leucippus, spinoza, einstein

“οὐδὲν χρῆμα μάτην γίνεται, ἀλλὰ πάντα ἐκ λόγου τε καὶ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης.”
“Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity.”
— Leucippus (Diels and Kranz, 1985, 67B2), in G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 420

“Cujuscunque rei assignari debet causa seu ratio tam cur existit quam cur non existit.”
“Of everything whatsoever a cause or reason must be assigned, either for its existence, or for its non-existence.”
— Spinoza, Ethica, Pars Prima, Propositio XI

“God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”
— paraphrase of Albert Einstein, quoted in Abraham Pais, Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 440, 443

amours de voyage

     cum suis vivat valeatque moechis,
quos simul complexa tenet trecentos,
nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium
ilia rumpens;

nec meum respectet, ut ante, amorem,
qui illius culpa cecidit velut prati
ultimi flos, praetereunte postquam
tactus aratro est.

     Memoria teneo Milesiam quandam mulierem, cum essem in Asia, quod ab heredibus secundis accepta pecunia partum sibi ipsa medicamentis abegisset, rei capitalis esse damnatam; nec iniuria quae spem parentis, memoriam nominis, subsidium generis, heredem familiae, designatum rei publicae civem sustulisset.
I recall that, when I was in Asia, a certain Milesian woman was convicted of a capital crime, because she had brought on abortion by medicines, having been bribed to do so by the heirs next in line; and rightly so, inasmuch as she had abolished the hope of the father, the memory of his name, the supply of his race, the heir of his family, a prospective citizen of the republic.

 — for Rachel Yumei Wang    

City bustle. Fading light.
You’ll have company tonight.
At your service, all your men.
They will make you whole again.

Rig your hopes and tell you lies.
Bust a nut between your thighs. 
Fart and snore and pay no heed
While dreams dwindle and recede.

Others not so long ago
Lit you up and made you glow,
Nights fulfilled you, but the dawn
Found you wan and woebegone.

Lest your gloom ensued in spawn
Its conclusion got withdrawn:
Scrape the foetus from within,
Glom more solace for your skin.

City bustle. Fading light.
You will sleep alone tonight.
One good woman, no good men.
Love can’t make you whole again.

Amours de voyage I have allowed myself to call them, as distinguished from the love we may have for localities wherein our everyday lot is cast.”

— Vernon Lee, Genius Loci, 1898

re: student journalist seeking interview

Date: Thu, 18 May 2006 13:43:04 -0700
From: Michael Zeleny
To: Marie-Jo Mont-Reynaud
Subject: Re: Student Journalist seeking Interview

Dear Marie-Jo,

I first met Min Zhu in 2004 during his deposition in my lawsuit against the Zhus and WebEx. My previous interactions with him were limited to passing his phone messages to Erin between 1991 and 1999, receiving anonymous death threats made in his name in 2001 and 2002, and calling him with notice of my restraining order application against future threats of that nature. Based on these interactions, my impression of Min Zhu is that he is an engineer who has a hard time telling a lie, and a harder time restraining his anger. As a result, he relies on salesmen and lawyers when called upon to tell the truth or to face the consequences of his anger. I think that WebEx owes its success in equal measure to his performance as its head of engineering, and to its necessary mediation and mitigation by salesmen and lawyers. I think that WebEx is having a hard time maintaining its standing now that Min Zhu can no longer be publicly associated with it.

I first met Erin by responding to her personal ad posted on the Usenet. She told me about her rape by Min after we exchanged emails and talked on the phone for a little over a month. Erin is good at adapting her conversation to her interests. She is not good at following through on her plans. She is good at dispensing valuable lessons to her former friends. She is not good at coping with regrets that ensue from these lessons.

I sued Erin in December of 2001 because she refused to honor our agreement that required her to buy out my interest in our business by repaying our creditors. I agreed to its terms in January of 2000 in lieu of suing her parents and WebEx for various contractual and delictual causes of action. I agreed to forgo my due in the hope of satisfying our obligations to other people and walking away from further dealings with the Zhus and WebEx. Things did not work out the way I planned. You can see the ensuing court documents online.

I believe that Erin is still married to Blixa Bargeld, and still serves as webmaster@neubauten.org. I hope that she never comes to rue the bargains that she struck in attaining her position. In this regard, the emails documenting her courtship have been very insructive.

You can probably reach Min Zhu via NEA. I think that your interest in your story cannot be served without making an attempt to contact both of them. You should also try calling Subrah Iyar and David Farrington at WebEx. But I doubt that any of them will talk to you.

I am doing just fine since all the trials and litigation. This whole episode has affected my life mainly by prompting me to concentrate its forces on what I enjoy best, which is the production of conrarian pedantry. I regret remaining uncertain about the causes of the fire responsible for my father’s death. I resent WebEx’s failure to settle our dispute with an apology for their role in covering up for Min Zhu. I am glad to have learned that what our friends do to other people, they will do to us. I am certain that future developments in this matter will bear out this prediction.

I am posting a copy of this letter to forestall misunderstandings. I am passing your contact information to other former associates of the Zhus and WebEx. Please feel free to ask further questions.

cordially, – Michael Zeleny@post.harvard.edu
7576 Willow Glen Road, Los Angeles, CA 90046 – 323.363.1860 – http://larvatus.livejournal.com/
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

mariejo@stanford.edu wrote:
> Hi Mr. Zeleny,
> Thanks for your quick response. The questions I have to start are mostly
> about the allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Zhu, and about his
> character in general.
> They are:
> When did you first meet Mr. Zhu and what were your initial interactions
> with him? What kind of person was he/did he come off as? What do you
> think of his work at WebEx? What do you think of WebEx as a company, and
> Mr. Zhu’s role in its success?
> When did you first meet Erin, and what is she like?
> When did you first start hearing about the fact that Mr Zhu was abusing
> his daughter, and why is it that you decided to pursue litigation
> against him, rather than Erin?
> To the best of your knowledge:
> How is Erin doing now?
> How is Mr. Zhu doing now? and if you know of any way of contacting him
> as well, I would greatly appreciate it.
> Also, do you think it would be inappropriate and hurtful for me to
> contact Erin. From her postings, it seems like she is very open about
> talking about her past, but I don’t want to cause her any unnecessary pain.
> Finally, how are you doing since all the trials and litigation? How has
> this whole episode affected your life?
> I realized there are a lot of questions so any responses you can give to
> the questions above would be extremely helpful.
> Thank you so much!
> – Marie-Jo Mont-Reynaud
> Michael Zeleny wrote:
>> Sure thing. Phone or email will work equally well.
>> cordially, — Michael Zeleny@post.harvard.edu
>> 7576 Willow Glen Road, Los Angeles, CA 90046 — 323.363.1860 —
>> http://larvatus.livejournal.com/
>> All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try
>> again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett
>> mariejo@stanford.edu wrote:
>>> Hi Mr. Zeleny,
>>> My name is Marie-Jo Mont-Reynaud, and I am a junior at Stanford
>>> University. I am currently in a course on business reporting for
>>> which I am following WebEx throughout the quarter. One of the
>>> stories I’m writing is a profile of Mr. Min Zhu, for which I was
>>> hoping to interview you (by phone/email). Could you let me know if
>>> you would be interested/available, and if so, what would be the best
>>> way to contact you?
>>> Thank you very much for your help!
>>> – Marie-Jo
>>> Stanford University
>>> Class of ’07

the woman poet

Je me suis toujours plu à chercher dans la nature extérieure et visible des exemples et des métaphores qui me servissent à caractériser les jouissances et les impressions d’un ordre spirituel. Je rêve à ce que me faisait éprouver la poésie de Mme Valmore quand je la parcourus avec ces yeux de l’adolescence qui sont, chez les hommes nerveux, à la fois si ardents et si clairvoyants. Cette poésie m’apparaît comme un jardin ; mais ce n’est pas la solennité grandiose de Versailles ; ce n’est pas non plus le pittoresque vaste et théâtral de la savante Italie, qui connaît si bien l’art d’édifier des jardins (aedificat hortos) ; pas même, non, pas même la Vallée des Flûtes ou le Ténare de notre vieux Jean-Paul. C’est un simple jardin anglais, romantique et romanesque. Des massifs de fleurs y représentent les abondantes expressions du sentiment. Des étangs, limpides et immobiles, qui réfléchissent toutes choses s’appuyant à l’envers sur la voûte renversée des cieux, figurent la profonde résignation toute parsemée de souvenirs. Rien ne manque à ce charmant jardin d’un autre âge, ni quelques ruines gothiques se cachant dans un lieu agreste, ni le mausolée inconnu qui, au détour d’une allée, surprend notre âme et lui recommande de penser à l’éternité. Des allées sinueuses et ombragées aboutissent à des horizons subits. Ainsi la pensée du poète, après avoir suivi de capricieux méandres, débouche sur les vastes perspectives du passé ou de l’avenir ; mais ces ciels sont trop vastes pour être généralement purs, et la température du climat trop chaude pour n’y pas amasser des orages. Le promeneur, en contemplant ces étendues voilées de deuil, sent monter à ses yeux les pleurs de l’hystérie, hysterical tears. Les fleurs se penchent vaincues, et les oiseaux ne parlent qu’à voix basse. Après un éclair précurseur, un coup de tonnerre a retenti : c’est l’explosion lyrique ; enfin un déluge inévitable de larmes rend à toutes ces choses, prostrées, souffrantes et découragées, la fraîcheur et la solidité d’une nouvelle jeunesse !
― Charles Baudelaire, Sur mes contemporains : M. Desbordes-Valmore, OC II, pp. 148-149
I always took pleasure in seeking in external and visible nature, examples and metaphors that helped me to characterize the pleasures and the impressions of a spiritual order. I dream of that, which the poetry of Mme Valmore made me feel when I traversed it with these eyes of adolescence that are, in nervous men, at once so ardent and so clear-sighted. This poetry presents itself to me as a garden; but it is not the imposing solemnity of Versailles; neither is it the vast and theatrical picturesque of learned Italy, who knows so well the art of edifying gardens (aedificat hortos); not even, not, not even the Valley of the Flutes or Tænarum of good old Jean-Paul. It is a simple English garden, romantic and novelistic. Flowerbeds represent therein the abundant expressions of sentiment. Ponds, limpid and motionless, which reflect all things resting upon the overturned vault of the skies, represent deep resignation all strewn with memories. Nothing is lacking in this charming garden of a past age, neither some Gothic ruins hiding in a rural spot, nor the unknown mausoleum that, at the turning of a pathway, surprises your soul and instructs it to think of eternity. Sinuous and shaded pathways end in sudden horizons. Thus the poet’s thought, having followed capricious meanders, emerges into vast perspectives of the past or the future; but these skies are too vast to be completely unclouded, and the temperature of those climes too warm to forestall the buildup of storms. The stroller, in contemplating these expanses veiled in mourning, feels his eyes well up with the tears of hysteria, hysterical tears. The flowers lean over in defeat, and the birds speak only in low voice. After a precursory flash, a thunderclap resounded: it is the lyric explosion; at last an inevitable flood of tears returns to all these prostrate, suffering, and discouraged things, the freshness and the solidity of a new youth!
― translated by MZ

Portrait de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, par Nadar

aristotle and montesquieu on virtue in a democracy

Adam Smith introduces the key term in our study in style:[1]

Virtue, according to Aristotle, consists in the habit of mediocrity according to right reason. Every particular virtue, according to him, lies in a kind of middle between two opposite vices, of which the one offends from being too much, the other from being too little affected by a particular species of objects. Thus the virtue of fortitude or courage lies in the middle between the opposite vices of cowardice and of presumptuous rashness, of which the one offends from being too much, and the other from being too little affected by the objects of fear. Thus too the virtue of frugality lies in a middle between avarice and profusion, of which the one consists in an excess, the other in a defect of the proper attention to the objects of self-interest. Magnanimity, in the same manner, lies in a middle between the excess of arrogance and the defect of pusillanimity, of which the one consists in too extravagant, the other in too weak a sentiment of our own worth and dignity.

Today, we explain the ethical doctrines of Aristotle in different terms. Continue reading aristotle and montesquieu on virtue in a democracy

as may yields to december

                      Trophies and Rewards
                 True measure of compatibility,
                 Their happiness, a secret clause:
                 He will surrender to senility
                 Before she reaches menopause.

le corps entier de l’histoire

Ce que je dis est confirmé par le corps entier de l’histoire, et très conforme à la nature des choses.
― Charles de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, De L’Esprit des Lois, Première partie, Livre III, Des Principes des trois gouvernements, Chapitre III, Du principe de la démocratie

Is Montesquieu referring to the accomplished feats, historia res gestae, or to their ensuing narration and analysis, historia rerum gestarum? Dictionnaire de L’Académie française, 4th Edition (1762) allows the former alternative in this definition:

CORPS se dit figurément De la société, de l’union de plusieurs personnes qui vivent sous mêmes Loix, mêmes Coutumes, mêmes règles. Grand, puissant Corps. L’État, la République, le Royaume est un Corps politique. Cette Province fut unie au Corps de l’État. L’Église est un Corps mystique, dont JESUS-CHRIST est le Chef, & dont les Fidèles sont les membres.

But then it gives this possibility:

CORPS se dit aussi figurément Du recueil, de l’assemblage de plusieurs pièces d’un ou de divers Auteurs, lesquels font un ou plusieurs tomes. Corps de Droit Civil. Corps de Droit Canon. Le Corps des Poëtes Grecs. Le Corps des Poëtes Latins. Le Corps des Historiens d’Espagne, des Historiens d’Allemagne, &c. de l’Histoire Bizantine. C’est un beau Corps, un grand Corps d’Histoire. Il faut ramasser toutes ces pièces & en faire un Corps. Le Corps de l’Histoire de France par du Chêne.

The traditional English translation opts for the latter reading: “What I have here advanced is confirmed by the unanimous testimony of historians, and is extremely agreeable to the nature of things.”

Crossposted to [info]larvatus, [info]history, [info]old_french_lit, and [info]ru_translate.

4. terror and virtue

Human life in common is only made possible when a majority comes together which is stronger than any separate individual and which remains united against all separate individuals. The power of this community is then set up as ‘right’ in opposition to the power of the individual, which is condemned as ‘brute force.’ This replacement of the power of the individual by the power of a community constitutes the decisive step of civilization.

— Sigismund Schlomo Freud, 6 May 185623 September 1939,  
Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929[0]  

In 1905, at the height of his renown as the creator of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud published a deceptively slight volume on the clandestine nature of jokes. According to Freud, jokes employ the methods of condensation, displacement, and indirect representation through allusion, absurdity, and substitution of trivialities for matters of profound importance, in the service of man’s repressed instinctual nature, epitomized in the instincts of sex and aggression. These instincts serve as the wellspring of all wit. In civilized society, they seldom wield direct influence over human affairs. Only owing to a momentary suspension of salubrious repressions that constrain them in the service of the super-ego, do sexuality and aggression enter into collective consciousness. Thus jokes enable the brief pleasure in discharging the energy of the anticathexis responsible for maintaining these repressions.
    The nature of this discharge is best illuminated by example:[1]

Itzig ist zur Artillerie eingeteilt worden. Er ist offenbar ein intelligenter Bursche, aber ungeschickt und ohne Interesse für den Dienst. Einer seiner Vorgesetzten, der ihm wohlgesinnt ist, nimmt ihn beiseite und sagt ihm: «Itzig, du taugst nicht bei uns. Ich will dir einen Rat geben: Kauf dir eine Kanone und mach dichselbständig.» Itzig has been declared fit for service in the artillery. He was clearly an intelligent lad, but intractable and without any interest in the service. One of his superior officers, who was friendlily disposed to him, took him on one side and said to him: “Itzig, you’re no use to us. I’ll give you a piece of advice: buy yourself a cannon and make yourself independent!”

Freud goes to some trouble to explain the joke. The advice, says he, is obvious nonsense. Cannons are not to be bought and an individual cannot make himself independent as a military unit — set himself up in business, as it were. But in so far as the advice is not mere nonsense, but a joking nonsense, it merits scrutiny of the means whereby the nonsense is turned into a joke. And here Freud infers that “[t]he officer who gives Artilleryman Itzig this nonsensical advice is only making himself out stupid to show Itzig how stupidly he himself is behaving. He is copying Itzig: ‘I’ll give you some advice that’s as stupid as you are.’ He enters into Itzig stupidity and makes it clear to him by taking it as the basis of a suggestion which would fit in with Itzig wishes: if Itzig possessed a cannon of his own and carried out military duties on his own account, how useful his ambition and intelligence would be to him! In what good order he would keep his cannon and how familiar he would make himself with its mechanism so as to meet the competition of the other possessors of cannons!”
    In this hasty reading, Freud seems disingenuous in decrying Itzig’s stupidity. After all, his underachieving artillerist hero, denied the opportunity to make a snappy comeback, shares his name with the quick-witted protagonist of Freud’s favorite joke: “Itzig, wohin reit’st Du?” “Weiss ich, frag das Pferd.” That other Itzig has no idea where he is riding to. All interested parties should ask the horse. In a hallowed equation, his self-deprecation compensates for his complacency. As an admirer of this tranquil rider, the physician who built his worldview on a painstaking investigation of ostensible coincidences is unlikely to have overlooked this instance of homonymy. The implication of Freud planting his tongue in cheek is borne out by the fact that the butts of each joke derive their shared name from an aphaeresis omitting the first letter of the German word Witzig, witty or jocular.[2] Through the silence of its protagonist, the joke evinces an elusive quality that resists interpretative closure, suggesting great deeds to come from this intelligent but intractable Jewish underachiever. Be it real or feigned, Freud’s confidence in the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force already rang hollow upon publication in 1905. The reluctant artillerist had come into his own. His self-employment inaugurated a new stage in democratic pluralism. No longer will this plebe be meekly carried along by the steed of History. Continue reading 4. terror and virtue