December 30, 2005
# Chomsky on Nation States

Chomsky's view of the nation-state system (from this recent interview) is pretty interesting.

* * *

Can you talk a little bit about imposing the nation-state system with violence and war?

Murderous savagery. I mean, the European history is an example. Take a look at the populations of Europe, very diverse. There are a lot of concerns now about what are called endangered languages, indigenous languages disappearing. And it's serious. But probably the greatest loss of languages in the last century is right inside Europe. I mean, what we call Italian, most Italians didn't speak, had to learn a second language if you learned the real one. Same with Germany, same with France, a little bit further back. And that's a reflection of the diversity of cultures and so on, which you find almost everywhere in the world. I mean, you don't find it in the United States, but there's a simple reason for that. The English colonist just wiped everybody out. Okay, you don't get diversity. You have what amounts to genocide, okay: no diversity. But in societies where you didn't have mass extermination, there are complex regional, local identities and associations which you just can't draw lines around it. So to impose that nation-state system did lead to centuries of murderous violence.

In fact, it was that murderous violence that gave Europe it's comparative advantage. Europe had developed a culture of savagery which was unknown in the rest of the world. When the Europeans then started expanding, they weren't really winning wars on the base of their military superiority, but on the base of savagery, which others didn't know how to face. In fact, if you look at military historians, they point out, British ones, main ones, they said well, for the rest of the world war was a sport, for Europe it was a science. And yes, they conquered much of the world, and attempted to impose a nation-state system on it. And you take a look at most of the horrible wars today, they are the results of the drawing of colonial boundaries in an effort to impose the nation-state system. It has almost nothing to do with people's interests and associations and commitments.

Actually Europe itself is beginning to recognize this, and it's moving towards a kind of devolution. So in Spain, for example, Catalonia, a vast country, and pretty soon others are going to have a fair degree of autonomy, with their own languages and some degree of local control. In Wales and Scotland there's a degree of devolution in the languages. Not in Scotland, but in Wales the language is pretty much recovered. It's a very unnatural system.

In fact the natural system, though nobody likes to hear, is the Ottoman Empire. I mean, the Ottoman Empire was corrupt and brutal, and nobody wants to restore that, but they more or less left people alone. So if you are in the Greek part of the city the Greeks run it, and if you are in the Armenian part the Armenians run it. You don't have to travel pass two border posts when you go from Istanbul to Cairo to Baghdad. It was just a loose, complex, regional system with a rather high level of local control, and for most of the world that's exactly what makes sense. To impose a nation-state system on that, it's going to cause plenty of violence and savagery, and did.

There is a huge amount of historical evidence for it. In fact, the United States itself is an example. There was a nation-state system imposed, a pretty homogenous one, but it was imposed by eliminating an enormous diversity of rather highly developed societies. I mean, it was pretended they were hunter-gatherers wondering around the woods, but we know that that wasn't true. And [by] conquering half of Mexico, and settling it with the European colonists. Yeah, that way you can impose a nation-state, but we don't call it violence because we did it, you know. But take a look at the victims, they have a different picture.

posted by dru
July 07, 2005
# My new favourite word..., at least for the moment, floccinaucinihilipilification.

posted by dru
November 10, 2004
# From Wittgenstein's On Certainty

Two paragraphs from Ludwig Wittgenstein's On Certainty, which he wrote in the last two years of his life. A translation is also available online in its entirety.

* * *

185. It would strike me as ridiculous to want to doubt the existence of Napoleon; but if someone doubted the existence of the earth 150 years ago, perhaps I should be more willing to listen, for now he [sic] is doubting our whole system of evidence. It does not strike me as if this system were more certain than a certainty within it.


676. "But even if in such cases I can't be mistaken, isn't it possible that I am drugged?" If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says "I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream "it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

posted by dru
# Against Interpretation

From Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation:

And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call "form" is separated off from something we have learned to call "content," and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory.

Even in modern times, when most artists and critics have discarded the theory of art as representation of an outer reality in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression, the main feature of the mimetic theory persists. Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first. The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it's usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. ("What X is saying is. . ., " "What X is trying to say is . . .," "What X said is . . ." etc., etc.)

posted by dru
November 11, 2003
# Foucault on what intellectuals do

From an interview with Michel Foucault, quoted on pages 317-18 of David Macey's The Lives of Michel Foucault

* * *

The workers don't need intellectuals to tell them what they are doing; they know perfectly well what they are doing. In my view, the intellectual is the guy who is plugged in to the information network, not the production network. He can make his voice heard. He can write in the newspapers, give his point of view. He is also plugged into an older information network. He has the knowledge acquired by reading a certain number of books, knowledge which other people do not have at their direct disposal. His role is therefore not to shape a working-class consciousness, as that consciousness already exists, but to allow that consciousness, that working class knowledge, to enter the information system... The intellectual's knowledge is always partial compared to working-class knowledge. What we know about the history of French society is very partial, compared to the massive experience that the working class has.

posted by dru
August 20, 2003
# John Ralston Saul

The following series of excerpts are taken from The Unconscious Civilization, a series of lectures by Canadian philosopher and writer John Ralston Saul.

The most powerful force possessed by the individual is her own government. Or governments, because a multiplicity of levels means a multiplicity of strengths. The individual has no other large organized mechanism that he can call his own. Theres are other mechanisms, but the reduce the citizen to the status of a subject. Government is the only organized mechanism that makes possible that level of shared disinterest known as the public good. Without this greater interest the individual is reduced to a lesser, narrower being limited to immediate needs. He will then be subject to other, larger forces, which is necesarily come forward to fill the void left by the withering of the public good. Those forces will fill it with some other directing interest that will serve their purposes, not the larger purposes of the citizen. It would be naive to blame them for occupying abandoned territory. (p. 76)

* * *

People ask: what kind of government? How much government? I think the primary question is: whose government? If individuals do not occupy their legitimate position, then it will be occupied by a God or a king or a coalition of interest groups. If citizens do not exercise the powers conferred by their legitimacy, others will do so. (p. 78)

* * *

The corporatist idea that elected representatives are merely representing interests has led them to apply pressure directly on the politicians. The result has been a remarkable growth of the lobbying industry, which has as its sole purpose the conversion of elected representatives and senior civil servants to the particular interest of the lobbyist. That is, lobbyists are in the business of corrupting the people's representatives away from the public good. (p. 97)

* * *

Virtually every politician portrayed in film or on television over the last decade has been venal, corrupt, opportunistic, cynical, if not worse. Whether these dramatized images are accurate or exaggerated matters little. The corporatist system wins either way: directly through corruption and indirectly through the damage done to the citizen's respect for the representative system. (p. 99)

* * *

posted by dru
July 15, 2003
# From Martin Heidegger's Letter on Humanism

[The following are three excerpts from Martin Heidegger's Letter on Humanism]

Absolute metaphysics, with its Marxian and Nietzschean inversions, belongs to the history of the truth of being. Whatever stems from it cannot be countered or even cast aside by refutations. It can only be taken up in such a way that its truth is more primordially sheltered in Being itself and removed from the domain of mere human opinion. All refutation in the field of essential thinking is foolish. Strife among thinkers is the "lovers' quarrel" concerning the matter itself. It assists them mutually toward a simple belonging to the Same, from which they find what is fitting for them in the destiny of Being. (p. 239, Basic Works)

posted by dru
July 07, 2003
# Jonathan Franzen on gender relations

(All this is from a novel and lacking its original context; this changes the meaning quite a bit.)

From Strong Motion, a novel by Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1992.

p. 263

She was finishing her thesis when Claudia informed her, in a two-line postcard, that she had married her old boyfriend at the Istituto Nazionale.

Renée was amazed by how betrayed she felt. She couldn't bring herself to write to Claudia again, and the months went by and Claudia didn't write either. What hurt was knowing that she wasn't jealous of the man for having Claudia but of Claudia because she had a man. This, and knowing what a difference it made that she was a female.

She was sure that if it had been a case of René and Claudio, good heterosexual friends, René wouldn't have felt so betrayed. Men who'd gotten married or found girlfriends didn't drift away from their single male friends, at least not as often as women did. Obviously, men were nobler spirits than women. It came of belonging to the default gender. If both men and women considered their relationships with men inviolable, then men inevitably remained true to their gender while women, equally inevitably, betrayed their own. Men's moral superiority was structurally guaranteed.

However, Renée did not wish she were a man.

posted by dru
June 28, 2003
# About Excerpt

As you've likely noticed, I have started a new category on misnomer: "excerpt". I hope to use it to post passages from books that I read, at least once a week.

A few of my reasons for doing this:

  • Sometimes it seems that the worlds of online text and that of books are more divided than they should be.
  • I find much of what I read in books to be more substantial or fundamentally interesting than what I read online; this may say more about my online reading habits than anything, but I nonetheless find it to be the case.
  • When I look for information about a book, I am delighted to be able to read a part of it, however small (as opposed to reading endless reviews, of it, say)
  • I find the passage to be delightful, thought-provoking, true, useful, or about something that I'd like to think more about.
  • Because I want to be able to come back and read about was interested in ten years ago.

Hopefully that will be enough to keep me motivated to spend ten minutes typing someone elses' words once a week.

posted by dru
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# From Difference and Repetition, by Gilles Deleuze

page 5:

"If repetition is possible, it is as much opposed to moral law as it is to natural law. There are two known ways to overturn moral law. One is by ascending towards the principles: challenging a law as secondary, derived, borrowed or 'general'; denouncing it as involving a second-hand principle which diverts an original force or usurps an original power. The other way, by contrast, is to overturn the law by descending towards the consequences, to which one submits with a too-perfect attention to detail. By adopting the law, a falsely submissive soul manages to evade it and to taste pleasures it was supposed to forbid. We can see this in demonstration by asbsurdity and working to rule, but also in some forms of masochistic behaviour which mock by submission. The first way of overturning the law is ironic, where irony appears as an art of principles, of ascent towards the principles and of overturning principles. The second is humour, which is an art of consequences and descents, of suspensions and falls. Must we understand that repetition appears in both this suspense and this ascent, as though existence recommenced and 'reiterated' itself once it is no longer constrained by laws? Repetition belongs to humour and irony; it is by nature transgression or exception, always revealing a singularity opposed to the particulars subsumed under laws, a universal opposed to the generalities which give rise to laws."

posted by dru