Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Obscure, Coded and Alchemical Texts: Part 6

Islamic Terrorists (and Others with a Gripe)
My never-quenched thirst for reading the weird, grotesque and esoteric led me recently to an increasingly morbid and fascinating perusal of Extreme Islam: Anti-American Propaganda of Muslim Fundamentalism, edited by Adam Parfrey, copyright 2001. In his Introduction, Parfrey writes:

I must confess that I love Islamic propaganda. After putting my hands on a bound volume of Iran's English-language Echo of Islam magazines, so full of remarkable posters, including those making Jimmy Carter look like the veritable Antichrist, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to locate similar material. It's damned hard to find. Hardly anyone I knew possesses it. Americans would do well to study the arguments of those who despise us rather than parading around in a patriotic haze. Fearing that opposition propaganda is riddled with secret code unnecessarily gives it a lot more power. - p.viii

One: I'm like Parfrey in that I get a thrill (mine seems sort of related to Walter Mitty) in reading ghastly stuff like the Echo of Islam he describes...and the material he uses for Extreme Islam. Two: I heartily agree with him that Americans really ought to find out for themselves "why they hate us." Allowing the corporate media to do your work for you just will not do in this case. Sorry. Get thee to a public library. Maybe read about the history of the CIA for starters. Three: I both agree and disagree with the fear of codes in propaganda, and here's why: unless you're a hotshot and well-paid student of steganography (which I'll cover in some future blogspewage on "codes"), all you can do is worry, knowing how easy it is to hide messages in "plain sight." But really: your library studies (ever checked out any books by ex-State Dept guy William Blum?) should be quite enough info for you vis a vis why "they" hate us, and for your amphetamine-like desire for a paranoia when there's a good one to be had...

Brief Note on Writing Under Italian Fascism
In Umberto Eco's wonderfully provocative and informative essay "Ur-Fascism," originally published in English in the New York Review of Books in 1995 (with the Oklahoma City bombing fresh in mind), then later collected in Five Moral Pieces, he recalls his boyhood in Italy:

In 1942, when I was ten, I won the first prize at the Ludi Juveniles, a compulsory open competition for all young Italian fascists -- that is to say, for all young Italians. I had written a virtuoso piece of rhetoric in response to the essay title "Should We Die for the Glory of Mussolini and the Immortal Destiny of Italy?" My answer was in the affirmative. I was a smart kid. - p.65, Five Moral Pieces

                                                     Umberto Eco (b.1932) Novelist, semiotician, always in Top 10 lists
                                                     for greatest public intellectual in the West

(A brief digression and explication on fascism now, as the OG has dared to say that Unistat "is fascist" in polite conversation, always having to explain himself. I usually make the point that Mussolini defined his fascism as the "corporate state," that he thought corporations and the rich ought to be able to do anything they want while not paying taxes, that labor unions should be demonized and smashed, and the proles should be entertained by parades, games, spectacles and nationalistic extravaganzas. In this sense, both Unistatian parties engage in a lot of fascistic behavior, but I consider the Republican Party in 2011 as pretty thoroughly fascist. At any rate, does any of the Italian stuff sound familiar, Unistatians? -the OG)

Eco takes us on a tour of the varieties of fascist experience in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. He makes an interesting point about the word "fascism," relating it Wittgenstein's brilliant riffs on "games." In Eco's adumbrations of the different fascisms in England, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Norway, Spain, Portugal, South American, Germany, Italy, etc: let's assume fascist country 1 is characterized by {a,b,c}, while fascist country 2 is characterized as {b,c,d}. 3 is {c,d,e}, 4 is {d,e,f}, and so on. Countries 1 and 2 share {b,c}, while countries 1 and 3 are still linked with the same characteristic of {c}. 2 and 4 are similar to 3 for the same reason. 4 would seem to be something different from 1, but "because of the uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between 1 and 4, there remains, by virtue of a sort of illusory transitiveness, a sense of kinship between 4 and 1." p.77, ibid

Back to our theme: Eco notes that university students were encouraged to join intellectual clubs, as the cradle of fascistic futurism in Italy. New ideas circulated promiscuously, and if they weren't fascistic ideas, party officials lacked the hardened facility of the young intellectuals, and couldn't tell what was going on. The terms were opaque. Eco writes about the two decades of Italian fascism: "The poetry of the so-called hermetic school represented a reaction to the pompous style of the regime. These poets were allowed to elaborate their literary protest from inside the ivory tower. The sentiments of the hermetic poets were exactly the opposite of the Fascist cult of optimism and heroism. The regime tolerated this overt, albeit socially imperceptible dissent, because it did not pay sufficient attention to such obscure jargon." - p. 75, ibid.

Jeez. Can we find any similar instances (I am not saying Unsitat is exactly like any previous fascism!) in our recent history? I'm looking at YOU, you thousands of impenetrable post-structuralists and Derrida knock-offs with PhDs! There are many more examples, but let us move on...

John Milton
Not only Milton, but scads of writers of a fairly hard-edged puritannical Protestant worldview, and here we're talking about sexuality. From Paradise Lost:

Hail wedded love, mysterious Law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propertie,
In Paradise of all things common else.
By thee adulterous lust was driv'n from men
Among the bestial herds to range...

Yea John. You keep telling yourself that.

Here's perhaps the most glaring "secret" in social networks today: increasingly, study after study after research after study strongly suggests humans are not fit for monogamy. Some people can get married and stay that way for 50 years, neither one "cheating," or as biologists who study mating behavior among mammals call it, EPCs, or extra-pair copulations. But it's pretty darned rare. We stray, statistically...and sexually.

There is no end in citing texts (like Milton here) or of texts that lay out the strong argument that humans are not all that good at monogamy, because we're probably not wired very tightly for it. We're not as promiscuous as our cousins the bonobos, but some of us sure seem like we're trying.

And the most fascinating text I've seen on this subject is The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton. Barash has a PhDin Zoology and teaches Psychology at the University of Washington, and he's one of the best public intellectuals in Unistat, in my opinion. Look him up. Lipton has an MD and practices psychiatry. Barash and Lipton are married! What a wonderful book...extremely provocative, and one that can get you in a lot of hot water if you talk about it with the "wrong" friends at the wrong time.

I will end by simply suggesting that anyone who makes a big show about how great marriage is 'cuz it keeps ya "moral" or "on the straight-and-narrow," and that "adulterers" ought to be shamed deserves to be looked at suspiciously, for very solid scientific reasons.


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Synchronistically, my wife and I watched the first four episodes of Homeland last night after I read this piece by David Thomson - http://www.tnr.com/article/film/98710/tinker-tailor-homeland-espionage .

I have reached page 662 of Proust - less than 1600 hundred pages to go. I want to "just say no" to most other texts for the next five months of so I can finally finish this monster.

I read Eco's The Name of the Rose in Italy in 1985 and it blew me away. I hated the movie though. I thought the book talked about how to survive in an age of superstition, and the movie seemed to focus on how one person's prayers always came true. I also loved Eco's short book Postscript to the Name of the Rose. Two lines I remember: "The purpose of a title is to obscure the meaning of the text" and "A novel is a machine for generating interpretations."

Another great post, Dr. J.

PS I wonder what sort of book on the CIA Proust might have written?

michael said...

Stay with the Proust Project. Hotshot young science wiz Jonah Lehrer wrote a book a few years ago called Proust Was A Neuroscientist, which I have yet to read. Lehrer seems a terrific popularizer of the latest neuroscience ideas. The idea of Proust writing on the CIA makes me feel like your poetic juices are flowing well today.

I talked with RAW about Eco's idea of "paranoid overinterpretation," and I got the strong feeling RAW thought Eco had ripped he and Shea off. Eco fascinates me, and the Europeans seem to value their public intellectuals; RAW was, to me, as brilliant but relegated to "fringe" "cult writer" marginalization by the mainstream intellectual kulch in the US, all of which has totally fascinated me as a "problem" to investigate for about 8 yrs now.

I do not know what Homeland is, but I'll read Thomson's link in a minute...Did you see that someone bought Orson's Oscar for $861K recently?

How gratifying to have such a READER as you for my blog! Thanks!