étienne de la boétie on the master-slave dialectic

C’est ainsi que le tyran asservit les sujets les uns par les autres. Il est gardé par ceux desquels il devrait se garder, s’ils n’étaient avilis : mais, comme on l’a fort bien dit pour fendre le bois, il se fait des coins de bois même. Tels sont ses archers, ses gardes, ses hallebardiers. Non que ceux-ci ne souffrent souvent eux-mêmes de son oppression ; mais ces misérables, maudits de Dieu et des hommes, se contentent d’endurer le mal, pour en faire, non à celui qui le leur fait, mais bien à ceux qui, comme eux, l’endurent et n’y peuvent rien. Et toutefois, quand je pense à ces gens-là, qui flattent bassement le tyran pour exploiter en même temps et sa tyrannie et la servitude du peuple, je suis presque aussi surpris de leur stupidité que de leur méchanceté. Car, à vrai dire, s’approcher du tyran, est-ce autre chose que s’éloigner de la liberté et, pour ainsi dire, embrasser et serrer à deux mains la servitude ? Qu’ils mettent un moment à part leur ambition, qu’ils se dégagent un peu de leur sordide avarice, et puis, qu’ils se regardent, qu’ils se considèrent en eux-mêmes : ils verront clairement que ces villageois, ces paysans qu’ils foulent aux pieds et qu’ils traitent comme des forçats ou des esclaves , ils verront, dis-je, que ceux-là, ainsi malmenés, sont plus heureux et en quelque sorte plus libres qu’eux. Le laboureur et l’artisan, pour tant asservis qu’ils soient, en sont quittes en obéissant ; mais le tyran voit ceux qui l’entourent, coquinant et mendiant sa faveur. Il ne faut pas seulement qu’ils fassent ce qu’il ordonne, mais aussi qu’ils pensent ce qu’il veut, et souvent même, pour le satisfaire, qu’ils préviennent aussi ses propres désirs. Ce n’est pas tout de lui obéir, il faut lui complaire, il faut qu’ils se rompent, se tourmentent, se tuent à traiter ses affaires et puisqu’ils ne se plaisent que de son plaisir, qu’ils sacrifient leur goût au sien, forcent leur tempérament et le dépouillement de leur naturel. Il faut qu’ils soient continuellement attentifs à ses paroles, à sa voix, à ses regards, à ses moindres gestes : que leurs yeux, leurs pieds, leurs mains soient continuellement occupés à suivre ou imiter tous ses mouvements, épier et deviner ses volontés et découvrir ses plus secrètes pensées. Est-ce là vivre heureusement ? Est-ce même vivre ? Est-il rien au monde de plus insupportable que cet état, je ne dis pas pour tout homme bien né, mais encore pour celui qui n’a que le gros bon sens, ou même figure d’homme ? Quelle condition est plus misérable que celle de vivre ainsi n’ayant rien à soi et tenant d’un autre son aise, sa liberté, son corps et sa vie !!


Jean-Léon Gérôme, Slave Auction, 1866, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Thus the tyrant enslaves his subjects, ones by means of others. He is protected by those from whom he would have to guard himself, were they not abased: but, as it is well said, to split wood one needs wedges of the selfsame wood. Such are his archers, his guards, his halberdiers. Not that they themselves do not often suffer at his hands, but these wretches, accursed alike by God and man, are content to endure evil in order to commit it, not against him who wrongs them, but against those who, like themselves, suffer him and cannot help it. And yet, when I think of those men who basely flatter the tyrant to profit at once from his tyranny and from the servitude of the people, I am almost as astonished by their folly as by their wickedness; for to get to the point, how can they approach a tyrant, but by withdrawing further from their liberty, and, so to speak, embracing and seizing their servitude with both hands? Let such men briefly lay aside their ambition, or slightly loosen the grip of their sordid avarice, and look at themselves as they really are; then they will realize clearly that the townspeople, the peasants whom they trample under foot and treat like convicts or slaves, they will realize, I say, that these people, mistreated though they be, are happier and in a certain sense freer than themselves. The laborer and the artisan, no matter how enslaved, discharge their obligation through obedience; but the tyrant sees men about him grovel and beg for his favor. They must not only do as he says; they must also think as he wills; and often to satisfy him they must anticipate his wishes. Their work is far from done in merely obeying him; they must also please him; they must wear themselves out, torment themselves, kill themselves with work on his behalf, and since they cannot enjoy themselves but through his pleasure, replace their preferences with his, distorting their character and corrupting their nature. They must continually pay heed to his words, to his intonation, to his glances, and to his smallest gestures: let their eyes, their feet, their hands be continually poised to follow or imitate his every motion, to espy or divine his wishes, or to seek out his innermost thoughts. Is that a happy life? Is that a life properly so called? Is there anything in the world more intolerable than that situation, not just for any man of nobility, but even for any man possessed of a crude common sense, or merely of a human face? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s own accord, one’s body, and one’s life!!

—Étienne de La Boétie (1 November 1530 – 18 August 1563), Discours de la servitude volontaire, 1549

the pointy end goes into the other man

“In a fight almost anything goes. It almost reaches the point where you stop to apologize if a chance blow lands above the belt.”

— Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

A sword meant for Lieutenant Wong. Somewhat scuffed but super sharp. Not sure about Nagamitsu having been a prison warden, but he certainly knew his way to keen steel, even whilst never expecting it to arm a dissolute Chinaman. Continue reading the pointy end goes into the other man

figlie di giuditta

More bad writing from The New Yorker:

How do you know that a Jewish woman has had an orgasm?
[…]
Oh, and you know about the Jewish woman climaxing because she drops her emery board.

The punchline muddies up the lede. You know that a Jewish woman has had an orgasm because you see her drop her emery board.


Caravaggio, “Giuditta e Oloferne”, 1598-1599

No one but barely possibly herself knows anything about a Jewish woman having an orgasm.

exalter l’individu si rabaissé par la démocrasserie


Flaubert par Nadar, 1865, Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen
Page 191, « Plus tard les peintres feront mieux, mais ils seront moins originaux ! » En êtes-vous sûr ? — « Ils iront plus loin. » Eh bien, alors, qu’importe le reste ! Le principal, il me semble, c’est d’aller loin. Je vous sais gré d’exalter l’individu si rabaissé de nos jours par la démocrasserie. Mais il y a quelque chose au-dessus de lui. C’est l’idée qu’il se fait de l’ensemble des choses et la manière de l’exprimer, laquelle est une Création égale, sinon supérieure, à celle de la nature. Encore une fois (et c’est là mon sujet de dissentiment entre nous) vous ne tenez pas assez compte de l’Art en soi, qui est, cependant.
Page 191, “Later on painters will do better, but they will be less original!” Are you sure of that? — “They will go further.” Well then, what matters the rest! The key, it seems to me, is to go further. I am grateful to you for exalting the individual so degraded today by democrassery. But there is something above him. That’s the conception that he forms of things in their entirety and the way of expressing it, which is a Creation equal, if not superior, to that of nature. Once again (and here is the crux of disagreement between us) you do not pay enough attention to Art in itself, which exists, nonetheless.

— Gustave Flaubert, lettre à Hippolyte Taine, 5? November 1866,
Correspondance, Vol. III, Gallimard, 1991, p. 548

monday nothing

The Fugs, named after Norman Mailer’s euphemism punctuating the pages of The Naked and the Dead, were conceived in a former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late 1964, when 26 year old Ed Sanders published 42 year old Tuli Kupferberg’s poetry in his highbrow literary journal, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts:

We drew inspiration for the Fugs from a long and varied tradition, going all the way back to the dances of Dionysus in the ancient Greek plays and the “Theory of the Spectacle” in Aristotle’s Poetics, and moving forward to the famous premier performance of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1896, to the poèmes simultanés of the Dadaists in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, to the jazz-poetry of the Beats, to Charlie Parker’s seething sax, to the silence of John Cage, to the calm pushiness of the Happening movement, the songs of the Civil Rights movement, and to our concept that there was oodles of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution that was not being used.


Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg photographed by Richard Avedon in 1967
The Fugs consisted of three members: Tuli Kupferberg, native New Yorker and “one of the leading Anarchist theorists of our time,” Ken Weaver, humorist and poet, and Ed Sanders, fellow poet and leader of the group. Their inspiration was irreproachable. Their performance was parodic. There were musicians, there were noisemakers, and then there were The Fugs. “From now on nothing holds us back, cacophony forever”, crowed Ed Sanders during a 1964 recording session. The form suited the subject. Nothing is Kupferberg’s inspired paraphrase of a Yiddish potato folk song into a supreme ode to negativity:

Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing
Wednesday and Thursday nothing
Friday for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing

Sunday nothing, Monday nothing
Tuesday and Wednesday nothing
Thursday for a change a little more nothing
Friday once more nothing

Montik gar nicht dinstik gar nicht
Mitvokh und donershtik gar nicht
Fraytik in a noveneh a gar nicht kuggele
Shabes vayter garnicht

Lunes nada martes nada
Miércoles jueves nada
Viernes por cambio poco mas nada
Sábado otra más nada

January nothing, February nothing
March and April nothing
May and June a lot more nothing
Ju-u-ly nothing

29 nothing
32 nothing
39, 45 nothing
1965 a whole lot of nothing
1966 nothing

Reading nothing, writing nothing
Even arithmetic nothing
Geography, philosophy, history nothing
Social Anthropology nothing

Oh, Village Voice nothing, New Yorker nothing
Sing Out and Folkways nothing
Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg
Nothing nothing nothing

Poetry nothing
Music nothing
Painting and dancing nothing
The world’s great books a great set of nothing
Arty and farty nothing.

Fucking nothing, sucking nothing
Flesh and sex nothing
Church and Times Square all a lot of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing

Stevenson nothing, Humphrey nothing
Averell Harriman nothing
John Stewart Mill nihil nihil
Franklin Delano nothing

Karlos Marx nothing, Engels nothing
Bakunin, Kropotkin nyothing
Leon Trotsky lots of nothing
Stalin less than nothing

Nothing nothing nothing nothing
The whole scene’s a whole lot of nothing
Nothing lots and lots of nothing
Nothing nothing nothing nothing NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING

NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING
Nothing nothing nothing NOTHING nothing
NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING nothing nothing
Lots of it

Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
Not a Goddam thing.

Here’s wishing Tuli Kupferberg a whole lot of Nothing.

Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders photographed by Bob Gruen in 2003