The Womb and Tomb of Time: Marija Gimbutas

In religious art, the human body symbolizes myriad functions beyond the sexual, especially the procreative, nurturing, and life enhancing. I believe that in earlier times, obscenity as a concept surrounding either the male or female body did not exist. Renditions of the body expressed other functions, specifically the nourishing and procreative aspects of the female body and the life-stimulating qualities of the male body. The female force, as the pregnant vegetation goddess, intimately embodied the earth’s fertility. But the sophisticated, complex art surrounding the Neolithic goddess is a shifting kaleidoscope of meaning: she personified every phase of life, death, and regeneration. She was the Creator from whom all life-human, human, plant, and animal-arose, and to whom everything returned. Her role extended far beyond eroticism.

—Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses

Our Neolithic forbears inherited the world of the hunters and gatherers across our finite world. They would create myths not of a singular Lord of the Universe but rather stories of a multifarious Goddess for whom the cycles of the great agricultural seasons became the enveloping world within which here people would create myths and rituals to forge temporal links between the earth and the stars above. Humans for millennia would abide under these various organic myths which would imprint upon their minds and hearts the patterns between the star gods and the cycles of natural order that provided the seasonal crops and patterns of rain and drought governing the survival of each and every family, group, and tribe.

As the Neolithic scholar  and singular visionary of Archaeomythology Marija Gimbutas devoted her life and work in uncovering this forgotten world where women not men once took center stage in the course of governance in a era of peace and plenty. In 1956 at an International conference at Philadelphia,  Marija Gimbutas introduced her “Kurgan Hypothesis,” which combined archaeological study of the distinctive “Kurgan” burial mounds with linguistics to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-Europeans; namely, to account for their origin and to trace their migrations into Europe. The word “Kurgan” is a Russian word from Turkic describing the kind of graves and grave-barrows built by the people of this culture.

“Indo-European” is a linguistic term that refers to a family of languages found from India to the western edge of Europe. And Proto-Indo-European language refers to the now extinct mother tongue from which all Indo-European languages developed. Gimbutas’ hypothesis locates the homeland of Proto-Indo-European speakers in the area of south Russia and documents their movements into Europe from the end of the fifth millennium BC. Gimbutas describes the influx of nomadic pastoralists over a 2000 year period as a “collision of cultures” in which androcratic cultural and ideological patterns were introduced into Europe. This led to a hybridization between the Old European and Indo-European systems.

With this theory, she was the first scholar to bring together linguistic and archaeological knowledge. Her hypothesis, and the act of bridging the disciplines, has had a significant impact on Indo-European research.

It was at this time that Gimbutas narrowed her focus of her research to the Neolithic cultures of Southeast Europe and the Bronze Age societies that replaced them. She stressed the importance of investigating the enormous changes in beliefs, rituals and social structure that took place between c. 4500–2500 B.C., in order to more fully understand subsequent European cultural development.

In her view, this was “one of the most complex and least understood [periods] in prehistory.” Gimbutas wrote: “It is a period which urgently demands a concerted effort by scholars from various disciplines. The exchange of information between the archaeologists, linguists, mythologists, physical anthropologists, and ancient historians has much to contribute to the field of Indo-European studies.

Much of her work was scorned by the male scholars of her era, and after her death much of her and fellow scholars of feminist theory and practice have fallen into disrepute under the androcratic regimes of male dictators who for the most part still rule the academic departments and journals of scholarly world. And, yet, anyone with an unbiased mind need only read and compare her and other scholars of her circle against the so called androcratic authorities to see a struggle of ideologies in process. That I came upon her and other feminists during the late seventies and eighties of our Common Era should be no surprise to many of my readers.

I usually do not actively speak about much of my own involvement in past worlds of activism and scholarship etc. Yet, it is time to realize that secular society and its pundits of the Progressive sphere who even now espouse regulation and improvement without any vision or empowerment behind their words and critiques. The Secular order of the world is bankrupt and decaying into the very valueless and fragmented codes its once used to gullibly rule over its constituents. Since the Enlightenment we’ve been in the School of Reason, taught the atheistic codes of a world without God or Religion. We’ve been led to believe Man could create a society, culture, and civilization based on a sense of Justice and Freedom. Yet, anyone with even a smattering of intelligence will see that the blind gods of justice sway one way: the way of the Rich and Powerful. For only the rich and powerful and for the most part “males” become leaders in this world of Democracy. Oh sure here and there is the token female who rises to power – a Thatcher or Merkel, etc., and yet as one studies their careers one sees the imprint of the male empire of Androcracy forming and shaping their vision.

What Gimbutas uncovered in her research of the Kurgans was the first inklings of the ancient horse cultures of the Steppes of Eurasia that would invade the Neolithic Agricultural civilizations of Old Europe during wave after wave of war, struggle, and invasion. Very little remains of the ancient Goddess cultures of Old Europe, the Middle-East, Africa, India, China, etc. Most of these ancient worlds having been effaced, and stripped from the memory, stories, and myths of those that conquered them and enslaved them. And, yet, aspects of their world would survive in bone and stone, word and deed through the very sources of that world: the women who would become the servants of the new Horse Lords.

Of course I could speak of all the various nations and cycles of myths, stories, etc., but will keep with the European story. During the so called postmodern era the notion of Grand Narrative, of taking in the long view of humanity was put in abeyance as a fabrication and artificial categorization of our life-worlds. Yet, as we’ve seen the micro-histories of that era were just as artificial and circumscribed by ideological and androcratic thought as other previous scholarship. I’ll admit a bias toward feminist thought of a certain type: my own singular vision of life and world. Having been bred under the worlds of Emerson and Nietzsche, two extreme singularities who spoke out of an inner authority not from the staid authorities of the Scholars I have come to gaze upon the world of literature, philosophy, art, politics, culture if you will with a singular eye and mind. I’m biased, but this only admits that we all are biased in our views of life. How could it be otherwise in a world where one either takes a stand for something, or lives in a blank world of unthinking Being?

Gimbutas opened my eyes to a world that had been in my life up to that point a total blank, a world that seemed to exist in fragments from all the ancient myths and archaeological digs around the globe that spoke of various goddesses. As Gimbutas herself reports it,

In Neolithic Europe and Asia Minor (ancient Anatolia)-in the era between 7000 B.c. and 3000 B.C.-religion focused on the wheel of life and its cyclical turning. This is the geographic sphere and the time frame I refer to as Old Europe. In Old Europe, the focus of religion encompassed birth, nurturing, growth, death, and regeneration, as well as crop cultivation and the raising of animals. The people of this era pondered untamed natural forces, as well as wild plant and animal cycles, and they worshiped goddesses, or a goddess, in many forms. The goddess manifested her countless forms during various cyclical phases to ensure that they functioned smoothly. She revealed herself in multiple ways through the myriad facets of life, and she is depicted in a very complex symbolism.1

When I read through her books of the era my mind clicked, as if the fragments of a lost world stood revealed at last and all my reading in archaeology across the planet which I had pursued for a dozen years suddenly sparked into active truth. It rang true in my inner being. One can never pinpoint just what it is that makes something ring true or why one favors a specific pattern of words and stores about our life-world over others. And, yet, reading her works and the vast literature that it would spark within the feminist movement of the era, along with the – yes, Pagan and Neo-Feminist religious consciousness of that time (70’s, 80’s, 90’s) informed my life and work. It did not matter that in the journals one could see the male androids already at work undermining her scholarship, banding together to expulse this new feminist threat from the ranks of their Androcratic World. At that time she offered a vision that took in the pre-historical worlds that seemed like fragments of a Lost Continent.

Throughout the area of Neolithic Europe that she studied, Gimbutas found images of females that she understood to be Goddesses; especially goddesses sharing form with birds and snakes. In these images she saw a Goddess of birth, death and regeneration, which was honored by Neolithic European people. Thus, supporting a peaceful and woman-centered society.

To Gimbutas, these indigenous Europeans were peaceful, artistic, egalitarian and Goddess-worshiping. Based on thousands of female images from those cultures, she concluded that women were worshiped and that the primary deities were goddesses. She maintained that life was peaceful until the worship of warlike gods was imported by Indo-Europeans.

She traced survivals of goddesses, birds, snakes, and many other images and symbols from Old Europe through historical times to the present. She began to see these images and symbols as a shorthand, a “language” of our early ancestors, that we might decipher with time and care. Through her “reading” of this language, she proposed to modern scholarship an articulate and radical view of Neolithic religion.

Professor Gimbutas’ research, indeed, covered a vast territory of scholarship that crosses many traditional boundaries. Her bibliography contains 33 texts (published in nine languages) and over 300 scholarly articles on European prehistory. When she was often criticized for her interpretations, her response was philosophical:

There is a belief that religion cannot be reconstructed, that it’s a waste of time even to speak of religion because archaeologists cannot do it. Maybe this is because they are not really trained. They are not interested in mythology at all, and are just seeing the material culture. They don’t want to see anything else; they think they are safe in reconstructing the ways of agriculture or how pottery was made, and that satisfies them. In our days there are no people with vision. They cannot go across the border of their discipline. Archaeology now is interested mostly in excavation techniques and they want to be very precise; the computer is used, and all that. Of course, you can reach some conclusions using statistics, but if you do not have a vision as a person — if you are not a poet, or an artist — you cannot see much. You will be just a technician, and this is in most cases what happens. [Joan Marler, “A Tribute to Marija Gimbutas,” Sojourn Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3, Summer 1998]

Without a sense of vision and poetry one is left in a world of destitution, a depleted world where nothing means utter nothingness without value or meaning at all. The Secular Vision has come full circle, the world of the androcratic male regimes of capitalist aggression and resource depletion has brought us war, famine, disease, and economic if not literal slavery. We are at the end of the Progressive Era of this social disease that has encompassed our minds and hearts with its lies and ideological strategies of governance for two hundred years or more. It has failed, it is failing, it is fragmenting and in its desperate last hours is weaving a conservative program to tyrannize and encircle the earth with a last ditch fascist paranoiac machine to entrap people through fear and the need for security.

Across the earth male or androcratic regimes rule with an iron fist either through force or economics. As Riane Eisler would say in her early The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future:

All societies are patterned on either a dominator model— in which human hierarchies are ultimately backed up by force or the threat of force— or a partnership model, with variations in between. Moreover, if we reexamine human society from a perspective that takes into account both women and men, we can also see that there are patterns, or systems configurations, that characterize dominator, or alternatively, partnership, social organization.2

What we’re seeing is the toxic wasteland of the Dominator male-oriented empires fraying at the edges, while the deeper vision arising out of the ruins is shaping into a Partnership society and culture that seeks to form bonds, assemblages, and relations of active cohesion to undermine the hierarchic and authoritarian vision of the Androcracies. Because this dominator model now seems to be reaching its logical limits, many men and women are today rejecting long-standing principles of social organization, including their stereotypical sexual roles. For many others these changes are only signs of systems breakdown, chaotic disruptions that at all costs must be quelled. But it is precisely because the world we have known is changing so rapidly that more and more people over ever larger parts of this world are able to see that there are other alternatives. (Eisler, KL 209)

We can do this, we must do this. The shift from an androcracy to a gylanic or Partnership Society and Civilization (i.e., where Women/Men share in coeval power the care and guidance of the world) would begin to end the politics of domination and the economics of exploitation that in our world still go hand in hand.


  1. Marija Gimbutas. The Living Goddesses (p. 3). Kindle Edition.
  2. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future—Updated With a New Epilogue (Kindle Locations 181-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Reading Ervin D. Krause’s ‘You Will Never See Any God: Stories’

ervin-krause

Krause (Left) with brother, Gerald (Right)

The boy felt a shudder—it was not the air and the wisps of drizzle. He knew what it was—there was evil here. He had a swift recognition of the evil of something warped, the terror of darkness and the strange; he had felt it before, on cold lightning-fired nights, in the chill of the church on Sunday mornings, on entering an unlighted barn. This had always held a secret terror for him, for he went much to Sunday school and church, and he had heard much of evil, had known it to be rampant and secret, and it had always been hidden secretly from him, behind bannisters on stairs, in the darkness of doorways at church, behind corners cringing in barns, in the dank, tree-overhung lagoons that were nursed with bad water and a stench down along the river. It had always been a secret terror for him before, but now it was here, very near to him; he could look up and see the heavy, mudded shoetops of the neighbor with that face strange, carved as if from red and rotted wood with the purple, bloodless leer and the red-rimmed, gouged eye.

—Ervin D. Krause, You Will Never See Any God: Stories (“The Right Hand”)

Once all but forgotten, writer Ervin D. Krause, the son of a Midwestern tenant farmer, ranked among the best short story writers in the country in the early 1960s. Championed by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Karl Shapiro, then editor of Prairie Schooner, Krause’s work was reprinted in both the O. Henry Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies, sharing space with luminaries like Flannery O’Connor, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. At a time when American literature was still heavily preoccupied with the beatniks — the breathless bebop of Kerouac, Burroughs’ cut-ups and more — Krause wrote hopeless stories in gimmick-less prose, stories that open doors only to slam them shut, stories as dusty as a November cornfield and populated with the characters of his childhood.

As Carson Vaughn says it Krause’s stories evoke a grim determinism more in line with the naturalists of decades prior, a cold reality mimicked by a “frigid sun” or a farmstead “abandoned and gray.” “None of his characters finds peace, none finds a sanctuary of comfort, all find failure and defeat,” Krause wrote in the introduction to his 1957 master’s thesis, “The Three Views of John Dos Passos.” The same could have been written about Krause’s stories themselves, their tone pessimistic, skewing always toward a harsh and unrelenting realism.

I’ve barely begun reading these stories, but already their dipping me in that ancient loam of darkness surrounding us, an abyss of primal worlds that seep into ours every night in the realms of nightmare. And, yet, his stories also touch base with an older world of humanity in the early Agricultural realms of the Icelandic Sagas, a realism that pits humans within a mythology of the elemental earth and its organic cycles. A place we have tried to forget in our urban worlds of artificiality. Krause would remind us that beyond the glitter of the night skies of the great skyscrapers lies another world, the realm of stars and evil energy arising not from some transcendent realm of gods, but rather closer to home in the very soil of our climatic earth where all civilizations have always found their fatal outcomes from womb to tomb.

One perceives this in stark terms as the boy from the short story I quoted in the beginning, ‘The Right Hand’ watches the neighbor farmer as he tries to nurse a young calf back to health whose front forelegs to the nib were gnawed off by his hogs:

After two days the calf would not eat anymore and even then somehow it managed to stand, its sides transparent against the toothpick, tiny-slat ribs, and it wandered thus, falling and rising and floundering in the dust of the yard, like some mad tormented creature, driven by something inexplicable and terrible, seeking to hide in the shade of the plum brush, but always falling and being drawn in the wrong direction, wandering, mad and awful, disfigured and torn, yet somehow, madly, relentlessly living, driven like its master to live, in spite of the want for death, until at last it did die, with even the last death motion feeble, and the calf bellow only a gurgle in the quivering throat, and in the evening when the dust had cooled and Stark came back in from the fields, he took the calf and carried it up the pasture hill and buried it.

This sense of the life force at work in the calf, the blind need to exist, to move, to live. Schopenhauer would see in this physical enactment the power of the will. He’d teach us that through both first and third person perspectives we can by way of self-awareness, by peeling away its layers of meaning, we will inevitably come to the conclusion that the inner essence of things is nothing less than the will. Schopenhauer’s first step toward that conclusion is a simple distinction between two forms of self-knowledge. I know myself as an individual, he explains, through my body, which makes me just this individual and no other. But I know this body in two ways or from two perspectives (I. 157; P 100). I can view it from an external or third-person perspective, where it appears as one object among others; but I can also view it from an internal or first-person perspective, where it is the single, unique object of my self-consciousness. Schopenhauer stresses that these two modes of knowing ourselves are utterly distinct from one another. They are two incommensurable perspectives upon one and the same thing: namely, my body (I. 161; P 103).1

Krause in his vision of evil would see this will to live, this Schopenhauerian energy and drive to exist as a part of the fatal evil of existence, not some metaphysical evil of external devils, etc., but rather the inherent drive of life in its will to exist, to remain, to blindly keep on struggling. In the story the boy learns the difference between actual and metaphysical evil in life and the physical world, and that the two are twain, divided, different.

As Krause relates of the boy, in his mind the farmer was evil for wanting to help the young calf survive. Because of his Christian belief system, taught by his Mama and the Sunday school he is mixed in his views of the natural and metaphysical. Here is his reception of Stark:

After that the boy had even a deeper terror of and hatred for Stark. It was not because of the calf; he had no sympathy for it, for he had seen suffering, he had witnessed agony and seen the dumb struggling eyes of animals in pain, and he had grown used to it, had felt nothing at seeing death—no, that was not it—it was that Stark could want something so misshapen, so awful around, and would want to make it live.

The boy’s sense of evil, taught by his Old Testament knowledge of Cain and the Mark, etc., makes him see evil in this metaphysical light: “The boy wanted to destroy the calf the first time he saw it because it was so badly disfigured, just as he had calmly destroyed ducklings with misshapen beaks and pigs that were born with their guts outside themselves. That which was misshapen and marked was evil, was not natural, and needed to be destroyed, and he felt a shudder run through him, remembering how Stark wanted to keep the animal alive.”

So that the boy imposes an evil on things and animals that are not part of the farmer’s life and being, a metaphysical imposition that rakes across the world a fear and trepidation of all things scarred and misshapen. At the heart of the story is the birth mark on the old farmer Stark himself, whose face is seen in the early description:

The birthmark pulled the lips crooked, made them seem open, even if they were not, made them look dead with that deep-purple, bloodless, blooded color. It was the purple of something dead—the purple on dead horses’ heads before the rendering truck or hogs come to them. The boy stared at this face, the face reflecting the sorrow and the sufferings of lifetimes, a face with the mark of Cain perhaps, or just of the man’s parents; it was a face with that naked hurting look of a burn or a brand healing and yet never quite healed, always inflamed and sensitive and sore; it was a face of terror and of bad dreams, giving to anyone who saw it a weird and evilfearing anxiety.

The boy raised up on Old Testament horrors and tales sees pain and suffering everywhere, as if these were signs of evil and punishment. While Krause himself portrays the farmer as just a man living in the elements of his world of earth and soil, a man who does what such men do, not bothered by such metaphysical fictions but rather existing in a world without gods or such mind bending tales that warp the psyche beyond repair. I want spoil the tale for you with the ending, just to say that in the end we discover that the evil has all along resided not in the Old Farmer, Stark, but in the boy who has impose upon the world what lies only deep in his own Bible bound metaphysical mind, an evil that has shaped his psychopathic psyche and being, twisting it beyond all telling…

Yet, if there is an epiphany in this short story, it comes not by some sublime enlightenment, rather it comes in the very moment of the common, of the dull, of the truth of our shared lives. The boy who has been working his way up to sneak into the old farmer’s house while he is out and about, thinking in his devious boy’s heart that there must be some hideous evil lying in wait within those four walls, enters the farmer’s domain only to find no real evil other than loss. The boy comes into the old man’s bedroom and finds nothing more in it than a few pictures with memories:

 In the picture, too, were a boy and a girl, the boy younger, both plain, vacant-faced children, like any other boy and girl. And on the picture, written very faintly, but carefully, too, as if it had been written a long time before, above the man’s head were the words “Ezra Stark, Sr., died 1938,” and above the woman’s “Mathilda Stark, died 1943,” and “Carl” beside the boy, and “Harriet” beside the girl. He did not know why the picture was there, and he did not really care.

This moment of the realization: “The boy surveyed the room again. He was genuinely disappointed. He had expected something of a purpose perhaps, overwhelming and evil, a mad old woman, an opium den, a room full of glowering icons, but instead there was only the single dull picture.” And, yet, it is this singular object, this ‘dull picture’ that holds the key to the story, the memories and history of a man, alone, a man who has seen his father, his mother, his wife and children all die before him; a man who will seek to keep alive the things of the earth and soil that are his charge for as long as it takes, a man whose memories and keepsakes are all he is and has…

And, a boy, who is beyond that ability to see just this and, instead, sees nothing there at all but a dull old picture that means nothing. The boy not even adult has already entered into that nihilistic world through the very power of a darkened Biblical vision that has hooked his psychopathic heart, lured him into a world where memories and feelings no longer exist. Only his mission to discover and wipe out evil like some inquisitorial ambassador from an earthly hell…

I’ll not say another word on that story… you will need to read it. Krause’s stories may not be for everyone. His dark vision of life and our ruinous ways is part of what quickens me to write of him. Like Flannery O’Conner there is a deep-seated vision and moral power there in these works, but not one that is pervaded by ancient religious consciousness but rather by something older, darker, and more powerful springing up from the very core of the inhuman earth. His is a violent and twisted world full of weird and at last ghastly figures, at once macabre and horrific, and yet within that is still this sense of a code of being that knows the ways of earth and the elements, the patterns of the stars and fate; and, as well the freedom of decisions and retroactive thought that challenges the deterministic threads that would weave us into some death bound universe of lifelessness. For him evil is not in the world so much as it is the terror filled power of our own mind’s to hide from the truth of the world.

Krause’s posthumous work is out finally in book form: You Will Never See Any God.

youwillneverseeanygod


  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (Kindle Locations 1061-1066). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Evgeny Morozov on The Taming of Tech Criticism

Good article by Evgeny Morozov on The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr on The Baffler. As he admits most tech criticism has become conservative rather than radical:

A personal note is in order, since in surveying the shortcomings of thinkers such as Nicholas Carr, I’m also all too mindful of how many of them I’ve shared. For a long time, I’ve considered myself a technology critic. Thus, I must acknowledge defeat as well: contemporary technology criticism in America is an empty, vain, and inevitably conservative undertaking. At best, we are just making careers; at worst, we are just useful idiots.

Since truly radical technology criticism is a no-go zone for anyone seeking a popular audience, all we are left with is debilitating faux radicalism. Some critics do place their focus squarely on technology companies, which gives their work the air of anti-corporate populism and, perhaps, even tacit opposition to the market. This, however, does not magically turn these thinkers into radicals.

In fact, what distinguishes radical critics from their faux-radical counterparts is the lens they use for understanding Silicon Valley: the former group sees such firms as economic actors and situates them in the historical and economic context, while the latter sees them as a cultural force, an aggregation of bad ideas about society and politics. Thus, while the radical critic quickly grasps that reasoning with these companies—as if they were just another reasonable participant in the Habermasian public sphere—is pointless, the faux-radical critic shows no such awareness, penning essay after essay bemoaning their shallowness and hoping that they can eventually become ethical and responsible.


Read more: The Taming of Tech Criticism

Slavoj Zizek: This is not a Humanitarian Crisis

zizek

Zizek in his latest video has caused a stir of FB, so I thought I’d try to transcribe what he says and then close read it. (I neither support nor attack, but have tried to inform and relay the message for those interested.) I embedded it below as well.

He tells us the refugee migration out of Syria must be put into perspective, saying: “This is not a humanitarian crisis!” In the video he uses an example from cinema in which a view of refugees being saved in the last moments from boats coming into Greece. He’ll admit this is tragic, but that it misses more than it shows, saying, “What we need to do in cinematic terms is that the shot begins with a close up, but we should then slowly pan out till what we see in the old Marxist terms call the ‘social totality’.

The he asks: “What is going on? We should begin to ask the real question of who is responsible for this crisis? And, I don’t think it is only Western liberalism that is responsible for it. When something happens in a Third World country like Rwanda or others certain leftist think it must be a consequence of neo-colonialism. No, sorry, things like ISIS, things like the expansion of Islam, so on and so on. This is not a passive reaction, this is an active project, they are also active agents.”

The TV host then asks: “What is the solution then? How do you tackle this… what is your solution?”

Zizek: “Now this may shock you, but I think this is the only concept that Leftist – from a truly Leftist position: I don’t think too much integration is good. I think what we need in our multicultural mixed society is a degree of ‘distance’. My ideal today is not to live together with all these rent racist culture – “we all love each other”: No! I admit it openly, there are things about them I don’t understand, and probably there are many things that appear weird to them in what I do. I want to allow ignorance, and then from time to time, of course, its wonderful…”

The TV host then asks: “Then you have polarized communities, and you have a potential rise of extremism? If you have people living in entirely separate enclaves?”

Zizek: “No, actually here comes another problem, I claim that extremists… Look closely at their life stories, they are not truly excluded, they are deeply fascinated by those Western culture, and they kind of side with it deeply. They envy it. If anything, this wave of young people, ready to fight for ISIS and so forth. They react to a certain type of integration that didn’t work.”

The TV host asks: “So if you’re saying you have to respect each other’s differences, and stop trying to integrate, where does that leave Britain with Europe and the European Union… On whether to stay in or leave?”

Zizek: “First let me correct you, I love these marginal spheres where different identities intermingle and so on, this is usually the source of the site where interesting things happen. And let’s say don’t enforce it, it’s a catastrophe…”

TV Host: “So what I want to know is where does it leave the UK’s relationship with the European Union? Or we better off being part of one big happy family… or… – Zizek interrupts…” (She seems more interested in the UK than in the actual issue of the refugees. As if the refugee issue was a side issue, and that the issue of the UK staying or exiting the EU is a more important issue.)

Zizek: “No we’re not happy, we all know… I think the only way to fight the destructive aspect of Global Capital is through transnational connections. The problems we are facing today … intellectual property, ecological problems, and so on… biogenetics… These are problems which can only be properly approached large international operations.”

TV Host: “Stay in and reform is clearly in site?”

Zizek: “I’m a little bit tired of people saying, “Oh Europe is dead, it’s over. Sorry why are there so many people… haha … Because they still have this dream, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an illusion. No! As we know in politics illusions have a certain political efficiency. And this illusion is not a bad one. Europe needs a land, a place where you can combine a certain level of freedom, safety, weak social solidarity, minimum of welfare and so on… This part of the European legacy is worth fighting for.”

Liberal Universalism & Zizek’s Dialectical Critique

What’s always amazing is that Zizek is attacked by Western liberals as not being one of them, and is attacked by Communist hard-liners as not being a true Marxist. Zizek being an agent provocateur of culture and the political arena has always fallen into hyperbolic overstatement and shock appeal.

Zizek is a provocateur, he says shocking things not only to wake people out of their complaisance, but also to make them think and think again. He seeks to make you look not at the obvious statement out of context, but rather to what it reveals in what is concealed. In the old school meaning Zizek inverts the traditional meaning of the agent provocateur, and becomes a secret agent of alternative cultures who encourages people to carry out a political change against the present ideology of Western global capitalism. His method is to incite people out of their lethargy, to awaken them and to as well cause the opponent to do counterproductive or ineffective acts against him (i.e., criticize him, or foster public disdain or provide a pretext for aggression against him, etc.). The agent provocateur activities raise ethical and legal issues in every culture, but in the West they are usually labeled and renounced through the pressure of Press and Media.

If one has carefully read Zizek over the years he’s always taken the low road, spun tales of disgust and shock against the usual liberal humanist creeds and notions of Universalist discourse which has brought many in the West to both misunderstand and place him against himself. Many even from the communist side see him as the enemy from within and hate him for it. What’s always been strange for me is that many people never dip below the surface texture of his works, but rather accept the media caricature of Zizek the Clown, rather than the actual dialectical arguments he presents. Our culture is losing its traditions in humanistic learning, and because of that we are losing the force of what Marxist dialectical materialism once was: a humanistic enterprise. Of course, that’s the point of many academics in our moment: humanism is the enemy, right? The early Marx, influenced by Feuerbach’s humanistic inversion of Hegelian idealism, articulated a concept of species-being, according to which man’s essential nature is that of a free producer, freely reproducing their own conditions of life. However, under capitalism individuals are alienated from their productive activity insofar as they are compelled to sell their labor-power as a commodity to a capitalist; their sensuous life-activity, or labor, thus appears to them as something objective, a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. To overcome alienation and allow man to realize his species-being, therefore, the wage-labor system itself must be transcended, and the separation of the laborer from the means of labor abolished.

Zizek’s argument in this video is not truly about segregation or integration, etc.. It’s about the Liberal West’s imposition of universalist standards of morality and ethical dilemmas upon a Third World culture who does not share those standards or ethical beliefs. Because of racism and slavery in our own Western liberal heritage we have over time battled for integration and the breaking down of walls and hierarchies separating peoples of all nationalities, race, and culture. But that there are those in the Third World who do not share our Universalist discourse, nor our ethical dilemmas; and, in fact see them from other perspectives and claims. For Zizek our imposition of Liberal Western ideology of integration may not only cause more strife but lead to more terrorist acts when we impose our systems and ideologies upon the refugees against their will. For us this is hard to accept, but what he’s saying is that we have yet to learn to listen to them and what they want. Maybe it’s time to  listen to the refugees rather than imposing our high and mighty liberal ethics of responsibility, etc. upon them without asking them what they want or need.

Zizek is neither for segregation or integration, which for him are part of Western liberalist tradition and politics – and, therefore a problem rather than a solution; instead he sees not only great that divisions are walls against the other, rather than those of solidarity among; and, both sides of the issue need a certain distance and respect, one that seeks a level of interaction rather than Universalist imposition. As he’ll suggest we need neutral sites where people from both sides can intermingle and cohabitate ‘spaces of freedom’ without forcing or enforcing legal or ethnic enclosures. He also sees that this is a question about Global Capitalism rather than the refugees, and that it will take a larger transnational concourse of all earth’s nations to resolve this issue, not just the imposition of Western liberalist ethics and ideology, the so to speak democratic universalism which has been tried and has failed across the globe.

As far as the notion of UK leaving or staying he supports the need for the EU as a larger entity with its ramifications for economic well-being, but that it must do more to actually benefit the member nations rather than as now imposing arbitrary austerity and legal servitude upon them.

Zizek is not so much against Universalism per se, only the form of Western liberalism’s use of it. As he’d say in another interview about communism as he sees it:

Instead of asking the obvious stupid question: what is the idea of communism still pertinent today? Can it still be used as a tool for the analysis and political practice? One should ask, I think, the opposite question: how does our predicament today look from the perspective of the communist idea? This is the dialectic of old and the new. If communism is an eternal idea then it works as a Hegelian concrete universality. It is eternal not in the sense of a series of abstract features which can be applied to every situation, but in the sense that it has the ability, the potential to be reinvented in its new historical situation. So my first conclusion: to be true to what is eternal in communism, that is to say, to this drive towards radical emancipation which persists in the entire history from ancient times of Spartacus and so on, to keep this universal idea alive one has to reinvent it again and again. And this holds especially today. As Lenin put it one should begin from the beginning.

So that his defense of ‘concrete universalism’ over Western liberal Enlightenment forms of abstract universalism becomes the order of the day. The point of this form of ‘concrete universalism’ is that it arises out of concrete historical situations from below, rather than being imposed from above like some absolute law. And, this form of ‘concrete universalism’ is bound to the historical dilemmas of temporality, and because of this are always needing to be reinvented if situations change – as they always do. Or as he says, “this universal idea” must be reinvented “again and again”.

Zizek plays into this history, but has taken his cue from Hegel’s notions of ‘concrete universalism’. Zizek in another interview will say:

Humanism is not enough. In the same way that Freud talks about meta-psychology. There must be a dimension above it. Theology is another name for meta-psychology, for something that is in Man more than Man, the inhuman core of Man etc. These are very precise terms. It’s interesting how many American theologists with whom I debated, they were very close to what I’m saying. They accepted this. They told me “If this is materialism, I’m a materialist.” That is to say that God is  not an old man sitting up there pulling the strings etc. God is just a name for this void, openness, this inhuman, more than human. I think that we should rehabilitate, and we all agree here with my friends, Badiou, Agamben, me, of course not in the sense of “Let’s kill them” inhumanity, more than human, trans-human dimension.(19)

The video…

 

Land of the Free

detroit urban regrowth3

yes, this is the land of the free, free to die
on some back street in Detroit, Michigan

(Circa. 2015); black, unloved, alone, desperate –
bereft of all hope, lost among city ruins; knowing

the asphalt god of alcohol want save you; cocaine
is just another word for escape; knowing failure

is not an option, you attempt existence; less to live
among its scattered remnants than to expunge

its desecrated environs: exit its promises, become
one of its lesser appendages;  knowing this life

is no life of freedom at all, but a farcical reminder,
a parable of blindness and derision, of hell

in a pool of doubt one was once taught; but unlike
the mythic demons out-of-joint from some Good Book,

these come up and kick you in the teeth, strip you naked,
take from you even the little you do not have: offer nothing

in return but a cardboard box to crumple in and forget
the world is freedom’s last haven and heaven, a joke

land of the free; and, you; you are its forgotten citizen,
the unfree; excluded from the little justice of this country’s

remaining truth; a victim not so much of neglect as of
the ministrations of reactive politics absolving all its crimes.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Hart Crane: Chaplinesque

Charlie Chaplin

The bottom of the sea is cruel.
…..– Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.


Hart Crane’s ability to ply the hyperbolic sublime to even the saddest of tales is what makes him our Marlowe. To turn darkness to light, the gloom to poetry; awaken us to the plight of the streets and poverty with a sense of equanimity equal to the task in a poem made of words is to reach through the cracks of contradiction and touch the face of what is Real. This why we still honor him as the American Orpheus.

And Chaplin… need we say anymore! The visual poetry of that little tramp lives on, too!


Hart Crane, “Chaplinesque” from Complete Poems of Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon. Copyright © 1933, 1958, 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing.

Stefan Zweig: On The Daemonic and Tragic Worlds

angels_and_demons_by_hgjart

Reproduction and death condition the immortal renewal of life; they condition the instant which is always new. That is why we can only have a tragic view of the enchantment of life, but that is also why tragedy is the symbol of enchantment.
……– Georges Bataille

From Stefan Zweig’s The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche:

“Daemonic” — this word has had so many connotations imposed upon it, has been so variously interpreted, in the course of its wanderings from the days of ancient religious mythology into our own time… I term “daemonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction. But in those of common clay, this factor of our composition which is both precious and perilous proves comparatively ineffective, is speedily absorbed and consumed. In such persons only at rare moments, during the crises of puberty or when, through love or the generative impulse, the inward cosmos is heated to boiling point, does the longing to escape from the familiar groove, to renounce the trite and the commonplace, exert its mysterious sway. At other times the average man keeps a tight hand on any stirrings of the Faustian impulse, chloroforming it with the dicta of conventional morality, numbing it with work, restraining its wild waters behind the dams of the established order. By temperament and training the humdrum citizen is an inveterate enemy of the chaotic, not only in the outer world, but in himself as well. In persons of finer type, however, and above all in those with strongly productive inclinations, the unrestful element is ever at work, showing itself as dissatisfaction with the daily round, creating that “higher heart which afflicts itself” (Dostoevsky), that questioning spirit which expands with its yearnings into the abysses of the limitless universe.

Whatever strives to transcend the narrower boundaries of self, overleaping immediate personal interests to seek adventures in the dangerous realm of inquiry, is the outcome of the daemonic constituent of our being. But the daemon is not a friendly and helpful power unless we can hold him in leash, can use him to promote a wholesome tension and to assist us on our upward path. He becomes a menace when the tension he fosters is excessive, and when the mind is a prey to the rebellious and volcanically eruptive urge of the daemonic. For the daemon cannot make his way back to the infinite which is his home except by ruthlessly destroying the finite and the earthly which restrains him, by destroying the body wherein, for a season, he is housed. He works, as with a lever, to promote expansion, but threatens in so doing to shatter the tenement. That is why those of an exceptionally “daemonic temperament,” those who cannot early and thoroughly subdue the daemon within them, are racked by disquietude. Ever and again the daemon snatches the helm from their control and steers them (helpless as straws in the blast) into the heart of the storm, perchance to shatter them on the rocks of destiny. Restlessness of the blood, the nerves, the mind, is always the herald of the daemonic tempest; and that is why we call daemonic those women who diffuse unrest wherever they go and who open the floodgates to let loose the waters of destruction. The daemonic bodes danger, carries with it an atmosphere of tragedy, breathes doom.1


 

  1. Zweig, Stefan (2012-06-07). The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (Kindle Locations 226-251). Plunkett Lake Press. Kindle Edition.

The Posthuman Future: Sacred Power and the Temenos

rhizome

Following my recent post The Posthuman Future: Technopessimism and the Inhuman I take up other aspects of the posthuman. Ancient peoples understood power in ways secular civilization has transformed beyond all recognition, through a long and non-ingenious disinvestment of religious ritual and practice, without at the same time forfeiting its actual material force for command and control of vast populations and resources. From the beginning society was an artificial system of relations, a construct; a construction-kit that assembled through various forms of hierarchic or non-hierarchic modes of production the realm of human civilization. This was done by way of a mental operation, a ‘cut’ between an inside and outside: relegating the natural violence and chaos of the universe to the Outside, while incorporating the human and its security regimes in opposition to the elemental forces of an uncontrollable natural order over which it had no authority or control. By separating out what could and could not be bound to the invisible threads of authority and control the human slowly but methodically reformatted the very subjectivation of its own worlds, constructing an artificial zone of security and sacredness within which it could contain the power of the unknown and unknowable forces of the universe.

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