all the news fit to print

November 20, 2009
A thick file of private emails and unpublished documents […] was obtained […] and has since spread widely across the Internet starting Thursday afternoon. […] The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

November 28, 2010
The New York Times and a number of publications in Europe were given access to the material several weeks ago and agreed to begin publication of articles based on the cables Sunday online. The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.

party hearty

After winning the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, for his latest novel, La carte et le territoire, Michel Houellebecq, a self-admitted believer in unlimited, eternal happiness, left the victory party thrown for him by Frédéric Beigbeder with Maria “a blond angel of Russian origin”, said to have served as a model for the character of Olga, described therein by the fictional counterpart of Beigbeder as one of the five most beautiful women in Paris. Thus the flesh-and-blood Houellebecq departs from the literary character murdered and dismembered in his prize-winning opus, repudiating his own counsel, always to anticipate coming home alone, in a taxi.

            La fête
    Le but de la fête est de nous faire oublier que nous sommes solitaires, misérables et promis à la mort. Autrement dit, de nous transformer en animaux. C’est pourquoi le primitif a un sens de la fête très développé. Une bonne flambée de plantes hallucinogènes, trois tambourins, et le tour est joué: un rien l’amuse. A l’opposé, l’Occidental moyen n’aboutit à une extase insuffisante qu’à l’issue de raves interminables dont il ressort sourd et drogué: il n’a pas du tout le sens de la fête. Profondément conscient de lui-même, radicalement étranger aux autres, terrorisé par l’idée de la mort, il est bien incapable d’accéder à une quelconque fusion. Cependant, il s’obstine. La perte de sa condition animale l’attriste, il en conçoit honte et dépit ; il aimerait être un fêtard, ou du moins passer pour tel. Il est dans une sale situation.
    QU’EST-CE QUE JE FOUS AVEC CES CONS ?
    « Lorsque deux d’entre vous seront réunis en mon nom, je serai au milieu d’eux » (Matthieu, 17, 13 [18: 20]). C’est bien là tout le problème: réunis au nom de quoi ? Qu’est qui pourrait bien, au fond, justifier d’être réunis ?
    Réunis pour s’amuser. C’est la pire des hypothèses. Dans ce genre de circonstances (boîtes de nuit, bals populaires, boums) qui n’ont visiblement rien d’amusant, une seule solution: draguer. On sort alors du registre de la fête pour rentrer dans celui d’une féroce compétition narcissique, avec ou sans option pénétration (on considère classiquement que l’homme a besoin de la pénétration pour obtenir la gratification narcissique souhaitée ; il ressent alors quelque chose d’analogue au claquement de la partie gratuite sur les anciens flippers. La femme, le plus souvent, se contente de la certitude qu’on désire la pénétrer). Si ce genre de jeux vous dégoûte, ou que vous ne vous sentez pas en mesure d’y faire bonne figure, une seule solution: partir au plus vite.
    Réunis pour lutter (manifestations étudiantes, rassemblements écologistes, talk-shows sur la banlieue). L’idée, a priori, est ingénieuse : en effet, le joyeux ciment d’une cause commune peut provoquer un effet de groupe, un sentiment d’appartenance, voire une authentique ivresse collective. Malheureusement, la psychologie des foules suit des lois invariables : on aboutit toujours à une domination des éléments les plus stupides et les plus agressifs. On se retrouve donc au milieu d’une bande de braillards bruyants, voire dangereux. Le choix est donc le même que dans la boîte de nuit : partir avant que ça cogne, ou draguer (dans un contexte ici plus favorable : la présence de convictions communes, les sentiments divers provoqués par le déroulement de la protestation ont pu légèrement ébranler la carapace narcissique).
    Réunis pour baiser (boîtes à partouzes, orgies privées, certains groupes New Age). Une des formules les plus simples et les plus anciennes : réunir l’humanité sur ce qu’elle a, en effet, de plus commun. Des actes sexuels ont lieu, même si le plaisir n’est pas toujours au rendez-vous. C’est déjà ça ; mais c’est à peu près tout.
    Réunis pour célébrer (messes, pèlerinages). La religion propose une formule tout à fait originale : nier audacieusement la séparation et la mort en affirmant que, contrairement aux apparences, nous baignons dans l’amour divin tout en nous dirigeant vers une éternité bienheureuse. Une cérémonie religieuse dont les participants auraient la foi offrirait donc l’exemple unique d’une fête réussie. Certains participants agnostiques peuvent même, durant le temps da la cérémonie, se sentir gagnés par un sentiment de croyance ; mais ils risquent ensuite une descente pénible (un peu comme pour le sexe, mais pire). Une solution : être touché par la grâce.
    Le pèlerinage, combinant des avantages de la manifestation étudiante et ceux du voyage Nouvelles Frontières, le tout dans une ambiance de spiritualité aggravée par la fatigue, offre en outre des conditions idéales pour la drague, qui en devient presque involontaire, voire sincère. Hypothèse haute en sortie de pèlerinage : mariage + conversion. A l’opposé, la descente peut être terrible. Prévoir d’enchaîner sur un séjour UCPA « sports de glisse », qu’il sera toujours temps d’annuler (renseignez-vous au préalable sur les conditions d’annulation).
    LA FÊTE SANS LARMES.
    En réalité, il suffit d’avoir prévu de s’amuser pour être certain de s’emmerder. L’idéal serait donc de renoncer totalement aux fêtes. Malheureusement, le fêtard est un personnage si respecté que cette renonciation entraîne une dégradation forte de l’image sociale. Les quelques conseils suivants devraient permettre d’éviter le pire (rester seul jusqu’au bout, dans un état d’ennui évoluant vers le désespoir, avec l’impression erronée que les autres s’amusent).

  • Bien prendre conscience au préalable que la fête sera forcément ratée. Visualiser des exemples d’échecs antérieurs. Il ne s’agit pas pour autant d’adopter une attitude cynique et blasée. Au contraire, l’acceptation humble et souriante du désastre commun permet d’aboutir à ce succès : transformer une fête ratée en un moment d’agréable banalité.
  • Toujours prévoir qu’on rentrera seul, et en taxi.
  • Avant la fête : boire. L’alcool à doses modérées produit un effet sociabilisant et euphorisant qui reste sans réelle concurrence.
  • Pendant la fête : boire, mais diminuer les doses (le cocktail alcool + érotisme ambiant conduit rapidement à la violence, au suicide et au meurtre). Il est plus ingénieux de prendre ½ Lexomil au moment opportun. L’alcool multipliant l’effet des tranquillisants, on observera un assoupissement rapide : c’est le moment d’appeler un taxi. Une bonne fête est une fête brève.
  • Après la fête : téléphoner pour remercier. Attendre paisiblement la fête suivante (respecter un intervalle d’un mois, qui pourra descendre à une semaine en période de vacances).

    Enfin, une perspective consolante : l’âge aidant, l’obligation de fête diminue, le penchant à la solitude augmente ; la vie réelle reprend le dessus.

Michel Houellebecq, Rester vivant, Flammarion, 1997, pp. 70-73      

            Celebration
    The aim of celebration is to make us forget that we are lonely, miserable, and promised to death. In other words, to transform us into animals. That is why the savage has a very well developed sense of celebration. A sound puff of hallucinogenic plants, three tambourines, and he is all done: amused by a trifle. By contrast, the average Westerner achieves a meager ecstasy only in the wake of endless raves, which leave him stupefied and intoxicated: he has no sense of celebration whatsoever. Deeply conscious of himself, radically foreign to others, terrified by the idea of death, he is unable to achieve any synthesis. However, he persists. The loss of his animal condition saddens him; it consigns him to shame and vexation; he would be a celebrator, or at least pass for such. He is in a lousy situation.
    WHAT AM I DOING WITH THESE IDIOTS?
    “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew, 17:13 [18:20]). This is indeed the entire problem: gathered together in the name of what? What could suffice, in the final analysis, to justify such gatherings?
    Gathered together for fun. This is the worst case scenario. In such circumstances (night clubs, village dances, parties) which obviously fail to foment fun, there is only one solution: a pickup. One then abandons the mindset of celebration to return to that of a fierce narcissistic competition, with or without an option of penetration (typically considering that man needs penetration to achieve the desired narcissistic gratification, whereupon he feels something analogous to the chimes of the bonus game on old pinball machines. The woman, most often, satisfies herself with the certainty of being desired as the object of penetration). If this kind of game turns you off, or you do not feel up to winning it, there remains only one solution: to leave at the earliest opportunity.
    Gathered together to fight (student protests, environmentalist rallies, town hall meetings). At first blush, the idea is ingenious: in fact, the happy joining in a common cause can produce a group effect, a sense of belonging, even a genuine collective drunkenness. Unfortunately, the psychology of crowds follows rigid laws: it always leads to domination of the most stupid and most aggressive. So we end up in the midst of a rowdy, even dangerous band of blowhards. The choice is therefore the same as in the nightclub: leaving before it all busts out, or trolling for a pickup (here in a more favorable context: the presence of common convictions, the range of feelings brought forth in the course of the protest being liable to slightly displace the narcissistic shell).
    Gathered together to fuck (sex clubs, private orgies, certain New Age groups). One of the simplest and oldest formulas: uniting mankind in its most common aspect. Sexual acts take place, even if pleasure is not always present. That’s already something, but that’s about all there is to it.
    Gathered together to celebrate (masses, pilgrimages). Religion offers a completely original formula: boldly deny the separation and death by affirming that, contrary to appearances, we are immersed in divine love, while advancing towards a blissful eternity. A religious ceremony in which participants have faith would therefore offer a unique example of a successful celebration. Some agnostic participants may even, during the ceremony, feel overwhelmed by a sense belief; but they risk a painful descent (a bit like sex, but worse). One solution: to be touched by grace.
    The pilgrimage, combining the benefits of student demonstration with those of packaged holidays by Nouvelles Frontieres, all in an atmosphere of spirituality aggravated by fatigue, also provides ideal conditions to troll for a pickup, which becomes almost involuntary, even sincere. The charitable assumption at the end of the pilgrimage: marriage + conversion. Otherwise, the descent can be terrible. Plan to follow up on a water-sporting vacation by UCPA, which could be cancelled at the last minute (ask in advance about the cancellation policy).
    CELEBRATE WITHOUT TEARS.
    In fact, just planning to have fun is enough to ensure getting bored. The ideal would therefore be to renounce all celebrations. Unfortunately, the party animal is a figure so well respected that this renunciation would result in a severe weakening of the social image. The following tips should help to avoid the worst (staying alone until the end, in a state of boredom evolving into despair, with the mistaken impression that the others are having fun).

  • Be well aware beforehand that the party will necessarily fail. Visualize the examples of past failures. This does not mean to adopt a cynical and jaded attitude. On the contrary, humble and cheerful acceptance of the common disaster can lead to success: transforming a failed party into a pleasant occasion of banality.
  • Always anticipate coming home alone, in a taxi.
  • Before the party: drink. Alcohol in moderate doses produces a socializing and euphoric effect which has no real competition.
  • During the party: drink, but lower the doses (the mixture of alcohol with ambient eroticism quickly leads to violence, suicide, and murder). It is more thoughtful to take ½ of a Valium at the right time. Alcohol compounding the effect of tranquilizers will make you sleepy; that’s the time to call a taxi. A good party is a short party.
  • After the party: call to offer your thanks. Wait quietly for the next occasion (an interval of one month, which can shorten to a week during vacations).

    Finally, a consoling perspective: with the help of aging, the obligation to celebrate diminishes; the penchant for solitude increases; real life takes over.

—translated by MZ      


Michel Houellebecq / Vincent Ferrané

Our fondest felicitations and many happy returns, Monsieur Michel. May every dissipated misanthrope connect with his proper match.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]mhouellebecq.

california dreamin’

Royce’s excursion to Europe and the eastern U.S. fixed in his mind a decided hatred of his native state. California’s provinciality, its ruthless economics, its blind and selfish politics—everything, in fact, but its exquisite natural beauty—filled him with loathing. Compared with the cultural centers that Royce had just left, California had little to offer besides stock speculation, wheat ranching, political charades, racial warfare, and agitation. “Foundation for higher growth we sadly lack. Ideals we have none. Philistines we are in soul most thoroughly. And when we do talk, our topics of discussion are so insufferably finite!’ As a place for philosophical thought, it was execrable. “There is no philosophy in California—from Siskiyou to Ft. Yuma, and from the Golden Gate to the Summit of the Sierras, there could not be found brains enough [to] accomplish the formation of a single respectable idea that was not a manifest plagiarism. Hence the atmosphere for the study of metaphysics is bad, and I wish I were out of it.”
—John Clendenning, The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, Revised and Expanded Edition, Vanderbilt University Press, 1999, p. 74

The word “logic”, fortunately or unfortunately, rings with varied overtones not all of which are in harmony. One ear may be deaf to what excites another, and great care must be taken in claiming that the “logic” of a subject has been found or revised. As one of my undergraduate professors once told me, “When you question a man’s logic you question his taste,” which may explain the contempt of some mathematicians for logical studies. Now that there seems to be a chance for formal logic to have a wider audience, all the more care is required. Easy victories waste too much time in celebration. Formal methods should only be applied when the subject is ready for them, when conceptual clarification is sufficiently advanced. This is not to discourage experimentation—only the party giving. Modal Logic is a good example: colorful axioms have been strung up all over, but few couples are dancing. Maybe Quantum Logic is another example, but at least the mathematics being served at that party is vastly more sophisticated than the Coca-Cola of the modal logicians. Besides, those who study the foundations of quantum physics readily agree that the fight has only just begun.2 [2 A general reference is J. M. Jauch, Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass. 1968). A related discussion and some interesting new ideas have been initiated in C.H. Randall and D.J. Foulis, “An Approach to Empirical Logic”, in American Mathematical Monthly 77 (1970) pp. 363-374.] Whether, then, the claim of a carry-over for modal logic is going to be justified is to my mind a very moot point and is one of the main motivations for attempting this essay.3 [3 Reservations about modal logic, mingled with some optimism, have been expressed by George Lakoff, “Linguistics and Natural Logic”, in Semantics of Natural Language, ed. by D. Davidson and G. Harman (D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1972) pp. 545-665. Note especially the final section of Concluding Remarks. The point about presuppositions and three-valued logic does not seem to be entirely well-taken, however, in view of van Fraassen’s well-known analysis in terms of supervaluations. This does not mean that the connections between “natural” and “formal” logic are all that clear.]
—“Background to Formalization”, Dana S. Scott, in Truth, Syntax and Modality, edited by H. Leblanc, Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics, Volume 68, 1973, pp. 244-273, at p. 245

In what important and often neglected sense are there many worlds? Let it be clear that the question here is not of the possible worlds that many of my contemporaries, especially those living near Disneyland, are busy making and manipulating. We are not speaking in terms of multiple possible alternatives to a single actual world but of multiple actual worlds. How to interpret such terms as “real”, “unreal”, “fictive”, and “possible” is a subsequent question.
—Nelson Goodman, “Words, Works, Worlds”, Erkenntnis, Volume 9 (1975), Number 1, pp. 57-73, at pp. 57-58; reprinted in Ways of Worldmaking, Hackett, 1978, p. 4


Richard Montague was a small, very dapper, compact, cufflink of a character. He was dressed in a neat blue suit, a snowy white shirt, and a matching crimson tie. We had met for drinks in mid-town Manhattan—he, Daniel Gallin, and I. His hands, I noticed, were square, the fingernails manicured and covered with a clear polish. A logician by profession, Montague had a reputation for great technical brilliance. His papers were adroit, carefully written, biting, and completely beyond the intellectual grasp of all but a handful of analytic philosophers.
    For some reason he was ill at ease that afternoon, and looked fitfully around the hotel’s bar, as if he suspected somehow that nothing was going to turn out properly. Beyond the bar, in the lobby of the hotel, there was an absurd canary cage in which a pair of yellowish birds were cheeping nervously, complaining, I am sure, about the price of drinks or room service.
    We talked of taxes and politics and How on Earth do you survive in this place—meaning New York. Then the discussion turned to mathematics and Montague cheered up. He had just commenced his research program into formal grammars and had published a series of papers of truly monstrous technicality. He liked to imagine that he and Chomsky were rivals. “There are,” he said, “two great frauds in the history of twentieth-century science. One of them is Chomsky.”
    I reached for the peanuts.
    “And the other?”
    “Albert Einstein,” Montague said decisively, glad that I had asked.
    —David Berlinski, Black Mischief: Language, Life, Logic, Luck, Mariner Books, Second Edition, 1988, pp. 139-140

Bonus links: Richard Montague’s obituary signed by Montgomery Furth, C.C. Chang, and Alonzo Church; reviews by Sacha Arnold of more or less improper treatments of Richard Montague in literary fiction, Less Than Meets the Eye by David Berlinski and The Mad Man by Samuel R. Delany, and The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell.