the dim bulb

Last time Rachel called Michael, he told her that she disturbed him. This time around, he is thankful for the opportunity to understand why that is so. For the time being, he is keeping his thoughts private in an effort to get through to their subject.
    Michael’s understanding is always provisional. Whenever Rachel calls, he gives her an opportunity to explain herself, to account for her behavior, to allow him to think better of her. It is a courtesy that he extends to everyone, given only enough time to reconsider his options. He might deny it under duress. If Rachel were pointing a gun at him, he would not ask her to explain yourself, in lieu of shooting. But in this case, though Rachel’s projectile weapon is is far more pernicious than a mere lead slinger, it leaves Michael with just enough room to pose an explanation, and her, to propose an excuse. Here goes.
    Michael is proceeding along the slimmest of threads, in this attempt to unravel the woolly knot of willful obtuseness that clogs Rachel’s mental plumbing. By her own admission, in continuing to contact him, she is acting selfishly. So noted. Rachel understands that in playing the victim of love, she prolongs the unpleasantness for both of them. Michael agrees. Although Rachel fails to conclude that this pattern has manifested itself in her behavior throughout their relations, making this point does not matter enough to him. They can differ on the extent and existence of her exploitation. There is no room for differing on the extent and existence of her ignorance. It spews forth every time Rachel tries to account for her behavior. She cannot begrudge him his attempt to get back some measure of gratification.
    Rachel tells Michael that she killed their child because she was afraid that he would not get a job to support it. She says it after having boasted of her willingness and ability to be a single mother. This alone is enough to invalidate her excuse. But it gets worse. Rachel knows that Michael works for money whenever he wants to. She knows that there is no need for him to do so at any given moment. For better or worse, his family assets insulate him from the hustle. If he wanted to live a life of leisure, all otium, no negotium, all Michael would have to do is liquidate some of them. He would have to turn down the screws on the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. But that means next to nothing to him. He could and would support a woman with his child without too much trouble. And even if Rachel chose against all evidence to doubt it, the state enforces laws that make it so.
    So Rachel’s explanation regarding some financial anxiety is both more and less than that. It is less than an explanation because it is a stupid excuse. It is more than an explanation because it reveals persistent self-delusion. It does nothing of the sort that Rachel wants it to accomplish. Instead of accounting for her sudden reversal from hopefully expectant motherhood, to unilaterally executed abortion, it exposes her oblivious ignorance of whatever subconscious motive might underlie it. And therein lies Michael’s final beef with Rachel.
    In his shorter conversation with Hippias, Socrates explains that a willful lie is not as bad as an ignorant lie. He makes his case with an analogy with walking. The man intentionally affecting a limp is better at walking, or at least less deficient at walking, than the man afflicted with a real limp. Similarly, a man who tells lies on purpose is more virtuous, or at least less deficient in virtue, than a man who tells lies out of ignorance. The mind that errs involuntarily (ἀκουσίως ἁμαρτάνουσα) is worse than the mind that errs voluntarily (ἑκούσιος). (Hippias Minor, 375b, the theme recapitulated by Xenophon in his Memorabilia 4.2.19 ff.) Rachel’s errors appear to betoken ignorance of her own motives, if not an outright refusal to deal with their nature.
    If there is one position that Rachel has consistently sustained in all their conversations over the past three years, it is that she is not a liar. She has maintained it through thick and thin, even unto reassuring Michael of her fidelity in the wake of sucking another man’s cock, much as Erin had done after prostituting herself online. But there is this difference between the two of them: that in contrast with Rachel’s arrant bullshit, at far remove from the constantly shifting grounds of her implausible justification, Erin’s lies are both conscious and deliberate. Erin is only pretending to limp. Rachel is limping for real. Other factors being equal, Erin would be closer to walking straight. All she would have to do is stop pretending. Rachel would require some major surgery beforehand.
    So why is Michael wasting his time talking to Rachel instead of Erin? For one thing, because Rachel’s problems are her own, while Erin’s problems are compounded by the monkey on her back. All problems should be treated at their source. That is why Michael has settled his lawsuits with Erin, and that is why he continues to wallop her father. Moreover, Michael sees no chance of eliciting contrition from an incestuous degenerate or his despoiled offspring, whereas there still remains a hope of getting through Rachel’s obstinacy.
    The Socratic analogy is not exact. A gimp in need of surgery could go either way, opting for amputation or epiphysiodesis. Some people are fixated on removing a healthy limb, getting their kicks from apotemnophilia. This fetish is not unlike aborting a healthy fetus. Indeed, an apotemnophiliac can boast consistency in motivation that is lacking in Rachel’s hysterical reversals. Rachel’s mental problems may be of that kind, or worse. If so, she is best advised to stay away. If not, Michael welcomes her efforts to prove it.


― for P.N.

    I am tardy with you, because I have sought what I had forgotten, here and there, consigned to the Usenet, of your erstwhile obiter dicta. Herewith a response based on the next to nothing that I found. I shall abide by your request to withhold poetic criticism, not because I agree with your insistence that it is beyond my ken, but out of deference to your bruised sensibilities. In this regard, I also thank you for striking a pose that releases me from burdensome concerns, with a word of advice: in extolling dada, pause to attend to the thing Tristan Tzara named jem’enfoutisme. Continue reading quietus


    Following a sanction awarded against them in Santa Clara for failing to stipulate to a change of venue, WebEx Communications, Inc. got judicially sanctioned for the second time yesterday for bringing up its mendacious libel lawsuit, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC324927, against Michael Zeleny. Defendant Zeleny brought his anti-SLAPP motion against plaintiff WebEx on February 25, 20005, arguing that WebEx filed its lawsuit in order to infringe his Constitutional right to participate in a public forum. On March 16, 2005, Judge Michael L. Stern granted Zeleny’s motion on two out of three causes of action remaining against him. The fourth cause of action had been previously dropped by WebEx prior to their failed opposition in the November 5, 2004 hearing on Zeleny’s change of venue motion in Santa Clara Superior Court, where it originally filed its lawsuit. Upon the granting of that motion, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Socrates Manoukian exercised his discretion in consideration of plaintiff WebEx having knowingly and maliciously brought up its lawsuit against defendant Zeleny in a wrong venue, by ordering them to pay his attorneys’ fees. Under California law, a similar award is mandatory in favor of defendant prevailing in an anti-SLAPP motion, in an amount to be determined in a subsequent hearing.
    Thus WebEx shareholders continue paying for a failed attempt to cover up WebEx founder and ex-President Min Zhu’s rape of his daughter Erin Zhu. There remains their libel claim against Zeleny. WebEx objects to Zeleny’s claim that WebEx used 5,000 shares of its stock that it owed to Zeleny’s company to pay hush money to Min Zhu’s daughter Erin for her childhood rape by Min Zhu. WebEx further objects to Zeleny’s claim that his life had been threatened in the names and on the behalves of Min Zhu and WebEx. Look forward to hearings in this lawsuit determining the disposition of sociopathic child rapist Min Zhu on his way out as an executive of a publicly traded American corporation.

9. the means of language

— for Eric Gans
    Quand il parlait, il ne levait jamais un bras ni un doigt : il avait tué la marionnette.
    — Paul Valéry, Monsieur Teste
    When he spoke, he never raised his arm, nor his finger; he had killed the puppet.
    — Paul Valéry, Monsieur Teste[0]

    It is customary to introduce a French subject in the history of ideas (l’histoire des mentalités) with the simile coined by the great mediaevalist Marc Bloch:[1] « Le bon historien, lui, ressemble à l’ogre de la légende. Là où il flaire la chair humaine, il sait que là est son gibier. » The good historian, says Bloch, resembles the legendary ogre: wherever he smells human flesh, there he knows to seek his prey. But the postmodern ogre is a conflicted creature. Undermining the cause of his own carnivorous appetite, he holds that the singularity of definitively modern works consists precisely in their fundamental ambiguity. In so far as historical events are molded by human hands, this singularity must extend to all subjects of modern history.
    Witness Ross Chambers epitomizing French literary modernism in the two key masterpieces of that movement, Charles Baudelaire’s verse collection Les fleurs du mal and Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary:[2]

Their writing has an elusive quality that resists interpretative closure and makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, to locate a subject in which an “intended meaning” would have originated. As a result, reading modern works becomes a literally interminable procedure, and in both the text and its interpretation the insistence of unconscious forces ― that is, of desire ― becomes impossible to ignore.

Physicists teach that perpetual motion is impossible. Economists agonize over the prospects of full employment. Little do they know that resistance to interpretative closure is all it takes to ensure that the tribe of literary critics becomes fully employed in the manufacture of perpetual motion compelled by the insistence of desire and predicated upon the impossibilities of ignoring. Continue reading 9. the means of language

prevailing through contempt I

Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913, in a family of French settlers in Algiers. In his youth, he played soccer and studied philosophy. He realized his maturity in popular essays that treated disturbing themes in a soothing fashion. He wrote about resisting suicide and living in insensibility. He engaged the demons of personal and social negativity, ranging from debilitating guilt to random terror. He endorsed personal rebellion as the pathway to solidarity in the face of absurd existence. Camus stood on the left, apart from all parties. He published clandestine polemics in the French Resistance and disassociated himself from the Communist Party after the Soviets suppressed the Hungarian rebellion. He declared himself against the capital punishment and declined to declare himself against colonialism, refusing to take sides in the Algerian revolt. His novels and plays rehearsed and amplified his concerns. They became wildly popular in France and abroad. The Nobel Prize consecrated his ambivalent reputation. His writing earned popular acclaim and supercilious condescension. He was killed on January 4th, 1960, when his friend Michel Gallimard spun out of control his Facel Vega, advertised as the fastest four-seat coupé in the world, its refined French chassis overwhelmed by a brutish American engine. The car veered off a country road and rammed into a tree. Camus was the only casualty of this accident. He was 46 years old. Ever since, his stature has grown, even as his critics declined into odium and hysteria.

Continue reading prevailing through contempt I

11. endgame

Le dernier acte est sanglant, quelque belle que soit la comédie en tout le reste : on jette enfin de la terre sur la tête, et en voilà pour jamais.
— Blaise Pascal, Pensées
The final act is bloody, howsoever fine all the rest of the play: in the end they throw some earth over our head, and thus therewith forever.
— Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Toute plaisanterie dans un homme mourant est hors de sa place ; si elle roule sur de certains chapitres, elle est funeste. C’est une extrême misère que de donner à ses dépens à ceux que l’on laisse le plaisir d’un bon mot.
— Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères
Any joke made by a dying man is out of place; if it turns on certain subjects, it is dreadful. It is a wretched thing, to give the pleasure of a witticism, at one’s own expense, to those one leaves behind.
— Jean de La Bruyère, The Characters
Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixement.
— François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes
Neither the sun nor death can be looked upon steadily.
— François de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims[0]

In 1862, the year that followed the glory of the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal with the farce of his failed attempt to gain election to the French Academy, Baudelaire saw his friend and publisher Auguste Poulet-Malassis declared bankrupt. The poet was heavily invested in this failure. His finances collapsed. At that time, he began another journal, which he entitled Hygiène:[1]

    Plus on veut, mieux on veut.     The more you will, the better you will.
    Plus on travaille, mieux on travaille et plus on veut travailler. Plus on produit, plus on devient fécond.
    Après une débauche, on se sent toujours plus seul, plus abandonné.
    The more you work, the better you work and the more you want to work. The more you produce, the more fertile you become.
    After debauchery, you always feel more alone, more abandoned.
    Au moral comme au physique, j’ai toujours eu la sensation du gouffre, non seulement du gouffre du sommeil, mais du gouffre de l’action, du rêve, du souvenir, du désir, du regret, du remords, du beau, du nombre, etc.
    J’ai cultivé mon hystérie avec jouissance et terreur. Maintenant, j’ai toujours le vertige, et aujourd’hui, 23 janvier 1862, j’ai subi un singulier avertissement, j’ai senti passer sur moi le vent de l’aile de l’imbécillité.[2]
    Morally, as physically, I always had the feeling of the abyss, not only of the abyss of sleep, but of the abyss of action, of dream, of memory, of desire, of regret, of remorse, of beauty, of number, etc.
    I have cultivated my hysteria with delight and terror. Now, I always have vertigo, and today, January 23, 1862, I underwent a singular warning, I felt passing over me the wind of the wing of imbecillity.

The revulsion of flesh, the withdrawal from its touch, avowed by this man of the crowd, finds its complement in the transposition of a hoary sexual cliché into the realm of productive labor:

It’s a commonplace observation but true just the same ― the more you fuck, the more you want to fuck, and the better you do fuck! When you overdo it your cock seems to get more flexible: it hangs limp, but on the alert, as it were. You only have to brush your hand over your fly and it responds. For days you can walk around with a rubber truncheon dangling between your legs. Women seem to sense it, too.
― Henry Miller, Sexus[3]

But the discipline of creative work failed to accrue though fatigue party practice in the way of the young man’s well honed aptitude for debauchery. Baudelaire fantasized about fleeing to Honfleur, into his mother’s care, responsible for the production of his greatest poems five years earlier. He practiced the prescription of Pascal’s Wager, praying to the dead dearest to him. Prayer was unavailing. Continue reading 11. endgame

rotten peach

I have listened to your complaints. They tell me nothing new. But for the sake of completeness and conclusiveness, I will answer them, and answer them right here.
    You say that I fail to tell the whole truth about you, or me, or you and me. I am not in possession of the whole truth on any of these subjects. Nor do I have the whole truth on the subjects of Erin Zhu’s ever-loving daddy or Baudelaire’s bad glazier. Still, the show must go on. Let us take these matters in turn.
    As regards our defunct romance, I am telling my side of the story. You have every right to counteract it with your narrative, either oral or written. That you would never dream of doing the latter, that you would even lack the courage to do the former, is quite beside the point. You say that you value your privacy. That has not stopped you from stalking me through the thicket of online exhibitionism dating back over fourteen years. Knowing what to expect, you had asked me not to show your letters in public, and I have abstained from doing so. But you never asked me to keep all aspects of our relationship to myself. Had you done so, I would have refused either the promise that you requested or the relationship that you sought. Under the circumstances, I rely on my sole discretion to choose the matters of my disclosure. I do so because I regard our story as amusing and instructive, and because the extreme nature of your performance warrants and requires an equally dramatic response. Make no mistake: you are as much of a performance freak as you accuse me of being. I see no moral difference in the facts that you stage your performances in intimate settings, and misconstrue them as sincere and accurate expressions of your inner reality.
    You object to being depicted as a rotten peach. In a culture that no longer ages its meat or ripens its fruit, not everyone can be expected to partake of the Oriental wisdom that the best time to eat a peach is when it is beginning to rot.

In all frankness, your problem is that you have advanced well past that optimal, initial stage. I would rather be unkind in observing it clearly and describing it honestly, than obtuse in dismissing it as intrusive to your privacy or irrelevant to your predicament. You yourself have chosen to emphasize it in our interactions. Your own choice has also featured killing our child, nearly certain to be your last opportunity for motherhood. That is why your complaint about me depicting you as a whore is not only beside the point, but also ill addressed. All men seek, and find in their women some combination of the mother and the whore.
By your own behavior, you have ruled out the participation of motherhood in your heterosexual engagements. You cannot blame me for showing you in the light of this choice.
    As regards my alleged fondness for fighting, it is nothing of the sort. I did not enjoy hurting you because I sought to relate to you in ways not founded on pain. I enjoy hurting the Zhus and WebEx because they have threatened and menaced me, and refused to make amends for doing so. My enjoyment stems not from fighting my adversaries, but from overcoming adversity. The first thing my father taught me about fighting is to make a fist and aim at the face. The differences in toughness and sensitivity of these organs ensure that the equality of action and reaction works out against the face, to the advantage of the fist. No doubt, growing up without a father has gotten in the way of learning this lesson for Min Zhu. But it does not excuse his attempt to rest on whatever he can get away with in dealing with my claim against his family and his company. Least of all does it warrant the expectation that I would fail to reciprocate in kind by showing my ability to get away with making Min Zhu miserable in perpetuity, by exposing the aspects of his character that support my account of his terrorist threats. I do this in order to protect myself. I do this in order to win. I enjoy doing this because returning the insult is the best outcome available under the customs and circumstances. In view of Min Zhu boasting of his fighting prowess, the entire spectacle could be put to rest with pistols for two and coffee for one. Unfortunately, not only is this resolution out of fashion; in dealing with the present class of adversaries, it would only earn me a bullet in the back. Our issues could also be resolved with an apology. But that is not forthcoming from people dead set on getting away with whatever they can. The adversity remains. I have no problems with that. You have no basis for objecting to it. Indeed, given your constant protestations of disinterest in my affairs, you never had it.
    Your tale of not being able to stop thinking about me in China contributes nothing to the satisfaction of your claimed goal. I am still not interested in being anything like a friend to you. Since you ask, I am not anything like a friend to any of my exes. I simply avoid dealing with most of them, except when they ask me for inbetweenies, and I decide to accede to their wishes. Otherwise, it bears observing that the predicate for any relation more intimate than civility no longer exists. In your case, I have made a special effort to keep it alive unto the last moments. If you are looking for someone to blame for the outcome, look in the mirror.

Georges de la Tour, The Penitent Magdalene, 1638-1643.
Oil on canvas, 133.4×102.2 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    Similarly, your complaint about my avoidance of life fails to convince. Over the three years of our relations, I have delivered a comeuppance to a billion dollar corporation and its degenerate principal. I have buried my father, I have paid his debts, I have taken care of my mother. I am finishing a book nineteen years in the works and developing the material for a lifetime of followups. In the meantime, you have spun your wheels and accomplished nothing, terminating one responsibility and walking way from another. You have not as much as been willing and able to stay in one place to try and make something out of yourself. The only times that I have seen your eyes light up, is when I have plied you with enough alcohol to make you forget your self-loathing, or when you have prodded me into overcoming my reluctance to dole out the sadistic abuse that you so desperately crave. If anyone between us is running away from life, it is not me.

10. survivor of suicide

     Le suicide est le plus grand des crimes. Quel courage peut avoir celui qui tremble devant un revers de fortune ? Le véritable héroïsme consiste à être supérieur aux maux de la vie.
— Napoléon I, Maximes de guerre et pensées
Suicide is the greatest of crimes. What courage could possess he who trembles before a reversal of fortune? True heroism consists in being above the ills of life.
— Napoleon I, Maxims of War and Thoughts
     L’orgueil est toujours plus près du suicide que du repentir.
— Antoine de Rivarol, Maximes, pensées et paradoxes
Pride is always closer to suicide than to repentance.
— Antoine de Rivarol, Maxims, thoughts, and Paradoxes
     On a, relativement à la gravité du sujet, écrit très peu sur le suicide, on ne l’a pas observé. Peut-être cette maladie est-elle inobservable. Le suicide est l’effet d’un sentiment que nous nommerons, si vous voulez, l’estime de soi-même, pour ne pas le confondre avec le mot honneur. Le jour où l’homme se méprise, le jour où il se voit méprisé, le moment où la réalité de la vie est en désaccord avec ses espérances, il se tue et rend ainsi hommage à la société devant laquelle il ne veut pas rester déshabillé de ses vertus ou de sa splendeur. Quoi qu’on en dise, parmi les athées (il faut excepter le chrétien du suicide), les lâches seuls acceptent une vie déshonorée. Le suicide est de trois natures : il y a d’abord le suicide qui n’est que le dernier accès d’une longue maladie et qui certes appartient à la pathologie ; puis le suicide par désespoir, enfin le suicide par raisonnement. Lucien voulait se tuer par désespoir et par raisonnement, les deux suicides dont on peut revenir ; car il n’y a d’irrévocable que le suicide pathologique : mais souvent les trois causes se réunissent, comme chez Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
— Honoré de Balzac, Illusions perdues
Considering the gravity of the subject, very little has been written about suicide; it has not been studied. Perhaps this malady cannot be studied. Suicide results from a feeling that if you like we will call self-esteem, so as not to confuse it with the word “honor”. The day when a man despises himself, the day when he sees himself despised, the moment when the reality of life is at odds with his hopes, he kills himself and thus pays homage to society, before which he does not wish to stand stripped of his virtues or his splendor. Whatever one may say of it, among atheists (exception must be made for the Christian suicide) cowards alone accept a life dishonored. There are three kinds of suicide: firstly the kind that is but the final bout of a prolonged sickness, and which surely belongs to the domain of pathology; secondly the suicide arrived at through despair; thirdly the suicide arrived at through reasoning. Lucien wanted to kill himself through despair and through reasoning, the two kinds of suicide from which one may retreat; for the only irrevocable kind is the pathological suicide; but often the three causes come together, as in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
— Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions
     SUICIDE. Preuve de lâcheté.
— Gustave Flaubert, Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues
SUICIDE. Proof of cowardice.
— Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas[0]

Born on 9 April 1821, Charles Baudelaire made several attempts on his life before realizing himself as a poet. At the age of 24, he sent his mistress Jeanne Duval with a letter to the court-appointed guardian of his paternal inheritance:[1]

Je me tue ― sans chagrin. ― Je n’éprouve aucune de ces perturbations que les hommes appellent chagrin. ― Mes dettes n’ont jamais été un chagrin. Rien n’est plus facile que de dominer ces choses-là. Je me tue parce que je ne puis plus vivre, que la fatigue de m’endormir et la fatigue de me réveiller me sont insupportables. Je me tue parce que je suis inutile aux autres ― et dangereux à moi-même. Je me tue, parce que je me crois immortel et que j’espère.
― Lettre à Narcisse Ancelle, Paris, le 30 juin 1845
I kill myself ― without sorrow. ― I feel none of those disturbances that men call sorrow. ― My debts never have been a sorrow. Nothing is easier than mastering these things. I kill myself because I could no longer live, because the weariness of falling asleep and the weariness of awakening are unbearable to me. I kill myself because I am useless to others ― and dangerous to myself. I kill myself, because I believe myself to be immortal and because I hope.
― Letter to Narcisse Ancelle, Paris, 30 June 1845

As with every other melodramatic gesture commemorated in the poet’s correspondence, the suicide attempt resonated with concern among his intimates, without realizing the threatened consequence in its author’s life. Its concerns recur, in the images of death and decay, self-loathing and self-immolation, which play a crucial part in his art.[2] Continue reading 10. survivor of suicide