Polity, a Manifesto

Who am I to speak about race?  I don’t live in DC (nor care to), I don’t work at a policy think tank, I’m not a journalist or pundit, I don’t write an influential blog, I don’t post comments on other people’s blogs, especially influential political ones, because most comment there is mere vitriol rather than polity.  I’m not black, I’m not Asian, I’m not quite white, I’m not quite Latino, I’m not an immigrant though my mother was.  I don’t believe in god and I don’t particularly care if you do, I’m happy if you do, but I do believe that any god who would divide His or Her creation into races, classes or tribes so as to create hatred is not a god worth believing in.  I don’t think the vast majority of religious folk believe in such a god.  I don’t believe the vast majority of Americans are, in their hearts, racist, either.

Recently there has been a spate of influential pundits have levied heavy charges at one another in regards to racism.  Jonathan Chait, in response to watching the film 12 Years a Slave, found that conservative think-tank fellow Quin Hilyer (from Alabama as it happens) had lapsed into a “passive” kind of racism by depicting President Barack Obama as “haughty” and “shameless.”  Whether or not Chait was correct in his assessment of Hilyer’s intentions is impossible to determine, but he was correct as to how liberals in the US react to such statements:  liberals find historical echoes of the “uppity Negro” who became the scapegoat for Jim Crow.  In response, Ross Douthat of the New York Times accused Chait of false historical equivalency, in that Hilyer in no way called for a return to Jim Crow – indeed his career is a testament to conservative efforts to stamp out racism in his home state.  Hilyer himself then responded to Chait in the National Review, providing a lengthy account of his anti-racist bona fides and accusing Chait of being a hatchet man and character assassin of the left.  Both Douthat and Hilyer feel that liberals levy accusations of racism in order to forestall political debate.  To be fair, Chait did not seek to assassinate Hilyer’s character ad hominem in his article.

None of these writers, let us say, have managed to persuade their readers of the validity or invalidity of their respective arguments.  What they have done exceedingly well is expose the sharp, uncompromising, and nearly Manichean divide between right and left in 21st century American politics.  This rift will threaten the viability of the Republic if left unchecked, and it seems that once again racism would be the flashpoint for violent civil strife.

To this end I would like to propose the following ground-rules for civic (and civilized) political debate from this point forward.  The goal of this document is NOT to inscribe these rules in marble, but to put forward a written list of guidelines for political debate.  This list can be – and should be – modified.

  1. There is no acceptable level of racism.  Racism in the 21st century cannot therefore be “better” or “worse” than 19th century racism.  Any manifestation of racism is evil and must be eliminated.
    1. This holds true for all other forms of discrimination.
  2. Any accusation of racism must be justified by recourse to solid evidence.  Conjecture is not solid evidence.
    1. This holds true for all other forms of discrimination.
  3. People who are not racist can still use language, discourse and rhetoric that are.  History does not just exist in the events of the past, but in the way those events have been recorded from our past to our present.  Therefore, past discrimination may persist in the historical register of language, discourse and rhetoric.  An appraisal of this fact must be made before any words are made public.
  4. The business of America is business. This fact has always been as much an opportunity for the future as a burden from our past.
  5. The business of America is business, and American business works best when wealth disburses widely for the majority of Americans.  Since money follows money, more wealth for the majority means more wealth-creation for everyone.
  6. The politics of America is democracy, and American democracy works best when political participation disburses widely for the majority of Americans.  Since power follows power, more political participation for the majority means more empowerment for everyone.  Any barrier to democratic participation is inherently anti-democratic.
  7. Democracy and business are not the same things, even if both are American.
  8. Validated quantified scientific data can never be ignored.
    1. Anyone who blocks validated quantified scientific data from coming to light is inherently wrong.
    2. Scientists must be political animals, because their work is needed for politics to function correctly.  Scientific fact, however, is apolitical.
  9. Conjecture, or mere belief in certain future outcomes, is not evidence for anything, however certain one may believe the conjecture to be.
  10. A valid (and/or validated) opinion should not be subject to change over time.  A change of opinion either means that one had the facts wrong in the first instance; or that one wishes the facts were not correct in the present instance.  The former is a change-of-heart based on solid available evidence and should be respected.  The latter is purely ideological and should not be respected.
  11. Ideology is not fact.  Ideology is not core belief.  Ideology is ideology, which means that politically, it is always situational and transitory.  One must learn to discern ideology from moral/ethical tenets.
  12. Democratic expression = core belief + facts.
  13. Core beliefs are necessary for democratic government.  But a government that legislates core beliefs is not democratic.
  14. No one wins in politics.  Politics is merely a way to put disagreements to rest without physical violence, but those disagreements do not end merely because they were handled politically.  Or better yet, politics is a means of settling disagreements through symbolic violence rather than physical violence.  No one wins in politics:  Since politics is a form of violence (without threat of bodily harm), everyone must agree to lose something.
  15. Patriotism takes many forms, but one fact about patriotism remains absolutely true:  One’s patriotism is always predicated on another’s patriotism.  Even in the face of political disagreement, another’s patriotism should never be denied or derided.
  16. Freedom takes many forms, but one fact about freedom remains absolutely true:  One’s freedom is always predicated on another’s freedom.  Even in the face of political disagreement, another’s freedom should never be denied or derided, lest we all lose our freedom.
  17. The business of America is business, and business is about making deals.  The health of American politics can be indexed by how deals are being made.

But who am I to speak?

The Urbanities Annex

My surplus blogging energies have recently been displaced to a new cite set up in conjunction with the right honorable Craig Epplin:  the Urbanities Annex. The Annex (or as I like to call it, the Urbanity Xanax) grew out of the “desk” Craig and I oversee on the “Feedback” blog of the Open Humanities Press. While OHP Feedback works out a few timing issues, Craig and I have opened the Annex in order to maintain our conversations on theory, space, poetics and architecture at a clip pace. We hope that this will help fertilize OHP Feedback and our own critical trajectory, since we’d like to establish cross-over between the two.

In the meantime, pop over to the Annex (and/or pop a Xanax) and check out some recent musings on “soft architecture,” global structure, Deleuze and Rubén Darío. Rad.

Eucalyptus music

I’ve been reading too much Macedonio lately, Museo de la novela de la Eterna to be exact, and this has added immensely to my already elevated delirium of daily existence.  Meanwhile it has suddenly become apparent to the civil society of this Great Nation that the Order of Wearers of Flags and Religious Symbols have, in fact, spent several years living in a fictional narrative world in which the End of the World has been initiated by allowing Sick-Child to see a doctor. And even though this novel has been exposed as precisely what it says it is, a novel, the Order of Wearers of Flags and Religious Symbols continue to insist that they must re-baptize the President for what he is not, the False Prophet.  Because in reality, the President is not a False Prophet, but President False False Prophet, or False President Falseprophet.

So I ask you:  To whom would you prefer to listen in this situation:  Macedonio Fernández or Ted Cruz?  The answer to those of you old enough to have watched Bill Murray in the 70s is obvious: Ricardo Montalbán.

Then this passage calls out to me from the ether, first in Spanish then English translation:

A la mañana a siguiente, muy oscura, batiendo el viento y la lluvia la casa, partieron casi todos casi sin verse, y antes que todos, la Eterna.  Los que se hubieran sentido tan abrigados y felices en la casa envuelta en eucaliptus que le daban paz y cuya música de tempestad fuera tan placentero escuchar en esa paz, debían todos alejarse, marchar separados, aún la pareja que tuviera trayecto común, ni debían quedarse guarecidos donde hallaran amparo. La orden cruda era: separarse al partir, aunque para las cosas espirituales que se le habían encomendado ningún rumbo ni el partir fueran necesarios.

And now from Margaret Schwartz’s translation from Open Letter Press (2010), for the sake of my Spanish-impaired readership:

The next morning they all left, with scarcely a chance to see each other.  It was very dark, and the wind and rain were beating on the house. Eterna left first of all.  They all had to leave, walking alone, those who had felt so happy and comfortable in the house surrounded by peaceful eucalyptus trees whose music, in the storm, was so pleasant to listen to.  Even a couple traveling in the same direction could not go together, nor could they remain in the shelter of the estancia.  The basic routine was this: each one separates upon leaving, even spiritual things that had been commissioned by nothing in particular and did not necessarily have to leave.

The essential riddle of October 2013 is this:  If a Democrat wins an election in November, and a Republican loses an election in November, can they avoid civil war? Or in other words, if a Democrat boards a plane in Illinois for Washington DC at 12:01pm and a Republican boards a plane in Texas for DC at 12:09pm, will they meet in time… in time for what? Their ranches are gerrymandered, they don’t live in the same space, and their respective jets do not travel at the same velocity. Each one separates upon leaving, living in a separate time and separate space, as the eucalyptus in the storm yields music at its own pace, its own rhythm. They are eternal these politicians, these trees.

This is a problem to be solved: The crude order of things. The answer to this problem is not Ricardo Montalbán, though He will come again in his own good time. The answer is… the plane, the plane.

Could it be that Graham Harman not read Macedonio yet?  That would be remarkable.

Circuits of Return

I swore to myself years ago that I would never write about music. At the time, I had started a project on some Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil I think, and after about a month of it I realized that I couldn’t stand to listen to Gilberto Gil anymore and this made me quite sad. Around that time, I had also been writing a blog, Jazz du Terroir (now defunct but still available to view here), built on a great concept: pair jazz albums to bottles of wine, a kind of blue sommelier if you just caught that reference. Unfortunately the more I got into it the less I listened to jazz for jazz’s sake and the less I drank wine for wine’s sake. On the back of my mind was always the blog, how am I going to write about this, how am I going to write about that. Is this Daou ’09 worthy of Coltrane or is it something of a lesser order, a Jimmy Heath or a Cedar Walton, great but not GREAT? I had submitted to the sovereignty of sign, when all I had to do, really, was pop open a bottle, put on Interstellar Space and live free. The whole concept had to be relegated to a state of coma lest I both the jazz and wine go braindead. One thing or another had to be induced into coma, that is, and I chose to let the good stuff live, free of whatever I or anyone else chose to signify or symbolize about it.

Lately the music-writing bug has been coming back. (Return of the repressed!) Mainly this has to do with my growing obsession for Luis Alberto Spinetta, which I have yet to explain to myself. (Return of the repressed! Or as Clarice might have written in Hora da estrela… BANG!) The uncanny thing about Spinetta for me is that his sound, particularly from the 1970s, goes straight back to the progressive rock and hard rock I grew up on, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Yes, a dose of Bowie, maybe a hint of Rush. Yet I have absolutely no nostalgic connection to Spinetta whatsoever. (BANG!) And it doesn’t sound at all the same as the music I grew up on. (BANG! BANG! BANG!) It’s progrock, but progressed into a whole other idiom.

I have the sneaking suspicion that rock nacional is a perfectly natural circuit of return, musically speaking. The introduction of rock into Brazil, for instance, was somewhat forced. I like Roberto Carlos and the Jovem Guarda and all, but let’s face up to its derivativeness. Early Roberto Carlos is derivative of US music, his critics were right; and they were wrong, too, because Roberto Carlos is derivative, wonderfully, soulfully derivative. The Tropicália was also forced in terms of its incorporation of rock; the beauty of Tropicália is that the rock clashes so sharply with national or local rhythms. I daresay that it’s not until Chico Science arrives that Brazilian rock seems at home with itself. Not so with rock nacional. It’s almost as if blues and tango come from the exact same source, such that the introduction of US rock to Argentina in the 1960s was more of a re-introduction than an importation. The bandoleón on Spinetta’s mid-70s albums with Invisible is perfectly at home there. Major Tom was floating in space, but Capitán Beto was floating above Buenos Aires. Tell my wife I love River Plate… she knows!

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post, which isn’t Spinetta or Capitán Beto, but Zbigniew. There is such a natural elegance to Namyslowski’s Kujawiak Goes Funky, that is at once surprising and perfectly simple to explain. The album takes jazz fusion and fuses it back with the roots of jazz (one of its roots, at least) in klezmer and central European folk forms. You could do the same with tango and milonga. As if we had almost forgotten that dialogue (sometimes argument, sometimes war strategy) that began once people started flooding into cities (New York City, Buenos Aires), whether on trans-Atlantic boats or on their bare feet.

All these words to say (BANG!)… why don’t we just STFU and listen…

Canine Structure

I recently re-read Jakobson’s “Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” for my graduate seminar. This is one of those intro to theory and methodology courses required for first-year students, which causes you to re-read items you haven’t re-read since the times (probably first-year graduate school) you thought they were particularly important to re-read. I’ve always had an affinity for Jakobson, and once upon a time I actually cited the aphasia essay in an article I wrote comparing Brasília and LA. By this point, though, today I mean, I’d rather sit down with him, Roman Jakobson that is, open a bottle of vodka and chat for a while, rather than analyze his structuralism yet again. Either way, I render Jakobson aphasic:  in the former hypothetical case, Jakobson would be unable to replicate himself as “Jakobson” within another object, another theory, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”  In the latter hypothetical case, some “Jakobson,” far-away and now dead, only speaks to us only by means of a disembodied object, some disembodied article of theory, and we can call this the “continuity disorder.”

But this is not my point here. In between blog-posts, and truth be told, in between everything I do, I spend time with my dogs. And truth be told again, I really do whatever it is I do in between spending time with my dogs and not the other way around. And I’ll leave it for you to figure out how this last reversal of predicates works, before I start telling any more truths again.

The younger of the two, Teo (full name: Teofil Woloszynski-Read), has an unusual affinity for items of clothing, an affinity bordering on a fetish. He’s just barely old enough to be left alone when I’m out of the house. He no longer chews things up, he is certainly house-trained, and though he’s exceedingly happy when I come home, he does not appear to suffer any separation anxiety when I’m gone. He will, however, latch on to any piece of clothing he can find. Socks are his favorite. If he finds his way into my dressing room, or into the dirty-clothes hamper in the bathroom, he’ll snatch a pair with incredible speed and stealth. Oftentimes when I’m cleaning, I’ll find pairs of socks in some strange corner of the kitchen, lodged between the refrigerator and the cabinet, or in the living room behind one of the stereo speakers. We can call this misplacement of socks the “continuity disorder.” And other times, I’ll grab one sock to wear, but I can’t find the other. Indeed, the number of socks that have lost their twins over the past year since I’ve had Teo is alarming. I almost have as many singles as I do doubles, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”

Teo steals to feed his fetish, but he is a careful thief indeed. He doesn’t chew on socks or sandals or shoes — his fetish tends toward the lower extremities rather than the torso or head. He doesn’t gnaw on them or put holes in them. He usually just keeps whatever it is he’s purloined on his front paws, holding it close to his snout while he sleeps. Recently — and this is odd — he’s taken to stealing a terry-cloth glove I keep by the sliding door leading to the backyard. The glove was designed specifically for rubbing dirty paws, cleaning the mud off of them when the pups come back inside, before they can track mud all over the house. They track mud and dirt all over the house anyway, but this glove is rather ingenious. The glove has six-fingers. And while you might think that this was thoughtful of the manufacturer, taking into consideration those consumers with genetic abnormalities, you would be wrong. The glove has two opposable thumbs, thus discounting your theory of genetic abnormality, since our six-fingered fellow humans typically have an extra pinky, but never an extra thumb. Everyone knows this to be true. In fact, thanks to the wonders of global capitalism, I can now go online and shop around hundreds of stores for the cheapest price on a piece of towel (80% polyester, 20% polyamide) assembled in Korea and cut-and-sewn into the shape of a mutant six-fingered and two-thumbed hand. Two thumbs so that it can be worn on either hand, wear it on the right leaving the rightmost thumb empty or flipping it over onto the left hand leaving the leftmost thumb empty, left or right, right or left, and left or right again, capitalism at its ambidextrous and bisexual best. We could call this disorder the “commodity fetish,” but I am writing here about Roman Jakobson and not Karl Marx — a Russian and not a German or a Korean.  Although technically, Teo is a German shorthaired pointer with a Polish name.

Teo has taken to this mutant glove like a mutant to a mutant glove. He’ll fish it out of the little basket that I fill with old towels and rags in my vainglorious/quixotic quest to prevent mud and dirt from entering the house. But Teo — and this odd — never pulls out any of the old towels or rags, just the mutant glove. You see, Teo needs something that has been physically connected to my body. It seems to give him comfort during those times he can’t actually sniff my body directly. We can call this the “continuity disorder.” Or perhaps the “similarity disorder.” It’s so hard to keep those two apart in my mind.

My older dog, Ziggy (full name: Zygmunt Woloszynski-Read), has several other disorders that could be named, too. He’s a dog, after all, and part of canine being is being disorderly. One need only look at the numerous muddy paw prints all over my floors to bear witness to this supreme fact. But no need to start diagnosing Ziggy now and naming all his disorders. After all, this is a blog-post about Roman. Not Lacan.


Dear Blog of Mine,

I haven’t been attending to you and writing about my work lately, since I’ve just been doing my work. But the least I could do for you, dear blog, is tell you what I’ve listening to while writing.  Today is the amazing eponymous first album by Invisible from 1975, featuring Machi Rufino on bass, Pomo Lorenzo on drums, and of course, Luis Alberto Spinetta on everything else. Definitely “on” everything else.

Enjoy. At very loud volumes, please.