it is not kind at all, Mr. Crane; when it provokes such verses as these, it is all that Sherman said it was.
The only production in the volume that is at all coherent is the following, from which the book gets its title:
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky,
And the affrighted steed ran on alone.
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Hoarse booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind,
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at the breast, gulped and died.
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Swift-blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing,
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright, splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep,
War is kind.
Of course, one may have objections to hearts hanging like humble buttons, or to buttons being humble at all, but one should not stop to quarrel about such trifles with a poet who can perpetrate the following:
Thou art my love,
And thou art the beard
On another man’s face—
Woe is me.
Thou art my love,
And thou art a temple,
And in this temple is an altar,
And on this temple is my heart—
Woe is me.
Thou art my love,
And thou art a wretch.
Let these sacred love-lies choke thee.
For I am come to where I know your lies as truth
And your truth as lies—
Woe is me.
Now, if you please, is the object of these verses animal, mineral or vegetable? Is the expression, “Thou art the beard on another man’s face,” intended as a figure, or was it written by a barber? Certainly, after reading this, “Simple Simon” is a ballade of perfect form, and “Jack and Jill” or “Hickity, Pickity, My Black Hen,” are exquisite lyrics. But of the following what shall be said:
Now let me crunch you
With full weight of affrighted love.
I doubted you
—I doubted you—
And in this short doubting
My love grew like a genie
For my further undoing.
Beware of my friends,
Be not in speech too civil,
For in all courtesy
My weak heart sees specters,
Mists of desire
Arising from the lips of my chosen;
Be not civil.
This is somewhat more lucid as evincing the bard’s exquisite sensitiveness:
Ah, God, the way your little finger moved
As you thrust a bare arm backward.
And made play with your hair
And a comb, a silly gilt comb
—Ah, God, that I should suffer
Because of the way a little finger moved.
Mr. Crane’s verselets are illustrated by some Bradley pictures, which are badly drawn, in bad taste, and come with bad grace. On page 33 of the book there are just two lines which seem to completely sum up the efforts of both poet and artist:
“My good friend,” said a learned bystander,
“Your operations are mad.”
Yet this fellow Crane has written short stories equal to some of Maupassant’s.
Pittsburg Leader, June 3, 1899
After reading such a delightful newspaper story as Mr. Frank Norris’ “Blix,” it is with assorted sensations of pain and discomfort that one closes the covers of another newspaper novel, “Active Service,” by Stephen Crane. If one happens to have some trifling regard for pure English, he does not come forth from the reading of this novel unscathed. The hero of this lurid tale is a newspaper man, and he edits the Sunday edition of the New York “Eclipse,” and delights in publishing “stories” about deformed and sightless infants. “The office of the ‘Eclipse’ was at the top of an immense building on Broadway. It was a sheer mountain to the heights of which the interminable thunder of the streets rose faintly. The Hudson was a broad path of silver in the distance.” This leaves little doubt as to the fortunate journal which had secured Rufus Coleman as its Sunday editor. Mr. Coleman’s days were spent in collecting yellow sensations for his paper, and we are told that he “planned for each edition as for a campaign.” The following elevating passage is one of the realistic paragraphs by which Mr. Crane makes the routine of Coleman’s life known to us:
Suddenly there was a flash of light and a cage of bronze, gilt and steel dropped magically from above. Coleman yelled “Down!” * * * A door flew open. Coleman stepped upon the elevator. “Well, Johnnie,” he said cheerfully to the lad who operated the machine, “is business good?” “Yes, sir, pretty good,” answered the boy, grinning. The little cage sank swiftly. Floor after floor seemed to be rising with marvelous speed; the whole building was winging straight into the sky. There was soaring lights, figures and the opalescent glow of ground glass doors marked with black inscriptions. Other lights were springing heavenward. All the lofty corridors rang with cries. “Up!” “Down!” “Down!” “Up!!” The boy’s hand grasped a lever and his machine obeyed his lightest movement with sometimes an unbalancing swiftness.
Later, when Coleman reached the street, Mr. Crane describes the cable cars as marching like panoplied elephants, which is rather far, to say the least. The gentleman’s nights were spent something as follows:
“In the restaurant he first ordered a large bottle of champagne. The last of the wine he finished in somber mood like an unbroken and defiant man who chews the straw that litters his prison house. During his dinner he was continually sending out messenger boys. He was arranging a poker party. Through a window he watched the beautiful moving life of upper Broadway at night, with its crowds and clanging cable cars and its electric signs, mammoth and glittering like the jewels of a giantess.
“Word was brought to him that poker players were arriving. He arose joyfully, leaving his cheese. In the broad hall, occupied mainly by miscellaneous people and actors, all deep in leather chairs, he found some of his friends waiting. They trooped upstairs to Coleman’s rooms, where, as a preliminary, Coleman began to hurl books and papers from the table to the floor. A boy came with drinks. Most of the men, in order to prepare for the game, removed their coats and cuffs and drew up the sleeves of their shirts. The electric globes shed a blinding light upon the table. The sound of clinking chips arose; the elected banker spun the cards, careless and dextrous.”
The atmosphere of the entire novel is just that close and enervating. Every page is like the next morning taste of a champagne supper, and is heavy with the smell of stale cigarettes. There is no fresh air in the book and no sunlight, only the “blinding light shed by the electric globes.” If the life of New York newspaper men is as unwholesome and sordid as this, Mr. Crane, who has experienced it, ought to be sadly ashamed to tell it. Next morning when Coleman went for breakfast in the grill room of his hotel he ordered eggs on toast and a pint of champagne for breakfast and discoursed affably to the waiter.
“May be you had a pretty lively time last night, Mr. Coleman?”
“Yes, Pat,” answered Coleman. “I did. It was all because of an unrequitted affection, Patrick.” The man stood near, a napkin over his arm. Coleman went on impressively. “The ways of the modern lover are strange. Now, I, Patrick, am a modern lover, and when, yesterday, the dagger of disappointment was driven deep into my heart, I immediately played poker as hard as I could, and incidentally got loaded. This is the modern point of view. I understand on good authority that in old times lovers used to languish. That is probably a lie, but at any rate we do not, in these times, languish to any great extent. We get drunk. Do you understand Patrick?”
The waiter was used to a harangue at Coleman’s breakfast time. He placed his hand over his mouth and giggled. “Yessir.”
“Of course,” continued Coleman, thoughtfully. “It might be pointed out by uneducated persons that it is difficult to maintain a high standard of drunkenness for the adequate length of time, but in the series of experiments which I am about to make, I am sure I can easily prove them to be in the wrong.”
“I am sure, sir,” said the waiter, “the young ladies would not like to be hearing you talk this way.”
“Yes; no doubt, no doubt. The young ladies have still quite medieval ideas. They don’t understand. They still prefer lovers to languish.”
“At any rate, sir, I don’t see that your heart is sure enough broken. You seem to take it very easy.”
“Broken!” cried Coleman. “Easy? Man, my heart is in fragments. Bring me another small bottle.”
After this Coleman went to Greece to write up the war for the “Eclipse,” and incidentally to rescue his sweetheart from the hands of the Turks and make “copy” of it. Very valid arguments might be advanced that the lady would have fared better with the Turks. On the voyage Coleman spent all his days and nights in the card room and avoided the deck, since fresh air was naturally disagreeable to him. For all that he saw of Greece or that Mr. Crane’s readers see of Greece Coleman might as well have stayed in the card room of the steamer, or in the card room of his New York hotel for that matter. Wherever he goes he carries the atmosphere of the card room with him and the “blinding glare of the electrics.” In Greece he makes love when he has leisure, but he makes “copy” much more ardently, and on the whole is quite as lurid and sordid and showy as his worst Sunday editions. Some good bits of battle descriptions there are, of the “Red Badge of Courage” order, but one cannot make a novel of clever descriptions of earthworks and poker games. The book concerns itself not with large, universal interests or principles, but with a yellow journalist grinding out yellow copy in such a wooden fashion that the Sunday “Eclipse” must have been even worse than most. In spite of the fact that Mr. Crane has written some of the most artistic short stories in the English language, I begin to wonder whether, blinded by his youth and audacity, two qualities which the American people love, we have not taken him too seriously. It is a grave matter for a man in good health and with a bank account to have written a book so coarse and dull and charmless as “Active Service.” Compared with this “War was kind,” indeed.
Pittsburg Leader, November 11, 1899
A new and a great book has been written. The name of it is “McTeague, a Story of San Francisco,” and the man who wrote it is Mr. Frank Norris. The great presses of the country go on year after year grinding out commonplace books, just as each generation goes on busily reproducing its own mediocrity. When in this enormous output of ink and paper, these thousands of volumes that are yearly rushed upon the shelves of the book stores, one appears which contains both power and promise, the reader may be pardoned some enthusiasm. Excellence always surprises: we are never quite prepared for it. In the case of “McTeague, a Story of San Francisco,” it is even more surprising than usual. In the first place the title is not alluring, and not until you have read the book, can you know that there is an admirable consistency in the stiff, uncompromising commonplaceness of that title. In the second place the name of the author is as yet comparatively unfamiliar, and finally the book is dedicated to a member of the Harvard faculty, suggesting that whether it be a story of San Francisco or Dawson City, it must necessarily be vaporous, introspective and chiefly concerned with “literary” impressions. Mr. Norris is, indeed, a “Harvard man,” but that he is a good many other kinds of a man is self-evident. His book is, in the language of Mr. Norman Hapgood, the work of “a large human being, with a firm stomach, who knows and loves the people.”
In a novel of such high merit as this, the subject matter is the least important consideration. Every newspaper contains the essential material for another “Comedie Humaine.” In this case “McTeague,” the central figure, happens to be a dentist practicing in a little side street of San Francisco. The novel opens with this description of him:
“It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductor’s coffee joint on Polk street. He had a thick, gray soup, heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate; two kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of strong butter and sugar. Once in his office, or, as he called it on his sign-board, ‘Dental Parlors,’ he took off his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed his little stove with coke, he lay back in his operating chair at the bay window, reading the paper, drinking steam beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food digested; crop-full, stupid and warm.”
McTeague had grown up in a mining camp in the mountains. He remembered the years he had spent there trundling heavy cars of ore in and out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For thirteen days out of each fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazed with alcohol. His mother cooked for the miners. Her one ambition was that her son should enter a profession. He was apprenticed to a traveling quack dentist and after a fashion, learned the business.
“Then one day at San Francisco had come the news of his mother’s death; she had left him some money—not much, but enough to set him up in business; so he had cut loose from the charlatan and had opened his ‘Dental Parlors’ on Polk street, an ‘accommodation street’ of small shops in the residence quarter of the town. Here he had slowly collected a clientele of butcher boys, shop girls, drug clerks and car conductors. He made but few acquaintances. Polk street called him the ‘doctor’ and spoke of his enormous strength. For McTeague was a young giant, carrying his huge shock of blonde hair six feet three inches from the ground; moving his immense limbs, heavy with ropes of muscle, slowly, ponderously. His hands were enormous, red, and covered with a fell of stiff yellow hair; they were as hard as wooden mallets, strong as vices, the hands of the old-time car boy. Often he dispensed with forceps and extracted a refractory tooth with his thumb and finger. His head was square-cut, angular; the jaw salient: like that of the carnivora.
“But for one thing McTeague would have been perfectly contented. Just outside his window was his signboard—a modest affair—that read: ‘Doctor McTeague. Dental Parlors. Gas Given;’ but that was all. It was his ambition, his dream, to have projecting from that corner window a huge gilded tooth, a molar with enormous prongs, something gorgeous and attractive. He would have it some day, but as yet it was far beyond his means.”
Then Mr. Norris launches into a description of the street in which “McTeague” lives. He presents that street as it is on Sunday, as it is on working days; as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are going out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o’clock when the women are out purchasing from the small shopkeepers, as it is at night when the shop girls are out with the soda-fountain tenders and the motor cars dash by full of theatre-goers, and the Salvationists sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he reproduces the life in a by-street of a great city, the little tragedy of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling environment—most of them bad. When a young author has very little to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets throughout Mr. Norris’ book is in itself convincing proof of power, imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force, stimulating the reader’s imagination, giving him an actual command, a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly transplanted. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of mature, and accurate and comprehensive description is very unusual among the younger American writers. Most of them observe the world through a temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than the objects they see. And temperament is a glass which distorts most astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and reproduces with a touch firm and decisive, strong almost to brutalness. Yet this hand that can depict so powerfully the brute strength and brute passions of a “McTeague,” can deal very finely and adroitly with the feminine element of his story. This is his portrait of the little Swiss girl, “Trina,” whom the dentist marries:
“Trina was very small and prettily made. Her face was round and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-opened eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia. But it was to her hair that one’s attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy, abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have given color to her face seemed to have been absorbed by that marvelous hair: It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the temples of this little bourgeoise.”
The tragedy of the story dates from a chance, a seeming stroke of good fortune, one of those terrible gifts of the Danai. A few weeks before her marriage “Trina” drew $5 000 from a lottery ticket. From that moment her passion for hoarding money becomes the dominant theme of the story, takes command of the book and its characters. After their marriage the dentist is disbarred from practice. They move into a garret where she starves her husband and herself to save that precious hoard. She sells even his office furniture, everything but his concertina and his canary bird, with which he stubbornly refuses to part and which are destined to become very important accessories in the property room of the theatre where this drama is played. This removal from their first home is to this story what Gervaise’s removal from her shop is to L’Assommoir; it is the fatal episode of the third act, the sacrifice of self-respect, the beginning of the end. From that time the money stands between “Trina” and her husband. Outraged and humiliated, hating her for her meanness, demoralized by his idleness and despair, he begins to abuse her. The story becomes a careful and painful study of the disintegration of this union, a penetrating and searching analysis of the degeneration of these two souls, the woman’s corroded by greed, the man’s poisoned by disappointment and hate.
And all the while this same painful theme is placed in a lower key. Maria, the housemaid who took care of “McTeague’s” dental parlors in his better days, was a half-crazy girl from somewhere in Central America, she herself did not remember just where. But she had a wonderful story about her people owning a dinner service of pure gold with a punch bowl you could scarcely lift, which rang like a church bell when you struck it. On the strength of this story “Zercow,” the Jew junk man, marries her, and believing that she knows where this treasure is hidden, bullies and tortures her to force her to disclose her secret. At last “Maria” is found with her throat cut, and “Zercow” is picked up by the wharf with a sack full of rusty tin cans, which in his dementia he must have thought the fabled dinner service of gold.
From this it is a short step to “McTeague’s” crime. He kills his wife to get possession of her money, and escapes to the mountains. While he is on his way south, pushing toward Mexico, he is overtaken by his murdered wife’s cousin and former suitor. Both men are half mad with thirst, and there in the desert wastes of Death’s Valley, they spring to their last conflict. The cousin falls, but before he dies he slips a handcuff over “McTeague’s” arm, and so the author leaves his hero in the wastes of Death’s Valley, a hundred miles from water, with a dead man chained to his arm. As he stands there the canary bird, the survivor of his happier days, to which he had clung with stubborn affection, begins “chittering feebly in its little gilt prison.” It reminds one a little of Stevenson’s use of poor “Goddedaal’s” canary in “The Wrecker.” It is just such sharp, sure strokes that bring out the high lights in a story and separate excellence from the commonplace. They are at once dramatic and revelatory. Lacking them, a novel which may otherwise be a good one, lacks its chief reason for being. The fault with many worthy attempts at fiction lies not in what they are, but in what they are not.
Mr. Norris’ model, if he will admit that he has followed one, is clearly no less a person than M. Zola himself. Yet there is no discoverable trace of imitation in his book. He has simply taken a method which has been most successfully applied in the study of French life and applied it in studying American life, as one uses certain algebraic formulae to solve certain problems. It is perhaps the only truthful literary method of dealing with that part of society which environment and heredity hedge about like the walls of a prison. It is true that Mr. Norris now and then allows his “method” to become too prominent, that his restraint savors of constraint, yet he has written a true story of the people, courageous, dramatic, full of matter and warm with life. He has addressed himself seriously to art, and he seems to have no ambition to be clever. His horizon is wide, his invention vigorous and bold, his touch heavy and warm and human. This man is not limited by literary prejudices: he sees the people as they are, he is close to them and not afraid of their unloveliness. He has looked at truth in the depths, among men begrimed by toil and besotted by ignorance, and still found her fair. “McTeague” is an achievement for a young man. It may not win at once the success which it deserves, but Mr. Norris is one of those who can afford to wait.
The Courier, April 8, 1899
If you want to read a story that is all wheat and no chaff, read “Blix.” Last winter that brilliant young Californian, Mr. Norris, published a remarkable and gloomy novel, “McTeague,” a book deep in insight, rich in promise and splendid in execution, but entirely without charm and as disagreeable as only a great piece of work can be. And now this gentleman, who is not yet thirty, turns around and gives us an idyll that sings through one’s brain like a summer wind and makes one feel young enough to commit all manner of indiscretions. It may be that Mr. Norris is desirous of showing us his versatility and that he can follow any suit, or it may have been a process of reaction. I believe it was after M. Zola had completed one of his greatest and darkest novels of Parisian life that he went down to the seaside and wrote “La Reve,” a book that every girl should read when she is eighteen, and then again when she is eighty. Powerful and solidly built as “McTeague” is, one felt that there method was carried almost too far, that Mr. Norris was too consciously influenced by his French masters. But “Blix” belongs to no school whatever, and there is not a shadow of pedantry or pride of craft in it from cover to cover. “Blix” herself is the method, the motives and the aim of the book. The story is an exhalation of youth and spring; it is the work of a man who breaks loose and forgets himself. Mr. Norris was married only last summer, and the march from “Lohengrin” is simply sticking out all over “Blix.” It is the story of a San Francisco newspaper man and a girl. The newspaper man “came out” in fiction, so to speak, in the drawing room of Mr. Richard Harding Davis, and has languished under that gentleman’s chaperonage until he has come to be regarded as a fellow careful of nothing but his toilet and his dinner. Mr. Davis’ reporters all bathed regularly and all ate nice things, but beyond that their tastes were rather colorless. I am glad to see one red-blooded newspaper man, in the person of “Landy Rivers,” of San Francisco, break into fiction; a real live reporter with no sentimental loyalty for his “paper,” and no Byronic poses about his vices, and no astonishing taste about his clothes, and no money whatever, which is the natural and normal condition of all reporters. “Blix” herself was just a society girl, and “Landy” took her to theatres and parties and tried to make himself believe he was in love with her. But it wouldn’t work, for “Landy” couldn’t love a society girl, not though she were as beautiful as the morning and terrible as an army with banners, and had “round full arms,” and “the skin of her face was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks.” For while “Landy Rivers” was at college he had been seized with the penchant for writing short stories, and had worshiped at the shrines of Maupassant and Kipling, and when a man is craft mad enough to worship Maupassant truly and know him well, when he has that tingling for technique in his fingers, not Aphrodite herself, new risen from the waves, could tempt him into any world where craft was not lord and king. So it happened that their real love affair never began until one morning when “Landy” had to go down to the wharf to write up a whaleback, and “Blix” went along, and an old sailor told them a story and “Blix” recognized the literary possibilities of it, and they had lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and “Landy” because he was a newspaper man and it was the end of the week, didn’t have any change about his clothes, and “Blix” had to pay the bill. And it was in that green old tea house that “Landy” read “Blix” one of his favorite yarns by Kipling, and she in a calm, off-handed way, recognized one of the fine, technical points in it, and “Landy” almost went to pieces for joy of her doing it. That scene in the Chinese restaurant is one of the prettiest bits of color you’ll find to rest your eyes upon, and mighty good writing it is. I wonder, though if when Mr. Norris adroitly mentioned the “clack and snarl” of the banjo “Landy” played, he remembered the “silver snarling trumpets” of Keats? After that, things went on as such things will, and “Blix” quit the society racket and went to queer places with “Landy,” and got interested in his work, and she broke him of wearing red neckties and playing poker, and she made him work, she did, for she grew to realize how much that meant to him, and she jacked him up when he didn’t work, and she suggested an ending for one of his stories that was better than his own; just this big, splendid girl, who had never gone to college to learn how to write novels. And so how, in the name of goodness, could he help loving her? So one morning down by the Pacific, with “Blix” and “The Seven Seas,” it all came over “Landy,” that “living was better than reading and life was better than literature.” And so it is; once, and only once, for each of us; and that is the tune that sings and sings through one’s head when one puts the book away.
The Courier, January 13, 1900
An Heir Apparent.
Last winter a young Californian, Mr. Frank Norris, published a novel with the unpretentious title, “McTeague: a Story of San Francisco.” It was a book that could not be ignored nor dismissed with a word. There was something very unusual about it, about its solidity and mass, the thoroughness and firmness of texture, and it came down like a blow from a sledge hammer among the slighter and more sprightly performances of the hour.The most remarkable thing about the book was its maturity and compactness. It has none of the ear-marks of those entertaining “young writers” whom every season produces as inevitably as its debutantes, young men who surprise for an hour and then settle down to producing industriously for the class with which their peculiar trick of phrase has found favor. It was a book addressed to the American people and to the critics of the world, the work of a young man who had set himself to the art of authorship with an almighty seriousness, and who had no ambition to be clever. “McTeague” was not an experiment in style nor a pretty piece of romantic folly, it was a true story of the people—having about it, as M. Zola would say, “the smell of the people”—courageous, dramatic, full of matter and warm with life. It was realism of the most uncompromising kind. The theme was such that the author could not have expected sudden popularity for his book, such as sometimes overtakes monstrosities of style in these discouraging days when Knighthood is in Flower to the extent of a quarter of a million copies, nor could he have hoped for pressing commissions from the fire-side periodicals. The life story of a quack dentist who sometimes extracted molars with his fingers, who mistreated and finally murdered his wife, is not, in itself, attractive. But, after all, the theme counts for very little. Every newspaper contains the essential subject matter for another Comedie Humaine. The important point is that a man considerably under thirty could take up a subject so grim and unattractive, and that, for the mere love of doing things well, he was able to hold himself down to the task of developing it completely, that he was able to justify this quack’s existence in literature, to thrust this hairy, blonde dentist with the “salient jaw of the carnivora,” in amongst the immortals.
It was after M. Zola had completed one of the greatest and gloomiest of his novels of Parisian life, that he went down by the sea and wrote “La Reve,” that tender, adolescent story of love and purity and youth. So, almost simultaneously with “McTeague,” Mr. Norris published “Blix,” another San Francisco story, as short as “McTeague” was lengthy, as light as “McTeague” was heavy, as poetic and graceful as “McTeague” was somber and charmless. Here is a man worth waiting on; a man who is both realist and poet, a man who can teach
“Not only by a comet’s rush,
But by a rose’s birth.”
Yet unlike as they are, in both books the source of power is the same, and, for that matter, it was even the same in his first book, “Moran of the Lady Letty.” Mr. Norris has dispensed with the conventional symbols that have crept into art, with the trite, half-truths and circumlocutions, and got back to the physical basis of things. He has abjured tea-table psychology, and the analysis of figures in the carpet and subtile dissections of intellectual impotencies, and the diverting game of words and the whole literature of the nerves. He is big and warm and sometimes brutal, and the strength of the soil comes up to him with very little loss in the transmission. His art strikes deep down into the roots of life and the foundation of Things as They Are—not as we tell each other they are at the tea-table. But he is realistic art, not artistic realism. He is courageous, but he is without bravado.
He sees things freshly, as though they had not been seen before, and describes them with singular directness and vividness, not with morbid acuteness, with a large, wholesome joy of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in his insistent use of environment. I recall the passage in which he describes the street in which McTeague lives. He represents that street as it is on Sunday, as it is on working days, as it is in the early dawn when the workmen are going out with pickaxes on their shoulders, as it is at ten o’clock when the women are out marketing among the small shopkeepers, as it is at night when the shop girls are out with the soda fountain tenders and the motor cars dash by full of theater-goers, and the Salvationists sing before the saloon on the corner. In four pages he reproduces in detail the life in a by-street of a great city, the little tragedy of the small shopkeeper. There are many ways of handling environment—most of them bad. When a young author has very little to say and no story worth telling, he resorts to environment. It is frequently used to disguise a weakness of structure, as ladies who paint landscapes put their cows knee-deep in water to conceal the defective drawing of the legs. But such description as one meets throughout Mr. Norris’ book is in itself convincing proof of power, imagination and literary skill. It is a positive and active force, stimulating the reader’s imagination, giving him an actual command, a realizing sense of this world into which he is suddenly transported. It gives to the book perspective, atmosphere, effects of time and distance, creates the illusion of life. This power of mature and comprehensive description is very unusual among the younger American writers. Most of them observe the world through a temperament, and are more occupied with their medium than the objects they watch. And temperament is a glass which distorts most astonishingly. But this young man sees with a clear eye, and reproduces with a touch, firm and decisive, strong almost to brutalness.
Mr. Norris approaches things on their physical side; his characters are personalities of flesh before they are anything else, types before they are individuals. Especially is this true of his women. His Trina is ‘very small and prettily made. Her face was round and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-opened eyes of a baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia. But it was to her hair that one’s attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy, abundant and odorous. All the vitality that should have given color to her face seems to have been absorbed by that marvelous hair. It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the temples of this little bourgeoise.’ Blix had ’round, full arms,’ and ‘the skin of her face was white and clean, except where it flushed into a most charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks.’ In this grasp of the element of things, this keen, clean, frank pleasure at color and odor and warmth, this candid admission of the negative of beauty, which is co-existent with and inseparable from it, lie much of his power and promise. Here is a man catholic enough to include the extremes of physical and moral life, strong enough to handle the crudest colors and darkest shadows. Here is a man who has an appetite for the physical universe, who loves the rank smells of crowded alley-ways, or the odors of boudoirs, or the delicate perfume exhaled from a woman’s skin; who is not afraid of Pan, be he ever so shaggy, and redolent of the herd.
Structurally, where most young novelists are weak, Mr. Norris is very strong. He has studied the best French masters, and he has adopted their methods quite simply, as one selects an algebraic formula to solve his particular problem. As to his style, that is, as expression always is, just as vigorous as his thought compels it to be, just as vivid as his conception warrants. If God Almighty has given a man ideas, he will get himself a style from one source or another. Mr. Norris, fortunately, is not a conscious stylist. He has too much to say to be exquisitely vain about his medium. He has the kind of brain stuff that would vanquish difficulties in any profession, that might be put to building battleships, or solving problems of finance, or to devising colonial policies. Let us be thankful that he has put it to literature. Let us be thankful, moreover, that he is not introspective and that his intellect does not devour itself, but feeds upon the great race of man, and, above all, let us rejoice that he is not a ‘temperamental’ artist, but something larger, for a great brain and an assertive temperament seldom dwell together.
There are clever men enough in the field of American letters, and the fault of most of them is merely one of magnitude; they are not large enough; they travel in small orbits, they play on muted strings. They sing neither of the combats of Atriedes nor the labors of Cadmus, but of the tea-table and the Odyssey of the Rialto. Flaubert said that a drop of water contained all the elements of the sea, save one—immensity. Mr. Norris is concerned only with serious things, he has only large ambitions. His brush is bold, his color is taken fresh from the kindly earth, his canvas is large enough to hold American life, the real life of the people. He has come into the court of the troubadours singing the song of Elys, the song of warm, full nature. He has struck the true note of the common life. He is what Mr. Norman Hapgood said the great American dramatist must be: ‘A large human being, with a firm stomach, who knows and loves the people.'” Willa Cather, Stories, Reviews, & Essays; several reviews from 1895-1900
The present discussions are a further development of some trains of thought which I opened up in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and to which, as I remarked there, my attitude was one of a kind of benevolent curiosity. In the following pages these thoughts are linked to various facts of analytic observation and an attempt is made to arrive at new conclusions from this conjunction; in the present work, however, there are no fresh borrowings from biology, and on that account it stands closer to psycho-analysis than does Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It is more in the nature of a synthesis than of a speculation and seems to have had an ambitious aim in view. I am conscious, however, that it does not go beyond the roughest outline and with that limitation I am perfectly content.In these pages things are touched on which have not yet been the subject of psychoanalytic consideration, and it has not been possible to avoid trenching upon some theories which have been put forward by non-analysts or by former analysts on their retreat from analysis. I have elsewhere always been ready to acknowledge what I owe to other workers; but in this instance I feel burdened by no such debt of gratitude. If psycho-analysis has not hitherto shown its appreciation of certain things, this has never been because it overlooked their achievement or sought to deny their importance, but because it followed a particular path, which had not yet led so far. And finally, when it has reached them, things have a different look to it from what they have to others. CONSCIOUSNESS AND WHAT IS UNCONSCIOUS
In this introductory chapter there is nothing new to be said and it will not be possible to avoid repeating what has often been said before. The division of the psychical into what is conscious and what is unconscious is the fundamental premiss of psycho-analysis; and it alone makes it possible for psycho-analysis to understand the pathological processes in mental life, which are as common as they are important, and to find a place for them in the framework of science. To put it once more, in a different way: psycho-analysis cannot situate the essence of the psychical in consciousness, but is obliged to regard consciousness as a quality of the psychical, which may be present in addition to other qualities or may be absent.If I could suppose that everyone interested in psychology would read this book, I should also be prepared to find that at this point some of my readers would already stop short and would go no further; for here we have the first shibboleth of psycho-analysis. To most people who have been educated in philosophy the idea of anything psychical which is not also conscious is so inconceivable that it seems to them absurd and refutable simply by logic. I believe this is only because they have never studied the relevant phenomena of hypnosis and dreams, which—quite apart from pathological manifestations—necessitate this view. Their psychology of consciousness is incapable of solving the problems of dreams and hypnosis.
Being conscious‘ is in the first place a purely descriptive term, resting on perception of the
most immediate and certain character. Experience goes on to show that a psychical element (for instance, an idea) is not as a rule conscious for a protracted length of time. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious now is no
longer so a moment later, although it can become so again under certain conditions that are
easily brought about. In the interval the idea was ‘we do not know what.’ We can say that it was latent, and by this we mean that it was capable of becoming conscious at any time. Or, if we say that is was unconscious, we shall also be giving a correct description of it. Here ‘unconscious‘ coincides with latent and capable of becoming ‘conscious‘. The philosophers would no doubt object: No, the term ‘unconscious’ is not applicable here; so long as the idea was in a state of latency it was not anything psychical at all.‘ To contradict them at this point would lead to nothing more profitable than a verbal dispute.
But we have arrived at the term or concept of the unconscious along another path, by
considering certain experiences in which mental dynamics play a part. We have found—that is,
we have been obliged to assume—that very powerful mental processes or ideas exist (and here
a quantitative or economic factor comes into question for the first time) which can produce all
the effects in mental life that ordinary ideas do (including effects that can in their turn become
conscious as ideas), though they themselves do not become conscious. It is unnecessary to repeat in detail here what has been explained so often before. It is enough to say that at this point psycho-analytic theory steps in and asserts that the reason why such ideas cannot become conscious is that a certain force opposes them, that otherwise they could become conscious, and that it would then be apparent how little they differ from other elements which are admittedly psychical. The fact that in the technique of psycho-analysis a means has been found by which the opposing force can be removed and the ideas in question made conscious renders this theory irrefutable. The state in which the ideas existed before being made conscious is called by us repression, and we assert that the force which instituted the repression and maintains it is perceived as resistance during the work of analysis.
Thus we obtain our concept of the unconscious from the theory of repression. The repressed is the prototype of the unconscious for us. We see, however, that we have two kinds of
unconscious—the one which is latent but capable of becoming conscious, and the one which is repressed and which is not, in itself and without more ado, capable of becoming conscious. This
piece of insight into psychical dynamics cannot fail to affect terminology and description. The
latent, which is unconscious only descriptively, not in the dynamic sense, we call preconscious;
we restrict the term unconscious to the dynamically unconscious repressed; so that now we have three terms, conscious (Cs.), preconscious (Pcs.), and unconscious (Ucs.), whose sense is no longer purely descriptive. The Pcs. is presumably a great deal closer to the Cs. than is the Ucs., and since we have called the Ucs. psychical we shall with even less hesitation call the latent Pcs. psychical. But why do we not rather, instead of this, remain in agreement with the philosophers and, in a consistent way, distinguish the Pcs. as well as the Ucs. from the conscious psychical? The philosophers would then propose that the Pcs. and the Ucs. should be described as two species or stages of the ‘psychoid‘, and harmony would be established. But endless difficulties in exposition would follow; and the one important fact, that these two kinds of ‘psychoid‘ coincide in almost every other respect with what is admittedly psychical, would be forced into the background in the interests of a prejudice dating from a period in which these psychoids, or the most important part of them, were still unknown.
We can now play about comfortably with our three terms, Cs., Pcs., and Ucs., so long as we do not forget that in the descriptive sense there are two kinds of unconscious, but in the dynamic
sense only one. For purposes of exposition this distinction can in some cases be ignored, but in
others it is of course indispensable. At the same time, we have become more or less accustomed to this ambiguity of the unconscious and have managed pretty well with it. As far as I can see, it is impossible to avoid this ambiguity; the distinction between conscious and unconscious is in the last resort a question of perception, which must be answered ‘yes‘ or ‘no,’ and the act of perception itself tells us nothing of the reason why a thing is or is not perceived.
No one has a right to complain because the actual phenomenon expresses the dynamic factor ambiguously. A new turn taken by criticisms of the unconscious deserves consideration at this point. Some investigators, who do not refuse to recognize the facts of psycho-analysis but who are unwilling to accept the unconscious, find a way out of the difficulty in the fact, which no
one contests, that in consciousness (regarded as a phenomenon) it is possible to distinguish a great variety of gradations in intensity or clarity. Just as there are processes which are very vividly, glaringly, and tangibly conscious, so we also experience others which are only faintly, hardly even noticeably conscious; those that are most faintly conscious are, it is argued, the ones to which psycho-analysis wishes to apply the unsuitable name unconscious‘. These too, however (the argument proceeds), are conscious or in consciousness‘, and can be made fully and intensely
conscious if sufficient attention is paid to them.
In so far as it is possible to influence by arguments the decision of a question of this kind which depends either on convention or on emotional factors, we may make the following comments. The reference to gradations of clarity in consciousness is in no way conclusive and has no more evidential value than such analogous statements as: ‘There are so very many gradations in illumination—from the most glaring and dazzling light to the dimmest glimmer—therefore there is no such thing as darkness at all‘; or, ‘There are varying degrees of vitality, therefore there is no such thing as death.‘ Such statements may in a certain way have a meaning, but for practical purposes they are worthless. This will be seen if one tries to draw particular conclusions from them, such as, ‘there is therefore no need to strike a light‘, or, ‘therefore all organisms are immortal.’ Further, to include what is unnoticeable‘ under the concept of what is
conscious‘ is simply to play havoc with the one and only piece of direct and certain knowledge that we have about the mind. And after all, a consciousness of which one knows nothing seems to me a good deal more absurd than something mental that is unconscious. Finally, this attempt to equate what is unnoticed with what is unconscious is obviously made without taking into account the dynamic conditions involved, which were the decisive factors in forming the psychoanalytic view.
For it ignores two facts: first, that it is exceedingly difficult and requires very great effort
to concentrate enough attention on something unnoticed of this kind; and secondly, that when this has been achieved the thought which was previously unnoticed is not recognized by consciousness, but often seems entirely alien and opposed to it and is promptly disavowed by it. Thus, seeking refuge from the unconscious in what is scarcely noticed or unnoticed is after all only a derivative of the preconceived belief which regards the identity of the psychical and the conscious as settled once and for all.
In the further course of psycho-analytic work, however, even these distinctions have proved to be inadequate and, for practical purposes, insufficient. This has become clear in more ways than one; but the decisive instance is as follows. We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness is attached; the ego controls the approaches to motility—that is, to the discharge of excitations into the external world; it is the mental agency which supervises all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams. From this ego proceed the repressions, too, by means of which it is sought to exclude certain trends in the mind not merely from consciousness but also from other forms of effectiveness and activity. In analysis these trends which have been shut out stand in opposition to the ego, and the analysis is faced with the task of removing the resistances which the ego displays against concerning itself with the repressed. Now we find during analysis that, when we put certain tasks before the patient, he gets into difficulties; his associations fail when they should be coming near the repressed. We then tell him that he is dominated by a resistance; but he is quite unaware of the fact, and, even if he guesses from his unpleasurable feelings that a resistance is now at work in him, he does not know what it is or how to describe it. Since, however, there can be no question but that this resistance emanates from his ego and belongs to it, we find ourselves in an unforeseen situation. We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed—that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. From the point of view of analytic practice, the consequence of this discovery is that we land in endless obscurities and difficulties if we keep to our habitual forms of expression and try, for instance, to derive neuroses from a conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. We shall have to substitute for this antithesis another, taken from our insight into the structural conditions of the mind—the antithesis between the coherent ego and the repressed which is split off from it.
For our conception of the unconscious, however, the consequences of our discovery are even more important. Dynamic considerations caused us to make our first correction; our insight into the structure of the mind leads to the second. We recognize that the Ucs. does not coincide with the repressed; it is still true that all that is repressed is Ucs., but not all that is Ucs. Is repressed. A part of the ego, too—and Heaven knows how important a part—may be Ucs., undoubtedly is Ucs. And this Ucs. belonging to the ego is not latent like the Pcs.; for if it were, it could not be activated without becoming Cs., and the process of making it conscious would not encounter such great difficulties. When we find ourselves thus confronted by the necessity of postulating a third Ucs., which is not repressed, we must admit that the characteristic of being unconscious begins to lose significance for us. It becomes a quality which can have many meanings, a quality which we are unable to make, as we should have hoped to do, the basis of far-reaching and inevitable conclusions. Nevertheless we must beware of ignoring this characteristic, for the property of being conscious or not is in the last resort our one beacon-light in the darkness of depth-psychology.
II THE EGO AND THE ID
Pathological research has directed our interest too exclusively to the repressed. We should like to learn more about the ego, now that we know that it, too, can be unconscious in the proper sense of the word. Hitherto the only guide we have had during our investigations has been the distinguishing mark of being conscious or unconscious; we have finally come to see how ambiguous this can be. Now all our knowledge is invariably bound up with consciousness. We can come to know even the Ucs, only by making it conscious. But stop, how is that possible?What does it mean when we say making something ‘conscious‘? How can that come about? We already know the point from which we have to start in this connection. We have said that consciousness is the surface of the mental apparatus; that is, we have ascribed it as a function to a system which is spatially the first one reached from the external world—and spatially not only in the functional sense but, on this occasion, also in the sense of anatomical dissection.
Our investigations too must take this perceiving surface as a starting-point. All perceptions which are received from without (sense-perceptions) and from within—what we call sensations and feelings—are Cs. from the start. But what about those internal processes which we may—roughly and inexactly—sum up under the name of thought-processes? They represent displacements of mental energy which are effected somewhere in the interior of the apparatus as this energy proceeds on its way towards action. Do they advance to the surface, which causes consciousness to be generated? Or does consciousness make its way to them?
This is clearly one of the difficulties that arise when one begins to take the spatial or ‘topographical‘ idea of mental life seriously. Both these possibilities are equally unimaginable, there must be a third alternative.
I have already, in another place, suggested that the real difference between a Ucs. and a Pcs. idea (thought) consists in this: that the former is carried out on some material which remains unknown, whereas the latter (the Pcs.) is in addition brought into connection with word-presentations. This is the first attempt to indicate distinguishing marks for the two systems, the Pcs. and the Ucs., other than their relation to consciousness. The question, ‘How does a thing become conscious?‘ would thus be more advantageously stated: ‘How does a thing become preconscious?‘ And the answer would be: ‘Through becoming connected with the word-presentations corresponding to it.‘
These word-presentations are residues of memories; they were at one time perceptions, and like all mnemic residues they can become conscious again. Before we concern ourselves further with their nature, it dawns upon us like a new discovery that only something which has once been a Cs. perception can become conscious, and that anything arising from within (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external perceptions: this becomes possible by means of memory-traces.
We think of the mnemic residues as being contained in systems which are directly adjacent to the system Pcpt.-Cs., so that the cathexes of those residues can readily extend from within on to the elements of the latter system. We immediately think here of hallucinations, and of the fact that the most vivid memory is always distinguishable both from a hallucination and from an external perception; but it will also occur to us at once that when a memory is revived the cathexis remains in the mnemic system, whereas a hallucination, which is not distinguishable from a perception, can arise when the cathexis does not merely spread over from the memory-trace on to the Pcpt. element, but passes over to it entirely.
Verbal residues are derived primarily from auditory perceptions, so that the system Pcs. has, as it were, a special sensory source. The visual components of word-presentations are secondary, acquired through reading, and may to begin with be left on one side; so may the motor images of words, which, except with deaf-mutes, play the part of auxiliary indications. In essence a word is after all the mnemic residue of a word that has been heard.
We must not be led, in the interests of simplification perhaps, to forget the importance of optical mnemic residues, when they are of things, or to deny that it is possible for thought-processes to become conscious through a reversion to visual residues, and that in many people this seems to be the favoured method. The study of dreams and of preconscious phantasies as shown in Varendonck‘s observations can give us an idea of the special character of this visual thinking. We learn that what becomes conscious in it is as a rule only the concrete subject-matter of the thought, and that the relations between the various elements of this subject-matter, which is what specially characterizes thoughts, cannot be given visual expression.
Thinking in pictures is, therefore, only a very incomplete form of becoming conscious. In some way, too, it stands nearer to unconscious processes than does thinking in words, and it is
unquestionably older than the latter both ontogenetically and phylogenetically.
To return to our argument: if, therefore, this is the way in which something that is in itself unconscious becomes preconscious, the question how we make something that is repressed (pre)conscious would be answered as follows. It is done by supplying Pcs. intermediate links through the work of analysis. Consciousness remains where it is, therefore; but, on the other hand, the Ucs. does not rise into the Cs.
Whereas the relation of external perceptions to the ego is quite perspicuous, that of internal perceptions to the ego requires special investigation. It gives rise once more to a doubt whether we are really right in referring the whole of consciousness to the single superficial system Pcpt-Cs.
Internal perceptions yield sensations of processes arising in the most diverse and certainly also in the deepest strata of the mental apparatus. Very little is known about these sensations and feelings; those belonging to the pleasure/unpleasure series may still be regarded as the best examples of them. They are more primordial, more elementary, than perceptions arising externally and they can come about even when consciousness is clouded. I have elsewhere expressed my views about their greater economic significance and the metapsychological reasons for this. These sensations are multilocular, like external perceptions; they may come from different places simultaneously and may thus have different or even opposite qualities.
Sensations of a pleasurable nature have not anything inherently impelling about them, whereas unpleasurable ones have it in the highest degree. The latter impel towards change, towards discharge, and that is why we interpret unpleasure as implying a heightening and pleasure a lowering of energic cathexis. Let us call what becomes conscious as pleasure and unpleasure a quantitative and qualitative ‘something‘ in the course of mental events; the question then is whether this ‘something‘ can become conscious in the place where it is, or whether it must first be transmitted to the system Pcpt.
Clinical experience decides for the latter. It shows us that this ‘something‘ behaves like a repressed impulse. It can exert driving force without the ego noticing the compulsion. Not until there is resistance to the compulsion, a holdup in the discharge-reaction, does the ‘something‘ at once become conscious as unpleasure. In the same way that tensions arising rom physical needs can remain unconscious, so also can pain—a thing intermediate between external and internal perception, which behaves like an internal perception even when its source is in the external world. It remains true, therefore, that sensations and feelings, too, only become conscious through reaching the system Pcpt.; if the way forward is barred, they do not come into being as sensations, although the ‘something‘ that corresponds to them in the course of excitation is the same as if they did. We then come to speak, in a condensed and not entirely correct manner, of unconscious feelings‘, keeping up an analogy with unconscious ideas which is not altogether justifiable. Actually the difference is that, whereas with Ucs ideas connecting links must be created before they can be brought into the Cs., with feelings, which are themselves transmitted directly, this does not occur. In other words: the distinction between Cs. and Pcs, has no meaning where feelings are concerned; the Pcs. here drops out—and feelings are either conscious or unconscious. Even when they are attached to word-presentations, their becoming conscious is not due to that circumstance, but they become so directly.
The part played by word-presentations now becomes perfectly clear. By their interposition internal thought processes are made into perceptions. It is like a demonstration of the theorem that all knowledge has its origin in external perception. When a hypercathexis of the process of thinking takes place, thoughts are actually perceived—as if they came from without and are consequently held to be true.
After this clarifying of the relations between external and internal perception and the superficial system Pcpt.-Cs., we can go on to work out our idea of the ego. It starts out, as we see, from the system Pcpt., which is its nucleus, and begins by embracing the Pcs., which is adjacent to the mnemic residues. But, as we have learnt, the ego is also unconscious.
Now I think we shall gain a great deal by following the suggestion of a writer who, from personal motives, vainly asserts that he has nothing to do with the rigours of pure science. I am speaking of Georg Groddeck, who is never tired of insisting that what we call our ego behaves
essentially passively in life, and that, as he expresses it, we are ‘lived‘ by unknown and uncontrollable forces. We have all had impressions of the same kind, even though they may not have overwhelmed us to the exclusion of all others, and we need feel no hesitation in finding a place for Groddeck‘s discovery in the structure of science. I propose to take it into account by calling the entity which starts out from the system Pcpt. and begins by being Pcs. ‘the ego‘, and by following Groddeck in calling the other part of the mind, into which this entity extends and which behaves as though it were Ucs., ‘the id‘.
We shall soon see whether we can derive any advantage from this view for purposes either of description or of understanding. We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its nucleus the Pcpt. System. If we make an effort to represent this pictorially, we may add that the ego does not completely envelop the id, but only does so to the extent to which the system Pcpt. Forms its surface, more or less as the germinal disc rests upon the ovum. The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it.
But the repressed merges into the id as well, and is merely a part of it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression; it can communicate with the ego through the id. We at once realize that almost all the lines of demarcation we have drawn at the instigation of pathology relate only to the superficial strata of the mental apparatus—the only ones known to us. The state of things which we have been describing can be represented diagrammatically; though it must be remarked that the form chosen has no pretensions to any special applicability, but is merely intended to serve for purposes of exposition. We might add, perhaps, that the ego wears a cap of ‘hearing’—on one side only, as we learn from cerebral anatomy. It might be said to wear it awry.
It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs.; in a sense it is an extension of the surface-differentiation. Moreover, the ego seems to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions. All this falls into line with popular distinctions which we are all familiar with; at the same time, however, it is only to be regarded as holding good on the average or ‘ideally‘.
The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it. Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id‘s will into action as if it were its own.
Another factor, besides the influence of the system Pcpt., seems to have played a part in bringing about the formation of the ego and its differentiation from the id. A person‘s own body, and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring. It is seen like any other object, but to the touch it yields two kinds of sensations, one of which may be equivalent to an internal perception. Psycho-physiology has fully discussed the manner in which a person‘s own body attains its special position among other objects in the world of perception. Pain, too, seems to play a part in the process, and the way in which we gain new knowledge of our organs during painful illnesses is perhaps a model of the way by which in general we arrive at the idea of our body.
The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface. If we wish to find an anatomical analogy for it we can best identify it with the cortical homunculus‘ of the anatomists, which stands on its head in the cortex, sticks up its heels, faces backwards and, as we know, has its speech-area on the left-hand side.
The relation of the ego to consciousness has been entered into repeatedly; yet there are some important facts in this connection which remain to be described here. Accustomed as we are to taking our social or ethical scale of values along with us wherever we go, we feel no surprise at hearing that the scene of the activities of the lower passions is in the unconscious; we expect, moreover, that the higher any mental function ranks in our scale of values the more easily it will find access to consciousness assured to it. Here, however, psycho-analytic experience disappoints us. On the one hand, we have evidence that even subtle and difficult intellectual operations which ordinarily require strenuous reflection can equally be carried out preconsciously and without coming into consciousness. Instances of this are quite incontestable; they may occur, for example, during the state of sleep, as is shown when someone finds, immediately after waking, that he knows the solution to a difficult mathematical or other problem with which he had been wrestling in vain the day before.
I was quite recently told an instance of this which was, in fact, brought up as an objection against my description of the ‘dream-work.’ There is another phenomenon, however, which is far stranger. In our analyses we discover that there are people in whom the faculties of self-criticism and conscience—mental activities, that is, that rank as extremely high ones—are unconscious and unconsciously produce effects of the greatest importance; the example of resistance remaining unconscious during analysis is therefore by no means unique. But this new discovery, which compels us, in spite of our better critical judgement, to speak of an ‘unconscious sense of guilt,’ bewilders us far more than the other and sets us fresh problems, especially when we gradually come to see that in a great number of neuroses an unconscious sense of guilt of this kind plays a decisive economic part and puts the most powerful obstacles in the way of recovery. If we come back once more to our scale of values, we shall have to say that not only what is lowest but also what is highest in the ego can be unconscious. It is as if we were thus supplied with a proof of what we have just asserted of the conscious ego: that it is first and foremost a body-ego.” Sigmund Freud, The Ego & the Id; 1923:
Numero Tres—“(T)he (biographical) briefs that follow do solidify the overall proposition that this initial installment about the Modern Nuclear Project offers to its readers. These men all entered the world with substantial fortunes, in four out of five cases with vast sums at their command.Their biographers speak glowingly of the ‘restless intellects,’ the ‘drive to discover,’ the ‘commitment to knowledge,’ and other characteristics that no doubt this quintet did display. However, their cash-on-hand, their imperial positions, their substantial interest in a commanding position in competitive commerce—with the possible exception of Frederick Soddy—mean that much more mundane and less admirable qualities were also in play as this group, along with many others who happen not to trot across this particular state, determined that the human future would involve atomic energy and the omnipresent proximity of mass collective suicide.
The hypothesis of this report, of course, is that this second set of goals and objectives both has received inadequate attention among chroniclers and, clearly, may have equal or greater heft in explicating why the Modern Nuclear Project has been humanity’s fate. Perhaps our survival will keep intertwining with this path: yet without a single doubt, we also must acknowledge that avoiding Homo Sapiens extinction may instead require abandoning this pathway that in any event has so obviously emerged from the class interests and moneyed predominance of the likes of these five children of millions and magnates of empire.
Frederick Soddy emerged from great wealth. His family members were grocery moguls. In a sense, the arc of Soddy’s career—from nuclear chemistry to political economy—delineates his kin’s evolution from the sale of nutrients to the banking of massive fortunes.The focus of the young chemist’s efforts revolved around the heavier elements. In this realm of nature, of little interest prior to the machinery and theories that accompanied electricity’s conjunction with magnetism induced, oddities soon began to appear. Some of this strangeness would take till the doorstep of World War Two to puzzle out, but of one thing Soddy quickly became certain: Radium was a treasure chest of energy, though we now might ponder the metaphor of Pandora’s closet.
In his monumental and seminal work, The Interpretation of Radium, Soddy attests to all of these ideas as he extolled the 91st member of the Periodic Table. One might write volumes about each of Soddy’s chapters, so informative and dense with thought and wonder were they all. He especially demonstrates the last sensibility, the awestruck apprehension of being in the presence of holy orders.
He makes this clear from the outset. For example, in the original Preface he notes the material’s “application not (being) confined to the physical sciences, but ha(ving) a wide and general bearing on our whole outlook upon nature.”
The Preface to the Third Edition, penned in 1912, confirms and expands on this assertion of revolutionary implications. In Chapter One, “The New Science,” he writes that no homey analogy can do Uranium’s potential justice, “because in these latest developments science has broken fundamentally new ground.”
He then continues as follows. “The phenomena with which I am concerned…belong to the newly born science of radioactivity and to the spontaneous disintegration of elements which the study of radioactivity has revealed to us. …see(ing) the first definite and considerable step into the ultimate nature of…atoms, which in one sense is not merely an extension of existing knowledge or principles, but a radical new departure. …concerned with the knowledge of the elementary atoms themselves of a character so fundamental and intimate that the old laws of chemistry and physics, concerned almost wholly with external relationships, do not suffice.”
And he carries such ideation through to a climactic crescendo, in Chapter Ten, as “this interpretation of Radium is drawing to a close.” First, he presents the deconstruction of the physics and chemistry of Maxwell.
“The aspects which matter has presented to us in the past is but a consummate disguise, concealing latent energies and hidden activities beneath a hitherto impenetrable mask. The ultra-material potentialities of radium are the common possession of all the world to which in our ignorance we used to refer as mere inanimate matter.”
He goes on to lionize, in tones foretelling the nuclear engineers and other atomic priests of the present. “Is it not wonderful to reflect that in this little bottle (with less than a pound of Uranium) there lies asleep and waiting to be evolved the energy of at least one hundred sixty tons of coal?…The store of energy in Uranium would be worth a thousand times as much as the Uranium itself, if only it were under our control and could be harnessed to do the world’s work in the same way as the energy in coal has been harnessed and controlled.”
Near the final pages, Soddy waxes eloquent.
“When we have learned how to transmute the elements at will the one into the other, then, and not until then, will the key to this hidden treasure house of Nature be in our hands. …(I)t has come to be recognized that in the discovery of radioactivity, or rather, of the subatomic power and processes of which radioactivity is but the outward and visible manifestation, we have penetrated one of Nature’s innermost secrets. …A race which could transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. …(S)uch a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling garden of Eden. …It is a legitimate aspiration to believe that one day (w)e will attain the power to regulate…the primary fountains of energy which Nature now so jealously reserves for the future.”
The language here bespeaks the realm of the sacred, at the same time that the arrogation of ‘Nature’s’ essence to paltry human hands also suggests the sacrilegious. In this vein, an observer needs to realize that all of this priestly poking about for new knowledge was impossible outside of the context of a bargained-for-exchange.
Moreover, at every level of the manifestation of the Modern Nuclear Project, a humble cash-out of the lofty ideals was on the minds of all the players, with the exception of the very rare ‘dear Max Planck’ whom Einstein extolled fifteen thousand words back. In the event, if for no other reason than that the instruments to interact with atoms were expensive, almost everybody pondered where to get money and how to monetize the work.
The equipment that Soddy lovingly describes, coated with gold and utilizing chemicals of the most arcane complexity and routinely high cost, was only conceivable under the most advanced material and economic conditions. Truly, given what people have learned about Uranium’s transit through human culture, a Faustian bargain may have been in play, from the inception, when bankers and barons and industrialists watched over the scurrying laboratory wizards attempting to tame all that is.
Furthermore, Soddy and his cohorts were aware of this everyday intersection between their Faustian searches and their repeated mention of value and scarcity and the potential for unfathomable increase . That their efforts necessitated the concerted support of the highest levels of public and private wealth follows as ineluctably as light follows facing the sun.
In another interesting turn suggestive of confirmation of the core import of these fiscal matters, Frederick Soddy himself became a devotee of political economy after he won his Nobel Prize in 1921. The Role of Moneyis merely one of dozens of papers and monographs that Soddy produced in this area of thought during the 1920’s and ’30’s.
The University of Toronto’s Thaddeus Trenn introduces the student to this career component in his long article, “The Central Role of Energy in Frederick Soddy’s Economics.” Soddy thus not only produced multiple volumes of what contemporary thinkers call Ecological Political Economy or Energy Political Economy, but he has reached across the decades to garner some of today’s investigators as colleagues.
Trenn quotes Soddy, who sounds like a contemporary ‘Peak Oil’ proponent. “The fact remains that, if the supply of energy failed, modern civilization would come to an end as abruptly as does the music of an organ deprived of wind. [But] … the still unrecognized ‘energy problem’ . . . awaits the future.”
The lively Brit goes on to plug Uranium as the basis for human renovation, or, should one prefer, ‘renaissance.’ “[The human control of atomic energy could] virtually provide anyone who wanted it with a private sun of his own.”
That these promises have proved nonsensical is immaterial; that the risks have come to appear monstrous matters less than nothing; Soddy’s is the vision of the entrepreneur or venture capitalist at the pinnacle of the bourgeois order. As the clock continues to tick on the imposition of a ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ on all humankind, his remains the stubborn, and purportedly farsighted, folly of finance that predominates right this second in the Modern Nuclear Project.
On the basis of soda ash—both the industrial and the home products—Ernest Solvay’s paternal line had lined the pockets of many of Belgium’s wealthiest individuals. He was one of Europe’s richest men. Moreover, he viewed the chemical techniques that had created his fortune as a beckoning to unlock still deeper mysteries of matter.The Solvay Conferences grew out of this intersection of capital and inquiry. For over a century, every couple of years or so, Ernest Solvay’s drive in this arena has continued to create physics efforts and chemical insights. The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry has impacted scholarship and practical machinations of these fields at the same time.
While one might devote many volumes just to such important individual conferences as the 1927 Institute on Protons and Electrons, where the buzz was all about the potential for additional particles—the neutron waited in the wings, as it were—today’s materials will merely whet the reader’s interest about the process that this scion of plutocracy developed as an invitation-only gathering of nuclear cognoscenti. Einstein was a ubiquitous presence, as were Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and others.
The contents of the sessions at a Solvay event were not open to the public. The luminaries there have indicated subsequently that many aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project were under discussion at these closed door sessions.
Some who are wont to view the work of the world in these circumstances as conspiratorial are wont to concoct all manner of theories about such events.
“Project Lightbulb started out as an experimentation with electrons and photons and how they can affect they way we perceive space and time. Some say Project Lightbulb was commissioned in highest secrecy during the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927. Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were Noble Prize winners including Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Marie Curie, Erwin Schrödinger, and many others.”
Whatever the possible proofs or refutations of such views, that Solvay’s great wealth—and his strategic focus on bringing nuclear physicists and chemists together to talk shop privately on a regular basis—without a single doubt did contribute to such obvious ‘conspiracies’ as the Manhattan Engineering District, the development of thermonuclear weapons, the transfer of nuclear techniques to nations such as Britain and France and Israel and more.
These are not theories. And with more time and resources, the underlying events of Solvay’s work could stand as a multi-volume treatise about the political-economic, social, and imperial aspects of the Modern Nuclear Project generally.
ROCKEFELLER FAMILY INTERESTS
If the Solvay family network in relation to nuclear issues would necessitate at least one big, fat volume, the same coverage of the clan that synthesizes oil and money and monopoly and empire would require a small library of dense monographs to cover the same ground. Wherever one looks in the nooks and crannies and foyers and common areas of The Modern Nuclear Project, individual Rockefeller’s show up; their foundations and other ‘non-profit’ arms span the globe; their employees and functionaries have a seat at every table that matters.This is true whether one is looking at Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, Ernest Lawrence, Edward Teller, or half a thousand other ‘leading lights’ in atomic research. The oil family’s interests hypothetically stemmed from the potential to use radium in cancer therapy and like possibilities. But high energy physics had other offshoots that might captivate such actors as these.
The New York Times summarized this trend in an analytical article centering on Rockefeller’s beneficence to science. Its headline stands as a precis for the wider trend: “Scientific Giving Is Now Big American Business.” As well, the oil giant’s generosity was among the leading sources of early funding for decoding the meaning and possibilities of Uranium.
Such monographs as Ben Martin’s The Political Economy of Science, Technology, and Innovation make this point more generally. Additionally, one may turn to radical critics of scientism, who insist on a holistic accounting of science and its specific techniques, to expand and further deepen this contention about the interwoven strands of money, politics, and the understanding and exploitation of nature. Philip Murowski’s Science Bought and Sold: Essays in the Economics of Science is merely one of hundreds of examples of such interpretations.
As with most of what the Spindoctor manages to produce, more time and resources might garner results both more monumental and more pointedly revealing. More will show up in future installments, in any event.
Having seen a fair swath of the pies in which Alfred Loomis had his fingers in the OVERTURE, a tiny precis of what else an investigator might plumb shows up here. Just as with all of the above moneybags with an intense interest in the Modern Nuclear Project, so too with the estimable Mr. Loomis: further research would likely pay huge dividends.The National Archives fulfills the assertion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ about this. It depicts merry hilarity among a special group of men: Meeting in the Radiation Laboratory on the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) campus to discuss the 184-inch cyclotron; left to right: Ernest O Lawrence, Arthur H Compton, Vannevar Bush, James B Conant, Karl T Compton, and Alfred Loomis, March 29, 1940.
Loomis’ heritage of cash, his vocation to study science, his proclivity to make investment coups in the electrical utilities industry, and his compulsion to be a part of the electromagnetic spectrum investigation mean that he is a man of the atom. He is a core member of the Modern Nuclear Project.
The final table of the hypothetical “World Series of Nuclear Poker” could easily include these five men. Truman’s constant use of a poker metaphor – that the Trinity Test and atomic bombs were an “ace in the hole” – in many ways is perfectly apt. Taking others’ things, controlling outcomes, ending up with all the money, are what empire and capital and the Modern Nuclear Project share in common with the game of poker.Alexander Sachs seamlessly fits in with this group. The Atomic Archive makes this point briefly. “On october 11, 1939, Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist and longtime friend and unofficial adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with the President to discuss a letter written by Albert Einstein the previous August. Einstein had written to inform Roosevelt that recent research on chain reactions utilizing uranium made it probably that large amounts of power could be produced by a chain reaction and that, by harnessing this power, the construction of extremely powerful bombs was conceivable. Einstein believed the German government was actively supporting research in this area and urged the United States government to do likewise. Sachs read from a cover letter he had prepared and briefed Roosevelt on the main points contained in Einstein’s letter. Initially the President was noncommittal and expressed concern over locating the necessary funds, but at a second meeting over breakfast the next morning Roosevelt became convinced of the value of exploring atomic energy.”
As a savvy investor and member of capital’s inner circle, Sachs had a longstanding interest in fission and the atomic and subatomic realms. This is typical of the upper reaches of the upper crust, then and now. Further investigation, forthcoming in the next installment of this series, will show this much more extensively and powerfully than what has appeared thus far.
If a reader recalls Einstein’s observation that somewhere between a large and an overwhelming majority of scientists have very practical reasons for choosing their careers, the accomplishments and meaning of these five characters conceivably comes crisply into focus. Plutocratic wealth was in play here. Fascination with the workings of the natural world without a single doubt represented to some measurable degree among these men an interest of at least similar intensity with the forming of commodities, the making of money, the accouterments of power and empire, and other such indicia of upper class imprimatur and social entitlement and worldly success.
The Modern Nuclear Project, as Soddy’s integration of energy and political economy make especially transparent, summed up for this group of central actors in the fields of money and war and empire a mandatory turn. Nature provided the potential for bombs that at one fell swoop might incinerate hundreds of thousands or even millions of victims. Physical law underlay the capacity to boil water with the same energies that achieved these refinements in mass murder. But the social, political, and economic selection of that particular direction flowed undeniably from the social and political and economic priorities that these titans brought to the fields of knowledge and the arenas of science.
That other options were available—and well-established and understood—is possible to demonstrate too. The rare rebel points out that this assertion is true. Just before he died, Thomas Edison spoke to a scoffing Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. ‘We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.’
Whatever else he was, Mr. Edison was no dummy. But he was also not a banker, nor did he particularly favor untrammeled control from such social sets. This hegemony, then, may account for the paths that our sort have trod down a primrose path laden with Plutonium and plunder, plutocracy and inequality.” Jim Hickey, “Financial and Social Imperatives: the Political Economy of the Nuclear Age;” The Southeast Review of Media, Culture, & Politics, 2015:
Numero Cuatro—“For Dylann Roof, the next few days and weeks of his young life will prove his most memorable. That’s saying something, considering his slaughter of 9 sweet souls in a Black Charleston church.
For, in the next few days and weeks, a jury will convene to decide whether he gets a death sentence or life.
As someone who lived a lifetime on Death Row, my opposition is unequivocal. Even in a case such as this, my opposition to the State taking life doesn’t falter. Even in this case, of a witless white supremacist, a killer of 9 Black Christian souls.
If I know anything, it’s Death Row. I’ve seen it drive men stark, raving mad.
That said, my one opinion carries no real weight in this case, for unless I miss my guess, no juror will ever hear these words. They will decide his fate after he delivers his own closing arguments, which will hardly endear him to his jurors.
A death verdict for Roof strengthens the repressive powers of the State, and gives it the false patina of ‘justice.’ If a death sentence fails it helps show the inherent injustice of the death penalty. It would help all the men and women on Death Row.
My decision to oppose death for Roof wasn’t an easy one; but I believe it’s the right one.
No matter his beliefs, decades on Death Row, as well as in solitary, are mind-frying experiences. Nothing he has experienced in his brief life can prepare him for such outcomes.
For life, in prison, is no picnic.” Mumia Abu-Jamal, “For Dylann Roof, Life!” 2016
Truly, spiritual death and psychic despair follow in the train of untrammeled privilege in similar fashion as massive wealth in realms of poverty and despair inherently and ineluctably leads to venality and treachery and hypocritical narcissism, conclusions of fact that must in turn elicit at the very minimum a critical attitude toward the class practices of exploitation and extraction that promulgate and accept such wretchedness and aggression against wage-earners and unemployed people and the poor, all of whom merely serve to exemplify the predatory plundering that capital visits on the undercapitalized as ‘surplus labor’ expands its presence, justifying schemes of mass murder, mass collective suicide, and, ultimately, human extinction in the name of profiteering bottom-lines and lives of luxury and leisure for the unworthy inheritors of fortune and fame who almost always have constituted the upper crust in every society that has ever existed.
This Day in History
In one of many celebrations of life now before us, today is Arbor Day in the U.S., as well as, much more bizarrely around the globe, World Laboratory Animal Day, while in Armenia April 24 is Genocide Remembrance Day; at least in traditional calendars, in the territory over which at least a half a dozen world class empires have since passed, three thousand two hundred and one years ago, the Trojan imperial center at Troy fell to the Greeks; three hundred and thirteen years ago, the first regular newspaper in British Colonial America, The Boston News-Letter, was published in Boston, Massachusetts; MORE HERE
Quote of the Day
At the risk of quoting Mephistopheles I repeat: Welcome to hell. A hell erected and maintained by human-governments, and blessed by black robed judges. A hell that allows you to see your loved ones, but not to touch them. A hell situated in America’s boondocks, hundreds of miles away from most families. A white, rural hell, where most of the captives are black and urban. It is an American way of death.”
Numero Uno—“Mark Twain
If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough. The squabble arose apropos of Paul Bourget’s new book on America, Outre Mer, a book which deals more fairly and generously with this country than any book yet written in a foreign tongue. Mr. Clemens did not like the book, and like all men of his class, and limited mentality, he cannot criticise without becoming personal and insulting. He cannot be scathing without being a blackguard. He tried to demolish a serious and well considered work by publishing a scurrilous, slangy and loosely written article about it. In this article Mr. Clemens proves very little against Mr. Bourget and a very great deal against himself. He demonstrates clearly that he is neither a scholar, a reader or a man of letters and very little of a gentleman. His ignorance of French literature is something appalling. Why, in these days it is as necessary for a literary man to have a wide knowledge of the French masterpieces as it is for him to have read Shakespeare or the Bible. What man who pretends to be an author can afford to neglect those models of style and composition. George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James excepted, the great living novelists are Frenchmen.
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We’re always working to discover new authors and new stories to publish alongside our regular contributors. The Newcomer Prize is part of this: It’s only open to authors who have not been previously published by The Fiction Desk, and who have not yet published a novel or collection of short stories on paper. This deadline for this year’s competition is midnight (UK time) on 31 May 2017. The first prize is £500, and there is a second prize of £250. The entry fee is £8. Stories should be between 1,000 and 7,000 words in length. The competition is judged by Rob Redman, editor of the anthology series and founder of The Fiction Desk.
Redivider aims to publish work that captivates readers while complicating their worldviews. Now seeking entries to the Beacon Street Prize in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Are you a storyteller with a passion for design? Do you love helping entrepreneurs realize their goals? The 99designs blog is looking for new contributors. You will help educate and inspire our customers through articles that are informative, fun, shareable and search-engine friendly…
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An Aeon essay by a thoughful correspondent that contextualizes the long and eventful history of the study of the mind’s recesses: “Freud’s ghost might still haunt a small corner of the modern-day psychological laboratory, but the lexicon of censorship and repression has not retained its explanatory currency. Studies of waking and sleeping unconscious processes suggest that deception is not, and has never been, the second self’s true forte. As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead sagely observed in the early days of psychoanalysis, the unconscious is essentially an enabler, quietly rolling up its sleeves to expand ‘the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking of them’.”
The Submishmash Podcast is a new audio program focused on technology, creativity, diversity, and female-identified perspectives.
A Columbia Journalist Review look at the way the current media climate can be deleterious to one of the most ubiquitous cultural bastions of urban areas: “Whether the magazine was in Seattle, Dallas, or New England, it was suddenly fighting for every penny. “When I was coming up in this business, you had the big fish—network affiliate TV and the newspapers—and then the rest of us—radio, us, free-rack pubs, burgeoning new websites—were all guppies,” says John Palumbo, owner and publisher of Rhode Island Monthly, who also writes an industry insider column for FOLIO:. “There were certain pieces of business that you wouldn’t think the big fish would look at. Now we’re all guppies. Everything is fair game.””
A Process History analysis of the role that labor concerns play in regards to the formulation and resolution of environmental concerns: “The recent pipeline battle at Standing Rock, and the lead poisoning disaster in Flint, have once again thrust issues of environmental justice and environmental racism into the mainstream media spotlight (however briefly). In the aftermath of Trump’s election, casual observers might be forgiven for assuming that labor unions and environmental justice activists at Standing Rock and Flint have conflicting interests. Last month, in a familiar public relations tactic, President Trump surrounded himself with coal miners while signing an executive order to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan. AFL-CIO leaders have supported the Dakota Access Pipeline, and criticized the Standing Rock protesters, largely due to pressure from building trades unions. However, numerous unions have opposed the pipeline and supported the protests, including the Communication Workers of America, the United Electrical Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United, and the Labor Coalition for Community Action. Similarly, dozens of labor unions have aided Flint residents with water filter and faucet installations and low-cost loans to replace lead pipes.”
A Clinton campaign post-mortem, from Consortium News: “An early insider account of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, entitled Shattered, reveals a paranoid presidential candidate who couldn’t articulate why she wanted to be President and who oversaw an overconfident and dysfunctional operation that failed to project a positive message or appeal to key voting groups.”
Today Vietnamese people celebrate Vietnam Book Day, Kenyans National Tree Planting Day, Rastafarians Grounation Day, Texans the martial laurels of San Jacinto Day, Mexicans the bitter dregs of defeat of Heroic Defense of Veracruz Day; in the most ancient and murkiest initial period of what we might now recognize as an Italian people, two thousand seven hundred and sixty-nine years ago, the legendary abandoned twin and scion of wolves, Romulus, founded the city of Rome; one and a half millennia, one and a half centuries, and three years later, in 900, halfway round the globe, a local leader of the Kingdom of Tondo in what is now the Philippines issued the first known written inscription from the islands, a debt-forgiveness instrument, a pardon, for another elite family; two hundred forty-two years after that passing day, in 1142, in France, the acclaimed, even beloved teacher, philosopher, and theologian of love and analysis, Peter Abelard, breathed his last; three hundred sixty-four years onward in space and time, in 1506, in Europe once more, a three day slaughter of Jews and suggested Jewish adherents in Lisbon ended with as many as 2,000 or more people dead in the process of the outburst by Portuguese Catholic authorities; two decades hence on the dot, in 1526, Eastward in the Subcontinent, Timur’s grandson, Babur led Islamic forces that brought to bear cannon and musketry in crushing their Lodi empire opponents in the Battle of Panipat, expanding the dominance of Mughal forces and arguably inaugurating a Mughal imperial reign in India; three hundred forty-six years ahead of today’s dawning, a baby boy was born whose life and work would help give birth to the monetary and practical forms of capitalism as the theorist, mathematician, and practical political economist, John Law, a man of profits and bubbles; twenty-eight years past that juncture, in 1699, the esteemed and estimable poet and dramatist and critic, Jean Racine, lived out his final scene; two hundred thirty-five years back, the Thai Buddha, Yodfa Chulaloke, oversaw the founding of what soon became the bustling city of Rattanakosin, which today we call Bangkok; a decade further along time’s road, in 1792, nearly half a world away in Brazil, the now celebrated revolutionary leader, Tiradentes, faced executioners who strung him up and then cut him down to draw and quarter him in public; two dozen years thereafter, in 1816, a baby girl opened her eyes who would rise, briefly, to write and tell stories as the magnificent Charlotte Bronte; another two decades farther along the temporal arc, in 1836, Texan fighters dominated the followers of Santa Anna in battle at San Jacinto; just seven hundred thirty days more proximate to the present pass, in 1838, a male infant entered our midst whom destiny elected to lead an early environmental consciousness in the United States; eighteen years afterward, in 1856, half a planet away in Australian, building trades workers prepared to March in Melbourne on their way to winning an eight hour day; eight years subsequently, in 1864, a male child came along who en route to a life as the path-finding sociologist and theorist, Max Weber;
just short of three and a half decades yet later on, in 1898, the United States Navy demonstrated some practical social relations by instituting a blockade of Cuban ports on the cusp of the Spanish American War; a dozen years more in the direction of today, in 1910, an icon of critique and hilarity, Mark Twain, passed from our ranks; fourteen hundred sixty-one days past that passing instant in space and time, in 1914, months prior to the formal initiation of the carnage of World War One, U.S. authorities intercepted a German arms shipment to Mexico near Veracruz; a single year forward toward today, in 1915, a baby boy shouted out whose destiny was to mature as the environmental thinker and leader Garrett Hardin; seven more years in the direction of now, in 1922, a male child looked about for the first time on his way to a life as the master of thrillers and popular adventure novels, Alistair MacLean; a thousand ninety-six days subsequent to that moment, in 1925, reactionary apologists and erstwhile thinkers issued the Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals, which the establishment newspaper Il Mondo featured prominently, thereby publicizing the ideological underpinnings and plans for political hegemony of Benito Mussolini and those around him; an additional seven years nearer to the here and now, in 1932, a little girl bounded into the world who would grow into the feisty writer and creator of scripts, Elaine May; another seven year span down the pike, in 1939, a baby female called out whose fate would be to stand as a moral witness for social justice and elimination of the death penalty as the nun, Sister Helen Prejean; one more seven year period onward, in 1946, the acclaimed political economist John Maynard Keynes, both beloved and despised, took a final breath; two further years en route to today, in 1948, the noted ecologist and champion of wild environments, Aldo Leopold, gave up his ghost; the very first Secretary’s Day, now Administrative Professionals Day, unfolded four years even closer to the current context, in 1952; plus or minus five thousand miles South, eight years later still, in 1960 Brazil, the official opening of a new Capital City, Brasilia, took place; back in the U.S. two years henceforth, in 1962, Seattle inaugurated the first world’s fair in postwar North America; two years after that exact point in time and space, in 1964, a U.S. military satellite’s failure to achieve its optimal orbit resulted in as much as a kilogram of its Plutonium power source’s dispersal in the upper atmosphere; a year beyond that juncture, in 1965, the second season opened of New York’s 1964-65 World’s Fair; across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean an additional two years along time’s path, in 1967, Greek fascist military officers, alluding to ‘Communist influence’ in the electoral process and at least tacitly supported by U.S. intelligence and ‘defense’ operatives, overthrew the democratic government and instituted seven years of repressive, even murderous, rule over their fellow citizens, while, back in New York, Governor Rockefeller oversaw the passage of the Taylor Act, which encouraged public unions but prohibited strikes or other labor actions by them; a quarter century hence, in 1992, astronauts confirmed discovery of planets that circled distant stars; the very next year, in 1993, meanwhile, in a decidedly more terrestrial development, Bolivia’s Supreme Court sentenced the nation’s former dictator to a thirty-year, no parole sentence for murder and other high crimes against justice and the Constitution; four years past that austere and unexpected moment, in 1997, over twelve thousand ‘Yankee’ rubber workers went out on strike against Goodyear over wages, benefits, and job security; another year toward today, in 1998, the important philosopher and theorist of modernism, Jean-Francois Lyotard, had his final scene before exiting; a half decade later, in 2003, the beloved vocalist and lyricist Nina Simone sang her swansong; seven more years on the path to now, in 2010, Russia and Ukraine approved the Kharkiv Pact, which guaranteed Russian natural gas in exchange for naval base rights for Moscow’s ships, an agreement—some say—that played a role in dissolution and coup four years down the road; a pair of years farther on the path to now, in 2012, the biographer, poet, critic, and literary gadfly, Charles Higham, died in Los Angeles.
Numero Uno—“There is no absolutely ‘objective’ scientific analysis of culture – or put perhaps more narrowly but certainly not essentially differently for our purposes – of ‘social phenomena’ independent of special and ‘one-sided’ viewpoints according to which – expressly or tacitly, consciously or unconsciously – they are selected, analysed and organised for expository purposes. The reasons for this lie in the character of the cognitive goal of all research in social science which seeks to transcend the purely formal treatment of the legal or conventional norms regulating social life. The type of social science in which we are interested is an empirical science of concrete reality. Our aim is the understanding of the characteristic uniqueness of the reality in which we move. We wish to understand on the one hand the relationships and the cultural significance of individual events in their contemporary manifestations and on the other the causes of their being historically so and not otherwise. Now, as soon as we attempt to reflect about the way in which life confronts us in immediate concrete situations, it presents an infinite multiplicity of successively and coexistently emerging and disappearing events, both ‘within’ and ‘outside’ ourselves. The absolute infinitude of this multiplicity is seen to remain undiminished even when our attention is focused on a single ‘object,’ for instance, a concrete act of exchange, as soon as we seriously attempt an exhaustive description of all the individual components of this ‘individual phenomenon,’ to say nothing of explaining it causally. All the analysis of infinite reality which the finite human mind can conduct rests on the tacit assumption that only a finite portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation, and that only it is ‘important’ in the sense of being ‘worthy of being known.’ But what are the criteria by which this segment is selected? It has often been thought that the decisive criterion in the cultural sciences, too, was in the last analysis, the ‘regular’ recurrence of certain causal relationships. The ‘laws’ which we are able to perceive in the infinitely manifold stream of events must – according to this conception – contain the scientifically ‘essential’ aspect of reality. As soon as we have shown some causal relationship to be a ‘law,’ (i.e., if we have shown it to be universally valid by means of comprehensive historical induction, or have made it immediately and tangibly plausible according to our subjective experience), a great number of similar cases order themselves under the formula thus attained. Those elements in each individual event which are left unaccounted for by the selection of their elements subsumable under the ‘law’ are considered as scientifically unintegrated residues which will be taken care of in the further perfection of the system of ‘laws.’ Alternatively they will be viewed as ‘accidental’ and therefore scientifically unimportant because they do not fit into the structure of the ‘law;’ in other words, they are not typical of the event and hence can only be the objects of ‘idle curiosity.’ Accordingly, even among the followers of the Historical School we continually find the attitude which declares that the ideal, which all the sciences, including the cultural sciences, serve and toward which they should strive even in the remote future, is a system of propositions from which reality can be ‘deduced.’ As is well known, a leading natural scientist believed that he could designate the (factually unattainable) ideal goal of such a treatment of cultural reality as a sort of ‘astronomical’ knowledge.
Let us not, for our part, spare ourselves the trouble of examining these matters more closely – however often they have already been discussed. The first thing that impresses one is that the “astronomical” knowledge which was referred to is not a system of laws at all. On the contrary, the laws which it presupposes have been taken from other disciplines like mechanics. But it too concerns itself with the question of the individual consequence which the working of these laws in a unique configuration produces, since it is these individual configurations which are significant for us. Every individual constellation which it “explains” or predicts is causally explicable only as the consequence of another equally individual constellation which has preceded it. As far back as we may go into the grey mist of the far-off past, the reality to which the laws apply always remains equally individual, equally undeducible from laws. A cosmic “primeval state” which had no individual character or less individual character than the cosmic reality of the present would naturally be a meaningless notion. But is there not some trace of similar ideas in our field in those propositions sometimes derived from natural law and sometimes verified by the observation of “primitives,” concerning an economic-social “primeval state” free from historical “accidents,” and characterised by phenomena such as “primitive agrarian communism,” sexual “promiscuity,” etc., from which individual historical development emerges by a sort of fall from grace into concreteness?
The social-scientific interest has its point of departure, of course, in the real, i.e., concrete, individually-structured configuration of our cultural life in its universal relationships which are themselves no less individually structured, and in its development out of other social cultural conditions, which themselves are obviously likewise individually structured. It is clear here that the situation which we illustrated by reference to astronomy as a limiting case (which is regularly drawn on by logicians for the same purpose) appears in a more accentuated form. Whereas in astronomy, the heavenly bodies are of interest to us only in their quantitative and exact aspects, the qualitative aspect of phenomena concerns us in the social sciences. To this should be added that in the social sciences we are concerned with psychological and intellectual phenomena the empathic understanding of which is naturally a problem of a specifically different type from those which the schemes of the exact natural sciences in general can or seek to solve. Despite that, this distinction in itself is not a distinction in principle, as it seems at first glance. Aside from pure mechanics, even the exact natural sciences do not proceed without qualitative categories. Furthermore, in our own field we encounter the idea (which is obviously distorted) that at least the phenomena characteristic of a money-economy – which are basic to our culture – are quantifiable and on that account subject to formulation as “laws.” Finally it depends on the breadth or narrowness of one’s definition of “law” as to whether one will also include regularities which because they are not quantifiable are not subject to numerical analysis. Especially insofar as the influence of psychological and intellectual factors is concerned, it does not in any case exclude the establishment of rules governing rational conduct. Above all, the point of view still persists which claims that the task of psychology is to play a role comparable to mathematics for the Geisteswissenschaften in the sense that it analyses the complicated phenomena of social life into their psychic conditions and effects, reduces them to their most elementary possible psychic factors and then analyses their functional interdependences. Thereby a sort of “chemistry,” if not “mechanics,” of the psychic foundations of social life would be created. Whether such investigations can produce valuable and – what is something else – useful results for the cultural sciences, we cannot decide here. But this would be irrelevant to the question as to whether the aim of socioeconomic knowledge in our sense, i.e., knowledge of reality with respect to its cultural significance and its causal relationships, can be attained through the quest for recurrent sequences. Let us assume that we have succeeded by means of psychology or otherwise in analysing all the observed and imaginable relationships, of social phenomena into some ultimate elementary “factors,” that we have made an exhaustive analysis and classification of them and then formulated rigorously exact laws covering their behaviour. – What would be the significance of these results for our knowledge of the historically given culture or any individual phase thereof, such as capitalism, in its development and cultural significance? As an analytical tool, it would be as useful as a textbook of organic chemical combinations would be for our knowledge of the biogenetic aspect of the animal and plant world. In each case, certainly an important and useful preliminary step would have been taken. In neither case can concrete reality be deduced from “laws” and “factors.” This is not because some higher mysterious powers reside in living phenomena (such as “dominants,” “entelechies,” or whatever they might be called). This, however, presents a problem in its own right. The real reason is that the analysis of reality is concerned with the configuration into which those (hypothetical!) “factors” are arranged to form a cultural phenomenon which is historically significant to us. Furthermore, if we wish to “explain” this individual configuration “causally” we must invoke other equally individual configurations on the basis of which we will explain it with the aid of those (hypothetical!) “laws.”
The determination of those (hypothetical) “laws” and “factors” would in any case only be the first of the many operations which would lead us to the desired type of knowledge. The analysis of the historically given individual configuration of those “factors” and their significant concrete interaction, conditioned by their historical context and especially the rendering intelligible of the basis and type of this significance would be the next task to be achieved. This task must be achieved, it is true, by the utilisation of the preliminary analysis, but it is nonetheless an entirely new and distinct task. The tracing as far into the past as possible of the individual features of these historically evolved configurations which are contemporaneously significant, and their historical explanation by antecedent and equally individual configurations would be the third task. Finally the prediction of possible future constellations would be a conceivable fourth task.
For all these purposes, clear concepts and the knowledge of those (hypothetical) “laws” are obviously of great value as heuristic means – but only as such. Indeed they are quite indispensable for this purpose. But even in this function their limitations become evident at a decisive point. In stating this, we arrive at the decisive feature of the method of the cultural sciences. We have designated as “cultural sciences” those disciplines which analyse the phenomena of life in terms of their cultural significance. The significance of a configuration of cultural phenomena and the basis of this significance cannot however be derived and rendered intelligible by a system of analytical laws, however perfect it may be, since the significance of cultural events presupposes a value-orientation toward these events. The concept of culture is a value-concept. Empirical reality becomes “culture” to us because and insofar as we relate it to value ideas. It includes those segments and only those segments of reality which have become significant to us because of this value-relevance. Only a small portion of existing concrete reality is colored by our value-conditioned interest and it alone is significant to us. It is significant because it reveals relationships which are important to us due to their connection with our values. Only because and to the extent that this is the case is it worthwhile for us to know it in its individual features. We cannot discover, however, what is meaningful to us by means of a “presuppositionless” investigation of empirical data. Rather, perception of its meaningfulness to us is the presupposition of its becoming an object of investigation. Meaningfulness naturally does not coincide with laws as such, and the more general the law the less the coincidence. For the specific meaning which a phenomenon has for us is naturally not to be found in those relationships which it shares with many other phenomena.
The focus of attention on reality under the guidance of values which lend it significance and the selection and ordering of the phenomena which are thus affected in the light of their cultural significance is entirely different from the analysis of reality in terms of laws and general concepts. Neither of these two types of the analysis of reality has any necessary logical relationship with the other. They can coincide in individual instances but it would be most disastrous if their occasional coincidence caused us to think that they were not distinct in principle. The cultural significance of a phenomenon, e.g., the significance of exchange in a money economy, can be the fact that it exists on a mass scale as a fundamental component of modern culture. But the historical fact that it plays this role must be causally explained in order to render its cultural significance understandable. The analysis of the general aspects of exchange and the technique of the market is a – highly important and indispensable – preliminary task. For not only does this type of analysis leave unanswered the question as to how exchange historically acquired its fundamental significance in the modern world; but above all else, the fact with which we are primarily concerned, namely, the cultural significance of the money-economy – for the sake of which we are interested in the description of exchange technique, and for the sake of which alone a science exists which deals with that technique – is not derivable from any “law.” The generic features of exchange, purchase, etc., interest the jurist – but we are concerned with the analysis of the cultural significance of the concrete historical fact that today exchange exists on a mass scale. When we require an explanation, when we wish to understand what distinguishes the social-economic aspects of our culture, for instance, from that of Antiquity, in which exchange showed precisely the same generic traits as it does today, and when we raise the question as to where the significance of “money economy” lies, logical principles of quite heterogenous derivation enter into the investigation. We will apply those concepts with which we are provided by the investigation of the general features of economic mass phenomena – indeed, insofar as they are relevant to the meaningful aspects of our culture, we shall use them as means of exposition. The goal of our investigation is not reached through the exposition of those laws and concepts, precise as it may be. The question as to what should be the object of universal conceptualisation cannot be decided “presuppositionlessly” but only with reference to the significance which certain segments of that infinite multiplicity which we call “commerce” have for culture. We seek knowledge of an historical phenomenon, meaning by historical: significant in its individuality. And the decisive element in this is that only through the presupposition that a finite part alone of the infinite variety of phenomena is significant, does the knowledge of an individual phenomenon become logically meaningful. Even with the widest imaginable knowledge of “laws,” we are helpless in the face of the question: how is the causal explanation of an individual fact possible – since a description of even the smallest slice of reality can never be exhaustive? The number and type of causes which have influenced any given event are always infinite and there is nothing in the things themselves to set some of them apart as alone meriting attention. A chaos of “existential judgments” about countless individual events would be the only result of a serious attempt to analyse reality “without presuppositions.” And even this result is only seemingly possible, since every single perception discloses on closer examination an infinite number of constituent perceptions which can never be exhaustively expressed in a judgment. Order is brought into this chaos only on the condition that in every case only a part of concrete reality is interesting and significant to us, because only it is related to the cultural values with which we approach reality. Only certain sides of the infinitely complex concrete phenomenon, namely those to which we attribute a general cultural significance, are therefore worthwhile knowing. They alone are objects of causal explanation. And even this causal explanation evinces the same character; an exhaustive causal investigation of any concrete phenomena in its full reality is not only practically impossible – it is simply nonsense. We select only those causes to which are to be imputed in the individual case, the “essential” feature of an event. Where the individuality of a phenomenon is concerned, the question of causality is not a question of laws but of concrete causal relationships; it is not a question of the subsumption of the event under some general rubric as a representative case but of its imputation as a consequence of some constellation. It is in brief a question of imputation. Wherever the causal explanation of a “cultural phenomenon” – a “historical individual” is under consideration, the knowledge of causal laws is not the end of the investigation but only a means. It facilitates and renders possible the causal imputation to their concrete causes of those components of a phenomenon the individuality of which is culturally significant. So far and only so far as it achieves this, is it valuable for our knowledge of concrete relationships. And the more “general” (i.e., the more abstract) the laws, the less they can contribute to the causal imputation of individual phenomena and, more indirectly, to the understanding of the significance of cultural events.
What is the consequence of all this?
Naturally, it does not imply that the knowledge of universal propositions, the construction of abstract concepts, the knowledge of regularities and the attempt to formulate “laws” have no scientific justification in the cultural sciences. Quite the contrary, if the causal knowledge of the historians consists of the imputation of concrete effects to concrete causes, a valid imputation of any individual effect without the application of “nomological” knowledge – i.e., the knowledge of recurrent causal sequences – would in general be impossible. Whether a single individual component of a relationship is, in a concrete case, to be assigned causal responsibility for an effect, the causal explanation of which is at issue, can in doubtful cases be determined only by estimating the effects which we generally expect from it and from the other components of the same complex which are relevant to the explanation. In other words, the “adequate” effects of the causal elements involved must be considered in arriving at any such conclusion. The extent to which the historian (in the widest sense of the word) can perform this imputation in a reasonably certain manner, with his imagination sharpened by personal experience and trained in analytic methods, and the extent to which he must have recourse to the aid of special disciplines which make it possible, varies with the individual case. Everywhere, however, and hence also in the sphere of complicated economic processes, the more certain and the more comprehensive our general knowledge the greater is the certainty of imputation. This proposition is not in the least affected by the fact that even in the case of all so-called “economic laws” without exception, we are concerned here not with “laws” in the narrower exact natural-science sense, but with adequate causal relationships expressed in rules and with the application of the category of “objective possibility.” The establishment of such regularities is not the end but rather the means of knowledge. It is entirely a question of expediency, to be settled separately for each individual case, whether a regularly recurrent causal relationship of everyday experience should be formulated into a “law.” Laws are important and valuable in the exact natural sciences, in the measure that those sciences are universally valid. For the knowledge of historical phenomena in their concreteness, the most general laws, because they are most devoid of content, are also the least valuable. The more comprehensive the validity – or scope – of a term, the more it leads us away from the richness of reality since in order to include the common elements of the largest possible number of phenomena, it must necessarily be as abstract as possible and hence devoid of content. In the cultural sciences, the knowledge of the universal or general is never valuable in itself.
The conclusion which follows from the above is that an “objective” analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to “laws,” is meaningless. It is not meaningless, as is often maintained, because cultural or psychic events for instance are “objectively” less governed by laws. It is meaningless for a number of other reasons. Firstly, because the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end; secondly, because knowledge of cultural events is inconceivable except on a basis of the significance which the concrete constellations of reality have for us in certain individual concrete situations. In which sense and in which situations this is the case is not revealed to us by any law; it is decided according to the value-ideas in the light of which we view “culture” in each individual case. “Culture” is a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance. This is true even for the human being who views a particular culture as a mortal enemy and who seeks to “return to nature.” He can attain this point of view only after viewing the culture in which he lives from the standpoint of his values, and finding it “too soft.” This is the purely logical-formal fact which is involved when we speak of the logically necessary rootedness of all historical entities in “evaluative ideas.” The transcendental presupposition of every cultural science lies not in our finding a certain culture or any “culture” in general to be valuable but rather in the fact that we are cultural beings, endowed with the capacity and the will to take a deliberate attitude toward the world and to lend it significance. Whatever this significance may be, it will lead us to judge certain phenomena of human existence in its light and to respond to them as being (positively or negatively) meaningful. Whatever may be the content of this attitude, these phenomena have cultural significance for us and on this significance alone rests its scientific interest. Thus when we speak here of the conditioning of cultural knowledge through evaluative ideas (following the terminology of modern logic), it is done in the hope that we will not be subject to crude misunderstandings such as the opinion that cultural significance should be attributed only to valuable phenomena. Prostitution is a cultural phenomenon just as much as religion or money. All three are cultural phenomena only because, and only insofar as, their existence and the form which they historically assume touch directly or indirectly on our cultural interests and arouse our striving for knowledge concerning problems brought into focus by the evaluative ideas which give significance to the fragment of reality analysed by those concepts.
All knowledge of cultural reality, as may be seen, is always knowledge from particular points of view. When we require from the historian and social research worker as an elementary presupposition that they distinguish the important from the trivial and that they should have the necessary “point of view” for this distinction, we mean that they must understand how to relate the events of the real world consciously or unconsciously to universal “cultural values,” and to select out those relationships which are significant for us. If the notion that those standpoints can be derived from the “facts themselves” continually recurs, it is due to the naive self-deception of the specialist, who is unaware that it is due to the evaluative ideas with which he unconsciously approaches his subject matter, that he has selected from an absolute infinity a tiny portion with the study of which he concerns himself In connection with this selection of individual special “aspects” of the event, which always and everywhere occurs, consciously or unconsciously, there also occurs that element of cultural-scientific work which is referred to by the often-heard assertion that the “personal” element of a scientific work is what is really valuable in it, and that personality must be expressed in every work if its existence is to be justified. To be sure, without the investigator’s evaluative ideas, there would be no principle of selection of subject-matter and no meaningful knowledge of the concrete reality. Just as without the investigator’s conviction regarding the significance of particular cultural facts, every attempt to analyse concrete reality is absolutely meaningless, so the direction of his personal belief, the refraction of values in the prism of his mind, gives direction to his work. And the values to which the scientific genius relates the object of his inquiry may determine (i.e., decide) the “conception” of a whole epoch, not only concerning what is regarded as “valuable,” but also concerning what is significant or insignificant, “important” or “unimportant” in the phenomena.
Accordingly, cultural science in our sense involves ‘subjective’ presuppositions insofar as it concerns itself only with those components of reality which have some relationship, however indirect, to events to which we attach cultural significance. Nonetheless, it is entirely causal knowledge exactly in the same sense as the knowledge of significant concrete natural events which have a qualitative character. Among the many confusions which the overreaching tendency of a formal-juristic outlook has brought about in the cultural sciences, there has recently appeared the attempt to ‘refute’ the ‘materialistic conception of history’ by a series of clever but fallacious arguments which state that since all economic life must take place in legally or conventionally regulated forms, all economic ‘development’ must take the form of striving for the creation of new legal forms. Hence it is said to be intelligible only through ethical maxims, and is on this account essentially different from every type of ‘natural’ development. Accordingly the knowledge of economic development is said to be ‘teleological’ in character. Without wishing to discuss the meaning of the ambiguous term ‘development,’ or the logically no-less-ambiguous term ‘teleology’ in the social sciences, it should be stated that such knowledge need not be ‘teleological’ in the sense assumed by this point of view. The cultural significance of normatively regulated legal relations and even norms themselves can undergo fundamental revolutionary changes even under conditions of the formal identity of the prevailing legal norms. Indeed, if one wishes to lose one’s self for a moment in fantasies about the future, one might theoretically imagine, let us say, the ‘socialisation of the means of production’ unaccompanied by any conscious ‘striving’ toward this result, and without even the disappearance or addition of a single paragraph of our legal code; the statistical frequency of certain legally regulated relationships might be changed fundamentally, and in many cases, even disappear entirely; a great number of legal norms might become practically meaningless and their whole cultural significance changed beyond identification. De lege ferenda discussions may be justifiably disregarded by the ‘materialistic conception of history,’ since its central proposition is the indeed inevitable change in the significance of legal institutions. Those who view the painstaking labor of causally understanding historical reality as of secondary importance can disregard it, but it is impossible to supplant it by any type of a ‘teleology.’ From our viewpoint, ‘purpose’ is the conception of an effect which becomes a cause of an action. Since we take into account every cause which produces or can produce a significant effect, we also consider this one. Its specific significance consists only in the fact that we not only observe human conduct but can and desire to understand it.
Undoubtedly, all evaluative ideas are ‘subjective.’ Between the ‘historical’ interest in a family chronicle and that in the development of the greatest conceivable cultural phenomena which were and are common to a nation or to mankind over long epochs, there exists an infinite gradation of ‘significance’ arranged into an order which differs for each of us. And they are, naturally, historically variable in accordance with the character of the culture and the ideas which rule men’s minds. But it obviously does not follow from this that research in the cultural sciences can only have results which are ‘subjective’ in the sense that they are valid for one person and not for others. Only the degree to which they interest different persons varies. In other words, the choice of the object of investigation and the extent or depth to which this investigation attempts to penetrate into the infinite causal web, are determined by the evaluative ideas which dominate the investigator and his age. In the method of investigation, the guiding ‘point of view’ is of great importance for the construction of the conceptual scheme which will be used in the investigation. In the mode of their use, however, the investigator is obviously bound by the norms of our thought just as much here as elsewhere. For scientific truth is precisely what is valid for all who seek the truth.” Max Weber, “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science;” 1897
Numero Dos—“1. The Field: Knowledge in Computerised Societies Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age. This transition has been under way since at least the end of the 1950s, which for Europe marks the completion of reconstruction. The pace is faster or slower depending on the country, and within countries it varies according to the sector of activity: the general situation is one of temporal disjunction which makes sketching an overview difficult. A portion of the description would necessarily be conjectural. At any rate, we know that it is unwise to put too much faith in futurology.
Rather than painting a picture that would inevitably remain incomplete, I will take as my point of departure a single feature, one that immediately defines our object of study. Scientific knowledge is a kind of discourse. And it is fair to say that for the last forty years the ‘leading’ sciences and technologies have had to do with language: phonology and theories of linguistics, problems of communication and cybernetics, modern theories of algebra and informatics, computers and their languages, problems of translation and the search for areas of compatibility among computer languages, problems of information storage and data banks, telematics and the perfection of intelligent terminals, to paradoxology. The facts speak for themselves (and this list is not exhaustive).
These technological transformations can be expected to have a considerable impact on knowledge. Its two principal functions – research and the transmission of acquired learning-are already feeling the effect, or will in the future. With respect to the first function, genetics provides an example that is accessible to the layman: it owes its theoretical paradigm to cybernetics. Many other examples could be cited. As for the second function, it is common knowledge that the miniaturisation and commercialisation of machines is already changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited. It is reasonable to suppose that the proliferation of information-processing machines is having, and will continue to have, as much of an effect on the circulation of learning as did advancements in human circulation (transportation systems) and later, in the circulation of sounds and visual images (the media).
The nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged within this context of general transformation. It can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information.” We can predict that anything in the constituted body of knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be abandoned and that the direction of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being translatable into computer language. The “producers” and users of knowledge must now, and will have to, possess the means of translating into these languages whatever they want to invent or learn. Research on translating machines is already well advanced.” Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic, and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as “knowledge” statements.
We may thus expect a thorough exteriorisation of knowledge with respect to the “knower,” at whatever point he or she may occupy in the knowledge process. The old principle that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from the training (Bildung) of minds, or even of individuals, is becoming obsolete and will become ever more so. The relationships of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending, and will increasingly tend, to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities they produce and consume – that is, the form of value. Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange.
Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its “use-value.”
It is widely accepted that knowledge has become the principle force of production over the last few decades, this has already had a noticeable effect on the composition of the work force of the most highly developed countries and constitutes the major bottleneck for the developing countries. In the postindustrial and postmodern age, science will maintain and no doubt strengthen its preeminence in the arsenal of productive capacities of the nation-states. Indeed, this situation is one of the reasons leading to the conclusion that the gap between developed and developing countries will grow ever wider in the future.
But this aspect of the problem should not be allowed to overshadow the other, which is complementary to it. Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major – perhaps the major – stake in the worldwide competition for power. It is conceivable that the nation-states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory, and afterwards for control of access to and exploitation of raw materials and cheap labor. A new field is opened for industrial and commercial strategies on the one hand, and political and military strategies on the other.
However, the perspective I have outlined above is not as simple as I have made it appear. For the merchantilisation of knowledge is bound to affect the privilege the nation-states have enjoyed, and still enjoy, with respect to the production and distribution of learning. The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State, as the brain or mind of society, will become more and more outdated with the increasing strength of the opposing principle, according to which society exists and progresses only if the messages circulating within it are rich in information and easy to decode. The ideology of communicational “transparency,” which goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of knowledge, will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and “noise.” It is from this point of view that the problem of the relationship between economic and State powers threatens to arise with a new urgency.
Already in the last few decades, economic powers have reached the point of imperilling the stability of the state through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multi-national corporations. These new forms of circulation imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states.” The question threatens to become even more thorny with the development of computer technology and telematics. Suppose, for example, that a firm such as IBM is authorised to occupy a belt in the earth’s orbital field and launch communications satellites or satellites housing data banks. Who will have access to them? Who will determine which channels or data are forbidden? The State? Or will the State simply be one user among others? New legal issues will be raised, and with them the question: “who will know?”
Transformation in the nature of knowledge, then, could well have repercussions on the existing public powers, forcing them to reconsider their relations (both de jure and de facto) with the large corporations and, more generally, with civil society. The reopening of the world market, a return to vigorous economic competition, the breakdown of the hegemony of American capitalism, the decline of the socialist alternative, a probable opening of the Chinese market these and many other factors are already, at the end of the 1970s, preparing States for a serious reappraisal of the role they have been accustomed to playing since the 1930s: that of, guiding, or even directing investments. In this light, the new technologies can only increase the urgency of such a re-examination, since they make the information used ‘in decision making (and therefore the means of control) even more mobile and subject to piracy.
It is not hard to visualise learning circulating along the same lines as money, instead of for its “educational” value or political (administrative, diplomatic, military) importance; the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between “payment knowledge” and “investment knowledge” – in other words, between units of knowledge exchanged in a daily maintenance framework (the reconstitution of the work force, “survival”) versus funds of knowledge dedicated to optimising the performance of a project.
If this were the case, communicational transparency would be similar to liberalism. Liberalism does not preclude an organisation of the flow of money in which some channels are used in decision making while others are only good for the payment of debts. One could similarly imagine flows of knowledge travelling along identical channels of identical nature, some of which would be reserved for the “decision makers,” while the others would be used to repay each person’s perpetual debt with respect to the social bond.
2. The Problem: Legitimation
That is the working hypothesis defining the field within which I intend to consider the question of the status of knowledge. This scenario, akin to the one that goes by the name “the computerisation of society” (although ours is advanced in an entirely different spirit), makes no claims of being original, or even true. What is required of a working hypothesis is a fine capacity for discrimination. The scenario of the computerisation of the most highly developed societies allows us to spotlight (though with the risk of excessive magnification) certain aspects of the transformation of knowledge and its effects on public power and civil institutions – effects it would be difficult to perceive from other points of view. Our hypotheses, therefore, should not be accorded predictive value in relation to reality, but strategic value in relation to the question raised.
Nevertheless, it has strong credibility, and in that sense our choice of this hypothesis is not arbitrary. It has been described extensively by the experts and is already guiding certain decisions by the governmental agencies and private firms most directly concerned, such as those managing the telecommunications industry. To some extent, then, it is already a part of observable reality. Finally, barring economic stagnation or a general recession (resulting, for example, from a continued failure to solve the world’s energy problems), there is a good chance that this scenario will come to pass: it is hard to see what other direction contemporary technology could take as an alternative to the computerisation of society.
This is as much as to say that the hypothesis is banal. But only to the extent that it fails to challenge the general paradigm of progress in science and technology, to which economic growth and the expansion of sociopolitical power seem to be natural complements. That scientific and technical knowledge is cumulative is never questioned. At most, what is debated is the form that accumulation takes – some picture it as regular, continuous, and unanimous, others as periodic, discontinuous, and conflictual.
But these truisms are fallacious. In the first place, scientific knowledge does not represent the totality of knowledge; it has always existed in addition to, and in competition and conflict with, another kind of knowledge, which I will call narrative in the interests of simplicity (its characteristics will be described later). I do not mean to say that narrative knowledge can prevail over science, but its model is related to ideas of internal equilibrium and conviviality next to which contemporary scientific knowledge cuts a poor figure, especially if it is to undergo an exteriorisation with respect to the “knower” and an alienation from its user even greater than has previously been the case. The resulting demoralisation of researchers and teachers is far from negligible; it is well known that during the 1960s, in all of the most highly developed societies, it reached such explosive dimensions among those preparing to practice these professions – the students – that there was noticeable decrease in productivity at laboratories and universities unable to protect themselves from its contamination. Expecting this, with hope or fear, to lead to a revolution (as was then often the case) is out of the question: it will not change the order of things in postindustrial society overnight. But this doubt on the part of scientists must be taken into account as a major factor in evaluating the present and future status of scientific knowledge.
It is all the more necessary to take it into consideration since – and this is the second point – the scientists’ demoralisation has an impact on the central problem of legitimation. I use the word in a broader sense than do contemporary German theorists in their discussions of the question of authority. Take any civil law as an example: it states that a given category of citizens must perform a specific kind of action. Legitimation is the process by which a legislator is authorised to promulgate such a law as a norm. Now take the example of a scientific statement: it is subject to the rule that a statement must fulfil a given set of conditions in order to be accepted as scientific. In this case, legitimation is the process by which a “legislator” dealing with scientific discourse is authorised to prescribe the stated conditions (in general, conditions of internal consistency and experimental verification) determining whether a statement is to be included in that discourse for consideration by the scientific community.
The parallel may appear forced. But as we will see, it is not. The question of the legitimacy of science has been indissociably linked to that of the legitimation of the legislator since the time of Plato. From this point of view, the right to decide what is true is not independent of the right to decide what is just, even if the statements consigned to these two authorities differ in nature. The point is that there is a strict interlinkage between the kind of language called science and the kind called ethics and politics: they both stem from the same perspective, the same “choice” if you will – the choice called the Occident.
When we examine the current status of scientific knowledge at a time when science seems more completely subordinated to the prevailing powers than ever before and, along with the new technologies, is in danger of becoming a major stake in their conflicts – the question of double legitimation, far from receding into the background, necessarily comes to the fore. For it appears in its most complete form, that of reversion, revealing that knowledge and power are simply two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided? In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government.
3. The Method: Language Games
The reader will already have noticed that in analysing this problem within the framework set forth I have favoured a certain procedure: emphasising facts of language and in particular their pragmatic aspect. To help clarify what follows it would be useful to summarise, however briefly, what is meant here by the term pragmatic.
A denotative utterance such as “The university is sick,” made in the context of a conversation or an interview, positions its sender (the person who utters the statement), its addressee (the person who receives it), and its referent (what the statement deals with) in a specific way: the utterance places (and exposes) the sender in the position of “knower” (he knows what the situation is with the university), the addressee is put in the position of having to give or refuse his assent, and the referent itself is handled in a way unique to denotatives, as something that demands to be correctly identified and expressed by the statement that refers to it.
If we consider a declaration such as “The university is open,” pronounced by a dean or rector at convocation, it is clear that the previous specifications no longer apply. Of course, the meaning of the utterance has to be understood, but that is a general condition of communication and does not aid us in distinguishing the different kinds of utterances or their specific effects. The distinctive feature of this second, “performative,” utterance is that its effect upon the referent coincides with its enunciation. The university is open because it has been declared open in the above-mentioned circumstances. That this is so is not subject to discussion or verification on the part of the addressee, who is immediately placed within the new context created by the utterance. As for the sender, he must be invested ‘with the ’ authority to make such a statement. Actually, we could say it the other way around: the sender is dean or rector that is, he is invested with the authority to make this kind of statement – only insofar as he can directly affect both the referent, (the university) and the addressee (the university staff) in the manner I have indicated.
A different case involves utterances of the type, “Give money to the university”; these are prescriptions. They can be modulated as orders, commands, instructions, recommendations, requests, prayers, pleas, etc. Here, the sender is clearly placed in a position of authority, using the term broadly (including the authority of a sinner over a god who claims to be merciful): that is, he expects the addressee to perform the action referred to. The pragmatics of prescription entail concomitant changes in the posts of addressee and referent.
Of a different order again is the efficiency of a question, a promise, a literary description, a narration, etc. I am summarising. Wittgenstein, taking up the study of language again from scratch, focuses his attention on the effects of different modes of discourse; he calls the various types of utterances he identifies along the way (a few of which I have listed) language games. What he means by this term is that each of the various categories of utterance can be defined in terms of rules specifying their properties and the uses to which they can be put – in exactly the same way as the game of chess is defined by a set of rules determining the properties of each of the pieces, in other words, the proper way to move them.
It is useful to make the following three observations about language games. The first is that their rules do not carry within themselves their own legitimation, but are the object of a contract, explicit or not, between players (which is not to say that the players invent the rules). The second is that if there are no rules, there is no game, that even an infinitesimal modification of one rule alters the nature of the game, that a “move” or utterance that does not satisfy the rules does not belong to the game they define. The third remark is suggested by what has just been said: every utterance should be thought of as a “move” in a game.
This last observation brings us to the first principle underlying our method as a whole: to speak is to fight, in the sense of playing, and speech acts fall within the domain of a general agonistics. This does not necessarily mean that one plays in order to win. A move can be made for the sheer pleasure of its invention: what else is involved in that labor of language harassment undertaken by popular speech and by literature? Great joy is had in the endless invention of turns of phrase, of words and meanings, the process behind the evolution of language on the level of parole. But undoubtedly even this pleasure depends on a feeling of success won at the expense of an adversary – at least one adversary, and a formidable one: the accepted language, or connotation.
This idea of an agonistics of language should not make us lose sight of the second principle, which stands as a complement to it and governs our analysis: that the observable social bond is composed of language “moves.” An elucidation of this proposition will take us to the heart of the matter at hand.
4. The Nature of the Social Bond: The Modern Alternative
If we wish to discuss knowledge in the most highly developed contemporary society, we must answer the preliminary question of what methodological representation to apply to that society. Simplifying to the extreme, it is fair to say that in principle there have been, at least over the last half-century, two basic representational models for society: either society forms a functional whole, or it is divided in two. An illustration of the first model is suggested by Talcott Parsons (at least the postwar Parsons) and his school, and of the second, by the Marxist current (all of its component schools, whatever differences they may have, accept both the principle of class struggle and dialectics as a duality operating within society).”
This methodological split, which defines two major kinds of discourse on society, has been handed down from the nineteenth century. The idea that society forms an organic whole, in the absence of which it ceases to be a society (and sociology ceases to have an object of study), dominated the minds of the founders of the French school. Added detail was supplied by functionalism; it took yet another turn in the 1950s with Parsons’s conception of society as a self-regulating system. The theoretical and even material model is no longer the living organism; it is provided by cybernetics, which, during and after the Second World War, expanded the model’s applications.
In Parsons’s work, the principle behind the system is still, if I may say so, optimistic: it corresponds to the stabilisation of the growth economies and societies of abundance under the aegis of a moderate welfare state. In the work of contemporary German theorists, systemtheorie is technocratic, even cynical, not to mention despairing: the harmony between the needs and hopes of individuals or groups and the functions guaranteed by the system is now only a secondary component of its functioning. The true goal of the system, the reason it programs itself like a computer, is the optimisation of the global relationship between input and output, in other words, performativity. Even when its rules are in the process of changing and innovations are occurring, even when its dysfunctions (such as strikes, crises, unemployment, or political revolutions) inspire hope and lead to belief in an alternative, even then what is actually taking place is only an internal readjustment, and its result can be no more than an increase in the system’s “viability.” The only alternative to this kind of performance improvement is entropy, or decline.
Here again, while avoiding the simplifications inherent in a sociology of social theory, it is difficult to deny at least a parallel between this “hard” technocratic version of society and the ascetic effort that was demanded (the fact that it was done in name of “advanced liberalism” is beside the point) of the most highly developed industrial societies in order to make them competitive – and thus optimise their “irrationality” – within the framework of the resumption of economic world war in the 1960s.
Even taking into account the massive displacement intervening between the thought of a man like Comte and the thought of Luhmann, we can discern a common conception of the social: society is a unified totality, a “unicity.” Parsons formulates this clearly: “The most essential condition of successful dynamic analysis is a continual and .systematic reference of every problem to the state of the system as a whole … A process or set of conditions either ‘contributes’ to the maintenance (or development) of the system or it is ‘dysfunctional’ in that it detracts from the integration, effectiveness, etc., of the ‘system.” The “technocrats” also subscribe to this idea. Whence its credibility: it has the means to become a reality, and that is all the proof it needs. This is what Horkheimer called the “paranoia” of reason.
But this realism of systemic self-regulation, and this perfectly sealed circle of facts and interpretations, can be judged paranoid only if one has, or claims to have, at one’s disposal a viewpoint that is in principle immune from their allure. This is the function of the principle of class struggle in theories of society based on the work of Marx.
“Traditional” theory is always in danger of being incorporated into the programming of the social whole as a simple tool for the optimisation of its performance; this is because its desire for a unitary and totalising truth lends itself to the unitary and totalising practice of the system’s managers. “Critical” theory, based on a principle of dualism and wary of syntheses and reconciliations, should be in a position to avoid this fate. What guides Marxism, then, is a different model of society, and a different conception of the function of the knowledge that can be produced by society and acquired from it. This model was born of the struggles accompanying the process of capitalism’s encroachment upon traditional civil societies. There is insufficient space here to chart the vicissitudes of these struggles, which fill more than a century of social, political, and ideological history. We will have to content ourselves with a glance at the balance sheet, which is possible for us to tally today now that their fate is known: in countries with liberal or advanced liberal management, the struggles and their instruments have been transformed into regulators of the system; in communist countries, the totalising model and its totalitarian effect have made a comeback in the name of Marxism itself, and the struggles in question have simply been deprived of the right to exist. Everywhere, the Critique of political economy (the subtitle of Marx’s Capital) and its correlate, the critique of alienated society, are used in one way or another as aids in programming the system.
Of course, certain minorities, such as the Frankfurt School or the group Socialisme ou barbarie, preserved and refined the critical model in opposition to this process. But the social foundation of the principle of division, or class struggle, was blurred to the point of losing all of its radicality; we cannot conceal the fact that the critical model in the end lost its theoretical standing and was reduced to the status of a “utopia” or “hope,” a token protest raised in the name of man or reason or creativity, or again of some social category such as the Third World or the students – on which is conferred in extremes the henceforth improbable function of critical subject.
The sole purpose of this schematic (or skeletal) reminder has been to specify the problematic in which I intend to frame the question of knowledge in advanced industrial societies. For it is impossible to know what the state of knowledge is – in other words, the problems its development and distribution are facing today – without knowing something of the society within which it is situated. And today more than ever, knowing about that society involves first of all choosing what approach the inquiry will take, and that necessarily means choosing how society can answer. One can decide that the principal role of knowledge is as an indispensable element in the functioning of society, and act in accordance with that decision, only if one has already decided that society is a giant machine.
Conversely, one can count on its critical function, and orient its development and distribution in that direction, only after it has been decided that society does not form an integrated whole, but remains haunted by a principle of oppositions The alternative seems clear: it is a choice between the homogeneity and the intrinsic duality of the social, between functional and critical knowledge. But the decision seems difficult, or arbitrary.
It is tempting to avoid the decision altogether by distinguishing two kinds of knowledge. one, the positivist kind, would be directly applicable to technologies bearing on men and materials, and would lend itself to operating as an indispensable productive force within the system. The other the critical, reflexive, or hermeneutic kind by reflecting directly or indirectly on values or alms, would resist any such “recuperation.”
5. The Nature of the Social Bond: The Postmodern Perspective
I find this partition solution unacceptable. I suggest that the alternative it attempts to resolve, but only reproduces, is no longer relevant for the societies with which we are concerned and that the solution itself is stilt caught within a type of oppositional thinking that is out of step with the most vital modes of postmodern knowledge. As I have already said, economic “redeployment” in the current phase of capitalism, aided by a shift in techniques and technology, goes hand in hand with a change in the function of the State: the image of society this syndrome suggests necessitates a serious revision of the alternate approaches considered. For brevity’s sake, suffice it to say that functions of regulation, and therefore of reproduction, are being and will be further withdrawn from administrators and entrusted to machines. Increasingly, the central question is becoming who will have access to the information these machines must have in storage to guarantee that the right decisions are made. Access to data is, and will continue to be, the prerogative of experts of all stripes. The ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers. Even now it is no longer composed of the traditional political class, but of a composite layer of corporate leaders, high-level administrators, and the heads of the major professional, labor, political, and religious organisations.
What is new in all of this is that the old poles of attraction represented by nation-states, parties, professions, institutions, and historical traditions are losing their attraction. And it does not look as though they wilt be replaced, at least not on their former scale, The Trilateral Commission is not a popular pole of attraction. “Identifying” with the great names, the heroes of contemporary history, is becoming more and more difficult. Dedicating oneself to “catching up with Germany,” the life goal the French president [Giscard d’Estaing at the time this book was published in France] seems to be offering his countrymen, is not exactly exciting. But then again, it is not exactly a life goal. It depends on each individual’s industriousness. Each individual is referred to himself. And each of us knows that our self does not amount to much.
This breaking up of the grand Narratives (discussed below, sections 9 and 10) leads to what some authors analyse in terms of the dissolution of the social bond and the disintegration of social aggregates into a mass of individual atoms thrown into the absurdity of Brownian motion. Nothing of the kind is happening: this point of view, it seems to me, is haunted by the paradisaic representation of a lost organic” society.
A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at “nodal points” of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent. One’s mobility in relation to these language game effects (language games, of course, are what this is all about) is tolerable, at least within certain limits (and the limits are vague); it is even solicited by regulatory mechanisms, and in particular by the self-adjustments the system undertakes in order to improve its performance. It may even be said that the system can and must encourage such movement to the extent that it combats its own entropy, the novelty of an unexpected “move,” with its correlative displacement of a partner or group of partners, can supply the system with that increased performativity it forever demands and consumes.
It should now be clear from which perspective I chose language games as my general methodological approach. I am not claiming that the entirety of social relations is of this nature – that will remain an open question. But there is no need to resort to some fiction of social origins to establish that language games are the minimum relation required for society to exist: even before he is born, if only by virtue of the name he is given, the human child is already positioned as the referent in the story recounted by those around him, in relation to which he will inevitably chart his course. Or more simply still, the question of the social bond, insofar as it is a question, is itself a language game, the game of inquiry. It immediately positions the person who asks, as well as the addressee and the referent asked about: it is already the social bond.
On the other hand, in a society whose communication component is becoming more prominent day by day, both as a reality and as an issue, it is clear that language assumes a new importance. It would be superficial to reduce its significance to the traditional alternative between manipulatory speech and the unilateral transmission of messages on the one hand, and free expression and dialogue on the other.
A word on this last point. If the problem is described simply in terms of communication theory, two things are overlooked: first, messages have quite different forms and effects depending on whether they are, for example, denotatives, prescriptives, evaluatives, performatives, etc. It is clear that what is important is not simply the fact that they communicate information. Reducing them to this function is to adopt an outlook which unduly privileges the system’s own interests and point of view. A cybernetic machine does indeed run on information, but the goals programmed into it, for example, originate in prescriptive and evaluative statements it has no way to correct in the course of its functioning – for example, maximising its own performance, how can one guarantee that performance maximisation is the best goal for the social system in every case. In any case the “atoms” forming its matter are competent to handle statements such as these – and this question in particular.
Second, the trivial cybernetic version of information theory misses something of decisive importance, to which I have already called attention: the agonistic aspect of society. The atoms are placed at the crossroads of pragmatic relationships, but they are also displaced by the messages that traverse them, in perpetual motion. Each language partner, when a “move” pertaining to him is made, undergoes a “displacement,” an alteration of some kind that not only affects him in his capacity as addressee and referent, but also as sender. These moves necessarily provoke “countermoves” and everyone knows that a countermove that is merely reactional is not a “good” move. Reactional countermoves arc no more than programmed effects in the opponent’s strategy; they play into his hands and thus have no effect on the balance of power. That is why it is important to increase displacement in the games, and even to disorient it, in such a way as to make an unexpected “move” (a new statement).
What is needed if we are to understand social relations in this manner, on whatever scale we choose, is not only a theory of communication, but a theory of games which accepts agonistics as a founding principle. In this context, it is easy to see that the essential element of newness is not simply “innovation.” Support for this approach can be found in the work of a number of contemporary sociologists, in addition to linguists and philosophers of language. This “atomisation” of the social into flexible networks of language games may seem far removed from the modern reality, which is depicted, on the contrary, as afflicted with bureaucratic paralysis. The objection will be made, at least, that the weight of certain institutions imposes limits on the games, and thus restricts the inventiveness of the players in making their moves. But I think this can be taken into account without causing any particular difficulty.
In the ordinary use of discourse – for example, in a discussion between two friends – the interlocutors use any available ammunition, changing games from one utterance to the next: questions, requests, assertions, and narratives are launched pell-mell into battle. The war is not without rules, but the rules allow and encourage the greatest possible flexibility of utterance.
From this point of view, an institution differs from a conversation in that it always requires supplementary constraints for statements to be declared admissible within its bounds. The constraints function to filter discursive potentials, interrupting possible connections in the communication networks: there are things that should not be said. They also privilege certain classes of statements (sometimes only one) whose predominance characterises the discourse of the particular institution: there are things that should be said, and there are ways of saving them. Thus: orders in the army, prayer in church, denotation in the schools, narration in families, questions in philosophy, performativity in businesses. Bureaucratisation is the outer limit of this tendency.
However, this hypothesis about the institution is still too ‘unwieldy”:’ its point of departure is an overly ‘reifying’ view of what is institutionalised. We know today that the limits the institution imposes on potential language ‘moves’ are never established once and for all (even if they have been formally defined). Rather, the limits are themselves the stakes and provisional results of language strategies, within the institution and without. Examples: Does the university have a place for language experiments (poetics)? Can you tell stories in a cabinet meeting? Advocate a cause in the barracks? The answers are clear: yes, if the university opens creative workshops; yes, if the cabinet works with prospective scenarios; yes, if the limits of the old institution are displaced. Reciprocally, it can be said that the boundaries only stabilise when they cease to be stakes in the game.
Numero Tres—“I was scared out of my mind. I went into the women’s room because it was the only private place in the death house, and I put my head against the tile wall and grabbed the crucifix around my neck. I said, ‘Oh, Jesus God, help me. Don’t let him fall apart. If he falls apart, I fall apart.’ I was in over my head.
All I had agreed to in the beginning was to be a pen pal to this man on Louisiana’s death row. Sure, I said, I could write letters. But the man was all alone, he had no one to visit him.
It was like a current in a river, and I got sucked in. The next thing I knew I was saying, ‘OK, sure, I’ll come visit you.’
He had suggested that on the prison application form for visitors I fill in ‘spiritual advisor,’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ He was Catholic, and I’m a Catholic nun, so I didn’t think much about it; it seemed right.
But I had no idea that at the end, on the evening of the execution, everybody has to leave the death house at 5:45 p.m., everybody but the spiritual advisor. The spiritual advisor stays to the end and witnesses the execution.
Vengeance is whose?
People ask me all the time, “What are you, a nun, doing getting involved with these murderers?” You know how people have these stereotypical ideas about nuns: nuns teach; nuns nurse the sick.
I tell people to go back to the gospel. Look at who Jesus hung out with: lepers, prostitutes, thieves—the throwaways of his day. If we call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, we too have to keep ministering to the marginated, the throwaways, the lepers of today. And there are no more marginated, thrown-away, and leprous people in our society than death-row inmates.
There’s a lot of what I call “biblical quarterbacking” going on in death-penalty debates: people toss in quotes from the Bible to back up what they’ve already decided anyway. People want to not only practice vengeance but also have God agree with them. The same thing happened in this country in the slavery debates and in the debates over women’s suffrage.
Religion is tricky business. Quote that Bible. God said torture. God said kill. God said get even.
Even the Pauline injunction “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19) can be interpreted as a command and a promise—the command to restrain individual impulses toward revenge in exchange for the assurance that God will be only too pleased to handle the grievance in spades.
That God wants to “get even” like the rest of us does not seem to be in question.
One intractable problem, however, is that divine vengeance (barring natural disasters, so-called acts of God) can only be interpreted and exacted by human beings, very human beings.
I can’t accept that.
Jesus Christ, whose way of life I try to follow, refused to meet hate with hate and violence with violence. I pray for the strength to be like him.
I cannot believe in a God who metes out hurt for hurt, pain for pain, torture for torture. Nor do I believe that God invests human representatives with such power to torture and kill. The paths of history are stained with the blood of those who have fallen victim to “God’s Avengers.” Kings, popes, military generals, and heads of state have killed, claiming God’s authority and God’s blessing. I do not believe in such a God.
But here’s the real reason why I got involved with death-row inmates: I got involved with poor people. It took me a while to wake up to the call of the social gospel of Jesus. For years and years when I came to the passages where Jesus identified with poor and marginated people I did some fast-footed mental editing of the scriptures: poor meant “spiritually poor.”
When I read in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat,” I would say, “Oh, there’s a lot of ways of being hungry.” “I was in prison, and you came to visit me,”—”Oh, there’s a lot of ways we live in prison, you know.”
Other members of my religious community woke up before I did, and we had fierce debates on what our mission should be. In 1980, when my religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, made a commitment to “stand on the side of the poor,” I assented, but only reluctantly. I resisted this recasting of the faith of my childhood, where what had counted was a personal relationship with God, inner peace, kindness to others, and heaven when this life was done. I didn’t want to struggle with politics and economics. We were nuns, after all, not social workers.
But later that year I finally got it. I began to realize that my spiritual life had been too ethereal, too disconnected. To follow Jesus and to be close to Jesus meant that I needed to seek out the company of poor and struggling people.
So in June 1981 I drove a little brown truck into St. Thomas, a black, inner-city housing project in New Orleans, and be-gan to live there with four other sisters.
Growing up a Southern white girl right on the cusp of the upper class, I had only known black people as my servants. Now it was my turn to serve them.
It didn’t take long to see that for poor people, especially poor black people, there was a greased track to prison and death row. As one Mama in St. Thomas put it: “Our boys leave here in a police car or a hearse.”
I began to understand that some life is valued and some life is not.
It didn’t take long to see how racism worked. When people were killed in St. Thomas and you looked for an account of their deaths in the newspaper, you’d find it buried on some back page as a three-line item. When other people were killed, it was front-page news.
Drug activity took place in the open, but when the sisters went to the mayor’s office to complain, the officials would just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, you know, Sister, every city has a problem with drugs. At least we know where they are.”
I began to understand that some life is valued and some life is not.
One day a friend of mine from the Prison Coalition Office casually asked me if I’d be a pen pal to someone on death row in Louisiana.
I said, “Sure.” But I had no idea that this answer would be my passport to a strange and bizarre country. God is a mystery, but one of the definite characteristics of God is that God is sneaky.
When I began visiting Patrick Sonnier in 1982, I couldn’t have been more naive about prisons. My only other experience with prisoners had been in the ‘60s when once Sister Cletus and I went to Orleans Parish Prison to play our guitars and sing with the prisoners. This was the era of the singing nuns—”Dominique-nique-nique.”
The guards brought us all into this big room with over 100 prisoners, and I said, “Let’s do ‘If I Had a Hammer,’” and the song took off like a shot. The men really got into it and started making up their own verses—”If I had an Uzi”—laughing and singing loud, and the guards were rolling their eyes, and Sister Cletus and I weren’t invited back there to sing any more.
I wrote Patrick about life at Hope House in St. Thomas, and he told me about life in a 6-by-8-foot cell, where he and 44 other men were confined 23 hours a day. He said how glad he was when summer was over because there was no air in the cells. He’d sometimes wet the sheet from his bunk and put it on the cement floor to try to cool off; or he’d clean out his toilet bowl and stand in it and use a small plastic container to get water from his lavatory and pour it over his body.
Patrick was on death row four years before they killed him.
I made a bad mistake. When I found out about Patrick Sonnier’s crime—that he had killed two teenage kids—I didn’t go to see the victims’ families. I stayed away because I wasn’t sure how to deal with such raw, unadulterated pain. I was a coward. I only met them at Patrick’s pardon-board hearing. They were there to demand Patrick’s execution. I was there to ask the board to show him mercy. It was not a good time to meet.
Here were two sets of parents whose children had been ripped from them. I felt terrible. I was powerless to assuage their grief. It would take me a long time to learn how to help victims’ families, a long time before I would sit at their support-group meetings and hear their unspeakable stories of loss and grief and rage and guilt.
I would learn that the divorce rate for couples who lose a child is over 70 percent—a sad new twist to “until death do us part.” I would learn that often after a murder friends stay away because they don’t know how to respond to the pain.
I don’t see capital punishment as a peripheral issue about some criminals at the edge of society that people want to execute. I see the death penalty connected to the three deepest wounds of our society: racism, poverty, and violence.
In this country, first the hangman’s noose, then the electric chair, and now the lethal-injection gurney have been almost exclusively reserved for those who kill white people.
The rhetoric says that the death penalty will be reserved only for the most heinous crimes, but when you look at how it is applied, you see that in fact there is a great selectivity in the process. When the victim of a violent crime has some kind of status, there is a public outrage, and especially when the victim has been murdered, death—the ultimate punishment—is sought.
But when people of color are killed in the inner city, when homeless people are killed, when the “nobodies” are killed, district attorneys do not seek to avenge their deaths. Black, Hispanic, or poor families who have a loved one murdered not only don’t expect the district attorney’s office to pursue the death penalty—which, of course, is both costly and time-consuming—but are surprised when the case is prosecuted at all.
In Louisiana, murder victims’ families are allowed to sit in the front row in the execution chamber to watch the murderer die. Some families. Not all. Almost never African American families.
Ask Virginia Smith’s African American family. She was 14 when three white youths took her into the woods, raped her, and stabbed her to death. None of them got the death penalty. Their fathers knew the district attorney, and they had all-white juries.
Why do poor people get the death penalty? It has everything to do with the kind of defense they get.
In regard to this first and deepest of America’s wounds, racism, we’d have to change the whole soil of this country for the criminal-justice system not to be administered in a racially biased manner.
The second wound is poverty. Who pays the ultimate penalty for crimes? The poor. Who gets the death penalty? The poor. After all the rhetoric that goes on in legislative assemblies, in the end, when the net is cast out, it is the poor who are selected to die in this country.
And why do poor people get the death penalty? It has everything to do with the kind of defense they get.
When I agreed to write to Patrick Sonnier, I didn’t know much about him except that if he was on death row in Louisiana he had to be poor. And that holds true for virtually all of the more than 3,000 people who now inhabit death-row cells in our country.
Money gets you good defense. That’s why you’ll never see an O.J. Simpson on death row. As the saying goes: “Capital punishment means them without the capital get the punishment.”
I had to learn all this myself. My father was a lawyer. I used to think, “Well, they may not get perfect defense, but at least they get adequate defense.”
I tell you it is so shocking to find out what kind of defense people on death row actually have had.
The man I have been going to see on death row now for over six years is a young black man who was convicted for the killing of a white woman in a small community in Many, Louisiana. He had an all-white jury, and he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in just one week. Dobie Williams has now been on death row for 10 years, and I believe he’s innocent. But it is almost impossible for us to get a new trial for him. Why? Because if his attorney did not raise any objections at his trial, we cannot bring them up in appeals.
Finally, the third wound is our penchant for trying to solve our problems with violence. When you witness an execution and watch the toll this process also takes on some of those who are charged with the actual execution—the 12 guards on the strap-down team and the warden—you recognize that part of the moral dilemma of the death penalty is also: who deserves to kill this man?
On my journey with murder victims’ families, I have seen some of them go for vengeance. I have seen families watch executions in the electric chair and still be for vengeance. I have also witnessed the disintegration of families because some parents got so fixated on vengeance that they couldn’t love their other children any more or move on with life.
But I have also watched people like Marietta Jaeger of the group Murder Victims for Reconciliation or Lloyd LeBlanc, the father of one of Patrick Sonnier’s victims. Although they have been through a white-hot fire of loss and violence, they have been healed by God’s grace and been able to overcome their desire for revenge. They are incredible human beings with great courage, and to me they are living witnesses of the gospel and the incredible healing power of Jesus in the midst of violence.
Circle of light
Patrick had tried to protect me from watching him die. He told me he’d be OK. I didn’t have to come with him into the execution chamber. “The electric chair is not a pretty sight, it could scare you,” he told me, trying to be brave.
But I said, “No, no, Pat, if they kill you, I’ll be there.”
Then I remembered how the women were there at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and I said to him, “You look at my face. Look at me, and I will be the face of Christ for you.” I couldn’t bear it that he would die alone. I said, “Don’t you worry. God will help me.”
And there in the women’s room, just a few hours before the execution, my only place of privacy in that place of death, God and I met, and the strength was there, and it was like a circle of light around me. If I tried to think ahead to what would happen at midnight I came unraveled, but there in the present I could hold together and be strong.
And Patrick was strong and kept asking me, “Sister Helen, are you all right?”
Being in that death house was one of the most bizarre, confusing experiences I have ever had. It wasn’t like visiting somebody dying in a hospital, where you can see the person getting weaker and fading. Patrick was so fully alive, talking and responding to me and writing letters to people and eating.
I’d look around at the polished tile floors—everything so neat—all the officials following a protocol, the secretary typing up forms for the witnesses to sign afterwards, the coffee pot percolating, and I kept feeling that I was in a hospital and the final act would be to save this man’s life.
It felt strange and confusing because everyone was so polite. They kept asking Patrick if he needed anything. The chef came by to ask him if he liked his last meal—the steak (medium rare), the potato salad, the apple pie for dessert.
When the warden with the strap-down team came for him, I walked with him. God heard his prayer, “Please, God, hold up my legs.” It was the last piece of dignity he could muster. He wanted to walk.
I saw this dignity in him, and I have seen it in the three men I have accompanied to their deaths. I wonder how I would hold up if I were walking across a floor to a room where people were waiting to kill me.
The essential torture of the death penalty is not finally the physical method of death: bullet or rope or gas or electrical current or injected drugs. The torture happens when conscious human beings are condemned to death and begin to anticipate that death and die a thousand times before they die. They are brought close to death, maybe four hours away, and the phone rings in the death house, and they hear they have received a stay of execution. Then they return to their cells and begin the waiting all over again.
The role of the church
The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that there are two essential human rights that every human being has: the right not to be tortured and the right not to be killed.
I wish Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “The Gospel of Life” had been as firm and unconditional as the UN.
The pope still upholds the right of governments to kill criminals, even though he restricts it to cases of “absolute necessity” and says that because of improvements in modern penal systems such cases are “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
Likewise, the US Catholic bishops in their 1980 “Statement on Capital Punishment,” while strongly condemning the death penalty for the unfair and discriminatory manner in which it is imposed, its continuance of the “cycle of violence,” and its fundamental disregard for human dignity, also affirm in principle the right of the state to kill.
But I believe that if we are to have a firm moral bedrock for our society, we must establish that no one may be permitted to kill—no one—and that includes government.
I have been told, although not by any official sources, that the pope has seen “Dead Man Walking” and that he was very taken with it. In fact, last year he interceded on behalf of three people scheduled for executions in the US Most recently he spoke up for Joseph O’Dell, a death-row inmate in Virginia who is probably innocent.
I am encouraged to see the leadership of the Catholic Church become engaged in this and some other cases. But overall I am afraid I haven’t seen a lot of moral energy coming from Catholic leaders on the issue of the death penalty. I don’t hear many sermons preached about it.
The death penalty is still foremost a poor person’s issue, and of course it’s very controversial. But I’ve learned that if you try to live the gospel of Jesus, controversy will follow you like a hungry dog.
In this last decade of the 20th century, US government officials kill citizens with dispatch with scarcely a murmur of resistance from the Christian citizenry. In fact, surveys of public opinion show that those who profess Christianity tend to favor capital punishment slightly more than the overall population—Catholics more than Protestants.
True, in recent years leadership bodies of most Christian denominations have issued formal statements denouncing the death penalty, but generally that opposition has yet to be translated into aggressive pastoral initiatives to educate clergy and membership on capital punishment. I do not want to pass judgment on church leaders, but I invite them to work harder to do the right thing.
I also believe that we cannot wait for the church leadership to act. We have to put our trust in the church as the people of God; things have to come up from the grassroots.
I have no doubt that we will one day abolish the death penalty in America.
The religious community has a crucial role in educating the public about the fact that government killings are too costly for us, not only financially, but—more important—morally. Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons.
I have no doubt that we will one day abolish the death penalty in America. One day all the death instruments in this country—electric chairs, gas chambers, and lethal-injection needles—will be housed behind velvet ropes in museums.
Today, however, executions are still the order of the day, and people are being executed at an ever-increasing rate in this country.
People are scared of crime, and they’ve been manipulated by politicians who push this button for all it’s worth. For politicians, the death penalty is a convenient symbol and an easy way to prove how tough they are on criminals and crime. It allows them to avoid tackling the complex issue of how to get to the roots of crime in our communities.
But we may be close to bottoming out, which has to happen before momentum can build in the other direction. Right now we may be at just the beginning of the dawning of consciousness.
The death penalty is firmly in place, but people are beginning to ask, “If this is supposed to be the solution, how come we’re not feeling any better? How come none of us feels safer?” People are beginning to realize that they have been duped and that the death penalty has not so much to do with crime as it has to do with politics.
The bottoming out that has to happen is kind of like in the 12-step program: the first step is to admit that as a society we have a problem and need help.
People are capable of change, and the beauty and the power of the gospel is that when people hear it, they will respond to it.
When people support executions, it is not out of malice or ill will or hardness of heart or meanness of spirit. It is, quite simply, that they don’t know the truth of what is going on.
And that is not by accident. The secrecy surrounding executions makes it possible for executions to continue. I am convinced that if executions were made public, the torture and violence would be unmasked and we would be shamed into abolishing executions.
When you accompany someone to the execution, as I have done three times as a spiritual advisor, everything becomes very crystallized, distilled, and stripped to the essentials. You are in this building in the middle of the night, and all these people are organized to kill this man. And the gospel comes to you as it never has before: Are you for compassion, or are you for violence? Are you for mercy, or are you for vengeance? Are you for love, or are you for hate? Are you for life, or are you for death?
And the words of Jesus from the gospel kept coming to me that night: “And the last will be first” and “This too is my beloved son, hear him.” On death row I grasped with such solidity and fire the grace of God in all human beings, the dignity in all human beings.
I am not saying that Patrick Sonnier was a hero. I do not want to glorify him. He did the most terrible crime of all. He killed. But he was a human being, and he had a transcendence, a dignity. He—like each of us—was more than the worst thing he had done in his life. And I have one consolation: he died well. I hope I die half as well.
That night I walked with him, prayed with him through Isaiah 43, “I have called you by your name, you are mine.” I played for him the tape “Be Not Afraid,” which we had also played at the communion service we had before he died.
In his last words he expressed his sorrow to the victims’ family. But then he said to the warden and to the unseen executioner behind the plywood panel, “but killing me is wrong, too.”
At the end I was amazed at how ordinary the last moments were. He walked to the dark oak chair and sat in it. As guards were strapping his legs and arms and trunk he found my face and told me that he loved me. His last words of life were words of love and thankfulness. I took them in like a lightning rod.
I kept thinking of the execution of Jesus. I said to myself, “My God, how many times have I looked at that crucifix? How many times have we heard that story? How many times have we heard that Mary was there?”
I was watching a person being killed with an electrical current, in a few seconds. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been for Jesus to be executed, hanging there on the cross, dying slowly.
It gave me an entirely new awareness of what it means to have an executed criminal as a savior. What a scandal that must have been!
I held on to the Bible Pat had given me. I closed my eyes because I knew Pat couldn’t see me any more. I heard them clank the switch. They pulled it three times. Then I looked up. One hand had grasped the chair. The fingers on the other were kind of curled. The doctor went in. They removed the mask. He was dead. And I began to pray to him.
I came out of the execution chamber that night having watched a man die in front of my eyes, whose last words were words of love. And when I turned to his Bible, thumbworn and underlined, I found that in the front of his Bible, where births, marriages, and deaths are recorded, he had written in his own handwriting the date of his own death.
It reminded me of Jesus’ words: “You don’t know the day and the hour.” But when you die at the hands of the state of Louisiana, you do know the day and the hour very well.
Out of this experience has come a fire that has galvanized me and that cannot die in me. In the Catholic Church, when we receive sacraments, we say that an indelible mark is left on our souls. Being present at Pat’s death has left an indelible mark on my soul. I think of it as a kind of second baptism in my life, for it forever committed me to pursuing the gospel as it relates to poor people and the quest for justice.
And it is this that has made me speak out about the death penalty ever since, and I will continue to do so to my dying day. I cannot not tell this story and proclaim the gospel message as I came to understand it that night. And it was this experience that led me to write the book Dead Man Walking.
How the book got published, the movie got produced, and how both have been received—to me it’s nothing short of a rip-roaring, Old-Testament, Yahweh-split-the-Red-Sea miracle.
Numero Cuatro—“The past, in the form of our individual genes’ predecessors and in terms of the collective expressions of human individuality that have held sway for tens of thousands of years, completely determine the real parameters of this discourse and activity (in regard to ‘drugs’). Yet we mostly dismiss or are almost completely unaware of this readily discernible history.To an extent, at least quite plausibly, our characteristics in the universe of ‘special substances’ are at least somewhat common among other mammals. Cats will imbibe their catnip; dogs slurp up fermented foodstuffs; the ungulates have plants that send them spinning on occasion.
Whether any of this activity among our evolutionary kin is volitional, Homo Sapiens in any event in some sense almost universally choose to or need to ‘get high.’ The ineluctable actuality of this statement is possible to illustrate in many, many ways, three of which form the primary focus today. In the first place, anthropological, archeological, and forensic science point out the omnipresence, over a hundred thousand years or more, of consciousness alteration in the overall species formation of human social bonds. In the second place, mythic and legendary and other early storytelling sources reveal this same tendency. Finally, historical proof also elicits the same or very similar conclusions.
Robert Graves, in his 1958 forward to still-iconic volumes, provides a place from which we can briefly convey all of these contextual components. ‘Since revising The Greek Myths…, I have had second thoughts about the drunken god Dionysus, about the Centaurs with their contradictory reputation for wisdom and misdemeanour, and about the nature of divine ambrosia and nectar. These subjects are closely related, because the Centaurs worshipped Dionysus, whose wild autumnal feast was called ‘the Ambrosia.’ I no longer believe that when his Maenads ran raging around the countryside, tearing animals or children in pieces…, they had intoxicated themselves solely on wine or ivy-ale. The evidence suggests that Satyrs(goat-totem tribesmen), Centaurs(horse-totem tribesmen), and their Maenad womenfolk, used these brews to wash down mouthfuls of a far stronger drug: namely a raw mushroom, amanita muscaria, which induces hallucinations, senseless rioting, prophetic sight, erotic energy, and remarkable muscular strength. Some hours of this ecstasy are followed by complete inertia.’
Graves goes on to admit that contemporary rituals in Mexico parallel what he describes. He himself partook of these rites, which in the Western Hemisphere utilise psilocybin. The Maenad’s ‘tearing of the heads’ of their victims is easily imaginable as a symbolic beheading of the mushroom itself, which in both ancient Greek and present-day Tlaloc bears the moniker, “food of the gods.”
Terrence McKenna, both much maligned and much worshipped but in any event a credentialed scholar who knew how to gather and present evidence, titled his ‘magnum opus’ with the same phrase. Food of the Gods advances a thesis that hallucinogens, particularly psilocybin mushrooms, impacted human cultural and social development. He essentially sees what Riane Eisler labels a ‘partnership’ model as having been possible during many millennia when these little fungi were a regular part of human meals.
“The primate tendency to form dominance hierarchies was temporarily interrupted for about 100,000 years by the psilocybin in the paleolithic diet. This behavioral style of male dominance was chemically interrupted by psilocybin in the diet, so it allowed the style of social organisation called partnership to emerge, and … that occurred during the period when language, altruism, planning, moral values, aesthetics, music and so forth — everything associated with humanness — emerged… .
About 12,000 years ago, the mushrooms left the human diet because they were no longer available, due to climatological change, and the previous tendency to form dominance hierarchies re-emerged. So, this is what the historic dilemma is: we have all these qualities that were evolved during the suppression of male dominance that are now somewhat at loggerheads with the tendency of society in a situation of re-established male dominance.
The paleolithic situation was orgiastic and this made it impossible for men to trace lines of male paternity, consequently there was no concept of ‘my children’ for men. It was ‘our children’ meaning ‘we, the group.’”
Wanton wildness; indiscriminate orgies; explosive expression of music and dance and elocution; sacred ‘partying’ that went on for days and days: these were our ancestors’ annual bows to nature and themselves. Having never attended an ‘ecstasy rave,’ I could not say first hand, but a certain descriptive resonance, based on recorded observations, feels approximately accurate.
In any case, that our type of creatures inaugurated their ‘social conquest of Earth,’ as E.O. Wilson put the case, in the presence of such activity is unquestionably likely and arguably certain. As often happens when such a point-of-view gets closer and closer to a sure bet, the story or intellectual history of the proposition itself is quite interesting.
Just a cursory glance at this chronicle is possible today, but even this briefing will contain high points, so to say, well worth further investigation. In any event, both sites of collected assessments and individually composed monographs and aggregated materials are now ubiquitous in scholarship, spiritual thinking, and otherwise.
ANTHROPOLOGY & SUCH
Friedrich Engels not only worked alongside and supported financially the lifelong efforts of Karl Marx. He also was, in his own right, a groundbreaking researcher on several fronts. One of them was establishing the social bases and implications of the whole human story, essentially part of the initiation of an anthropological perspective.
In any case, in his Origins of the Family, Private Property, & the State, he drew liberally from Lewis Henry Morgan’s seminal work. While Engels did not himself infer ethnobotanical facts, he certainly implied that the natural foundations of Native American ritual included plants and their use.
“The possession of common religious conceptions (Mythology) and ceremonies—After the fashion of barbarians the American Indians were a religious people.’ Their mythology has not yet been studied at all critically. They already embodied their religious ideas—spirits of every kind—in human form; but the lower stage of barbarism, which they had reached, still knows no plastic representations, so-called idols. Their religion is a cult of nature and of elemental forces, in process of development to polytheism. The various tribes had their regular festivals, with definite rites, especially dances and games. Dancing particularly was an essential part of all religious ceremonies; each tribe held its own celebration separately.”
Marx himself took up the fascinating challenges that his colleague had laid out. His final work, interrupted by mortality, was largely to be a study of Native American social lives. When he went to his grave, he had already collected hundreds of pages of notes that included multiple entries about employing exalted plants, most often tobacco that councils smoked together in ritual fashion.
As alluded above, Engels based much of his thinking, as did Marx, on the efforts of pathfinding American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. Though Morgan’s primary intention was to depict the lineage models and relations of aboriginal power that developed in the Americas, and to some extent around the world, he too also noted and implied that universal holy practices existed, essentially group rituals and shamanism. Moreover, these were omnipresent in a way that inherently fit human use of herbal and other earthen substances that people had concluded were sacrosanct.
Decades hence, after many other intervening investigators had added their assessments, Bronislaw Malinowski also wrote extensively on these matters, often taking as his locus of observation Australia and the archipelagos of the Pacific. He is squeamish about some of what he learned. He labels as ‘boasting’ what indigenous inhabitants have conveyed to him. But the content of what he does include in his writings again and again establishes, in his Sexual Repression in Savage Society and elsewhere, that rites that initiated young people as adults, sexual animals who would sire and bear children, also involved secret rituals, formulas, and holy plants.
A chillingly evocative recounting tells of a legendary sister’s seduction of her brother and how their death resulted from this transgression, even as they discovered a key element of their clan’s magic and persistence. ”’The two are dead in the grotto of Bokaraywata and the sulumwoya is growing out of their bodies. I must go.’ He took his canoe, and he sailed across the sea between his island and that of Kitava. Then from Kitava he went to the main island, till he alighted on the tragic beach. There he saw the reef-heron hovering over the grotto. He went in and he saw the sulumwoya plant growing out of the lovers’ chests. He then went to the village. The mother avowed the shame which had fallen on her family. She gave him the magical formula, which he learned by heart.”
This same sulumwoya, in his The Sexual Lives of Savages, Malinowski portrays as the basis for a love elixir specifically and for “love magic” generally. Other oils and the stimulant, Betel, also bear mention.
In the years since this monograph’s publication in 1932, hundreds of other volumes and thousands of articles have considered this minty herb alone, at the same time that different scholars, apparently in the hundreds of thousands, have delved hallucinogenic mushrooms and various other growths from Earth’s bountiful stores that have played this role, a central component of erotic ritual and performance, around the world. Most of these volumes eventually touch on the issues at the heart of Malinowski’s inquiry—the borders and connections among magic and science and religion. Inescapably, our examination in this report also ponders such matters.
James Needham, who anthologized Malinowski’s work, gathered a dozen thinkers around him to discuss and inasmuch as possible discern the conflicts and possibilities for rapprochement between science and religion. Though nearly a century old, the discussions in the collection might easily have originated yesterday; truly, they might just as well have come from a hundred years hence, should humanity manage not to immolate itself.
In his introductory passage, Malinowski speaks to what traditional values brought to a so-called primitive culture. Stripped of any lingering supremacist bias, these arguments have power still. And, to those who would overturn a hundred thousand years of human sacred practice in order to achieve some temporary political economic goal or objective of social dominance, they might carry at least the echo of a warning.
Although he is speaking about the coming-of-age ceremonies in the lines below, his point is that the inculcation of the reality of the dependence of the present on past generations lies at the heart of what happens in those circumstances. That these transitional rites involved altered awareness goes without saying: that was the purpose. For our ends, we might at least acknowledge that forgetting, lying about, or otherwise so distorting our past as to make it unrecognizable ought to seem at least of dubious utility given the way that beginnings lay the basis for completion, come what may.
“The primitive man’s share of knowledge, his social fabric, his customs and beliefs, are the invaluable yield of devious experience of his forefathers, bought at an extravagant price and to be maintained at any cost. Thus, of all his qualities, truth to tradition is the most important, and a society which makes its tradition sacred has gained by it an inestimable advantage of power and permanence. Such beliefs and practices, therefore, which put a halo of sanctity round tradition and a supernatural stamp upon it, will have a ‘survival value’ for the type of civilisation in which they have been evolved.
We may, therefore, lay down the main function of initiation ceremonies: they are a ritual and dramatic expression of the supreme power and value of tradition in primitive societies. There, they also serve to impress this power and value upon the minds of each generation, and they are at the same time an extremely efficient means of transmitting tribal lore, of ensuring continuity in tradition and of maintaining tribal cohesion.
We still have to ask: What is the relation between the purely physiological fact of bodily maturity which these ceremonies mark, and their social and religious aspect? We see at once that religion does something more, infinitely more, than the mere ‘sacralising of a crisis of life.’ From a natural event it makes a social transition; to the fact of bodily maturity it adds the vast conception of entry into manhood with its duties, privileges, responsibilities, above all with its knowledge of tradition and the communion with sacred things and beings. There is thus a creative element in the rites of religious nature. The act establishes not only a social event in the life of the individual but also a spiritual metamorphosis, both associated with the biological event but transcending it in importance and significance.”
A modern onlooker might find tempting a phrase like “polymorphous perverse” as a descriptor of these forebears of ours. The types of practices that passed on secrets of sacred acts, that made the sexuality that we treat as shameful a part of a public rite, under the influence of plants with godlike powers, must strike the prudish prudence of “just say no” as positively salacious.
However, such a judgment is far outside of any rooted reading. In the context of often the thinnest of margins of existence, such developments were the opposite of prurient. They were survival techniques that affirmed the need to love and create in the most fundamental way, as procreators in the teeth of beasts and other daunting components of the world and its creatures. In any case, judged harshly or not, this juicy jettisoning of inhibition has acted as an ineluctable bedrock that founds human socialization and coming-of-age.
Of course, dozens of other investigators also contributed to this early outpouring of anthropological ideas. One might go on if one wanted to conduct thorough research in this arena. In any event, the contemporary scene has not only for the most part confirmed the extended outlines of these earlier conclusions, but they also have broadened the scope of study and deepened both the empirical basis and theoretical richness of this area of knowledge, the focus of all of which is a reality-based description of our own nature.
Thus, as such scholars as Helen Fisher state frankly, one upshot of ruminating on these issues is that we cannot avoid the conclusion that humanity’s has been a sex drive that is rich and potent. And this longing to couple has for tens of thousands of years connected with eating, drinking, and smoking what those in charge of today’s societies now insist are criminal acts merely to possess.
Fisher—who absolutely abhors the hideous sexual and neural and amorous ‘side-effects’ of the serotonin-absorption- inhibiting ‘drugs of choice’ of the present pass —may only elliptically make this conjunction about aphrodisiacal effects of various drugs, but others do so very explicitly: the popularly-invoked formulation, “sex and drugs and rock-and-roll,” in fact forms an interconnected threesome that underlies, at many levels, essential aspects of being human.
One way of thinking about this invokes a deep analysis of language itself, where even a quick look reveals simply countless ways that, for example, psychedelic fungi evoke sexual meaning. Entheogens—plants that bring contact with God or the infinite—in this view act as a catalyst to culture’s deepest delvings.
“This mushroom on the wick is called snuff in English, but ‘snot’ in former times. …In Greek ‘snot’ is muxa but also the nose or nozzle of the oil lamp. The mushroom was linked with nasal mucous because the membrane virile discharges a mucous liquor of magical potency. The lamp-nozzle with its dripping wick carries the same idea with fire involved. Ancient medical writers and Pliny attributed a sexual character to Amanita muscaria. There is a startling association in the complex of words and figures of speech for fire, the nose and its mucous, and mushrooms, and various erotic connotations. The same fossilized figures survive in French, Spanish, and English. ‘Punk’ in English…is the name applied to a powdered fungus…; it also means a harlot who sparks her client. In French, the word for ‘punk’ is amadou. ‘Spunk’ in colloquial English means seminal fluid. It is a doublet for ‘punk’ and both are cognate with Greek spongia/(or) ’sponge ’(and Latin fungus).”
In Spanish, the association is even more graphic. There, “the word for snuff or the burnt end of a wick is seta, meaning mushroom, and also moco, meaning mucous.” In addition to linguistic, one can readily locate scores of citations that employ spiritual, sociological, psychological, genetic, sociobiological, and interdisciplinary ideation to espouse and explain the intertwining of Eros and a plant world as much a part of human engagement with sexuality as is copulation itself. Overall, tens of million*s* of sources probe these interesting matters.
Not that sexual accoutrements of universal deployment of sacred plants were exclusive or primary in these affairs, quite the contrary, the ritual and therapeutic use of hallucinogens or other botanical specimens that had ‘mind-blowing’ effects impacted many realms of early humans’ lives. Malinowski and countless other sources have pointed out this truth. People gained confidence from their imbibing. The ‘magic’ applied in the spheres of domestic production, hunting, and dealings between clans, as well as in various healing ways.
As with Cupid’s and Psyche’s play, a truly, massively vast trove of documents deal with the ways that occasional, ritualised, sacral drug use served as a substrate to enculturation, maturation, and different aspects of human life for a hundred millennia. Such experiences in a real sense made life possible; that is why they were both so extensive and so persistent. Logically, their continued—police and sold-out, so-called scientists might chime in, “intractable”—clinging to human behavior is inviting us still to affirm our lives rather than snuff them out.
A modern scholar synthesises many of these ideas, in The Evolution of Paleolithic Cosmology [and Spiritual Consciousness and the Temporal and Frontal Lobes](http:// journalofcosmology.com/ Consciousness155.html). Of course, as one of many threads about such conceptualisations makes plain, psychoactive plants and their ritual use attended every step in this evolutionary journey. The general point is important to expand on at some length.
“Complex mortuary rituals and belief in the transmigration of the soul, of a world beyond the grave, has been a human characteristic for at least 100,000 years. The emergence of spiritual consciousness and its symbolism, is directly linked to the evolution of the temporal and frontal lobes and to the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon peoples, and then the first cosmologies, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These ancient peoples of the Upper and Middle Paleolithic were capable of experiencing love, fear, and mystical awe, and they carefully buried those they loved and lost.
They believed in spirits and ghosts which dwelled in a heavenly land of dreams, and interned their dead in sleeping positions and with tools, ornaments and flowers. By 30,000 years ago, and with the expansion of the frontal lobes, they created symbolic rituals to help them understand and gain control over the spiritual realms, and created signs and symbols which could generate feelings of awe regardless of time or culture.
Because they believed souls ascended to the heavens, the people of the Paleolithic searched the heavens for signs, and between 30,000 to 20,000 years ago, they observed and symbolically depicted the association between woman’s menstrual cycle and the moon, patterns formed by stars, and the relationship between Earth, the sun, and the four seasons. These include depictions of … the 13 new moons in a solar year. Although it is impossible to date these discoveries with precision, it can be concluded that spiritual consciousness first began to evolve over 100,000 years ago, and this gave birth to the first heavenly cosmologies over 20,000 years ago.”
A compilation that looks at science and technology as a hundred thousand year continuum recognises the use of hallucinogenic plants as a technique worthy of mention. It proposes that a rational contextualisation of human advance would have no choice but to consider the inclusion of such activities, which in any event almost certainly accompanied humanity’s relatively rapid spread to every corner of the planet outside of Antarctica.
Another recent study has noticed the central role of herbs and other plants in the production of magic and knowledge, empirical medicine and divination. From the highlands of Northern Europe and the British isles to the New Guinea wilds, such rubrics have appeared, schematics that in multiple ways evidence ancient roots.
In practice, social problems have led groups, from the dawn of the human day, so to speak, to “consult healers, who usually belong to distant communities and even non-[ethnic] groups. These ‘dream men,’ whom we would label mediums, enter altered states of consciousness through the rapid inhaling of tobacco and the use of other plant materials that produce trances and hallucinations. Information is also gleaned from dreams. Such diviners are then able to identify” correct courses of action or guilty parties or complex compromises as a result of such chemically-mediated foresight and insight.
Investigating these kinds of phenomena and then labelling them as shamanism, meanwhile, has become both a popular and important corner of the scholarly enterprise. Many anthropologists and archaeologists who participate in this undertaking have noted the obvious longevity of these practices and the concomitant probability that drug-induced hallucinations accompanied such designations of ‘guiding spirits’ within the clans or bands from which we and our immediate forebears have sprung.
The capacity for this kind of ‘second sight’ is “of great antiquity,” probably hundreds of thousands of years at least. As a South African professor stated the point, “The widespread appearance of shamanism results not from diffusion but…from universal neurological inheritance that include the capacity of the nervous system to enter altered states and the need to make sense of the resultant hallucinations within a foraging community. There seem to be no other explanations for the remarkable similarities between shamanic traditions worldwide. It is therefore probable that some form of shamanism…was practiced by the hunter-gatherers of Upper Paleolithic Europe.”
More recent scholars, putting into practice advances in forensic science—dating and identifications of molecules and more—can now say without equivocation that aboriginal human networks from tens of thousands of years ago frequently engaged in devotions that involved heightened consciousness, often including hallucinatory and other states of arousal. Such evidence comes from around the planet.
It indicates the role of such ‘expanded awareness,’ for example in The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, in the production of magnificent artistic output tens of thousands of years old. It countenances the probability that imbibing one or another psychoactive plant or fungus contributed to, or formed a bedrock of, the rites both that defined early social development in aggregate and that related to the use of these grottoes and caverns so filled with an evocative, creative mystery that astounds us to this day.
From the Americas, one finds that these patterns have characterized past human groups from the Amazon to Mexico at the very least. Psilocybin and Ayahuasca’s use are, at a minimum, thousands of years old.
Such practices were medicinal. They as elsewhere frequently pertained to both carnal relations generally and to the sexual initiation of pubescent members of the social group. Some data indicates that these substances played a part in the rites of human sacrifice that came to characterize Aztec and Mayan cultures at the ends of their ecological ropes.
From throughout the European neck of the **[Eurasian land mass](http://www. pearsonhighered.com/assets/ hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/ samplechapter/0205744222.pdf), artistry of different sorts proves the presence of organically induced hallucinations. Graves have contained residues of psychoactive materials placed with the corpse, as in cannabis at a burial site in Siberia.
“Buried with the ‘princess’ were six saddled-and-bridled horses, bronze and gold ornaments – and a small canister of cannabis. She is not known to be a ‘princess’, as her name implies. Experts are divided over whether she was a poet, healer, or holy woman.”
From East Asia, one finds evidence of marijuana gathered in quantity from five thousand years or more ago. Moreover, hallucinogens have a many sided and ancient lineage in Japan. “Magic mushrooms references in Japan are often referred to as dance-inducing(Odoritake and Maitake) or laughter-inducing (Waraitake) mushrooms. These “laughing mushrooms” are the subject of a number of folktales as well as the names of ancient dance forms in Japan.”
From before the dawn of history, various hallucinogenic or otherwise intoxicating plants were present in China as well. Wherever one looks in these particular ‘cradles of civilization,’ their forebears took part ritually in gatherings at which participants took into their bodies the basis for transformed consciousness and vision.
From the Pacific and South Asia, we have already seen extensive documentation regarding cultures and peoples of Oceana. India attests to ancient usage of Soma, a plant-based substance that led to reputedly almost omnipotent experiences. “The identity of the ancient plant known as Soma is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the field of religious history. Common in the religious lore of both ancient India and Persia, the sacred Soma plant was considered a God. When Soma was pressed and made into a drink, the ancient worshipper who imbibed it gained the powerful attributes of this God. The origins of Soma go back into the shadowy time of prehistory, back to the common Aryan ancestors of both the Vedic Hindu religion of India and the Persian religion of Mazdaism.”
Thus, when plus-or-minus five thousand years ago, Aryan conquerors came on the scene in the subcontinent, they brought with them an already well-formulated and long-practiced drug dynamic. This ‘Soma’ included many aspects of the soon-to-predominate culture
. It related religiously to the powers of the gods to grant strength to believers. It related to political control. It informed the musical tradition of Rig Veda.
“A significant number of its hymns sing the praises of soma, a psychoactive potion that was made and consumed during a ritual sacrifice. Using 108 bricks, a hearth was constructed in the shape of a bird, within which priests would build a fire. An animal, tethered to a post was beheaded and the main part of the ritual began. The priests would lay out a leather mat and place upon it two circular grinding-stones. A certain plant was crushed between these stones with an admixture of milk or water to make an inebriating drink which was then consumed. As this process allows no time for fermentation we must infer that soma (also called amṛita “immortality”) was a decoction of a psychoactive plant, and not alcohol. Alcohol was certainly known to the Aryans but it was allowed only to the caste of warriors and kings (Skt., kṣatriya).”
The entire globe proffers scholarship, investigation, and knowledge of the folk roots of many of the drugs in the pharmacopoeia, a substantial portion of which served ‘ritual’ purposes and other ways of affecting consciousness. General accounts of the origins of language, religion, and culture now treat the contention as close-to-established theory. Such life forms as psilocybin and tobacco and coca and on and on and on, acted as a conduit to humanity’s unfolding persistence.
Moreover, the intake of these transformative lifeforms probably predated culture and anatomically modern humans as such. Its tendency is a much more deeply embedded phenomenon. According to some scholars, this pattern stems from the following of ungulates and the partaking of the fungal forms that proliferated in the herbivores’ stools. Such dietary choices likely came before primates en masse migrated from Africa and continued through successive waves of wandering that underlay the manifestation of people more or less just like us.
That such thoughts constitute components—and arguably core pieces of the overall construct at that—of science, of scientific knowledge, discomfits many folks. This is arguably especially true in the United States where at best puritanical positions all-too-often stubbornly continue. One recent scholar, whose works illuminate the inevitable conjunctions of magic, religion, and science, of actual awareness and fingers-crossed mumbo jumbo, speaks eloquently about these things.
His thoughts establish a sort of benchmark for this essay’s contention that a widespread and revered practice of psychoactive and psychedelic ritual emanates from every social sector of the world, past and present. Their ubiquity in his estimation both is only possible inasmuch as they worked for the peoples involved and proves that the substances themselves were part of a complicated web of problem and need, of human possibility and consciousness. He takes us from China to Europe, from Africa to Australia, from the Pacific islands to the Americas.
‘[M]any Northwest Coast people…do have so intense an emotional feeling[about nature] that ‘love’ is the only word[for it]. …[They] feel that the trees, animals, and rocks of their areas are home and family—living spirit persons… .the result of thousands of years of having to take forests and animals seriously. If one has to interact with plants and animals over time, one cannot help developing emotional and moral feelings toward them. Humans simply do not remain neutral about things they have to take constantly into account. Interactions construct our world. Our very selves are born of interacting. Interactions with beings we take seriously are powerful emotional events, and, indeed, more than that; …Our selves are the products of our interactions… .
In the cases noted here, these Native American peoples must depend on the forests and animals, and must be responsible for caring for them. …A worldview grounded in this sort of involvement does not lead to cutting the world into magic, science, and religion. It leads, rather, to cutting the world into ethical versus nonethical behavior, into local versus nonlocal place, into factual versus nonfactual claims, into effective versus ineffective ways of living and working, into prosocial versus antisocial behavior(remembering that animals and plants are part of society), and into one’s immediate social world—including animals and plants’ and everything else.
In such a context, one engages with all that nature proffers. One does not generally reject, let alone criminalize, those things that have through immemorial practice expressed rites of passage and transformation. To do so would seem not only bizarre but also immoral, perhaps wickedly insane.
The arrogant hubris and bigoted ignorance of upper crust presumption may soon enough impose a mass collective suicide from on high on the hapless sojourners of Homo Sapiens, at least in so much as the masses remain passive in pondering the spectacles of bombastic bullshit and self-serving hypocrisy that pass for information , or ‘entertainment, ‘from monopoly media’s privileged bastions of slick production and subtle distortion and beautifully-streamlined lies and horseshit and non sequitur: in very real senses of the idea of necessity, no other aspect of what is now essential for humankind takes precedence over the twin needs to engage people, on the one hand, in studying and comprehending reality and then, on the other hand, to manifest the miracle through which they begin acting on their discoveries to rescue their futures on their own behalf.
This Day in History
Today Vietnamese people celebrate Vietnam Book Day, Kenyans National Tree Planting Day, Rastafarians Grounation Day, Texans the martial laurels of San Jacinto Day, Mexicans the bitter dregs of defeat of Heroic Defense of Veracruz Day; in the most ancient and murkiest initial period of what we might now recognize as an Italian people, two thousand seven hundred and sixty-nine years ago, the legendary abandoned twin and scion of wolves, Romulus, founded the city of Rome; one and a half millennia, one and a half centuries, and three years later, in 900, halfway round the globe, a local leader of the Kingdom of Tondo in what is now the Philippines issued the first known written inscription from the islands, a debt-forgiveness instrument, a pardon, for another elite family; MORE HERE
Quote of the Day
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
Doc of the Day
1. Max Weber, 1897.
2. Jean-Francois Lyotard, 1979.
3. Helen Prejean, 1997.
4. Jim Hickey, 2014.
Numero Uno—“There is no absolutely ‘objective’ scientific analysis of culture – or put perhaps more narrowly but certainly not essentially differently for our purposes – of ‘social phenomena’ independent of special and ‘one-sided’ viewpoints according to which – expressly or tacitly, consciously or unconsciously – they are selected, analysed and organised for expository purposes. The reasons for this lie in the character of the cognitive goal of all research in social science which seeks to transcend the purely formal treatment of the legal or conventional norms regulating social life. MORE HERE
racism definition analysis critique OR debunk OR refutation OR rebut OR disprove rationale OR purpose OR explanation history OR origins = 8,080,000 results
Force Majeure: a great and unexpected power. We’re looking for the best small things, any form, any content, any fine and wonderful creation.
Top prize for a single flash $300
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Multiple entries are fine. Simultaneous submissions are fine; if a flash is accepted elsewhere, please notify us via a note on the submission within Submittable. Winning flash must not be (scheduled to be) published in print, ebook, or internet before August 2017.
Rambutan Literaryaccepts submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. We also accept artwork (photography, paintings, etc.) for our art features.
We do accept translations of written works. Aside from translated works, we ask that you submit your own work either mostly in English or provide a translation into English. If you submit an untranslated piece entirely in another language, we’ll just be very confused.
We accept previously published work, but would prefer to see new pieces submitted. By submitting to Rambutan, you agree to allow us to publish your work both online and in our digital magazine, as well as in any later print anthologies.
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Location Kennesaw, GA. We’re looking for numerous experienced writers and editors to help us continually expand our content development efforts. Currently, we market skydiving, hot air balloon rides, helicopter charters, jet charters, game trucks, flight training, and a variety of other services. With virtually unlimited topics upon which we need content for each of these activities, we need meticulous, organized, efficient personnel to ensure our content retains its quality during expansion. This involves curating and organizing production through outside resources for writing, formatting, and editing content of all types.
A great Red Pepper argument whose ideas can breathe new life into our democracy: “To achieve the necessary structural break, liberating democracy from liberalism, an understanding is required of citizenship as social, economic and situated. This is the ‘socialisation’ of politics that Natalie Fenton describes [in an article titled Digital, political, radical in the latest edition of Red Pepper magazine]. In today’s societies, it implies an engagement with electoral politics while at the same time strongly challenging with collective power what has become of the universal franchise: an abstract, formal political equality in a society that is fundamentally unequal. This implies a political party or a political leader that engages supportively in economic and social struggles directly challenging inequalities hidden by the political system, at the same time as championing the wider societal changes that these struggles require in electoral politics.”
A Medium compendium that introduces readers and writers to ten books that will forever change their approach to the language: “I love borrowing books. But there are some books that a writer really should have in their own personal for-keeps libraries. These are the books that you’ll keep coming back to, over and over, through your career.
Here are my top ten writing craft books. Some of them I’ve owned for twenty years or more. Some are new to me. Some are classics that you might already own. Maybe there are some that will be new to you.”
A Lit Hub humorous look at the ubiquity and pervasiveness of the essay: ” I hope I do not simply palm one gauche purity and substitute an even less polluted impurity. First, more than any other literary medium, the essay possesses an unusual function—that is to say, it possesses a function. Many essays can be right or wrong. And they can possess means by which to be morally or politically accountable. Can a poem be right or wrong? Second, the essay possesses a more direct and unmediated relationship to content. The novel and the poem gaze at the actual world through a lens that has been greased with auteurship, non-argumentation, and fictiveness. The aesthetic is that which possesses no function or content—the beautifully useless. When we aestheticize the essay, we staunch its utility and its reality. The literary essay rarely includes criticism or scholarship, since both possess an object and the literary essay must be its own object. The aestheticized essay is the fossil text—the essay at the end of time.”
A Guardian report on promising drug policy developments in Houston: “Ogg is part of a wave of local leaders – many newly elected – who are barrelling ahead with plans to reform the criminal justice system at the local level, even as Sessions has expressed his desire to reintroduce harsher sentences for drugs and other nonviolent crimes. In Texas, Ogg is also contending with state Republican leaders prepared to fight against progressive reforms at every turn.”
A Lit Hub essay that details what’s at stake in regards to outlawing abortion: “Grace Paley is the most intelligent, generous, incorruptible writer I ever knew. Her daughter says, “I learned from her that precision requires a warm eye, not a cold one,” and so did we all. Keen wit and real modesty seldom occur in such happy alliance. Who she was is what she writes. She never shows off, never bullies. She asks us, “what do you think about this?” and is interested in our answer. She takes nothing for granted and everything as worth rethinking. Her writing on social issues remains timely because it was never superficial; she held understanding more useful than judgment. Very few writers can match the offhand voice, with its unmistakable oral cadence, in which her poignant, funny short stories are told. “
The United Nations during this twenty-four hour span marks Chinese Language Day, as many hip sorts around the planet celebrate 4/20 Day in recognition of cannabis’ cultural and medicinal role in human affairs; in Rome of the late Middle Ages, meanwhile, the Pope oversaw the inauguration seven hundred thirteen years ago of the Sapienza University of Rome; precisely one and a half centuries henceforth, in 1453, rescue ships with manpower and relief supplies from Genoa and a Byzantine blockade runner forestalled the pending collapse of Constantinople by fighting their way through the cordon of Ottoman ships surrounding the besieged city;eighty-one years onward from that, in 1534, an entirely different realm of imperial ambition opened when Jacques Cartier launched his first trek to explore Eastern Canada; a century and twenty-three years subsequently, in 1657, Jewish residents of New Amsterdam received formal approval of their right to freedom of religion;another hundred twelve years thereafter, in 1769, a leader of Ottowa indigenous peoples in Canada and the ‘old Northwest,’ Pontiac, succumbed to a fellow Native American assassin, as Pontiac’s negotiations with the English became fairly close; across the Atlantic and much of Europe three hundred sixty-five days later, in 1770, the Georgian king led troops who won out over Ottoman opponents despite his Russian ally’s abandonment of the field of battle at Aspindza; twenty-two further years along time’s path, in 1792, France’s newly constituted popular government declared war on Bohemia and Hungary, thereby instigating the French Revolutionary Wars; thirty-six years past that precise point, in 1828, Rene Caillie, a French roustabout and explorer and adventurer and advance scout for empire became the first European to enter the urban redoubts of Timbuktu and survive the experience; eight years down the pike from there, seven thousand miles Northwest in 1836 North America, the Wisconsin Territory became a geographical and technological fact; just beyond a quarter century after that, in 1862, Louis Pasteur and collaborators conducted the first experiment that proved the germ theory of decomposition, disease, and so forth; not quite a decade farther on the temporal road, in 1871, back across the Atlantic again, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which remains, obviously, to enforce fully even today, became the putative law of the land in America; half a decade yet later on, in 1876, in Europe now, the April Uprising burst forth in Bulgaria that would lead to large-scale murder of civilians in its suppression and invite Russians to pick a fight with the Turks that would then wrest parts of the Balkans from Ottoman dominance; eight additional years further in the direction of today, in 1884, a thirteenth Pope Leo issued an encyclical that basically excoriated popular mandates, democracy, separation of church and state, and other pernicious practices of ‘Freemasonry;’ nine years hence, in 1893, the baby male cried out who would mature as the modernist genius of painting and ideas, Joan Miro; again, not quite a decade farther along, in 1902, Pierre and Marie Curie took a key step in the Modern Nuclear Project when they refined Radium Chloride; a decade ever onward toward the here and now, in 1912, plus or minus 10,000 demonstrators in Lawrence, Massachusetts celebrated their union’s victory in achieving better wages and safer working conditions and more, and on the other edge of the Atlantic, the creator of modern vampires, Bram Stoker, breathed his last; seven hundred thirty days afterward, back in North America in 1914, Rockefeller coal company agents orchestrated one of the great crimes against humanity that American firms carried out against their workers, when hired ‘detectives’ near Ludlow, Colorado fired at will into a striking miner camp, killing a score of men, women, and children; a dozen years more proximate to the present pass, in 1926, monopoly media and industry, in the form of Warner Brothers and Western Electric, announced the creation of the Vidaphone process for adding sound to moving film; another thirteen years on time’s march, in 1939, Billie Holiday released what is arguably the first popular civil rights song, “Strange Fruit;” seven more years subsequent to that, in 1946, a different sort of human rights development transpired with the formal transfer of power from the League of Nations to the United Nations; two years still later, in 1948, would be assassins shot and seriously wounded Walter Reuther, an attempt to murder the esteemed leader of the United Autoworkers who died in a plane crash two decades in the future; three years even closer to the current context, in 1951, a Romanian surgeon performed the first successful transplant of an entire human organ, in this initial case
the esophagus; a decade thereafter, in 1961, U.S. financed, trained, and directed terrorists failed spectacularly in their attempts to overthrow Cuba’s Communist government with an invasion as the Bay of Pigs; thirty-nine years back, Russian fighters shot down a Korean Airlines jet that had apparently entered Soviet airspace; two years later on, in 1980, United Autoworkers strikers successfully concluded a nearly six month labor action against International Harvester that battled wage and hour cutbacks; three years toward our present point in time and space, in 1983, the popular writer and thinker Archibald MacLeish lived out his final scene; a decade past that conjunction exactly, in 1993,the Mexican performer, producer, and screenwriter whom fans knew as Cantinflas died in Mexico City; six years down the pike, in 1999, two young men who had been taking anti-depressants and otherwise being part and parcel of an alienated civilization of megadeath went to their school at Columbine High after an early morning bowling outing and methodically murdered thirteen and wounded over twenty of their classmates and instructors before they killed themselves; eleven years afterward, in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire and exploded, killing nearly a dozen roughnecks and releasing a catastrophic, months-long oil spill.
Even the most rudimentary accuracy is missing in describing the surface of things today, in and of itself of course not that different from whatever standard narrative has prevailed at any given moment since the initiation of civilization and culture and mediation plus or minus ten thousand years back but nonetheless especially worrisome now since the dandied denizens who produce and distribute this contemporary nonsense are more insistent than grand inquisitors have ever been that their awkward and implausible reifications of reality factually represent something accurate and honest, even in their arrogant waywardness truthful, about the true workings of the universe: should the all-too-actively passive masses not only actually accept this storytelling with a wink and a nudge, ‘oh, yeah, right, whatever you say,’ but also really believe that these fairytales correspond to correct assessments of the real deal, then one lethal consequence for human viability would likely be that the ruling class’ suicidal plans for mass collective homicide would pass from theoretical possibility to manifest monstrosity without a single hitch of strategic resistance or powerful protest, since such witness and attempts at redress depend on the descriptive knowledge that is absent, meaning that any meaningful chances of Homo Sapiens survival would over time approach the horrifying prospect of zero opportunities for our future presence on this fair planet, where miraculous webs of water and light and air brought us into existence in the first place with, one cannot but hope, something other than wasted legacies as the only available end result.
This Day in History
The United Nations during this twenty-four hour span marks Chinese Language Day, as many hip sorts around the planet celebrate 4/20 Day in recognition of cannabis’ cultural and medicinal role in human affairs; in Rome of the late Middle Ages, meanwhile, the Pope oversaw the inauguration seven hundred thirteen years ago of the Sapienza University of Rome; precisely one and a half centuries henceforth, in 1453, rescue ships with manpower and relief supplies from Genoa and a Byzantine blockade runner forestalled the pending collapse of Constantinople by fighting their way through the cordon of Ottoman ships surrounding the besieged city; MORE HERE
Quote of the Day
I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.
The works must be conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness.
Throughout the time in which I am working on a canvas I can feel how I am beginning to love it, with that love which is born of slow comprehension.
Doc of the Day
1. Fidel Castro, 1961.
2. Kathy Acker, 1989.
3. Johann Hari, 2015.
Numero Uno—“The people know a great deal about the events which have taken place as a result of our special reports, the newspaper accounts, and the interrogation of prisoners. The people know about the invasion, the details of its organization, and the way in which it was crushed. MORE HERE
"identity politics" fetish OR diversion OR deflect OR deflection OR "divide and conquer" = 76,300 Citations.
TODAY’S HEART, SOUL, & AWARENESS VIDEO
INFINITE RICHES, BURSTING BUBBLES, & COMMUNICATING INTELLIGIBLY arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude.
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A Green Social Thought post that looks at true strategies that can be used during these troubled times: “It’s time that we take a few minutes to think about how we want to proceed, because there is no way that I can see us sustaining this level of mobilization. We have to think strategically about what we want to do.
What I propose herein is not some “final” plan or something like that, but I advance it to get others to think about what is being proposed, appreciating what makes sense and rejecting what does not, and to advance our thinking further: I see this as a collective project moving forward.”
A Naked Capitalism look at the powers and processes of persuasive speech and writing: “We are complicated beasties. For one thing, we often like to think we are not beasties – that we can use our minds to escape the limitations of our animal natures.
But there is no escape. We are creatures of both reason and feeling, both cooperative and competitive. Anyone who claims superiority on the basis of elevating any one aspect of human nature over another is either lying to themselves, to you, or both. Often, they are not merely incorrect, they are dangerous. Ignoring or devaluing fundamental elements of what it means to be human leads not just to failures of ideas, products, relationships and societies, but to cruelty and exploitation.”
A Paul Craig Roberts article that looks at the consequences to monopoly media for its various bad decisions: “Just as the Washington Post and the Harvard Library made themselves look ridiculous and had to put some distance between themselves and the lists that they publicized, Le Monde will also. Not only was I a columnist for leading French newspapers, such as Liberation (Paris) in the late 1980s and for Le Figaro (Paris) in the early to mid-1990s, but also I was awarded the French Legion of Honor by the President of France in 1987. The honor was personally presented to me at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., by the French Minister of Economics and Finance, and later Prime Minister, Edourad Balladur, at a grand party at which top level Reagan Administration officials attended bearing a letter from the President of the United States congratulating France for recognizing my contributions.”
A Techdirt look at some of the atrocities currently committed towards prisoners: “There appears to be corruption all over the place in Morgan County, Alabama. But it all starts with a bad law state lawmakers are in no hurry to take off the books. Despite multiple federal lawsuits stemming from sheriffs’ starve-and-skim tactics, the incredibly perverse incentive remains intact. There are probably plenty of taxpayers who don’t like the idea of their money being used to food and house convicted criminals, but I doubt any of those taxpayers are happier knowing they’re padding sheriffs’ bank accounts and investing in shady businesses.”
A Foreign Policy look at reasons why the rulers of the world are not so concerned about the consequences of their actions: “Carter and his White House were interested in more specific questions. If the presidency could survive after a nuclear war, what exactly would it do afterward? How could the surviving commander in chief be identified? Who would identify him? How would he fulfill the three main functions of the presidency: to be the chief executive of the government, the head of state, and the commander in chief of its armed forces?
Carter’s answers came in the form of Presidential Directive 58, which was issued in the final months of his presidency; Ronald Reagan amended those plans with his own presidential directive in 1983. Their contents inform the continuity of government plans that remain in effect for the Trump administration. They have been the object of a multibillion-dollar pastiche of programs and a magnet for conspiracy theorists around the world.”
Numero Uno—“The people know a great deal about the events which have taken place as a result of our special reports, the newspaper accounts, and the interrogation of prisoners. The people know about the invasion, the details of its organization, and the way in which it was crushed.
We can give you some general ideas about how their plans developed and how ours were developed in the zone of operation. In the first place, we had known for some time that a force was being formed to attack our country. Since the revolution, we have been living amid a series of threats—all of them from abroad. But there were differences in our enemies—that is, imperialism was the only one strong enough to attack.
The aggression was indirect only in regard to the personnel. It was direct aggression in that it came from camps of the North Americans, that North American equipment was used, and that it included a convoy by the U.S. Navy and the participation of the U.S. Air Force. It was a combined thing: they used mercenaries amply supported by the navy and air force.
We were awaiting an indirect attack. But one type of indirect attack is the type of attack made against the Arbenz government in Guatemala; it is known that U.S. aircraft were used against him. We also thought of an indirect attack utilizing the OAS to launch some type of collective action. And we also were expecting a direct attack. The United States has always advocated all three types of action.
It began to prepare immediately for direct action. But it was not able to gather enough support in Latin America for collective action. The Mexican Government has been very firm against intervention in Cuba. So have Quadros and Colombia. So the United States has encountered powerful resistance among the governments and people of Latin America in seeking to further its desire for collective action in the OAS.
On whom could it count? Only on the most corrupt Latin American governments. First the United States tried to work with Trujillo, and most of the Cuban aggression came from the Dominican Republic.
Then it tried to enlist the so-called democratic governments, under the guise of democracy, when they broke with Trujillo because, they said, he was a dictator.
While the United States was taking action against Trujillo, it was strengthening its ties with Somoza and Ydigoras, who are typically corrupt, despotic, and reactionary. Those are the instruments on which the United States can count. It cannot count on Brazil, Mexico, or any other decent Latin American country. Its partners in this venture have been the most reactionary and corrupt governments in Latin America, the governments of Nicaragua and Guatemala.
We have always been in danger of direct aggression. We have been warning about this in the United Nations: that they would find a pretext, that they would organize some act of aggression so that they could intervene. That is why we have followed a cautious policy in regard to Guantanamo Base.
We wish to avoid giving them a pretext for intervention. We made this known in the United Nations. We said that we would never want to obtain the base by force, only through international law, so that we would not provide a pretext for direct aggression.
Danger of World War
Our position is that we will fight to the last man, but we do not want direct aggression. We do not wish to suffer the destruction that aggression would bring. If the aggression comes, it will meet the total resistance of our people.
The danger of direct aggression could again gain momentum following this failure. We have said that imperialism will disappear. We do not wish it to commit suicide; we want it to die a natural death. If it dies the world will live in peace. But it will die violently if it begins a world war.
If imperialism acts with a maximum of responsibility it will bring about a war which it could survive only a relatively short time. As an economic way of life, it will have to disappear through historical laws. (Applause) We do not wish it to commit suicide by attacking us. If they attack us, we would resist in an unbelievable manner. (Applause)
They are the ones who are bringing the world to the brink of war through their warlike spirit, their own contradictions, and their economic problems which cause them to provoke a series of crises in order to maintain their war economy. Their factories run only when they are building war material. Their regime is marching toward a crisis. It is not like our economy, which is perfectly planned.
The economy of our country is based on an increase of 10 percent a year, while in the United States the figure is only two percent. The U.S. economy is managed in the interest of only a few groups; it is divorced from the interests of the people. In war they have a cure for their crises.
They have the capacity to do all sorts of things for the benefit of their people. But their system demands production for war, not peace. As a result, there is extensive wasting of natural resources. Look at their military budget. What they could do with this money for schools, industry, homes! What good it could mean for the world!
And that is only part of the story. Some of their factories are working on a part-time basis. How different from the Soviet Union, where everyone works! If someone wants to build a factory in the United States, he does so whether it is needed or not. This is the result of an unplanned economy. In the United States, war militarizes the economy. They plan for that.
The government does not permit any monopoly to produce what they want— they have to produce war materials. Then the government plans and controls production—they produce fantastically. In time of war they plan, then all the people work. They are not capable of solving the problem of unemployment in producing for peace. Only in time of war can they resolve their economic crisis. That is why there are groups who wish to go on a war footing, if possible, with local wars. This has been the American policy after World War II. With respect to our country, they have been holding these ideas of aggression. We have been and are now facing that threat.
Concerning the type of aggression against us: How could they organize a mercenary force against the united people, against our army and militia? They did not think about that type of war. They thought of a frontal attack with mercenaries and of taking over our country.
First Step: Economic Aggression
The first step was economic aggression—to weaken the revolution—that is to say, they attacked on the economic front: they took away our sugar quota. Our economy was based on one product—the export of sugar— with one market: the United States.
When Guatemala tried to take over the United Fruit land, intervention took place immediately. Since the days of Roosevelt, direct aggression has no longer been used. Instead a puppet is sent. In Guatemala there is hunger and oppression and a gentleman who dedicates himself to harboring mercenaries to attack our country.
In our country, when reforms were initiated, a clash resulted with the imperialists of the United States. Here they had no army directed by their diplomats to turn against the people. Here the old army had been destroyed and their weapons left in the hands of the people. The U.S. military mission which had been here until the fall of Batista—when our troops arrived in Camp Libertad were still there to see if perhaps they could teach us, too. We told them to go home. (Laughter) I well recall I told one of them “You taught Batista and we beat him. We don’t wish to be taught by you.” (Laughter and applause).
Here they had no military organization to direct, and they found that the interests of the government were directly opposed to the military proposals. The Revolutionary Government has an army of the people. They then began their economic aggression and their harrassment.
They said: Cuba depends on us economically. It is underdeveloped. Any government from which we take the sugar quota will surely fall.
We were truly underdeveloped and our imports all came from the United States. Our imports exceeded our exports. We then began a program of economy but not for the poorer classes. They were not the ones who took trips abroad and consumed luxuries—I understand that the import of cars alone was 30 million dollars—agricultural machinery was only 5 million. Much land was not being used. Many lived only during the few months of the harvest, the rest of the time they piled up debts.
We began a program of lowering rents, giving land to cooperatives, investing in programs which would give work to people. The country was saving money, contrary to what the imperialists believed. They have a policy of exploitation of the people. We established a policy of austerity which affected only the social strata which lived in luxury. For their trips abroad we only allowed them a few dollars. This austerity campaign did not afflict the people but only the privileged ones. The revolution imposed a program of austerity for the luxury- using class and not the people. When they heard of the appointment of Che to the national banks they waited for the country to fail. This did not come about.
Then, they took another step of aggression, and tried to leave us without oil. Thanks to our agreement with the USSR, we agreed to sell the USSR sugar in return for oil. Before that, we had had to pay for oil with dollars. So then they decided not to refine Soviet oil. That was because they had control of refining and exploitation of oil in other countries; it was a real monopoly. When they learned that some oil for Cuba would come from other sources, they refused to refine it. They thought if we had anything against them we would be left without oil. But the refineries were taken over, and the USSR made great efforts to give us all the oil we needed. We got through that [U.S.] aggression thanks to the USSR. We get the oil much more cheaply than from the U.S. monopolies, and we pay for it in sugar, not dollars.
Faced with the revolution’s success in regard to oil, they took another step—cutting us off entirely from the U.S. market. Aggression like that can be resisted only by a Revolutionary Government supported by the people. When Cuba sold sugar to the U.S. market, most of the sugarmills and cane- growing land belonged to North Americans. The Cuban workers received miserable pay and had employment only part of the year. There was no profit for our country; the profit was for the monopolies. When the agarian reform went through and cooperatives were formed and year-around employment was provided, then our people began to get profits from our economy. So then the U.S. market was cut off in an effort to make our people yield.
The people responded with determination. The Soviet Union again, and other socialist countries—even though they had plenty of sugar production of thier own, made a great effort and agreed to buy four million tons of sugar from us so the revolution could withstand the blow. The OAS, the American system, this hemispheric system the United States talks about so much, had a clause forbidding economic aggression. That clause said no country could use economic pressure or aggression to gain its objectives or influence affairs inside another country.
Economic aggression was banned expressly, and yet our country was brutally attacked economically. Representatives of Latin American countries met at Costa Rica, and did not condemn the aggressor; but there was a declaration against the victim. The powerful country had violated the law against economic aggression; but when the time came to condemn the shark, the sardines met and condemned the other sardine. But this sardine was no longer a sardine.
And some people ask why we distrust the OAS. How could we not distrust the OAS? The other sardines were afraid. We got no protection from the inter-American system. But, thanks to the USSR, China, and the other socialist countries, we had the sale of millions of tons of sugar assured. Our revolution could keep going.
Then they forbade the export of raw materials and parts to us. Almost all equipment for transportation, construction, and our industries came from the United States. So we were to be left without raw materials or parts to keep our machinery in operation.
Not content with that, they blocked export of our molasses. Some U.S. companies had already agreed to buy our molasses, but by using pressure, they deprived us of millions of dollars we would have received from that. It was not easy to sell molasses elsewhere.
It was one step after another designed to blockade us, to drive us in a situation in which we would face shortages. The purpose was to defeat the Revolutionary Government, which was working for the people, and return to the old system of corruption, a system under which the monopolies got all types of concessions and controlled the Cuban economy.
U.S. imperialism also used pressure in other countries to get them to blockade us. In the midst of all this, the revolution was carrying out education, reforestation, public beach programs, and so forth.
Second Step: Terrorism
Then they turned to backing terrorists and saboteurs. A campaign to destroy our stores and factories began. Now that the people own the installations, sabotage comes. When the wealthy owned them, there was no sabotage. But now that people own the establishments, the CIA goes into action. There is a sabotage campaign.
They organize sabotage against our wealth, they burn cane. They began to send planes over to burn it, but there was so much scandal that they changed tactics. They began to stir up counterrevolutionary groups, using formed soldiers, the worst elements. The worst were those who directed the second Escambray front. They sent them all kinds of arms. You have seen the display of weapons in the Civil Plaza. These worms, in a few weeks, got a thousand weapons, while we, in our battles, had to acquire arms one by one. They sent arms by air, by sea. And we are [Unreadable text] seizing these arms.
Aggression began economically, with maneuvers in sugar and an economic blockade; then came sabotage and counterrevolutionary guerrillas.
The United States has no right to meddle in our domestic affairs. We do not speak English and we do not chew gum. We have a different tradition, a different culture, our own way of thinking. Our national characteristics are different. We have no borders with anybody. Our frontiers are the sea, very clearly defined.
Only because it is a big country did the United States take the right to commit that series of brutalities against Cuba. How can the crooked politicians and the exploiters have more rights than the people? What right does a rich country have to impose its yoke on our people? Only because they have might and no scruples; they do not respect international rules. They should have been ashamed to be engaged in this battle of Goliath against David—and to lose it besides.
What did we have against their might? First, we had a sense of dignity and courage. We were not afraid. That is a big thing. Then, we were determined to resist. No matter what they throw against us, we will fight. Our men know how to die, and they have shown it during the past few days.
Next Step: Direct Aggression
So far they have gone from aggression to aggression without stopping to think. Only direct aggression is left. Are we going to be afraid? No! (Applause) Imperialism’s soldiers are blood and flesh too, and bullets go through them. Let them know they will meet with serious resistance. That may be enough to make them reflect a little. Our people—men, women, and children—must maintain that spirit. If they have no weapons they can take the place of somebody who falls. Have no fear; be calm! After all, the result of aggression against Cuba will be the start of a conflagration of incalculable consequences, and they will be affected too. It will no longer be a matter of them having a feast with us. They will get as much as they give.
To resist is to meet the enemy and fight him with whatever is at hand. To resist is to prepare our spirit, our minds for what comes, for the bombs they drop, because in such a case they would have superiority in the air. We would have to dig many trenches to defend ourselves. They would not have a bomb for each man in a hole.
We would most strongly defend our capital from house to house, as we have said before, from position to position—above all, without retreat. We would mine the fields. We would kill whatever parachutists fell in our zone of control.
If they think they can take our territory by surprise, they are mistaken. They would encounter firm resistance here and would awaken an unprecedented feeling of solidarity with us throughout the world. The attack by the mercenaries had demonstrated this. I am certain that such aggression would be suicide for them. Of that I am completely sure!
I am sure that we would resist in the same spirit as the men who have fallen up to today. In the fight in the Sierra Maestra and in the fight with the mercenaries, many of our friends have fallen. They paid their final tribute. They did their part. We all have the same obligation to act with that spirit of duty, with that feeling of loyalty. None of us has the right to save his life. That is to say, that our decision is firm. To resist regardless of cost, in all ways. That is what we have to do under the circumstances imposed on us through no fault of ours. We feel proud of our position. We used to be the last card in the deck, now we are among the first.
Throughout the whole world there are demonstrations in support of us and against the United States. They are surprised because in less than 72 hours we have destroyed the invasion which was prepared by the brains of the Pentagon with all the tactics and preparations of a war. The leaders of the invasion had great faith in the plans on which the United States placed its prestige, and out of which they came without prestige. Their plans were defeated. This they cannot accept. They fell into this ridiculous situation through their own fault. They cannot stand that consequence, so now they threaten with direct intervention, because they could not win. Well, who doubts that if they were capable of making such a mistake, they may not make a greater mistake? Who doubts that if they were capable of making this mistake, they will not make another great mistake? We think that they are capable of making even a greater mistake which will cost them not only their prestige, but will cost them their very existence as well; and no one knows what it may cost the world. The fact is that it is they who are threatening the entire world. They are the gangsters who are threatening the world peace, threatening the world with a war, threatening Cuba with intervention, and threatening Latin America. What can Latin America say to these threats? What they want is to bring back the right of intervention.
Our duty as a soldier in the trenches is to defend our country. All our spirit, all our thoughts, all our energy should be concentrated on this history-making period. We must defend our country. We defend the peace of the entire world, because our defense of our country may perhaps make these gentlemen stop and reflect. If they believe that we will run, they are wrong—nobody ran. Our firm decision is that before they subdue us, they will have to erase us from the map. Resistance will be strong in all sectors, in the fields if they take the cities. Let’s see how they take Havana for example. We must look at all these things objectively because of our experience—we cannot go to sleep and rest on our laurels, because imperialism has received a rude blow and it is like an infuriated beast. Let us see if they reconsider, this gentleman we have there now, let us see how he acts.
Kennedy Intensifies U.S. Aggression
We awaited his inauguration to see if he would do something different. We did not believe that he would continue with the errors of the previous administration. He himself said: “Let us begin anew.” He did not begin anew; he began as of old. He not only followed the policy of Eisenhower, but he was even more aggressive against us. This gentleman has brought this problem on himself, through his lack of commonsense. He has earned this discredit all by himself. While we waited for him to show what policy he was going to follow, he increased the attacks against us. He increased in intensity the aggression against our country.
“Now he must do what he has to do: to recognize his mistake. What he has to do is to fire Mr. Allen Dulles. Because after a government has been placed before the world in such a ridiculous position, as the Yankee intelligence service has placed the U.S. Government, it is the least he can do now. What he has to do is to fire the chief of the intelligence service. You know why he should fire him? Well, because he `shipped’ him too.” (porque tambien lo embarco—Sp.) (Laughter)
What was one of the most ridiculous things that ever happened in the history of the United States, and they brought it on themselves. All we did was defend ourselves. It is clear that to please Mr. Kennedy and Allen Dulles we could not let ourselves be beaten by mercenaries. What did we do? We threw them into the ocean. (Laughter) This invasion organized by the United States was a species of Normandy which did not end in a Dunkirk because they did not get off the beaches.
Return to Trenches
That is what happened and that is why they are now furious and threatening. What are we going to do before the threats of Mr. Kennedy? Be frightened? No, we smile, because there are many thousands of men in the trenches with weapons in their hands. Once again we must take to the trenches. We have no other alternative—once more we must wait to see what happens in this crisis.
The defense of our country is what I wish to speak of first today. The expedition should strive to warn us that these people make many mistakes and that they are capable of committing the greatest imbecilities. As far as we are concerned, we cannot stop them from meddling. We do all we can to prevent it by arming ourselves and preparing for defense so that they may reconsider. But if they make a mistake, we cannot stop them from making it. Our duty is to maintain our firm position and be ready to defend ourselves without alarm, without panic, just as our many comrades went to fight and die. Nobody has the right to preserve his life. We all have the same obligations. We must keep this thought ever-present, especially right now when we have just finished a bloody battle where a great number of friends and brothers of the people have fallen. Of that we want to speak first.
The lackeys that took part in this Yankee-planned invasion evidently had confidence that the plan would not fail. They were so confident that they even sent their sons. Now they are seeking for clemency for the prisoners. Let them have clemency of the victims of their bombing. Let them cease sending arms to Cuba; arms to murder and kill, and the send of explosives and incendiaries. Let all this cease if they wish clemency.
Instead of defending the mercenaries, and there are some who do, they should be defending the victims of aggression. That is the situation.
Let us now analyze the plan of attack by imperialism against Cuba, and why they landed where they did, and why they did not land on the other side. In the first place they exaggerated the number of mercenaries. Instead of four or five thousand they did not have anywhere near that number. What they landed here was the group they had in Guatemala.
They have another in Caimanera, but it is smaller and not armed as well. The group that had the most arms, were better trained, and had air cover, was the Guatemala group. At first it appeared that the intentions were to take the Isle of Pines, to take it and free the war criminals imprisoned there and add them to their ranks and to take a piece of national territory and then give us the problem of dislodging them.
They were to direct their efforts toward gaining a piece of territory to establish there a provisional government from which to operate. The establishment of a base on our territory would have given them a base to bomb our country and would have created a difficult situation for us. We had to stop this at all costs. The Isle of Pines was ideal for the establishment of a base on our territory which would open the road for aid on territory of Cuba and make unnecessary to use of other countries to launch aggressions. But here is what we did. We filled the Isle of Pines with tens of batallions of cannon and tanks, we posted a force in the Isle of Pines that make the Isle of Pines invulnerable. A huge army would have been needed to attack it. They could not count on Escambray after it had been cleaned out. Would imperialism land mercenaries with just one combat force, or would it split its force into several groups, that was the problem if faced. Would it try to introduce groups and send them arms from the air, to establish many counterrevolutionary networks. We took measures to counter multiple landings, concentrating on logical points, in case they divided force into many groups. We concentrated especially on places giving access to the mountains.
A few days before the aggression, many U.S. papers carried the report that imperialism had decided on splitting up the force and opening different fronts in Cuba. That could be true. It could also be true that the rumors were intended to throw us off the track. Events later showed that they had decided to send the whole force together and seize a point of our territory. Among the rumors in the U.S. press, it was said that it was risky to send all forces against one point and expose them to a crushing defeat and strengthening the revolution.
If they had split up their forces in many landings, they could have used it for much propaganda. A defeat in that case would have been diluted. I believe they could have chosen either tactic. We trusted that we would defeat them wherever, they came. For us it would be best if they all came against the same point but we did not think they would do this. They chose something that offered more but also was much more risky for morale and prestige. They should have been worried about the blow to the morale of imperialism and counterrevolution. For us it was better for them to come in one force, but we thought they would avoid that mistake. But we were still ready with adequate force if they all came together.
Preparations for Invasion
A series of facts showed that the time was near: statements; formation of council of worms in exile; the famous White Book from Kennedy. A whole series of political facts and statements plus the indications in the U.S. press, including discrepancies about possible tactics. We heard that the last shipments of arms and men had gone to Guatemala. We increased our vigilance. On 15 April, because of a report from Oriente, we had not gone to bed. Everything indicated the attack might come at any minute; we got news from Oriente that many groups of ships were off Baracoa. Our forces were put on the alert.
It was necessary to be very careful because American ships often came close to the coast trying to cause trouble. One American ship without any flag was very close to the coast. It was detained by our craft. Then U.S. planes came, apparently to provoke an incident, so our vessel was ordered to let the ship proceed to avoid an incident. In connection with the mercenary landing, Americans carried out some ship movements to throw us off the track. The Baracoa battalion was waiting for a landing so there could be no doubt as to what kind of a ship it was. But in the end there was no landing at Baracoa. We still did not know what group of ships that was. It may have been mercenaries who never landed, it may have been U.S. ships; anyway, nothing happened.
We heard bombs and ack-ack. We saw it was a bombing raid in Ciudad Libertad. We decided it was definite that the aggression was beginning. We tried to get in touch with San Antonio to get our planes up and found that a simultaneous attack was going on there; and Santiago was attacked too.
We had taken measures at the air base. We have few planes and even fewer pilots. We were taking care of those planes. We wanted to be sure they would not be destroyed. So our planes were kept scattered. At San Antonio they managed to destroy one transport plane and one fighter; that was not much. At (Santiago?) they destroyed one fighter and several civilian planes.
They had hoped to destroy our air force. Imperialist aggressions are characterized by an attack on aviation to immobilize it. Our force is small, but we expect to make good use of those few planes and pilots.
At San Antonio the ack-ack reaction was formidable. Planes were driven off and our planes took off in pursuit of the enemy till he was on way to Miami. The first step of aggression—to destroy our planes on the ground—had failed. We reinforced our ack-ack but they did not come back. They had attacked with six planes. Some did not get back, others were riddled. Our air force was intact and ready. And our pilots wanted revenge. That was Saturday. All forces were alerted. Sunday the funeral services were held, our own planes kept guard.
An ammo truck has been set afire by the attack but the people kept calm. They drove the other trucks away while the ammo on the first one was exploding. (Applause) Of course no trucks with ammo should have been there but those things do happen. We were alert all day Sunday. We slept in the afternoon and not at night. We figured that the air raid was not just harrassment but had a military objective, to destroy our air force. Therefore we figured the aggression would come soon. We reinforced our measures after the air attack.
Why was this attack made two days early? Tactically speaking it was an error because we had a chance to take some measures. We mobilized all combat units. On Sunday nothing happened. On Monday morning at 3:15 I was informed that fighting was going on at Playa Giron and Playa Larga. We confirmed this. Then came the report that an invading force was bombing heavily with bazookas and cannons at the two beaches. There was no doubt of a landing attempt at that point—one supported by heavy equipment. Resistance began. Results of the attacks came. The microwave system was cut off. Communications were then cut off. This was the situation.
Here is Cochino Bay and here is Cienfugeos. There was a Cienfugeos battalion at the Central Australia. These were the first to meet the aggression. Here is Playa Larga and here Playa Giron. Here is Zapata Peninsula. This piece of impassible swamp land was the sole communication available to peasants. This area bothered the revolution most.
(Editor’s Note: At this point Castro discusses for approximately six minutes the Zapata swamp area and tells what the revolution has done for it and its people, the building of schools, roads, and medical facilities. He then spends about five minutes giving in some detail a list of the weapons captured in this area, apparently reading from a report. Then during a period of bad reception of approximately 10 minutes, he discusses the invader miscalculations of the Castro air force and, in some detail, the battle plans and the tactical situation during the early stages of the invasion. During much of the time Castro seems to be referring to maps.)
That was the plan. They put two battalions here, and five further back; here were four and six, that was very early in the morning. Then planes were to drop paratroops. They began landing very well. But at Playa Larga and Playa Giron they met resistance. They began losing time. They got two battalions ashore. Paratroops began operating. As they dropped paratroops at these spots, our troops were caught between the main force and the paratroops. Our first measures were to alert all commands and the air force. Orders were given to disperse planes and have ack-ack ready if an attack was made on the airstrip.
We had planes ready for defense against air attack. The battalion at the Australia central was ordered to Playa Larga to fight. It was an infantry battalion recently formed. At the same time an order given to mobilize Matanzas militia battalion and advance to here. Orders were given to other forces. We had two battalions in Las Villas. The problem first of all was to keep a beachhead here. The main thing was to keep a bit of Playa Larga here, on this side. The Cienfuegos battalion got there before dawn and began fighting. But then came time another group of our forces was fighting at Cayo Ramona. The air force was ordered to take before dawn and attack all ships off Giron and Playa Larga. Our battalion prevented battalion five from getting ashore. Our planes began attacking the ships and doing much damage. Meanwhile our battalion was facing strong fire, and was taken from the rear. It fell back fighting the paratroops. A battalion was sent from Matanzas to reinforce it.
Enemy planes were painted with revolutionary armed forces insignia. They attacked our advancing troops. We were most interested in keeping this bit of territory. When we saw paratroops dropped we realized that the attack would come against a single point and any other move would be for diversion. Mobilization of two combat columns of the army was ordered; also of a company of tanks and anti-tank batteries and mortars. Since they controlled the air, the first day our forces had to wait till night to advance. Our planes could not shift from attacking the ships.
Our planes continued to attack the ships. They did wonderful work. Besides attacking the ships, they fought with enemy planes. But they kept hammering the ships until not much was left of their fleet. We lost two planes the first morning. Five enemy planes were downed. Four ships were sunk. That was the first day.
They had an unexpected surprise. They had thought our air force was knocked out, and so the first day ended. They lost more than half of their ships. Our pilots acted with special courage. What they did was incredible.
The militia attacked the Playa Larga position. The battalion had only a narrow road to attack from. On the first day they deployed forces. They were attacking with planes here, and here. We tried to approach the enemy as close as possible under B-26 fire. The battle was accompanied by tanks. So we attacked them all day without respite, fighting constantly. An early morning tank attack came from the same beach with antiair fire support. One of our tanks was damaged. An antitank battery hit us and also another entrenched tank. The goal was to take Playa Larga beach.
U.S. Sabre Jets Involved
They then began to flee. Here a tank surrendered. At dawn on 19 April the planes bombed the Australia central. On the 19th we had antiaircraft in position. This column, when in movement, was attached by American Sabre planes. They (the invaders—Ed.) had B-26’s, not jets. Then, this column of ours, when it advanced between Playa Larga and Playa Giron during the afternoon, suffered many casualties under attack of American Sabres. Those planes were at high altitudes, and on that day when it was already dusk on the 18th, they attacked our column, with Sabres, with jet planes, and they caused many casualties in the column. That was one of the cases in which American planes participated directly. They attacked the column coming from Playa Larga to Giron. At dawn on 19 April a plane attacked the Australia central and was downed and then two more planes. Our planes downed more B-26’s. We downed 10 planes during the entire fighting. On the 19th none of their planes returned and we did not see the enemy anymore.
List of Casualties
On 19 April there were losses, as they were well entrenched. Our people had to fight facing heavy mortar fire and anti-tank guns. There were 87 dead on our side and 250 wounded. That means that our combat units paid a high price in lives while they were on the offensive and that was due to the fact that we were on the offensive constantly until the last position was taken. It is possible that the dead on our side will amount to 100. That indicates the heroism of our troops. They fought constantly without relief against an enemy with relief and more planes than we had. (Castro confers with one of his aides on figures—Ed.) An exact figure cannot yet be given on losses because many of those who came in ships were drowned. According to date here 88. One cannot count those lost in bombing and sunken ships. This will be possible only after identification and a check of personnel lost from each unit. There are some 450 prisoners. We cannot study all data of units and determine how many men were in ships which were sunk. One cannot give an exact figure on that. As I said, one of the basic principles of battle was the courage with which our men fought. It is one thing to defend a position and another to attack without protection under heavy fire. Of course, under such circumstances the losses increase. In the future, we shall be able to have more officers, Battalion chiefs are learning more. The training of units and officers will be better. All kinds of personnel—mortar, shell, cannon—will be specialized. The fact have shown us the necessity of using our knowledge to defend the revolution. The units have acquired considerable experience.
Decorations and Pensions
The government plans to create a decoration—to decorate as “Hero of the Revolution” those who were outstanding for valor; and another type of decoration to reward acts of valor in battle. Meanwhile the government will pass a pension law to give a pension to kin of militia and soldiers who fell in this fighting. The least the revolution can do for those who fell is to protect their families who depended on them. This will be done as soon as the cabinet meets.
If our troops had had more experience, we could have had fewer casualties. When imperialism found what had happened, it had no army left here. The enemy is still dumbfounded.
Counterrevolutionary Suspects Rounded Up
The committees for defense of the revolution acted too. There was a needed to arrest anybody who for one reason or another might help the counterrevolution. That kind of measure always entails some injustice, but that is inevitable. The country faced aggression and had to take any measure for defense. Those persons will be released unless there are charges against them other than that they were considered suspect. Those who have counterrevolutionary activity proven against them or are well known will continue to be held. Since yesterday, those arrested as a precaution have started being released. This does not mean that the danger is past. We think the danger is great, especially of direct aggression from the United States.
At Mesa, Arizona, Senator Goldwater said he had recommended direct intervention if all else failed. That is the idea of right that this ultra has. What respect for sovereignty of other countries and international law! How calmly they speak of direct military intervention. They respect nothing. And they talk as if it were so easy. They do not learn. They should think of the sorrow military aggression causes—and all to restore privileges here. What need was there to bring this bloodshed to our country? What need to threaten us with intervention? They are so irresponsible that after causing bloodshed here, they threaten with more intervention. The reply is our determination to resist; and if they attack, it will be the end of imperialism. Better to die than live under the yoke of those gentlemen.
First Imperialist Defeat in America
Glorious death fighting to defeat imperialism deserves a monument. There should be a big monument in Zapata swamps with the names of the fallen on it, to tell the world that on that day Zapata imperialism sustained its first great defeat in America. Precious lives were given in this battle. The militia performed countless feats of prowess. The people defended their land, honor, rights. They have earned the admiration of the world and prestige. They waged a battle for peace.
Just think, during these past days the literacy campaign was not halted; the lifestock fair is opening; the Conrado Benitez literacy brigade is about to set forth. This work did not stop in the midst of tension. This shows the stuff the revolution is made of.
The comrades who fell saved tens of thousands of lives. Their service to the nation is incalculable. The pilots who fought so steadily and eagerly have created the air force. I am sure no air force ever did before what they have done. We believe 17 April should be made Cuban revolutionary air force day.
Mansfield said the Cuban crisis is very grave. The Vermont senator said Cuba is a permanent threat to the hemisphere. If that means they will invade Cuba, nobody here is frightened at all. We will give them a great reception. The might of an empire cannot go as far as the dignity of the people. It will collapse when it runs into the will of the people.
Latin American War
It is regrettable that U.S. leaders make so many mistakes, such as this one. Why did the U.S. Government need to make itself so ridiculous? It calculated a lot but it calculated badly. In Latin America, there will be war by all who support our revolution. Latin American forces would have a hard time to protect U.S. ambassadors. They should reflect on that. It is too bad they are playing with the idea of attacking us. Such a mistake—nobody knows where it would end. It is too bad the world has to be exposed to the mistakes of those men who know nothing about politics.
Kennedy’s speeches and his threats are similar to Hitler’s. Hitler threatened the small neighboring countries, and Kennedy is threatening Cuba and is saying that he will intervene. He says that his patience is coming to an end. Well, what about our patience, with all the things we have had to endure? In attacking Cuba, they shall unmask themselves more and arouse more revolutionary spirit in Latin America and they will only increase their own future worries. We want them to leave us alone. We want to live in peace with our revolution without losing any more sons. They should stop supplying the counterrevolutionaries with weapons. We will simply have to use a heavy hand. (Applause)
The imperialist powers use the method of surprise attacks, the same method of Hitler and Mussolini. We wish they would reconsider things, take a cold or a hot shower, anything. Let humanity, let history, end a system which is outdated now. Imperialism must pass just as feudalism did, just as slavery did.
The wars of 1914 and 1940’s were bad. Nazism didn’t save itself. The forces in the world in favor of peace are great. They know history is with them. They need not fight against history to preserve their system and privileges. It will be a sorry day for the world if those gentlemen are not able to reconsider. This is the question we must consider quietly. Cuba is part of the world today and there can be no discussion with Cuba that do not effect the world. (Applause)
We shall keep all the revolutionary forces mobilized and we shall plan for the May Day celebrations and we shall work for the victory of the revolution. We shall prepare ourselves to make the necessary sacrifices. The people have tasted victory. Victory is based upon sacrifices, on the basis of the 87 who died to guarantee the future of the country. They sacrificed themselves for the rest, for the independence and sovereignty of the nation and to obtain a better nation. This joy of today we owe it to those who fell and we hope that the future generations will enjoy their lives for today’s sacrifices.
The first prisoner, (Anzon Bayon?) said he was in training for two months in Guatemala under American instructors and then went to Nicaragua but was there only one day. He said that the situation in Cuba was pictured as intolerable.
The second prisoner, whose name was not heard, said he was trained at the Helvetia Ranch in Guatemala, that he saw the Guatemalan minister of war at the Retalhuleu base in November and that President Ydigoras visited the camp in December. When asked if he had joined or enlisted in Miami, he replied, ‘In Mexico.’
Questioned about the nationality of two destroyers which the prisoner said served as an escort, he replied;
‘They came in the area of the straits between Caiman Grande and Jamaica. I could see in the distance that two destroyers escorted us. I could see the number on one of them that came more to the North. The number was 507.’
Question: ‘Did you understand what I asked about the destroyer?’
Answer: ‘It was of North American nationality. The destroyer accompanied us from Caiman strait and Jamaica up to very near the Playa Giron.’
Question: ‘What idea did you and those who were with you have about the Cuban situation?’
Answer: ‘Our ideas were principally from information media we had from (here?). We had bulletin board notices at the brigade headquarters, a series of notes headed News about Cuba: That the militia was discontented; that there was friction between the army and the militia, very great friction’—I do not have to tell you that that was not true; that the people were discontented with the government, with the economic measures—the propaganda was constant. They emphasized that the investigation services of the government were…” Fidel Castro, “We Must Defend Our Country–Denouncing the U.S. Bay of Pigs Invasion;” speech, 1961
Numero Dos—“ELLEN G. FRIEDMAN: I’d like to begin with your novel Don Quixote. The epigraph to Part II of Don Quixote reads, ‘Being dead, Don Quixote could no longer speak. Being born into and part of a male world, she had no speech of her own. All she could do was read male texts which weren’t hers.’ In your parodies and plagiaristic writing, are you that Don Quixote reading male texts?
KATHY ACKER: There’s a certain amount of ironic distance between me and Don Quixote, a distance that varies, but at that point in the text, I’d say, yeah, I am.
EGF: In ‘reading’ Don Quixote, you’re a woman reading Don Quixote. Is it a way of appropriating the language for women?
KA: Not really. I had the actual copy of Don Quixote, and as a kind of joke, simply made the change from male to female to see what would happen. I don’t think there was much more behind it than this direct and simple move. Whenever I use ‘I,’ I am and I am not that ‘I.’ It’s a little bit like the theater: I’m an actress and that’s the role I’m taking on.
EGF: There’s a great deal of overt feminism in your work. You do appropriate a lot of male texts and that’s an issue in your work. I’d like you to comment on that aspect of your work.
KA: When I did Don Quixote, what I really wanted to do was a Sherrie Levine painting. I’m fascinated by Sherrie’s work.
EGF: What fascinated you about Sherrie’s work?
KA: What I was interested in was what happens when you just copy something, without any reason—not that there’s no theoretical justification for what Sherrie does—but it was the simple fact of copying that fascinated me. I wanted to see whether I could do something similar with prose. I came to plagiarism from another point of view, from exploring schizophrenia and identity, and I wanted to see what pure plagiarism would look like, mainly because I didn’t understand my fascination with it. I picked Don Quixote as a subject really by chance. I think it was a bit incidental, perhaps consciously incidental, that it was a male text. When I grew up I went to an all-girls’ school. By the time I first heard of feminism, I was in college. I never really thought about feminism until I got older and realized that the society was deeply sexist. I don’t consciously write as a feminist, although there are a few places in Don Quixote where I was dealing with Andrea Dworkin. There is an attack on Andrea Dworkin in Don Quixote, not her personally (in fact I saw her on a TV show and quite admired how she stood up for feminism), but on her dualistic argument that men are responsible for all the evil in the world. Her views go beyond sexism. She blames the act of penetration in sexual intercourse. I find that not only mad but dangerous. With all the problems in the world, such a view doesn’t do feminism any good. But as a rule I haven’t thought, ‘I am a woman, a feminist, and I’m going to appropriate a male text.’ What happens is that I frame my work way after I write it. The epigraph you quoted at the beginning comes out of my asking, ‘Why did I write all of these texts?’ In fact, I wrote the second part of Don Quixote first by rewriting texts, out of a Sherrie Levine-type impulse. Then I wrote the first and third parts later. The Lulu segment had been commissioned by Pete Brooks as a play. And I think I did the Leopardi part early on as well. Then I actually had an abortion. While I was waiting to have the abortion, I was reading Don Quixote. Because I couldn’t think, I just started copying Don Quixote. Then I had all these pieces and I thought about how they fit together. I realized that Don Quixote, more than any of my other books, is about appropriating male texts and that the middle part of Don Quixote is very much about trying to find your voice as a woman. So whatever feminism is there is almost an afterthought, which does not invalidate the feminism in any way. I don’t say, ‘I’m a feminist,’ therefore I’m going to do such and such. A complaint people have had about my work is that I’m not working from a moralistic or ideological tradition. I take materials and only at the end do I find out what’s going on in my writing. For instance, while writing it, I never considered that Blood and Guts in High School is especially anti-male, but people have been very upset about it on that ground. When I wrote it I think it was in my mind to do a traditional narrative. I thought it was kind of sweet at the time, but of course it’s not.
EGF: Sweet is not an adjective I would use to describe it.
KA: It’s about kids and kids are sweet. I was really in kid time when I wrote that. So that’s a very roundabout way of answering your question.
EGF: What about the schizophrenia and plagiarism. You said that was your original way into plagiarism.
KA: When I first started writing, I was influenced by poetry, mainly the Black Mountain school of poetry, so there’s a bit of poetry in that book. I was searching for my own medium. The middle section of the book interested me more than the other sections because I was working in a sex show, and this middle section was based on sex shows, diaries of sex shows. I was very influenced by Burroughs, so I was really writing out of a kind of “third mind,” through Burroughs and the sex show diaries. It was during the hippie days when sex was fun, when everybody slept with everyone else. I had another point of view, having seen it from the 42nd Street angle. I became politicized.
EGF: You say Burroughs was an influence on you.
KA: Oh, he was my first major influence.
EGF: Can you say what in Burroughs you admire or took?
KA: I came out of a poetry world. My education was Black Mountain school—Charles Olson, Jerry Rothenberg, and David Antin were my teachers. But I didn’t want to write poetry. I wanted to write prose and there weren’t many prose writers around who were using the ways of working of poets I was influenced by. Their concerns certainly weren’t narrative in any way. Any prose writer, even if he doesn’t use narrative the way narrative is traditionally used, is concerned with narrative. I mean the reader has to go from A to Z and it’s going to take a long time and that’s narrative. There’s no way to get around it; that’s the form.
EGF: So Burroughs seemed a natural?
KA: There were Burroughs and Kerouac really. I love to read Kerouac, but Burroughs is the more intellectual. He was considering how language is used and abused within a political context. That’s what interested me. The stuff about his relation to women and all that was really secondary for me to the main work, books like The Third Mind. I was also looking for a way to integrate both sides of my life. I was connected to the St. Mark’s poetry people at the time. On the one hand, there were the poetry people, who were basically upper-middle-class, and on the other, there was the 42nd Street crowd. I wanted to join the two parts of my life, though they seemed very un-joinable. As if I were split. Of course, the links were political.
EGF: There were political links between the two?
KA: A political context was the only way to talk about the link between them. Politics was the cause of the divergence. It was a question of class and also of sexism. The poetry world at that time denied any of this. Sexism wasn’t an issue, class, forget it. Money—we’re all starving hippies—ha, ha. That I worked in a sex show for money was not acceptable at all, despite the free love rhetoric. Warhol was interested in this convergence as well. I knew Warhol people who worked on 42nd Street, and his was the only group that did any crossover. He was interested in sex hype, transsexuals, strippers, and so forth.
EGF: What attracted you to 42nd Street? Was it the political aspect you’ve been talking about?
KA: Oh, no. I just needed money. I had gotten out of university and I had nowhere to go.
EGF: Where did you study?
KA: At Brandeis, at UCSD, and a little bit at CCNY and NYU.
EGF: We were talking about your early work.
KA: The first work I really showed anyone is The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by the Black Tarantula.
EGF: What about the schizophrenia?
KA: The thing about schizophrenia: I used a lot of autobiographical material in Black Tarantula. I put autobiographical material next to material that couldn’t be autobiographical. The major theme was identity, the theme I used from Tarantula through Toulouse The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Toulouse Lautrec, the end of the trilogy. After that, I lost interest in the problem of identity. The problem had for me in a sense been solved by that trilogy. After that I became interested in plagiarism, working with other texts.
EGF: What comprises the trilogy?
KA: The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by the Black Tarantula, I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac, and Toulouse Lautrec.
EGF: And this trilogy was about identity? In Tarantula there’s a constant metamorphosing “I.” It’s a very unstable “I.
KA: Well, it’s a very simple experiment in Tarantula. When one first encounters the “I” in Tarantula, it’s the autobiographical “I.” Then the “I” takes on other, non-autobiographical qualities and gradually the invisible parentheses around the “I” dissolve and the experiment in identity proceeds from that. In Nymphomaniac, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t even thinking about how language works. So I began to explore language, how language works within the parameters of a particular problem. I began to work with memory and with repetition. How does the reader remember, or what does the reader remember when you repeat something over and over again? How do language and memory work even in the most well constructed, logical texts?
EGF: Do you know that Books in Print lists your books twice? It lists Black Tarantula by an author called Black Tarantula and then has a listing for Black Tarantula by Kathy Acker. The same with Toulouse.
KA: In those days, we did a lot with performance. We performed for each other. This was in the same vein. I put Black Tarantula in the phone book. Much of women’s art had to do with performance and identity. At art parties at the time, there was a lot of cross dressing, playing with gender and with identity.
EGF: Let’s get back to Don Quixote. You know, of course, that Borges also has his Don Quixote story. Were you playing with both Cervantes and Borges?
KA: Not really. I reread Borges’s story somewhat toward the end of writing my Don Quixote.
EGF: Here’s a quote from Don Quixote having to do with semiotics: “What it really did was give me a language with which I could speak about my work. Before that I had no way of discussing what I did, of course I did it, and my friends who were doing similar work—we had no way of talking to each other” (54). Was there an element of truth in that statement?
KA: I felt very isolated as part of the art world; I could never talk about my work until the punk movement came along and then I don’t know for what reason or what magic thing happened, but suddenly everyone started working together along the same lines. But we had no way of explaining what we were doing to each other. We were fascinated with Pasolini’s and Bataille’s work, but there was no way of saying why or how. So Sylvdre Lotringer came to New York. His main teachers were Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze and somewhat Foucault. That’s why I didn’t want to use the word “semiotics” because it’s slightly inaccurate. He was looking in New York for the equivalent of that scene, which wasn’t quite Derrida’s scene. What he picked on was the art world, especially our group, which was a kind of punk offshoot.
EGF: Who was in your group?
KA: Well, there were my friends Betsy Sussler who now does Bomb, Michael McClark, Robin Winters, Seth Tillett. People who started the Mud Club. Bands were forming, such as X, Mars, and the Erasers. Bands with ties to Richard Held, Lydia Lunch. Very much the Contortions. It was that amalgam of people he found. Sylvere started hanging out at our parties. I knew nothing about Foucault and Baudrillard. He’s the one that introduced me to them, introduced everyone to them. But it wasn’t from an academic point of view, and it certainly wasn’t from a Lacanian point of view or even from Derrida. It was much more political. When he did the Italian version of Semiotext(e), there were very close ties with the Autonomia, and it was very political. When I went over to France, friends of mine were working on the Change. There were connections with Bifo and Radio Alice. For the first time we had a way of talking about what we were doing. It was mainly, for me, about decentralization, and in Don Quixote I worked with theories of decentralization.
EGF: Empire of the Senseless seems to indicate a new direction for you. For instance, the plagiarism is not so apparent.
KA: Empire is a new direction, but I did use a number of other texts to write it, though the plagiarism is much more covered, hidden. Almost all the book is taken from other texts,
EGF: What other texts?
KA: I’ve used tons of other texts—sometimes it’s just a phrase. You know I’ve gotten very good at it. There’s a lot of Genet for instance. The beginning is based on Neuromancer, a book by William Gibson. But from page to page, I’ve adapted a lot of other texts. I couldn’t even say exactly. The first part is based on the oedipal complex and of course, there’s a lot of Freud in it. At first, I was going to name everyone after Freud’s patients, but I didn’t do that for all the characters. The first chapter is, on the whole, de Sade because I thought if anyone has to find the oedipal society, it’s de Sade. He was quite a brilliant man in that as he personified evil, he was at the same time reflecting what was going on in society. The first chapter of Part 11 is about the Haitian revolution and about voodoo, and then there’s A Thousand and One Nights and there’s some Genet. The reason for these particular texts is that I try to find writers who describe the particular place I want to get to. The third part of Empire is Huckleberry Finn. That’s one of the primary American texts about freedom and about how you live free in a society that isn’t.
EGF: What is the new direction you’ve taken with Empire?
KA: The search for a myth to live by. The purpose is constructive rather than deconstructive as in Don Quixote. What I particularly like about Empire of the Senseless is the characters are alive. For instance, in Blood and Guts, Janey Smith was a more cardboard figure. But I could sit down and have a meal with Abhor. However, it was the structure that really interested me, the three part structure. The first part is an elegy for the world of patriarchy. I wanted to take the patriarchy and kill the father on every level. And I did that partially by finding out what was taboo and rendering it in words. The second part of the book concerns what society would look like if it weren’t defined by oedipal considerations and the taboos were no longer taboo. I went through every taboo, or tried to, to see what society would be like without these taboos. Unfortunately, the CIA intervenes; I couldn’t get there. I wanted to get there but I couldn’t. The last section, “Pirate Night,” is about wanting to get to a society that is taboo, but realizing that it’s impossible. The CIA is symbolic.
EGF: The CIA is symbolic of what?
KA: That you can’t isolate yourself from the world. Two examples: Say, the hippie movement in which the goal was that you make things better by isolating yourself from society and going your own way. The same sort of thing with the separatist feminists. You form your own group. In the end you pull things that way a little, but it can’t work successfully. Neither one is in any way a viable model of true separation. It’s impossible. In the same way you try to imagine or construct a society that wasn’t constructed according to the myth of the central phallus. It’s just not possible when you live in this world. That’s what I wanted to do in the second section of Empire, but the CIA kept coming in. That’s what I mean by the CIA being symbolic. It could have been anybody. So I ended up with “Pirate Night,” You can’t get to a place, to a society, that isn’t constructed according to the phallus. You’re stuck with a lot of loneliness, so how do you deal with that isolation and loneliness? The third part concerns that issue. Also I’m looking for a myth. I’m looking for it where no one else is looking. That’s why I’m so interested in Pasolini.
EGF: The myth never surfaces?
KA: The myth to me is pirates.
EGF: Pirates is the myth?
KA: Yes. It’s like the tattoo. The most positive thing in the book is the tattoo. It concerns taking over, doing your own sign-making. In England (I don’t know if it’s so much true here), the tattoo is very much a sign of a certain class and certain people, a part of society that sees itself as outcast, and shows it. For me tattooing is very profound. The meeting of body and, well, the spirit—it’s a real kind of art, it’s on the skin. It’s both material and not material and it’s also a sign of the outcast. So that’s what I’m saying about looking for the myth with people like that—tattoo artists, sailors, pirates.
EGF: They represent the outcasts?
KA: Not just outcasts—outcasts could be bums—but people who are beginning to take their own sign-making into their own hands. They’re conscious of their own sign-making, signifying values really.
EGF: The wordplay in the book is quite wonderful, the relation between “tattoo” and “taboo,” for instance. That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about, tattooing. Is the tattooist an image of the writer?
KA: No, the tattooist is an image of the tattooist. I’m much more simple. The tattooist is the tattooist. The tattooist is my tattooist. I’m heavily tattooed.
EGF: But you were just talking about the tattooist as a sign-maker.
KA: Oh, the writer could do the same thing. I’m fascinated with the relationship between language and body. That’s something not many people have started working with, I’m interested in the material aspect of the tattoo. I admire Pierre Guyotat because he’s very much concerned with the body as text. This business of “When I write I masturbate.” Erotic texts at their best—I don’t mean pornographic, which is something else—are very close to the body; they’re following desire. That’s not always true of the writer, whereas it’s always true that the tattooist has to follow the body. That’s the medium of the tattoo. If you’re looking for values, it’s where the ground would be for real value. Whereas the ground for the values we have now, such as religion, there’s no reality to it, especially the evangelical movements, other than politics. It’s now something very sick. I have that feeling about the whole spectrum of what’s going on in America, from malls to religion, it’s very sick. It’s not real.
EGF: Why did you leave the United States’
KA: Not enough money.
EGF: You do better in London?
KA: It’s better for a writer over there, for me. There I’m an accepted writer. Here it was very difficult; I was sort of an adjunct to the art world. I really wanted to get out of New York. I’m forty now. I was thirty-seven when I got out of New York. I was feeling that my life was never going to change. To survive in New York is to be a little like those hamsters on a wheel, the wheel turns faster and faster. I felt that either I had to get very famous, just as a calling card for survival—I had to write movie scripts, I had to do whatever writers do here, write for popular magazines—or else become like a lot of poets I know who are very bitter about their poverty. And I don’t want either alternative. What I like is the middle ground. And I didn’t see it possible to maintain that middle ground.
EGF: And it is possible in London?
KA: Yes, very much. It’s a very literary society and you don’t want for money, so you can work.
EGF: Do you have a community of writers whose style of writing is closer to yours than here in America?
KA: No, I’m probably closer to people here. I have very good friends in London, but the people I’m closest to are people here.
EGF: Are there any contemporary writers whose work you’re following?
KA: Oh, I have friends who are wonderful writers, Lynne Tillman and Catherine Texier—very much I’m following their careers. I was just sent a novel by Sara Schulman called After Dolores, which is just lovely. But what would be the feminist writers in England don’t interest me that much.
EGF: Too ideological?
KA: No, it’s not too ideological; I don’t mind that. It’s just social realists. It’s too much, “I used to be in a bad nuclear marriage and now I’m a happy lesbian.” It’s diary stuff and the diary doesn’t go anywhere, and there’s not enough work with language.
EGF: I understand.
KA: I’m more interested in the European novel now. Pierre Guyotat. Duras’s work interests me. Some of Violet Leduc, early Monique Wittig. Some of de Beauvoir’s writing, Nathalie Sarraute. There is Elsa Morante’s writing. Luisa Valenzuela, I like her work. Laure, an amazing woman, a French woman from the upper classes who lived with Georges Bataille. Wonderful writer.
EGF: In Pasolini there are letters from Emily to Charlotte. Why the Bronte’s?
KA: Because they were Catholic.
EGF: Because they were Catholic?
KA: Well, anything Catholic was the point. You see, I was setting up the text so that all the connections were based on nominalism. So about Pasolini’s childhood, the son/sun pun became important, anything that had to do with the son, the son is Catholic, Pasolini was Catholic.
EGF: That’s fascinating. Can you talk a little more about that?
KA: The book’s structured that way. I think it’s probably unreadable, but it fascinated me to write it.
EGF: No, not at all. It’s one of my favorites.
KA: The idea fascinated me. I’ll never do it again. It’s as far into structure as I’ll ever go. I wanted to fashion a book out of different ways of ordering that weren’t causal. Again, I was fighting against oedipal structuring. The first part of the book is about the death and the second about the life of Pasolini. So there were two sections to death and life: In “Death” I was fascinated by his murder and also by the media around his murder. In the media, the idea advanced was “porn maker, homosexual” murdered in gory, homosexual murder. Everything was covered over at the trial. I was fascinated with why the media sensationalized it, what they were getting out of it. I always wanted to write a crummy crime book. It started out that way. I was going to write an Agatha Christie version of Pasolini’s murder.
EGF: An Agatha Christie version?
KA: It just started out that way.
EGF: It’s far from Agatha Christie, though.
KA: The first books I ever read came from my mother’s collection. My mother had porn books and Agatha Christie, so when I was six years old, I’d hide the porn books between the covers of Agatha Christie. They are my favorite models, the books I read as a kid. That’s why I originally became a writer—to write Agatha Christie-type books, but my mind is fucked up. I was going to write the Agatha Christie version of Pasolini’s death. But it didn’t turn out as planned. I picked three ways of solving the murder, I wanted a non-political way of solving it. So I picked three categories: sex, language, and violence. They had to be three appropriate categories. The way of solving it was by way of nominalism. Once I had the categories, anything went. Once I had the category sex, anything went that was about sex. Language was any language experiment, so I played with language school theory. In the end I wasn’t so much interested in solving his death as I was interested in his life. As I got into solving his murder, I didn’t learn how he died, so much was covered over. What I did learn was how multileveled he was. He was a man whose life was his work. He would always make the material of the body his subject. He never allowed people to ignore the body. He didn’t exploit the body as many thought. As I became more and more involved in his work, the “My Life” section of my novel became more important. The influence of Pasolini’s theories on my work is particularly important. He refused to separate genres-film, poetry, criticism. He refused to separate body and mind. When he was an old man he demanded that a series of pornographic pictures be taken of him.
EGF: Who’s your ideal reader? Do you like academic readers?
KA: I don’t imagine an ideal reader. I write for myself and maybe my friends. Although as I give readings more and more, I try and see whether the audience is bored. So in that way I’m aware of an audience. There has to be that element of entertainment, really, or there’s limited accessibility. So I do care about my readers in that way. Academics-I feel a confusion about academia.
EGF: You’ve come out of the academy?
KA: I absolutely hate it. I’ve seen too many English departments destroy people’s delight in reading. Once something becomes academic it’s taken on this level—take the case of semiotics and postmodernism. When I was first introduced to the work of Foucault and Deleuze, it was very political; it was about what was happening to the economy and about changing the political system. By the time it was taken up by the American academy, the politics had gone to hell. It became an exercise for some professors to make their careers. You know, it’s just more of the same: the culture is there to uphold the post capitalist society, and the idea that art has nothing to do with politics is a wonderful construction in order to mask the deep political significance that art has—to uphold the empire in terms of its representation as well as its actual structure.
EGF: What do you mean “in terms of its representation”?
KA: In England, for instance, they don’t have an empire anymore though they refuse to recognize that fact. What they have is Milton and Shakespeare. Their attitude toward Milton and Shakespeare is something absolutely incredible. A person’s speech denotes his class. Those who can speak Milton and Shakespeare are in the top class. It goes much deeper than this, obviously. The literary world should be a populist world, it should be the world in which any class can discuss itself. But in England, the literary world is so tightly bound to the Oxford-Cambridge system. Nobody but nobody gets into that world who hasn’t come from Oxbridge. It assures that its representation of itself always comes from its upper class. And those classes which are not Oxbridge have no representation of themselves except in fashion and rock and roll. So you really have two Englands: one represented by fashion and rock and roll, and one is the literary representation.
EGF: That’s very true for England, but not so much for the U.S.
KA: No, but I still think there’s an element of it here.
EGF: Fostered by the academy?
EGF: So when you get a book that’s experimental or postmodernist …
KA: I think that sometimes the word “experimental” has been used to hide the political radicalness of some writers. Oh, they’re “experimental,” that means they’re not really important.
EGF: They’re marginal?
KA: What this society does is marginalize artists. ” Oh, artists, they have nothing to do with politics.” So the experimental—it’s a way of saying things. I hate this way of saying things. I want to say “fuck, shit, prick.” That’s my way of talking, that’s my way of saying “I hate you.” But what they’re doing is marginalizing the experimental and that’s why I hate the word “experimental.” It’s another form of sticking people into the corner.
EGF: You grew up in New York?
KA: Yes, 57th Street and First Avenue.
EGF: Ever married?
KA: Married twice. The second marriage ended ten years ago.
EGF: What hasn’t been noticed about your work?
KA: Well, I’ll use the word “experimentalism,” my work with language and postmodernism—that’s been noticed about my work—it’s been noticed quite a bit now. Feminists hate me. Well, that’s not true anymore, Ten years ago, I was damned by them. But even in England, they are finding something to like in my work.
EGF: Here in America you’ve certainly been praised by feminists.
KA: In England the complaint is that I’m a ‘bad’ writer. The sex is OK, but they mind my coming out against the literary culture.
EGF: Are you a bad writer purposefully?
KA: Yes, sure—’piss, fuck, shit’ scrawled over a page—sure, of course. This appalls the literary establishment. When I appeared on a radio program, the announcer said, ‘We now have Kathy Acker, the author of Blood and Guts. She’s the most evil person in the world.’
EGF: That really happened?
KA: Sure, that happened, though it’s hard to believe. Another time, I was interviewed on radio by an upper-middle-class woman who said, ‘Why do you talk about poverty all the time?’ and I said, ‘I’ve been very poor.’ The disparity between the classes is really pronounced in England, so they parade me as a freak, that’s the role I play for them. Here, it’s not as true.
EGF: What are you working on now?
KA: The book I’m working on now, a third of which is finished, is a life of Rimbaud. I chose Rimbaud because I wanted to remember who influenced me, to explore the history of the imagination, and of dreaming and of art, how art can matter politically in the society. For me, one lineage that I’ve come out of is that of Rimbaud. So to investigate Rimbaud is to go back to the beginning for me. He saw myth as a way out of the mess I was talking about to you before.” Kathy Acker, “A Conversation With Kathy Acker;” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, by Ellen Friedman, 1989
Numero Tres—“From his first day in office in 1930, Harry Anslinger had a problem, and everybody knew it. He had just been appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—a tiny agency, buried in the gray bowels of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.—and it seemed to be on the brink of being abolished. This was the old Department of Prohibition, but prohibition had been abolished and his men needed a new role, fast. As he looked over his new staff—just a few years before his pursuit of Billie Holiday began—he saw a sunken army who had spent fourteen years waging war on alcohol only to see alcohol win, and win big. These men were notoriously corrupt and crooked—but now Harry was supposed to whip them into a force capable of wiping drugs from the United States forever.
Harry believed he could. He believed that the response to being dealt a weak hand should always be to dramatically raise the stakes. He pledged to eradicate all drugs, everywhere—and within thirty years, he succeeded in turning this crumbling department with these disheartened men into the headquarters for a global war that would continue for decades. He could do it because he was a bureaucratic genius—but, even more crucially, because there was a deep strain in American culture that was waiting for a man like him, with a sure and certain answer to their questions about chemicals.
Jazz was the opposite of everything Harry Anslinger believed in. It is improvised, relaxed, free-form. It follows its own rhythm. Worst of all, it is a mongrel music made up of European, Caribbean and African echoes, all mating on American shores. To Anslinger, this was musical anarchy and evidence of a recurrence of the primitive impulses that lurk in black people, waiting to emerge. ‘It sounded,’ his internal memos said, ‘like the jungles in the dead of night.’ Another memo warned that ‘unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected’ in this black man’s music. The lives of the jazzmen, he said, ‘reek of filth.’
His agents reported back to him that “many among the jazzmen think they are playing magnificently when under the influence of marihuana but they are actually becoming hopelessly confused and playing horribly.”
The Bureau believed that marijuana slowed down your perception of time dramatically, and this was why jazz music sounded so freakish—the musicians were literally living at a different, inhuman rhythm. “Music hath charms,” their memos say, “but not this music.” Indeed, Anslinger took jazz as yet more proof that marijuana drives people insane. For example, the song “That Funny Reefer Man” contains the line “Any time he gets a notion, he can walk across the ocean.” Anslinger’s agents warned that’s exactly what drug users were like: “He does think that.”
Anslinger looked out over a scene filled with rebels like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk, and—as the journalist Larry Sloman recorded—he longed to see them all behind bars. He wrote to all the agents he had sent to follow them and instructed: “Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great national round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day. I will let you know what day.” His advice on drug raids to his men was always simple: “Shoot first.”
He reassured congressmen that his crackdown would affect not “the good musicians, but the jazz type.” But when Harry came for them, the jazz world would have one weapon that saved them: its absolute solidarity. Anslinger’s men could find almost no one among them who was willing to snitch, and whenever one of them was busted, they all chipped in to bail him out.
In the end, the Treasury Department told Anslinger he was wasting his time taking on a community that couldn’t be fractured, so he scaled down his focus until it settled like a laser on a single target—perhaps the greatest female jazz vocalist there ever was.
He wanted to bring the full thump of the federal government down upon that scourge of modern society, his Public Enemy #1: Billie Holiday.
One night, in 1939, Billie Holiday stood on stage in New York City and sang a song that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. ‘Strange Fruit’ was a musical lament against lynching. It imagined black bodies hanging from trees as a dark fruit native to the South. Here was a black woman, before a mixed audience, grieving for the racist murders in the United States. Immediately after, Billie Holiday received her first threat from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Harry had heard whispers that she was using heroin, and—after she flatly refused to be silent about racism—he assigned an agent named Jimmy Fletcher to track her every move. Harry hated to hire black agents, but if he sent white guys into Harlem and Baltimore, they stood out straight away. Jimmy Fletcher was the answer. His job was to bust his own people, but Anslinger was insistent that no black man in his Bureau could ever become a white man’s boss. Jimmy was allowed through the door at the Bureau, but never up the stairs. He was and would remain an “archive man”—a street agent whose job was to figure out who was selling, who was supplying and who should be busted. He would carry large amounts of drugs with him, and he was allowed to deal drugs himself so he could gain the confidence of the people he was secretly plotting to arrest.
Many agents in this position would shoot heroin with their clients, to ‘prove’ they weren’t cops. We don’t know whether Jimmy joined in, but we do know he had no pity for addicts: ‘I never knew a victim,’ he said. ‘You victimize yourself by becoming a junkie.’
He first saw Billie in her brother-in-law’s apartment, where she was drinking enough booze to stun a horse and hoovering up vast quantities of cocaine. The next time he saw her, it was in a brothel in Harlem, doing exactly the same. Billie’s greatest talent, after singing, was swearing—if she called you a ‘motherfucker,’ it was a great compliment. We don’t know the first time Billie called Jimmy a motherfucker, but she soon spotted this man who was hanging around, watching her, and she grew to like him.
When Jimmy was sent to raid her, he knocked at the door pretending he had a telegram to deliver. Her biographers Julia Blackburn and Donald Clark studied the only remaining interview with Jimmy Fletcher—now lost by the archives handling it—and they wrote about what he remembered in detail. …
‘Stick it under the door!’ she yelled. ‘It’s too big to go under the door!’ he snapped back. She let him in. She was alone. J immy felt uncomfortable. ‘Billie, why don’t you make a short case of this and, if you’ve got anything, why don’t you turn it over to us?’ he asked. ‘Then we won’t be searching around, pulling out your clothes and everything. So why don’t you do that?’ But Jimmy’s partner arrived and sent for a policewoman to conduct a body search.
‘You don’t have to do that. I’ll strip,’ Billie said. ‘All I want to say is— will you search me and let me go? All that policewoman is going to do is look up my pussy.’
She stripped and stood there, and then she pissed in front of them, defying them to watch.
The morning he first raided her, Jimmy took Billie to one side and promised to talk to Anslinger personally for her. ‘I don’t want you to lose your job,’ he said.
Not long after, he ran into her in a bar and they talked for hours, with her pet Chihuahua, Moochy, by her side. Then, one night, at Club Ebony, they ended up dancing together—Billie Holiday and Anslinger’s agent, swaying together to the music.
‘And I had so many close conversations with her, about so many things,’ he would remember years later. ‘She was the type who would make anyone sympathetic because she was the loving type.’ The man Anslinger sent to track and bust Billie Holiday had, it seems, fallen in love with her.
But Anslinger was going to be given a break on Billie, one he got nowhere else in the jazz world. Billie had got used to turning up at gigs so badly beaten by her husband, manager and sometimes pimp, Louis McKay, they had to tape up her ribs before pushing her onstage. She was too afraid to go to the police—but finally she was brave enough to cut him off.
“How come I got to take this from this bitch here? This low-class bitch?” McKay raged, according to an interviewer who spoke with him years after Billie’s death. “If I got a whore, I got some money from her or I don’t have nothing to do with the bitch.” He had heard that Harry Anslinger wanted information on her, and he was intrigued. “She’s been getting away with too much shit,” MacKay said, adding he wanted “Holiday’s ass in the gutter in the East River.” That, it seems, was the clincher. “I got enough to finish her off,” he had pledged. “I’m going to do her up so goddam bad she going to remember as long as she live.” He travelled to D.C. to see Harry, and he agreed to set her up.
When Billie was busted again, she was put on trial. She stood before the court looking pale and stunned. “It was called ‘The United States of America versus Billie Holiday,’” she wrote in her memoir, “and that’s just the way it felt.” She refused to weep on the stand. She told the judge she didn’t want any sympathy. She just wanted to be sent to a hospital so she could kick the drugs and get well. Please, she said to the judge, “I want the cure.”
She was sentenced instead to a year in a West Virginia prison, where she was forced to go cold turkey and work during the days in a pigsty, among other places. In all her time behind bars, she did not sing a note. Years later, when her autobiography was published, Billie tracked Jimmy Fletcher down and sent him a signed copy. She had written inside it: “Most federal agents are nice people. They’ve got a dirty job to do and they have to do it. Some of the nicer ones have feelings enough to hate themselves sometime for what they have to do . . . Maybe they would have been kinder to me if they’d been nasty; then I wouldn’t have trusted them enough to believe what they told me.” She was right: Jimmy told the writer Linda Kuehl that he never stopped feeling guilty for what he’d done to Lady Day. “Billie ‘paid her debt’ to society,” one of her friends wrote, “but society never paid its debt to her.”
Now, as a former convict, she was stripped of her cabaret performer’s license, on the grounds that listening to her might harm the morals of the public. This meant she wasn’t allowed to sing anywhere that alcohol was served—which included all the jazz clubs in the United States.
One day, Harry Anslinger was told that there were also white women, just as famous as Billie, who had drug problems—but he responded to them rather differently. He called Judy Garland, another heroin addict, in to see him. They had a friendly chat, in which he advised her to take longer vacations between pictures, and he wrote to her studio, assuring them she didn’t have a drug problem at all. When he discovered that a Washington society hostess he knew—’a beautiful, gracious lady,’ he noted—had an illegal drug addiction, he explained he couldn’t possibly arrest her because ‘it would destroy… the unblemished reputation of one of the nation’s most honored families.’ He helped her to wean herself off her addiction slowly, without the law becoming involved.
Harry told the public that ‘the increase [in drug addiction] is practically 100 percent among Negro people,’ which he stressed was terrifying because already ‘the Negro population . . . accounts for 10 percent of the total population, but 60 percent of the addicts.’ He could wage the drug war—he could do what he did—only because he was responding to a fear in the American people. You can be a great surfer, but you still need a great wave. Harry’s wave came in the form of a race panic. …
In the run-up to the passing of the Harrison Act in 1914—the law that first criminalized drugs in the United States—the New York Times ran a story typical of the time. The headline was: ‘Negro cocaine ‘fiends’ new southern menace.’ It described a North Carolina police chief who ‘was informed that a hitherto inoffensive negro, with whom he was well-acquainted, was ‘running amuck’ in a cocaine frenzy [and] had attempted to stab a storekeeper . . . Knowing he must kill this man or be killed himself, the Chief drew his revolver, placed the muzzle over the negro’s heart, and fired—‘intending to kill him right quick,’ as the officer tells it, but the shot did not even stagger the man.’ Cocaine was, it was widely claimed in the press at this time, turning blacks into superhuman hulks who could take bullets to the heart without flinching. It was the official reason why some police in the South increased the caliber of their guns. One medical expert put it bluntly: ‘The cocaine nigger,’ he warned, ‘sure is hard to kill.’
Harry Anslinger did not create these underlying trends. His genius wasn’t for invention: it was for presenting his agents as the hand that would steady all these cultural tremblings. He knew that to secure his bureau’s future, he needed a high-profile victory, over intoxication and over black people, and so he turned back to Billie Holiday.
To finish her off, he called for his toughest agent—a man who was at no risk of falling in love with her, or anyone else.
The Japanese man couldn’t breathe. Colonel George White—a vastly obese white slab of a man—had his hands tightened around his throat, and he was not letting go. It was the last thing the Japanese man ever saw. Once it was all over, White told the authorities he strangled this “Jap” because he believed he was a spy. But privately, he told his friends he didn’t really know if his victim was a spy at all, and he didn’t care. “I have a lot of friends who are murderers,” he bragged years later, and “I had very good times in their company.” He boasted to his friends that he kept a photo of the man he had throttled hanging on the wall of his apartment, always watching him. So as he got to work on Billie, Colonel White was watched by his last victim, and this made him happy.
White was Harry Anslinger’s favorite agent, and when he looked over Holiday’s files, he declared her to be “a very attractive customer,” because the Bureau was “at a loose end” and could do with the opportunity “to kick her over.”
White had been a journalist in San Francisco in the 1930s until he applied to join the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The personality test given to all applicants on Anslinger’s orders found that he was a sadist. He quickly rose through the bureau’s ranks. He became a sensation as the first and only white man ever to infiltrate a Chinese drug gang, and he even learned to speak in Mandarin so he could chant their oaths with them. In his downtime, he would go swimming in the filthy waters of New York City’s Hudson River, as if daring it to poison him.
He was especially angered that this black woman didn’t know her place. “She flaunted her way of living, with her fancy coats and fancy automobiles and her jewelry and her gowns,” he complained. “She was the big lady wherever she went.”
When he came for her on a rainy day at the Mark Twain Hotel in San Francisco without a search warrant, Billie was sitting in white silk pajamas in her room. This was one of the few places she could still perform, and she badly needed the money. She insisted to the police that she had been clean for over a year. White’s men declared they had found opium stashed in a wastepaper basket next to a side room and the kit for shooting heroin in the room, and they charged her with possession. But when the details were looked at later, there seemed to be something odd: a wastepaper basket seems an improbable place to keep a stash, and the kit for shooting heroin was never entered into evidence by the cops—they said they left it at the scene. When journalists asked White about this, he blustered; his reply, they noted, “appeared a little defensive.”
That night, White came to Billie’s show at the Café Society Uptown, and he requested his favorite songs. She never lost faith in her music’s ability to capture and persuade. ‘They’ll remember me,’ she told a friend, ‘when all this is gone, and they’ve finished badgering me.’ George White did not agree. ‘I did not think much of Ms. Holiday’s performance,’ he told her manager sternly.
Billie insisted the junk had been planted in her room by White, and she immediately offered to go into a clinic to be monitored: she would experience no withdrawal symptoms, she said, and that would prove she was clean and being framed. She checked herself in at a cost of one thousand dollars, and according to Ken Vail’s book Lady Day’s Diary, she didn’t so much as shiver.
We do know that George White had a long history of planting drugs on women. He was fond of pretending to be an artist and luring women to an apartment in Greenwich Village where he would spike their drinks with LSD to see what would happen. One of his victims was a young actress who happened to live in his building, while another was a pretty blond waitress in a bar. After she failed to show any sexual interest in him, he drugged her to see if that would change. ‘I toiled whole-heartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun,’ White boasted after he had retired from the Bureau. ‘Where else [but in the Bureau of Narcotics] could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?’ He may well have been high when he busted Billie for getting high. …
The prosecution of Billie went ahead. ‘The hounding and the pressure drove me,’ she wrote, ‘to think of trying the final solution, death.’ Her best friend said it caused Billie ‘enough anxieties to kill a horse.’ At the trial, a jury of twelve ordinary citizens heard all the evidence. They sided with Billie against Anslinger and White, and found her not guilty. Nonetheless, ‘she had slipped from the peak of her fame,’ Harry Anslinger wrote. ‘Her voice was cracking.’
In the years after Billie’s trial, many other singers were too afraid of being harassed by the authorities to perform ‘Strange Fruit.’ But Billie Holiday refused to stop. No matter what they did to her, she sang her song.
‘She was,’ her friend Annie Ross told me, ‘as strong as she could be.’
When Billie was forty-four years old, a young musician named Frankie Freedom was serving her a bowl of oatmeal and custard in his apartment when she suddenly collapsed. She was taken to the Knickerbocker Hospital in Manhattan and made to wait for an hour and a half on a stretcher, and they said she was a drug addict and turned her away. One of the ambulance drivers recognized her, so she ended up in a public ward of New York City’s Metropolitan Hospital. As soon as they took her off oxygen, she lit a cigarette.
“Some damnbody is always trying to embalm me,” she said, but the doctors came back and explained she had an array of very serious illnesses: she was emaciated because she had not been eating; she had cirrhosis of the liver because of chronic drinking; she had cardiac and respiratory problems due to chronic smoking; and she had several leg ulcers caused by starting to inject street heroin once again. They said she was unlikely to survive for long—but Harry wasn’t done with her yet. “You watch, baby,” Billie warned from her tiny gray hospital room. “They are going to arrest me in this damn bed.”
Narcotics agents were sent to her hospital bed and said they had found less than one-eighth of an ounce of heroin in a tinfoil envelope. They claimed it was hanging on a nail on the wall, six feet from the bottom of her bed—a spot Billie was incapable of reaching. They summoned a grand jury to indict her, telling her that unless she disclosed her dealer, they would take her straight to prison. They confiscated her comic books, radio, record player, flowers, chocolates and magazines, handcuffed her to the bed and stationed two policemen at the door. They had orders to forbid any visitors from coming in without a written permit, and her friends were told there was no way to see her. Her friend Maely Dufty screamed at them that it was against the law to arrest somebody who was on the critical list. They explained that the problem had been solved: they had taken her off the critical list.
So now, on top of the cirrhosis of the liver, Billie went into heroin withdrawal, alone. A doctor was brought into the hospital at the insistence of her friends to prescribe methadone. She was given it for ten days and began to recover: she put on weight and looked better. But then the methadone was suddenly stopped, and she began to sicken again. When finally a friend was allowed in to see her, Billie told her in a panic: “They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them.” The police threw the friend out. “I had very high hopes that she would be able to come out of it alive,” another friend, Alice Vrbsky, told the BBC, until all this happened. “It was the last straw.”
On the street outside the hospital, protesters gathered, led by a Harlem pastor named the Reverend Eugene Callender. They held up signs reading “Let Lady Live.” Callender had built a clinic for heroin addicts in his church, and he pleaded for Billie to be allowed to go there to be nursed back to health. His reasoning was simple, he told me in 2013: addicts, he said, “are human beings, just like you and me.” Punishment makes them sicker; compassion can make them well. Harry and his men refused. They fingerprinted Billie on her hospital bed. They took a mug shot of her on her hospital bed. They grilled her on her hospital bed without letting her talk to a lawyer.
Billie didn’t blame Anslinger’s agents as individuals; she blamed the drug war itself—because it forced the police to treat ill people like criminals. ‘Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market, told doctors they couldn’t treat them,’ she wrote in her memoir, ‘then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.’
Still, some part of Billie Holiday believed she had done something evil, with her drug use, and with her life. She told people she would rather die than go back to prison, but she was terrified that she would burn in hell— just as her mother had said she would all those years before, when she was a little girl lying on the brothel floor, listening to Louis Armstrong’s music and letting it carry her out of Baltimore. ‘She was exhausted,’ one of her friends told me. ‘She didn’t want to go through it no more.’
And so, when she died on this bed, with police officers at the door to protect the public from her, she looked—as another of her friends told the BBC—’as if she had been torn from life violently.’ She had fifteen fifty-dollar bills strapped to her leg. It was all she had left. She was intending to give it to the nurses who had looked after her, to thank them.
Her best friend, Maely Dufty, insisted to anyone who would listen that Billie had been effectively murdered by a conspiracy to break her, orchestrated by the narcotics police—but what could she do? At Billie’s funeral, there were swarms of police cars, because they feared their actions against her would trigger a riot. In his eulogy for her, the Reverend Eugene Callender told me he had said: ‘We should not be here. This young lady was gifted by her creator with tremendous talent . . . She should have lived to be at least eighty years old.’