Cartel of Defiance

cartel of defiance (noun): 1. In medieval combat, a formal declaration, delivered by herald, of a combatant's intention to fight and refusal to submit. 2. An electronic assemblage of engaged and enraged citizens. 3. An intertextual mode of reading, writing, and thinking that puts the current political, cultural, and personal moment in dialogue with text/art from the past in counterargument to the ahistorical Memory Hole into which America seems to have slipped.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Week That Was

We saw three big lies this week, as Bush clearly stepped up activity before the State of the Union address. Never has the Matrix analogy seemed more real to me as, with flashes of the broken city of New Orleans running through the mind, the systematic and evil distortion of reality continues, old, new, borrowed, blue. New, of course, is the stunning victory of Hamas, which, having the misfortune to occur right in the whirling dervish of new Republican spin, was merely swallowed up into it. Having taught Orwell's 1984 recently, I was shocked to see what I take as one of the most unrealistic scenes of the novel -- the public rally that Winston Smith witnesses, where, right before his eyes, the war with Eastasia is instantly turned into the war with Eurasia (or perhaps the other way around) -- become yet another useful point of reference. (In the space of a minute, new posters up, old posters down, newspapers changed, a speaker continuing with the new Super-State without even breaking the rhythym of his speech).

Bush's press conference is striking in this regard, as is the press coverage more generally: as though reeling under a mutli-pronged assault, there is a reflexive, allergic reaction to not really registering this stunning blow. As though this election has nothing to do with the War in Iraq (or the "War on Terra"), as though we're not even at War. The Hamas election, in fact, gives the lie to so many of the basic rhetorical constructions that prop up Bush's Iraq War that it can almost not be seen at all. Either this is simply an event that happens to the United States, something out there which, like a hurricane, blows in onto the press that is covering it, from the U.S., and has nothing to do with the United States itself, or, even more radically, as Bush suggested several times in his initial statements, its not really an event at all. Besides there's too many other things going on. "But if nothing else, legal and political analysts say, Bush administration officials appear to have succeeded in framing the legal debate on their own terms and daring critics of the National Security Agency operation to prove them wrong. 'It's a very astute strategy," said Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at the University of Georgia. "They don't have much to work with legally, but they're framing these justifications in constitutional terms to a public audience. That may serve them well.'"

As we know, this particular rhetorical jijitsu was not only conceived but actively avowed by Karl Rove last Friday, whose speech now reads as a diestic prequel to the Week That Would Be. "On Friday, the Justice Department capped the week's blitz with a 27-point rebuttal to its critics labeled 'Myth V. Reality.' The first 'myth' listed: 'The N.S.A. program is illegal.'" The third lie, is, of course, Abramoff, dramatized so remarkably in the crazy events at the Washington Post, whose ombudsman (of all people) was caught at the precise moment of alchemical transformation: between hard lie (Abramoff gave money to both parties) and soft (Abramoff directed money to both parties, still, of course, patently untrue -- but untrue more deeply in the insidious way it shifts, or begins to lose sight of, the very essential terms of the news story itself).

Hamas, NSA, Abramoff: is there any doubt that we are still livng in Rove's world, where the truth is not merely hidden but somehow metastasized into an even bigger lie (not only did Abramoff not really *happen*, he gave money to the Democrats as well; not only is the shocking victory of Hamas unrelated to the Iraq War, it offers us democracy in action; not only is extra-legal wiretapping not illegal, but those who passed these laws are themselves criminals, seeking to endanger you). It makes you wonder what the State of the Union would look like if the four corners of Fitzgerald's investigation had been just a little bit wider.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What Is It Like to be Bush: Little Rascals Edition

"It's amazing that people say to me, `Well, he's just breaking the law,' the president said, with Roberts sitting behind him on stage at Kansas State University. "If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"

-- Washington Post, "Bush Says Surveillance Legal and Necessary," January 23 2005

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Representation of Reality

The poet explains nothing, and yet the things which happen are stated with a paratactic bluntness which says that everything must happen as it does happen, it could not be otherwise, and there is no need for explanatory connectives. This, as the reader knows, refers not only to the events but also to the views and principles which form the basis of the actions of the persons concerned. The knightly will to fight, the concept of honor, the mutual loyalty of brothers in arms, the community of the clan, the Christian dogma, the allocation of right and wrong to Christians and infidels, are probably the most important of these views. They are few in number. They give a narrow picture in which only one stratum of society appears, and even that stratum in a greatly simplified form. They are posited without argument as pure theses: these are the facts. No argument, no explanatory discussion whatever is called for when, for example, the statement is made: paien unt tort et christiens unt dreit (l. 1015: heathens are wrong and Christians are right), although the life of the infidel knights -- except for the names of their gods -- seems hardly different from that of the Christians. . . . The Christianity of the Christians is simply a stipulation. It exhausts itself in the creed and the liturgic formulas that go with it. Furthermore it is, in a very extreme sense, made to serve the knightly will to fight and political expansion. The penance laid upon the Franks when they pray and receive absolution before going into battle is to fight hard; whoever falls in the fight is a martyr and can surely expect a place in Paradise. Conversions by force which involve the killing of those who offer resistance are works with which God is well pleased. This attitude, astonishing as a Christian attitude and non-existent as such in earlier times, is not based, here in the Chanson de Roland, on a given historical situation, as it was in Spain, whence it would seem to have stemmed. Nor is any other explanation of it given. That is the way it is -- a paratactic situation, made up of theses which, extremely narrow as they are, are yet full of contradiction.

--Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, "Roland Against Ganelon," pp. 101-102

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

an affirming flame

Under the familiar weight
Of winter, conscience and the State,
In loose formations of good cheer,
Love, language, loneliness and fear,
Towards the habits of next year,
Along the streets the people flow,
Singing or sighing as they go:
Exalté, piano, or in doubt,
All our reflections turn about
A common meditative norm,
Retrenchment, Sacrifice, Reform.

--W.H. Auden, "New Year Letter" (1940)

Monday, January 02, 2006

the Splendid Shilling

HAPPY the man who, void of cares and strife,
In silken or in leathern purse retains
A Splendid Shilling; he nor hears with pain
New oysters cried, nor sighs for cheerful ale;
But with his friends, when nightly mists arise,
To Juniper's, Magpye, or Town-Hall repairs: 
Where, mindful of the nymph whose wanton eye
Transfix'd his soul and kindl'd amorous flames,
Chloe, or Phyllis, he each circling glass
Wisheth her health, and joy, and equal love.
Meanwhile he smokes, and laughs at merry tale,
Or pun ambiguous, or conundrum quaint.
But I, whom griping penury surrounds,
And hunger, sure attendant upon want,
With scanty offals, and small acid tiff     
(Wretch'd repast!) my meagre corpse sustain:
Then solitary walk, or doze at home
In garret vile, and with a warming puff
Regale chill'd fingers...

From John Philips's 1704 "the Splendid Shilling: an imitation of Milton" at the Poet's Corner.

Man (1938)

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