Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mise en abime 

CNN: Student arrested for essay's imaginary violence

Students were told to "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing," according to a copy of the assignment.

According to the complaint, Lee's essay reads in part, "Blood, sex and booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s...t...a...b...puke. So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did."

Officials described the essay as disturbing and inappropriate.

Lee said he was just following the directions.

"In creative writing, you're told to exaggerate," Lee said. "It was supposed to be just junk. ... There definitely is violent content, but they're taking it out of context and making it something it isn't."

I can't really think of a worse assignment--at least, for an 18-year-old U.S. student--than "write whatever comes to your mind." Unless the mind is somehow used, how can what "just comes" to it manifest itself as anything but "just junk"? (Especially when so much actual junk is already aimed at that mind and desperately clamoring to get in?)

But what is CNN if not a great, dim adolescent mind operating under the imperative to mindlessly conduct "information"--i.e., junk? Who are the CNN reporters, analysts, etc., but people working under explicit orders not to think in any way about the sounds coming out of their mouths? In other words: "s...t...a...b...puke."

I don't mean to belittle the value of "automatic writing" in the avant-garde literary tradition. I also don't mean for the CNN/teen analogy to be taken too seriously, since it seems as though Lee is, at least by some measures, quite intelligent.

Update: josh r draws our attention to a piece of information from that article which, when I read it, must have seemed too baffling and disturbing for my mind to assimilate:

Defense attorney Dane Loizzo said Allen Lee has never been disciplined in school and signed Marine enlistment papers last week.

Are we to suppose that Lee had signed enlistment papers before he completed this "assignment"? If so, I guess it sort of explains the state his "mind" would have been in when "whatever comes" just "came."


Friday, April 27, 2007

Blood, Vomit, Shit 

We live in a sick, sick, sick, sick culture.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Church of Satan: Faith in System = Faith in Heaven 

Atrios links to a good article at Espn.com about the Pat Tillman morass. I have highlighted a key section, in which the commanding officer who may have been partially culpable for Tillman's death suggests that the Tillman family's unhappiness with the army's obfuscation is a result of their lack of Christian faith.

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November
2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother
and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died,
objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a
repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the
United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley
in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings
of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in
their lives.

In an interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich said: "When you die,
I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that.
So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by ESPN.com whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, "You know what? I don't think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don't know. Maybe they want to see somebody's head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can't bring their son back."

Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, who played a role in writing the recommendation for Tillman's posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman's death. That investigation is among the inquiries that didn't satisfy the Tillman family.

"Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we're
not Christians, and the reason that we can't put Pat to rest is because we're
not Christians," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, said in an interview with ESPN.com.
Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe
in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion. "Oh, it has
nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady," she said
sarcastically, "But it is because we are not Christians."

After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, "Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very
humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything
those [people] are, he wasn't."

This shows very clearly how fucked up the whole political-religious situation is in the U.S. It is one thing to hold onto a literalistic belief in heaven, as a place that makes everything happy after you die. Serious theologians do not believe in this sort of heaven; language used about the afterlife has to be understood as having a different sort of reference than language used about this life. How could it not? A theologian might say that such language is both true and metaphorical at once.

But in any case, a literalistic belief in a happy place after death is common enough, and has always been part of popular Christianity. The belief has dangerous implications--it can lead to quietism, accepting this life in expectation of the next, as Marx argued. It can also give the believer real courage; he may decide that certain compromises with evil cannot be made in this life, because the next is infinitely more important. That is why there have been, throughout the history of Christianity, acts of unthinkable bravery and martyrdom (which means "witnessing" in Greek) performed in the name of a justice that transcends the merely civil order of this world.

Anyway, my point does not concern the equivocal ethical implications of belief in the afterlife. What is remarkable about Kauzlarich's conception of "faith" is that it identifies faith in the afterlife with "faith" in "the system" (meaning state-manufactured death-as-entertainment). American "Christians" don't even have the minimal fortitude required to say that even though things aren't good in this world, the oppressed should pipe down because they will be repaid after death. This sort of false hope requires at least a brief, glimmering awareness of present reality, before it is accepted, or ignored, in light of putative heavenly reward.

This awareness is far too much for Kauzlarich. His "faith" is so completely negative that he can't even come up with the mere idea of something better (not even a cartoon image of "paradise"--to hope for this would be to make some sort of distinction between present and future, between this "system" and some other). His "faith" is simply total mental shutdown. What happens now is the afterlife; "faith" is, without any modulation, submission--and the attendant perpetuation of thoughtless mechanical functioning.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Amid the U.S. news media coverage of Yeltsin's death (NYT: "Boris N. Yeltsin, who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union to become the first freely elected leader of Russia, has died..."), it might be worth taking a look at Perry Anderson's sobering article, "Russia's Managed Democracy," from the London Review of Books. The focus is mainly on Putin and the fate of Russian liberalism (and/or neo-liberalism) since 1991. An excerpt regarding Yeltsin:

The political system put together since Yeltsin’s departure is a similar mixture of novelty and continuity. It is now de rigueur for Western journalists – even the most ardent boosters of business opportunities in the New Russia, or the humblest spaniels of New Labour, anxious not to smudge Blair’s friendship with Putin (two roles that are not always distinct) – to deplore the muzzling of the media, the neutering of parliament and the decline of political freedoms under Putin. These realities, however, all have their origins under Yeltsin, whose illegalities were much starker. No act of Putin’s compares with the bombardment of the parliament by tanks, or the fraudulent referendum that ensued, imposing the autocratic constitution under which Russia continues to be ruled. Yet because Yeltsin was considered a pliable, even if somewhat disreputable utensil of Western policies, the first action was applauded and the second ignored by virtually every foreign correspondent of the time. Nor was there much criticism of the brazen manipulation of press and television, controlled by the oligarchs, to engineer Yeltsin’s re-election. Still less was any attention paid to what was happening within the machinery of state itself. Far from the demise of the USSR reducing the number of Russian functionaries, the bureaucracy had – few post-Communist facts are more arresting – actually doubled in size by the end of Yeltsin’s stewardship, to some 1.3 million. Not only that. At the topmost levels of the regime, the proportion of officials drawn from the security services or armed forces soared above their modest quotas under the late CPSU: composing a mere 5 per cent under Gorbachev, it has been calculated that they occupied no less than 47 per cent of the highest posts under Yeltsin.

Serviceable though much of this was for any ruler, it remained a ramshackle inheritance. Putin has tightened and centralised it into a more coherent structure of power. In possession of voter confidence, he has not needed to shell deputies or forge plebiscites. But to meet any eventuality, the instruments of coercion and intimidation have been strengthened. The budget of the FSB – the post-Communist successor to the KGB – has trebled, and the number of positions in the federal administration held by personnel brigaded from security backgrounds has continued to rise. Over half of Russia’s key power-holders now come from its repressive apparatuses. In jovial spirit, Putin allowed himself to quip to fellow veterans in the Lubyanka: ‘Comrades, our strategic mission is accomplished – we have seized power.’


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