Zum ewigen frieden

Please allow me to say that I stand fully behind Professor Immanuel Kant in his conflict with the Russian Navy,





Due Obsequies Prepare

The shortest Yiddish curse I know, excluding epithets, is “Geh’ in drerd!” It’s the equivalent of “Drop dead!,” but if we expand it a little, it means “Go into the earth! Die and be buried!” And that is what I wish for George Herbert Walker Bush. “Go into the earth!” He will not get a week of mourning, a month of mourning, or eleven months of mourning. All he gets is this day, which is nearly over. Tomorrow, the mail comes.


Time to Bracket that bracketing

A conference announcement recently received below. I can’t help noticing something wrong with the way they are framing this. Perhaps because the organizers forgot to use the word “lying”? They frame the matter as a tension between “liberal,” “top-down” “cosmopolitanism” and “bottom-up… supposedly excessive… nationalism.” The former “paradigm” is said to be “in crisis.”

“Under attack” does not mean the same thing as “in crisis.” Does the whole project of liberal society just collapse because a bunch of flat-earthers exist? Is US history to be rewritten because some neo-Confederates find the Emancipation Proclamation went too far?

If your social constructivism has told you to admit fascists to the company of reasonable people, perhaps you should stop listening to it. It served its purpose. Now find yourself a new “politics of truth.”


A crisis in ‘coming to terms with the past’?
At the crossroads of translation and memory

1-2 February 2019
Senate House, University of London

Over the past decade, a particular notion of ‘coming to terms with the past’, usually associated with an international liberal consensus, has increasingly been challenged. Growing in strength since the 1980s, this consensus has been underpinned by the idea that difficult historical legacies, displaced into the present, and persisting as patterns of thought, speech and behaviour, needed to be addressed through a range of phenomena such as transitional justice, reconciliation, and the forging of shared narratives to ensure social cohesion and shore up democratic norms. Such official and international memory practices tended to privilege top-down cosmopolitan memory in an attempt to counter the bottom-up, still antagonistic memories associated with supposedly excessive effusions of nationalism. In a context of the global rise of populist nationalisms and of uncertainty linked by some politicians to migration, this tendency is increasingly being challenged, capitalizing on populist memory practices evident since the 1980s and creating what might be seen as a crisis in this liberal approach to ‘coming to terms with the past’.

Yet rather than rejecting a politics based on such ‘coming to terms’, new political formations have in fact increasingly embraced it: a growing discourse of white resentment and victimhood embodied in the so-called ‘Irish slave myth’, the wide visibility of the ‘History Wars’ controversy in Australia, legislation such as the Polish ‘Holocaust Bill’, or the withdrawal of African states from the International Criminal Court are evidence of the increasing impact of a new politics underpinning memory practices, and reveal the ways in which diverse populist and nationalist movements are mobilizing previous tropes. Moreover, these new memory practices increasingly have their own alternative internationalisms too, reaching across or beyond regions in new transnational formations, even as they seemed to reverse the earlier ‘cosmopolitan’ functions of memorialization.

Scholars have for a time noted a renaissance of these memory politics in various regions, but an interconnected globally-aware account of this shift remains elusive. Building on an ongoing dialogue between two AHRC themes, Care for the Future and Translating Cultures, we aim to bring together the approaches of both translation and memory scholars to reflect on the transnational linkages which held a liberal coming-to-terms paradigm together, and to ask whether this is now in crisis or undergoing significant challenges. The event will reflect also on the ways in which institutions such as museums, tourist sites or other institutions are responding to the emergence of these new paradigms.

The conference seeks to historicize and chart the translations, networks and circulations which underpin these new memory paradigms of nationalist and/or populist movements across a range of political, cultural and linguistic contexts, welcoming contributions that chart its ideological origins and growth in transnational terms; address the ways it draws on techniques and tropes of former paradigms; analyse its relationship to new ideological formations based on race, nationalism and gender; and chart its current international or transnational formations.

Scholars might reflect on these themes in terms of:

• Education, museums, memorials and archives;
• Material cultures;
• Legal, economic and political discourse;
• Dark tourism and travel;
• Digital technology;
• Performance, rituals and new heritage practices;
• Actors and agents, e.g. migrants, activists, politicians;
• The growth of transnational networks or the translation of this new challenge, across borders.

We particularly encourage individual case studies focusing on a range of ethnic, cultural and national themes to foster a truly global and transnational discussion.

The conference is jointly organised by two Arts and Humanities Research Council themes: Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past, which affords an opportunity for researchers to explore the dynamic relationship that exists between past, present, and future through a temporally inflected lens, and Translating Cultures, studying the role of translation in the transmission, interpretation, transformation and sharing of languages, values, beliefs, histories and narratives.

Proposals of no more than 300 words, and a short CV, should be sent to Eva.Spisiakova@liverpool.ac.uk by 15 November 2018.

Funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions.

Happy Halloween Anglicans

Somebody sent me this from a page called “Libertarian Catholic.” I gather that it was supposed to be snark. But I don’t think any Anglican is going to be offended. That’s one of the advantages that comes with not lying about your group’s history.

I thought it was funny enough. The Defenders of the Faith have been a pretty rum bunch from the get-go.


The Big Hoax

I’ve been thinking about the Sokol2 hoax, in which various conspirators sent improbable manuscripts to twenty journals of “ethnic/identity studies.” Seven journals went ahead and published the manuscripts even though the manuscripts’ contents were avowedly nonsense. This builds on the work of Alan Sokol, who tried the same thing with literary theory journals, “showing” that their discourse was likewise nonsensical. Both of these moves attempt to discredit an entire class of journals by targeted attacks on a small sample of journals; the intended principle is contamination. This principle may not be applicable; there are those of us who have taken a brown spot out of an apple and eaten the rest.

I am helping a faculty member with a paper in an ethnic studies journal; there are four pages of painstaking comments from the editor, along with the mostly positive comments from two reviewers. I disagree with the editor, but I don’t think anything got by him; he had the extraordinary virtue of finding everything that was wrong or could be construed as wrong. I find it completely impossible that a nonsense article could have gotten by him. He would have rejected it, period, and it probably wouldn’t have gotten through peer review, either. The peer reviewers were pretty sharp, and one pointed out a legitimate hole in the argument that needed patching.

What was lacking from the ethnic/identity studies journals that published the Sokol2 papers? One guess is that they didn’t have enough money to hire a good editor with subject matter expertise and relied on an overtaxed board member to vet the article. But I have another guess.

Peter Elbow spoke of a reader who might play one of two games: the Doubting Game and the Believing Game. The editor whose commentary I was looking at was playing the Doubting Game at grandmaster scale – characterizing writing by what you can find wrong with it. This will induce fear and shame in the author, and the author will revise the paper ruing how bad it was. The faculty member whom I was working with had resubmitted the paper four times, and each time had gotten back pages and pages of withering “advice.” So, that’s one game. In the Believing Game, you focus on what’s right with someone’s writing. You err on the side of charity. You see what the author is getting at, and you help the author to get there. I am guessing that with some of these journals, one of the principles is to get the thoughts of underrepresented voices out in the world, and charitable principles mean a greater chance for the author to be heard. Sokol2 exploited this charity and used it as a weapon to attack the credibility of the journals and the views they stood for.

So, do we have to worry about Sokol3 perpetrators gaming more journals to disparage them? Yes. Should the journals spend an extra $90K a year on a master editor? (There aren’t that many of them around.) Should they play the Doubting Game to make themselves impregnable? Do they want to strike fear and shame into their authors, so that the authors regret having written anything at all? Or do we simply say that the Sokol2 perpetrators are like WWI German submarines: very effective at sinking ships, with very advanced torpedos, but sinking ships is in no one’s interest but theirs. No one is going to claim that the Lusitania was a legitimate target because she presented a very broad attack surface underwater.

Alas, there are no metaphorical depth charges that can be dropped on the perpetrators, and neither can the Humanities declare war against them. Probably the most solid defense against the perpetrators is PR — some kind of damage control operation, as used by rich people and corporations to mop up the consequences of their dirty business. Perhaps the MLA can put them on retainer. Nullify the PR explosion by investigating the perpetrators and publicly making clear what they have to gain. Explain the principles by which the journals stand. The perpetrators’ fraud will vanish into the dustbin of history. That is where fraudsters go; quick, without a Google search, who was Yi-Fen Chou?


En effet

Nous ne sommes pas, hélas! dans une époque d’ironie. Nous sommes encore dans le temps de l’indignation. Sachons seulement garder, quoi qu’il arrive, le sens du relatif et tout sera sauvé (Camus, Actuelles I, 1944, p. 40).










The Unconscious is Structured like a Language

“Funny,” said my German teacher yesterday. “When you’re talking about eighteenth-century China, your vocabulary and syntax are perfect and I can follow everything you say. When you talk about daily life, I have to labor to figure out your meaning from the words you use and the sentence structures you begin but don’t complete.”

Said I, “That’s because eighteenth-century China doesn’t stress me out.”


Magic Erasers

Magic erasers! Also known as the “Brett Kavanaugh.” Will expunge all traces of many crimes including rape, treason, and fraud.

Caution: works only for members of a certain political party. May transform perfectly legal activities into crimes.


There’s an App for You

For the last few months I’ve been plagued by a high-pitched whine, like the sound made by an older refrigerator, in both ears. It’s louder sometimes, fainter sometimes, but never really switches off. I finally went in search of a specialist who could help do something about it. The first was an old-school psychoanalyst, a very kind fellow whose German was so classic I had no trouble understanding it. (I learned German to read the writers of 1770-1830, so my vocabulary tends toward the elevated and philosophical.) But I don’t have time just now to commute an hour each way for analysis terminable or interminable; it seemed a bit wide of the mark. He additionally recommended I look into chewing gum, yoga, massage, and iPod apps that mask, reduce or (unverified claim) reprogram the subjective noise.

I got one of those apps last night. It pipes white noise into your ears as a distraction; you can give the white noise a “brown” or “pink” tinge. You can also set it to play an indefinite loop of relaxation sounds, and mix different sounds until you find the thing that relaxes you best.

After half an hour of tweaking, I settled on a combination: Underwater + Bubbles + Monks + Wind. So now you know: the guy whose idea of relaxation is to hear monks chanting underwater, while haschischins tug on their hookahs and a four-knot gale blows, that’s me. In fact, that may be all you need to know about me.


Parciales Magias

The delights of the DSM. Reading about one’s problems in language so alien to the experience-near perspective that it calls to mind Sartre’s man “who sees people as ants.”

Consider this series of pearls (stating the obvious in language that makes it obtuse):

Seeking to change another person might be especially likely to be associated with hopelessness. As explained previously, change agents continue to want change even though their attempts to achieve it have been unsuccessful (Caughlin & Vangelisti, 1999). Melges and Bowlby (1969) argue that hopelessness occurs when people see themselves as incapable of achieving their goals but are unable to detach themselves from these seemingly unachievable goals. Recent research has demonstrated why people do not disengage (Hadley & MacLeod, 2010). Individuals high in hopelessness tend to engage in conditional goal setting such that they link a current goal to larger life goals such as being happy, fulfilled, or having a sense of self-worth. Therefore, they feel that if they disengage from an unattainable goal, they also are giving up other important life goals. Individuals in relationships may see their goal of changing the other person as important to their overall relational satisfaction and therefore keep wanting change even though they feel incapable of causing change…. Change agents might engage in relational disengagement behaviors as a coping mechanism for the hopelessness experienced in the conflict (Driver et al., 2003; Horton-Deutsch & Horton, 2003).
(Courtney Waite Miller, Michael E. Roloff, & Rachel M. Reznik, “Hopelessness and Interpersonal Conflict: Antecedents and Consequences of Losing Hope,” _Western Journal of Communication_ 78.5 [2014], 563-585)

Hilarious. Now, a word about the assumed fit between this generalizing language and particular cases. It may seem that the unfortunate “individuals in relationships” who want to “change the other person” are in a bad racket: manipulators and self-deluders. Of course, you’re thinking of a marriage in which one person wants the other to do or be something against the second person’s will. But what if the relationship is between parent and child? Namely, a relation based on the duty of the parent to shape the child’s personality and behavior, insofar as this can ever be done, in a positive way, so that the child can be a happy and productive member of society? If you, as parent, disengage from this goal as unattainable, you are indeed giving up on other important life goals, and that’s why saying “Stop hitting your brother” two hundred times a day to someone who responds with “You’re mean and stupid and I hate you” is soul-destroying.


When I consider how my light is spent

When I wake up at 3:20 in the morning with thoughts of climate change, the destruction of the rule of law, the erosion of voting rights, the return of overt racism to the political environment, the prosperity dishonesty enjoys, the collapse of the Atlantic alliance, etc., in my head, I go downstairs and write recommendation letters. It’s my way of saying, “Damn it, there will be a future, and these are the young people I choose to shape it.”


About Petitions

If somebody you know, are friendly with, or consider a close ally is accused of e.g. sexual harassment, plagiarism, or other scurrilous crimes, here are some things not to do if you’re invited to sign a petition in his/her defense.

— Don’t announce to the world that you know all the facts and evidence. You probably don’t, unless you are the accused or the plaintiff (and even then…).

— Don’t couch your petition in the mode “X is so brilliant and distinguished that s/he deserves special treatment unlike that meted out to ordinary mortals.” That won’t play well when the letter’s leaked.

— Even if you would probably say, on the street or in a bar, “I can’t believe X would do a thing like that!” do not write a letter in which you claim publicly that “The brilliant and distinguished X, whom I know extremely well, is incapable of such actions and therefore the accusations must be dismissed.”

— It would also be to your and the accused’s advantage not to try the tribalism move, i.e., “An attack on X is an attack on all who belong to our set (or: intellectual distinction in our age, all that is good and holy, etc.).” What if X turns out to be guilty? Then you’ve handed your entire tribe over to the hostiles (who may have no stake in the present accusation but will surely be glad for a chance to dunk their rivals in hot water).

— Above all, don’t attempt to blame the (professed) victim for causing the mess. It looks bad and may make you a co-conspirator in retaliation, should things come to that.

You may, I think, say how much you admire the person’s work, how vital his or her teaching is to an academic program, how deep your trust in him or her runs, how many times he or she has helped you with a problem– in other words, you can step up as a character witness. Not as a witness of fact unless you’ve observed facts. And don’t confuse character (ethos) with acts (praxis) unless you have a really ambitious theory of how the two intertwine. It’s easy to be taken the wrong way. A rule of thumb: if you would be outraged to read a letter if only it had been written in defense of a Republican, don’t sign it.


Spoken in 1945

And yet, we are oppressed by one nightmarish idea: if a dictatorship in Hitler’s style should ever rise in America, all hope would be lost for ages. We in Germany could be freed from the outside. Once a dictatorship has been established, no liberation from within is possible. Should the Anglo-Saxon world be dictatorially conquered from within, as it were, there would no longer be an outside, nor a liberation. The freedom fought for and won… over hundreds, thousands of years would be a thing of the past. The primitivity of despotism would reign again, but with all means of technology. True, man cannot be forever enslaved; but this comfort would then be a very distant one, on a plane with Plato’s dictum that in the course of infinite time everything that is possible will here or there occur or recur as a reality. We see the feelings of moral superiority and are frightened: he who feels absolutely safe from danger is already on the way to fall victim to it.

Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt (tr. E. B. Ashton), 93.

(“Technology” was not yet in use as a euphemism for computers. In 1945 it pre-eminently meant the atomic bomb.)



Rehearsal for July 16

DONNY. Vlad, I really admire what you’ve been able to do. Strong leadership, not a peep out of your national press, the Duma is 100% behind you, and you can just reach out and grab Ukraine by the Crimea, and no problem, everybody’s fine. What’s your secret?

VLAD. Easy. I get people in a position where I have leverage over them, and then I have them poisoned if they don’t do as I say.


VLAD. Now about those emails…


Ad astra

Do you know why I would like to be named director of the Imperial Roman Space Agency? So I could launch the Petronius Orbiter.