Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, 16:00, Moscow time
The lecture will be held in a zoom conference format Lecture broadcast at the link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82759966444? pwd=Zm8xWlN5UXEyd2U5SE9MdDI4eXR1UT09 Conference ID: 827 5996 6444 Access code: 040733
If one could think the Dionysian in music, what would that be like? What would that sound like? Better still: who would that be?
Nietzsche tells us in a book, starting with the very first section through to the end of The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music.
He tells us that the Dionysian — via Schiller, who wrote the words, but also via Schiller’s theory of ancient tragedy — is Beethoven. The Beethoven of the symphonies, not his string quartets and not the Beethoven of The Creatures of Prometheus. Yet the little vignette Nietzsche pays for out of pocket, commissioning Prometheus unbound, liberated from his manacles with his tormenting vulture shattered and broken on the rocks, can make us wonder.
In fact, Nietzsche quotes Goethe’s creative verses on Prometheus, the titan who steals the human-forming thunder of Genesis, not least because Homer gets there first, with Prometheus forming humanity out of clay.
Nietzsche starts as musically verbatim as possible, quoting The Ninth Symphony, the choral ode, all to go on to play with the spur, the thorn, the edge of dissonance.
Elsewhere, in The Hallelujah Effect, I revisit Adrienne Rich’s reflection on the protracted endurance of dissonance, The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven Understood at Last as a Sexual Message, like a rapist, so the cultural musicologists said. Her poem makes her point plain, had that been her purpose (it was not, not quite), his would be another name to add to a list of the cancelled. There are already so many names on the list, all of them, arguably, with reason.
And the connection, the same, we find in Nietzsche’s extended praise for Archilochus, the self-avowed rapist of antiquity, difficult to comprehend no matter how much care scholars care to give it, not that they usually do. In the book they wrote, Nietzsche on Tragedy, Silk and Stern can make neither head nor tails of Archilochus: it is Nietzsche who has to be wrong. Classicists continue to make the same claim for their own reasons but still it got under their skins — ‘Nothing to do With Dionysus’ even when they were writing about neither Nietzsche nor Archilochus.
But the Dionysian in music: could it be Hallelujah? Hard to argue, no matter how it’s sung and no matter who sings it, k.d lang or Bob Dylan.
Here is the question of sex appeal and preference in music is less for the song sung than for the one who looks the part: this, Nietzsche tells us, is the Apollinian. In the case of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, that’s not Cohen himself but Jeff Buckley — after all these years.
Similarly there’s gotta be a looker for rock and roll.
In search of a modern Prometheus, a modern Beethoven, candidates of choice will be all about public taste, popular, that is: vulgar eros. The Dionysus of choice is not via Nietzsche’s Dionysus book, even if these days, waiting for an update, we are ready for relevance. We still need a text, a record or an album cover, a video frozen in time.
Riders on the Storm. Cue the Doors, they covered Dionysus.
Jim Morrison looks the part. College educated, smart as fuck: and he had the decency, not too, too unlike Mozart, to die young.
Nietzsche scholars along with students of 19th Century Music in Comp Lit, cast their vote before they read anything at all about the Dionysian, sparing them the Archilochus problem. Archilochus, the name is already a syllabic choker: who was he? Didn’t he talk too much about himself, lyric poet, I poet, and was he not, on his own account, a literal rapist, ‘howling from the climacteric,’ as Rich wrote of Beethoven? No metaphors for Archilochus, so he insists, writing his lyric to tell us, with rhythm too, so we believe it? One cannot quote Archilochus without shuddering, awful man, nasty man, vile, technically impotent as he smoothly informs us, praecox, or it would have been worse. Like the current narrative about vaccine injuries: how it could be worse is unclear. Archilochus tells us that because of his song, three at one blow, the daughters along with their father, Lycambes, hung themselves rather than bear the shame of his word.
As for me, I still hold a torch for Morrison. Beauty’s beauty.
Morrison is not the god of sex and drugs, didn’t Steinman write drums? that’s rhythm, and rock and roll? It wasn’t Sid Vicious, nomen est omen, or various Ramones, but it was, odd and dissonant, Meat Loaf, of all things, and he didn’t write the songs.
Jim Steinman (1947-2021), who died last April and never stopped being an Amherst undergrad, wrote the songs. That’s the point when it comes to Dionysus. The lyric is no personal confession, you learn nothing about the man when you hear the song sung: it’s a drama the singer inhabits, just as Nietzsche tells us that in any Greek tragedy there is only one actor on stage, however many actors are on stage, including the chorus, everyone, everybody, even the audience.
Meat Loaf is as unlikely as Archilochus, basically oafish, offensive and harmless and harmful, lustful and sweaty and messy, way messy. Uncanny vocal register, between male and female.
Like the god of wine.
Meat Loaf, a jock from Dallas, Texas who played football in high school and college, would have brushed that off. Should have been, so he tells us: Roger Daltrey, who, along with the young Brian May, looked the part. Taller too.
And at the same time, Meat Loaf easily, off-hand, as it goes without saying, claimed the crown for himself: sex-god.
One should think about that because the song sung, the way he sang it, made Steinman’s song work — and otherwise not — I would do anything for love,* resurrecting their top selling album in a line: I’drun right into hell and back.
Now Steinman wrote opera — Wagner never dies — and said so. And part of what Steinman wrote and Meat Loaf sang is myth, in this case, the myth of Orpheus.
There is a power in doubling metonymy: Orpheus, the original myth of the myth, who did and did not — and this is the way of all love songs — retrieve his beloved from hell. After finding the way to Eurydice, Gluck also tells us this in his opera, and almost bringing her back, before Orpheus yielded to the one ‘no’ he needed to remember, to keep as sacred vow, a pact he would not break, that’s a fact, until he broke it: I won’t do that, as he had assured himself and Hades, part of his pitch.
But you never don’t do the thing, the one thing, you must not do. Afterwards, if you don’t die, you live a broken life as Orpheus was thereafter broken until the Thracian women found him and gave his body in pieces — the original corps morcelé, after the Dionysian original, baby Zagreus — to the river. Milton catches that, as When, by the rout that made the hideous roar, / His gory visage down the stream was sent, / Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore…
I Would Do Anything for Love includes the mysticism of love, caught between the parallel reference to difficulties in life, some days it don’t come easy, and the frustrations of eros, some days it don’t come hard, seemingly a simple variation into clever, moving inside the genius of everyday words, easy turned to hard, and then the erotic point in any case, now a love paean because that’s the song it is: some days it don’t come at all / and these are the days that never end. The song swings in different versions between neutral reference to life and time and personification, so that an unnamed woman might, from night to night, be breathing fire or carved in ice.
But how does one get inside a lyric that sings tantra to the world: no mysticism, just earnest admission, an admission that happens to be the height of love, of eros, mystic union, paradise by any light?
This is not about prowess, this is admitting the impossible to replicate wonder of connection, love, that most love songs, most memories simply pass over: But — and one needs the conjoined connector for this — I’ll never do it better than I do it with you, there is a pause, a breath, so long, so long. In various videos singing this, sometimes, Meat Loaf’s eyes are closed, but the audio alone makes it clear.
When the operatic vision turns, as opera must, to a duet, there is the small town vision of the woman’s voice, like Archilochus’ lyric, opera is misogyny or it is nothing, and she asks, in the touchingly simple faith of women, the Gretchens as Nietzsche teased, if her suitor can or cannot bring this or that to a proposed tryst, Can youget me out of this godforsaken town, turns into pure relief, is that all you want: Oh I can do that. As the song goes, it turns out that women already know the tune, cannier in such exchanges than they seem, asking the world and already guessing, Cassandra like, the apocalypse: we all fall down and we all turn to dust. The lyrics are malleable, does she sing we’ll all fall? ashes, ashes, we all fall down: dust to dust?
Meat Loaf died in Nashville on the 20th of January 2022. The year matters because of the state of the world given over to the terror of the very idea of a possible death from just one thing, one virus, as if that were or could ever be the only way to die. Thus, as he died he was mocked for having the misfortune to die at all, heaven forbid, bless his soul, after speaking out on the wrong side of mandates and restrictions. Of the many things he happened to have died from, he was rebuked for testing positive for — because that’s all it takes — before ‘immediately,’ dying from Covid.
In truth at 74, the aging rock star, old man as he was, was some fraction of two years older than the average age to which an average man might live, these days. Certainly, to think as actuaries do: he was twenty years older than his parents had been when they died.
Like an elderly lady who cannot stop dying her hair jet, jet black — or wearing high heels — ‘underlying conditions’ are a life-time coming. Meat Loaf who eagerly told every interviewer who, just as visibly, did not care to listen, had cancer after cancer, crippling back troubles (someone should encourage people to steer clear of the surgery that does nothing for them, crippling the victims and the doctors who recommend it should quit, but there’s money in it and sick people can’t complain). His was a chronicled decline. In 2000, Meat Loaf’s life story was a made-for-TV documentary, with someone else playing the part, singing his songs for copyright reasons but not less because he was too old to play himself, already, twenty-two years ago.
Rock stars, sex-gods, do not have a long half-life.
For many years, this man could not walk unassisted, suffered illnesses of various kinds, stress of various kinds, two or three strokes, and the other things that come with getting older. Age is a thief and, when it is not sudden, death is cut by cut: loss after loss after loss, until at the very end, sick with desire, as Yeats teaches, a tattered coat upon a stick, as Shakespeare taught him to say, sans everything.
To settle these many depredations as injuries bring one to one’s final downward journey, to reduce all that to just one thing is prevarication. And this new disease, Covid? As was made perfectly clear from the beginning of the pandemic and the new world order: any illness, any possible way that one might die, to remember another of Cohen’s songs, who by fire, who by water, or, indeed as this would hold for sex-god rock stars, who inthese realms of love, any and all of these ways can be ascribed to Covid, as for two years now, they do do that.
This old man, who had been old to himself — and everyone else: it is never a secret — since his fifties, dying on camera as stars do, on social media, for the past few years, who pulled himself together to give interviews to interviewers looking for a headline and not for the details he gave them as old people will, just to say this again, tell you details until you turn away, a man who kept trying, and who would in death, on the day itself, be mocked by the cruelty of the crowd he lived for, denounced now not for his looks, as part of what age steals is that: he lost the fat, only to be condemned on the same social platforms that drove the pandemic in the same way from the start.
As for the passing of Marvin Lee Aday, as he was born, Michael as he preferred, and Meat Loaf? That was Archilochus, lyric poet, soldier for hire, as Nietzsche tells us his fate could only be tragic: warlike votary of the muses, who was hunted savagely throughout life.
As Meat Loaf lived, he died: transparent while insisting on his own depth, taking insult bitterly and abandoned to angers, mildly savage, curiously gentle, bemused by theatre and seeking his public to the end.
There is tremendous disquiet all around — enough for a lifetime and a half, lived and unlived. But in this time of crisis, scholars otherwise keen to pick through Heidegger’s Nazi enabling complicity, attuned to what he said or wrote — or failed to say or failed to write — find themselves repeating currently standard government edicts.
We declare that we need more restrictions on personal freedom, not liberty. Longer isolation, not community. In these times of what can only be described as mass hysteria, Giorgio Agamben undertook to public demurral.
Here I take my point of departure from his original essay posted in Italian, on the 26th of February, L’invenzione di un’epidemia, translated into French, German, etc, and then available to be read in English translation online with a number of other posts by other scholars arraigned beneath an excerpt on the plague from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish in an issue/post of The European Journal of Psychoanalysis under the title of “The Invention of an Epidemic.” Agamben’s subsequent clarifying reflections, Chiarimenti, published on March 17 (in English as “Clarifications”) detail responses to criticism of his comments on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Agamben had unpacked (‘The Invention of an Epidemic’) and had then unpacked his unpacking (‘Clarifications’), a careful hermeneut, a thinker of the first order, using official data, official reports, official argumentation a question: given the projected severity of the epidemic, were the measures proposed justified? Agamben’s reflections, as he clarified them in his Chiarimenti, observed:
“The dead — our dead — do not have a right to a funeral and it is not clear what will happen to the bodies of our loved ones. Our neighbor has been cancelled and it is curious that churches remain silent on the subject. What do human relationships become in a country that habituates itself to live in this way for who knows how long? And what is a society that has no value other than survival?”
Things only got worse: the predictions, the responses, the hysteria.
Articles swiftly appeared by scholars emboldened to take him down. The technical term for the practice is ‘scientific mobbing.’ It can be helpful to think about the concept of “academic mobbing,” as explored in discussion by Noah Carl published online in The Economist’s Open Future initiative.
For a discussion of mobbing from the perspective of continental philosophy of science, see my preprint: “Whose Art, Whose Beauty.”
In Agamben’s case, the mobbing was served up as Agamben wrote contra the standard line: challenging the official position. Those who attacked him rarely cared to note that Agamben had only pointed to inconsistencies in the measures consequent to the official position.
No small part of the problem is the idealization of an ideal science imagined as the direct substitute for the word of God. One may not raise a question as epidemiologist, virologist, biochemist, medical doctor, public health expert; one may only repeat the official story. And if one mentions air pollution, including chem trails and their particulate wake, much less bioweapons, certainly not 5G, and so on, one is subject to the same assault, more summary to be sure.
I shared a series of links on Facebook to illustrate some of the challenges of etiology in general and virus infection in particular, including public health, environmental preconditions for aerial/aerosol transmission, masks, etc. Most recently Facebook flagged an April 16, 2020 YouTube announcement by the Nobel prize winning scientist, Luc Montagnier (who discovered the HIV virus) and who pointed out, not solely citing his own work but the work of others as well, that the new “coronavirus SARS-CoV-2” virus had the unmistakable markers of laboratory production not natural mutation, as ‘fact’ checked, verified as ‘false’ news.
Perhaps one may someday argue that in Agamben’s case the range of attacks worked to ‘elevate the tone,’ as Derrida might have intimated, three hours into a lecture, just where such lectures — any lectures at all, the very idea of public space as such, the concept of being together with others — are quickly acquiring the romantic status of the ‘olden days’ in memory and subject today, even if mentioned, to sanction whether by moralizing passersby, neighbors, or police, often with grievous consequences, in ‘real life.’
In any case, on Easter Monday, the 13th of April, Agamben posted in the same locus, Quodlibet, his Domanda. Again translated by Adam Kotsko, this was posted two days later as Giorgio Agamben: A Question.
Social media works by posting and reposting — ‘Facebook Poker’ as I speak of this in The Hallelujah Effect — and among others, when I shared Agamben’s posts on Facebook I was horrified by the angry response of so-named (this is a Facebook rubric) “friends.” Still, I shared other things: videos by virologists, epidemiologists, general medical practioners, and made observations of my own on other topics, gingerly.
Perturbed by the force of critical reaction, I nonetheless again posted Agamben’s Easter Monday post, unpacking it for anyone who might care to follow the thread just because (the carceral term is significant) “lockdown” gives us all the time in the world to read and not less because “lockdown” robs us of focus at the same time.
I started by noting the most difficult part, the part one can read first of all as if it might have been the point of it all: the closing paragraph:
“I know that someone will hasten to respond that we are dealing with a condition that is limited in time, after which everything will return to how it was. It is truly strange that we could repeat this other than in bad faith, since the same authorities that proclaimed the emergency never stop reminding us that when the emergency has been overcome, we will have to continue to observe the same directives and that “social distancing,” as it has been called with a significant euphemism, will be society’s new organizing principle. And, in every case, what we have accepted submitting to, in good or bad faith, cannot be cancelled.”
To understand this as terminus a quo requires a return to the point of departure.
Thus we can repeat Agamben’s questions, there are three, one by one. The first is crucial:
“1. The first point, perhaps the most serious, concerns the bodies of dead persons. How could we have accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that persons who are dear to us and human beings in general should not only die alone, but — something that had never happened before in history, from Antigone to today — that their cadavers should be burned without a funeral [che i loro cadaveri fossero bruciati senza un funerale]?”
Here the issue although directed to the prohibition against visiting the sick and the dying, was critical and classic, concerning the bodies of dead persons. What do we owe the dead?
Throughout, Agamben’s point is that we are not living under fascism: despite the language of ‘burning’ this is no Holocaust nor are we living under a Nazi regime, and, although much of the language encountered on social media is that of war, we are not at war. Much rather, as Agamben writes in his “Clarifications,” “We live in a society that has sacrificed freedom to so-called ‘reasons of security’ and has therefore condemned itself to live in a perennial state of fear and insecurity.” To this extent it is unsurprising
“that for the virus one speaks of war. The emergency measures obligate us in fact to life in conditions of curfew. But a war with an invisible enemy that can lurk in every other person is the most absurd of wars. It is, in reality, a civil war. The enemy is not outside, it is within us.”
The war motif recurs in “Question,” outlined as part of the second question Agamben lists:
“We then accepted without too many problems, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, limiting, to an extent that had never happened before in the history of the country, not even during the Second World War (the curfew during the war was limited to certain hours), our freedom of movement. We consequently accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, de facto suspending our relationships of friendship and love, because our proximity had become a possible source of contagion.”
Note the repetition: Agamben writes with the care of a poet, repeating, for a total of three times, the register of contingent chance, of possibility and the precision of imprecision despite the absence of certainty: “solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify [emphasis added].”
The mantra is key.
What is suspended on the basis of this “risk” that is “not possible” to assess with certainty (the failures of past projections, as the UK journalist Rob Lyons has reported, show the limitations of disease forecasting), is friendship and love, nearness, proximity, excluded utterly to avoid contagion. Freedom of movement is relinquished, affection foresworn and thus, and immediately, we harden ourselves to our loneliness and to that of others.
The third point took Agamben to recall a crucial issue concerning what is at stake in the current treatment of Covid-19 victims, which involves a separation from anything but bare life: most of those who are placed on those ventilators in such high demand, at such high prices, as standard mainstream medical media will inform us, die very much owing to iatrogenic injury: ventilators destroy lung function and even patients who recover suffer lasting lung damage as a result, that is, should they survive the violence of the ventilator intervention.
Thus Ivan Illich wrote of ‘Guarding the Eye in the Age of the Show’ in part against the corruption of our sensibilities via propaganda — Illich did not call Jacques Ellul ‘Master Jacques’ for nothing — but also in terms of “ethical iconology,” contra the sham of life offered by modern medicine which Illich described in his Medical Nemesis, as the ‘expropriation’ of health and life and death (see for discussion in the context of technologized medicine here, video here), described by Agamben as the “greatest of abstractions” in a seemingly surreal but precise expression:
“I know very well that this abstraction was actualized in modern science through apparatuses of reanimation, which can maintain a body in a state of pure vegetative life. But if this condition is extended beyond the spatial and temporal confines that are proper to it, as we are today seeking to do, and it becomes a sort of principle of social behavior, we fall into contradictions from which there is no way out.”
After these three points, Agamben goes on to indict both the church and the law, fit for a political theology, and not less, so I have argued, via the philosophy of science, just in order to raise the question of science as a question quite as Nietzsche says and not less as Heidegger says, echoing Nietzsche’s ascetic ideal, when Heidegger, speaking of modern science and modern technology, reminds us that
“…The Church above all, which, in making itself the handmaid of science, which has now become the true religion of our time, has radically repudiated its most essential principles. The Church, under a Pope who calls himself Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. It has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is that of visiting the sick. It has forgotten that the martyrs teach that we must be prepared to sacrifice our life rather than our faith and that renouncing our neighbor means renouncing faith.”
On Facebook, when I posted this, Shannon Thomas objected, pointing out that: “Francis of Assisi embraced lepers knowing he was not a carrier — he put his own life at risk. Pope Francis asks we keep distance knowing we may be carriers ourselves, and that embracing puts the one embraced in danger.” The observation is a fair one; the problem with this risk-aversive reflection is not only that it misses the point Agamben had sought to make with respect to intimacy and love but that it presupposes the dogma of the carrier, an invisible dogma as the carrier in question is held to contaminate asymptomatically.
The possibilities of suspicion are infinite.
As I argue in “Calling Science Pseudoscience,” at issue is the question of disease and the question of science as such where I engage a range of thinkers and scientists, including Ludwik Fleck, Thomas Kuhn, Peter Duesberg, Richard Lewontin, Martin Heidegger, and Bruno Latour (and Alexander Nehamas). Cf., as a video What is a Disease?
The current agent of contagion is an invisible enemy, and because invisible, because statistics as reported along with testing and confirmation are and will be matters of state decree, a permanent threat, grounds for the very permanent state of exception that had exercised Agamben’s worry.
This is theory, not fact and ruling that uncertain science is certain enough to justify changing the law of every land does not make the science any more scientific if it also does not abrogate the law.
This is Agamben’s worry in his recent post:
“in this case, every limit has been surpassed, and one has the impression that the words of the prime minister and of the head of civil defense, as was said of those of the Führer, immediately have the force of law. And we do not see how, going beyond the temporal limits of validity of the emergency decrees, the limitations of freedom could, as is foretold, be maintained. With what juridical apparatuses? With a permanent state of exception?”
We should worry. But we are, as noted at the outset, agreed in advance, complicit in advance. And as Simone de Beauvoir observed, to the ongoing irritation of feminists of every generation and wave, we are often very well-pleased with ‘the deal,’ party to ‘the deal,’ complicit in ‘the deal,’ this complicity ensures compliance.
Camus’s The Plague is on everyone’s lips, but relevant as well is Camus’ short essay on The Myth of Sisyphus. Key to Camus’ existentialist absurdism is a certain preoccupation with death, and we remember that the theme is omnipresent for the ancient Greeks who had, as many cultures do, a death cult.
We are named for death, thanatoi, mortals. For the Hellenes, our being bound to die as we are, our nature as creatures of a day is key to everything, learning how to live is learning how to die and, of course, of course, we typically learn neither. This failure is fine by them: like other ancient cultures, the ancient Greeks espoused a recycling theory of the soul. We’ll get another chance, badly, as swine or lesser beings, they supposed, and again work our way up to getting the point, after some multiple thousand-year cycle of birth and rebirth.
Only the Judaeo-Christian tradition models its souls on non-recyclable, one-off, one-way bottles. That the last is the tradition of modern science is no accident.
jTo return to Sisyphus, Camus tells us that he had a way with death, and once — shades of Severus Snape’s opening word-promise to teach his students “to put a stopper in death” — managed to put death in chains (I illustrate this in a recent video lecture on Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus) so that Mars/Ares, the god of war had to be dispatched, so Camus tells us, to appease Pluto/Hades aggrieved to find his kingdom empty.
Cavalier as he was toward death, Sisyphus, as he lay dying, instructed his wife to dispense with the rites of the dead and to cast his body into the public square. Which end of life directive she duly followed. When, upon thus finding himself in the underworld, absent the rites due the dead, Camus reports that Sisyphus was “annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love.” And good persuader as Sisyphus was, he was able to talk Pluto/Hades, god of the Underworld into allowing him to return to the Overworld, the world above, the world of the living, ostensibly to reprimand his wife (Pluto/Hades who had his own problems with his own wife was predictably receptive to such a motive). But immediately, once Sisyphus was returned to the land of the living he lost any thought of revenge and simply lived, refusing, as long as ever he could, to return.
Eventually Mercury/Hermes, the collector of souls, would be sent to drag Sisyphus back down to the Underworld, where his “rock was waiting for him.”
If we pay attention to the freedom, the liberty of movement taken from us, we begin to understand the reason the last line of The Myth of Sisyphus urges: “We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Indeed, alone of the souls of the dead, dwelling on the plains of asphodel in the underworld, Sisyphus is allowed to climb mountains: his rock being a major burden — Camus calls him “the proletarian of the gods” — but also the reason he is ‘compelled’ to ascend again and again from the underworld toward the world above, the ‘overworld,’ the world of the living, of which he was so fond.
To repeat Agamben’s most important because uncanny reflection on what Nietzsche called “first and last things,” again: “[h]ow could we have accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that persons who are dear to us and human beings in general should not only die alone, but — something that had never happened before in history, from Antigone to today — that their cadavers should be burned without a funeral?”
Our humanity begins, so certain paleoanthropologists tell us, with burial rites: we are human not because we are wise, but because, and we share this with our hominid relative, h.neanderthalensis, we bury our dead, with care, what Heidegger named ‘Fürsorge,’ that is, with the kind of ritual of which, paleontologists tell us, traces remain over millennia.
Antigone tells us that she is bound to the law [νόμῳ is the word she uses], so she tells Creon, brother of her mother, father of her betrothed, the same Creon who needs her to secure his own claim to lawful rule. The brothers who slew one another fought so bitterly that, Sophocles says, they were unrecognizable in death and so, because “it was not possible to specify” which brother had been loyal to Thebes and which sought to take it by force, a body was chosen to be singled out as Polyneices [Πολυνείκης, famously noted etymologically as meaning ‘manifold strife,’ Empedocles uses the same term for a cosmic cycle of enmity] in order that the cadaver be denied the funeral rites every mortal required for passage to the afterlife. To save her brother from an eternity unmourned, Antigone defied the edict of Creon’s law, at the cost of her life. Love compelled Haemon, Creon’s son to defy his ban, and he, after failing his lunge against his father, turned his own sword on himself.
Those who argue that the two, Creon and Antigone are both right, both following the law as they see it, each by their own lights, are mistaken, although I have found myself in class repeating this conventional interpretation of Sophocles. For everyone knows that Creon follows the law of opportunism: this is what he says in vulgar precision to his son, as he tells him he must forsake Antigone, even as Creon needs to enforce his decree to ensure his regency as law. Antigone follows not only a higher command but the essential command.
Thanatoi as we are, children of a day, mortals, we need those who will mourn us and still more urgently we need to do the same in our turn.
There are those who claim, justifiably so, that the best poem in the English language is a poem of mourning. This is John Milton’s Lycidas.
We must always build the lofty rhyme, we need poetry and art, as we also need, so Sophocles tells us, as Aeschylus tells us in yet more dreadful fashion, rituals for the dead.
What we allow to be done in our names, what we are doing, what we have already allowed to be done, is wrong.
Already, the first generation of the Frankfurt School, including Günther Anders as well as the more prominent and well known Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, foregrounded the role of media in all of its many guises, mostly broadcast, radio, newsreel, film, television, but also print in shaping the collective mindset of the public.
But for all the ubiquity of the media at the time, as overwhelming as it was for writers like Anders who wrote on radio ‘ghosts’ in 1930 and George Orwell, publishing his famous novel 1984 in 1949, all of that was nothing compared to what television would become, and none of that holds a candle to the media revolution that is the internet, whereby one can spend every waking hour, without trying too hard, not merely in the presence of the media — television and radio had already accomplished that — but directly, actively engaged.
The detail — this is the ‘tagging’ bit of such interest for curators of big data — that one might respond to this or that item is irrelevant to the point. What is crucial is that one gets one’s news (conventional or alternative, doesn’t matter), one shops, one explores one’s interest, curiosity, recipes, erotics, amusement, etc., via the internet.
Jacques Ellul dedicated a considerable portion of his own thinking on technology to looking at the ways and means of shaping ‘men’s minds’ drawing out not only the longer tradition of received doctrine in religion and social political history but also Edward Bernays’ ‘crystallization’ of opinion.
There are tons of footnotes to be added here but they’ve been added in posts elsewhere and earlier essays.
The revolution will be televised.
It is already underway.
It will take place on a screen, on your smart phone, or tablet, computer, devices far more effective than the idiot-box of the Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan generation of communications or media studies (a field so short on critical reflection that it often imagines itself to be issuing guidelines for working in ‘media’).
If Jean Baudrillard, arguably, provided some of the better analyses of the means of this tele-vising it is because he pointed to the one-way character of the new media. ‘Speech-without-response’ he called it (see again, sans paywall, the same essay linked above). And of course, the behavior specialists dedicated to addictive practice, inducing the same, went on to add rare and random rewards to the mix. Which is how Twitter ‘works,’ how Facebook works. These ‘rewards’ are what you are checking for when you check your social media accounts.
But the point here would be for all of that posting, tweeting, retweeting, there are no responses, no readers, no communication. And for Baudrillard, the reason is that “The mass media are anti-mediatory,” i.e., that is the contradiction in which Baudrillard specialized: they are, in a word, “intransitive. They fabricate non-communication.”
No sooner has one read this than, immediately, one protests. One knows better, one is informed by Facebook that one’s post has ‘reached’ so many, a specific number, of persons — nothing like a quantifier to give the proper aura of fact — “reach” being different from response to be sure, just where “response” precisely excludes what Baudrillard says it must include at a minimum: “responsibility.” But Twitter and Facebook, this is a great part of their charm, lack responsibility at every level. We have been programmed to be programmed: we expect the media to lie to us. Censoring, as we are now told that Facebook and Twitter will do, is expected.
The revolution will be televised.
It is already underway.
All the information to be gained on Covid-19 from the mainstream reports, pro lockdown, pro PPE, pro vaccine development, is via the internet, including the news media. There are still traditional television versions of the same, usually packaged up for snippet access on You-Tube. But all non-mainstream views are likewise accessed through the internet. And these days, as of just the other day, quite as if this were not always already operative, YouTube, like Facebook, like Twitter, has announced it will block anything but standard ‘medical’ views on Covid-19, a disease that apparently changes constantly.
No freedom of speech. No non-mainstream research. No research. No debate. No thinking.
The revolution will be televised.
It is already underway.
The secret is the ubiquity of the medium. Control so complete that dissonant views make no difference to its efficacy. Because the greatest virtue of the internet, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, is its monotone dimensionality and the funnel focus of attention.
Beyond anything George Orwell imagined, and he was talking about the current day as the current reign of surveillance and public calls for ever more surveillance, health being the greatest trump card ever, fear of the invisible enemy, the germ, the gold of the fascist state from time immemorial simply because compliance is a given, because our vulnerabilities are automatic.
Also the title, qua quoted, of the 2003 Irish documentary film on Hugo Chavez’ 2002 coup in Venezuela, broadcast on Irish state television (RTÉ). See, for discussion, Rod Stoneman, Chavez: The Revolution Will Not be Televised – A Case Study of Politics and the Media (London: Wallflower Press, 2008).
Sometime late last year, a lifetime ago, I had a terrible dream.
This was late 2019, before Covid-19. I was left with the unpleasant insight, sudden and cold and clear, that from a certain point of view, the great thundering concern with Thunberg, the rightful and important Dakota pipeline protests, agitation and despair in the face of the burning of the Amazon along with the murder of its peoples, concerns with Monsanto’s destruction of the agricultural ecosphere on so many levels, unspeakable animal cruelty, big game hunting, canned and otherwise, protests against waterway poisoning consequent to feedlots, against the fracking industry that destroys aquifers and consumes pure water to replace it with contaminants, liquid and gas, against the deployment of 5G, along with the 9/11 truth movement initiative on the part of engineers and architects, grievous worries about industrial farming practices and the depletion of the soil, beach modification and the destruction of coastline, the bees, dolphins, trees, koalas and kangaroos, and so many vanished other beings destroyed after the fires in Australia accelerated through chemtrail contaminants as they were, a loss now only compounded by increased and heedless logging, that all that and more in a single sentence that could be infinitely expanded, every bit of it, could be regarded very differently depending on one’s perspective.
From one perspective, all of this is horrific. From this perspective, ‘we’ need to stop, ‘we’ need to reverse course, etc.
From another perspective, the ‘we’ in question is an illusion. From this perspective, the mass protests are the problem. From this perspective, the protesters are the problem.
This ‘other’ perspective is the perspective view from those who benefit from all the above. These are those who, in the last century, the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, named ‘the kings of the world.’
From the perspective of the kings of the world of today, these are the wealthy, as Rilke’s verse tells us:
Their crowns are exchanged for money
and melted down into machines,
and there is no health in it.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Today, so go the arguments since the zero population growth movements of the 1960’s, think of Paul Ehrlich’s popular 1968 book, The Population Bomb — movements that have not changed, arguments advanced by the wealthy, by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum in Davos, what is needed, what would solve everything, is fewer people.
A lot fewer, millions fewer, billions fewer. The roster of those who subscribe to the view that ‘the best thing ever’ would be less people than ever are drawn from a range of clubs for the wealthy, the ‘kings of the world.’
Faced with scarcity, for those who understand economics, one has two choices. One can either modify one’s course, embrace Schumacher-style small is beautiful economics, adopt local resources for local needs, etc., or one can eliminate other interests in the older and time-honored tradition of aggression, intervention, direct action. If we want what others have, or if we want others to refrain from impeding our access to what we want, as Plato points out at the start of his Republic, we shall find that we are at war. But war can be conducted in many ways, thus the above litany of transgressions against the natural world as such is one such war.
But war can also be waged by weather manipulation as such ‘weather wars’ have been practiced for some time. Thus Peter Sloterdijk reminds us that this begins with the Battle of Ypres, Sloterdijk gives us the date, and in Dresden, and later, of course in Korea and Vietnam.
Such weather wars via atmosphere, and Sloterdijk has texts on that as well, are best fought in the background, via ‘acts of god,’ and the kind of thing insurance declines to cover, ongoing to the present day including chemtrail atmospheric contaminants, aluminum and other metals, nanomaterials, all with a long track record of scientific publications, government documents, press releases coupled with official denials and general incredulity even among academics who suppose that ‘they’ would never do such a thing, quite in the face of government publications attesting to the same plan to spray the world with poison just to block the sun: modify the weather, geo-engineer the earth.
Despite this, one imagines that ‘terraforming,’ to the extent that we possess such techniques, would, despite the name, only be applied on other planets, supposing ‘we’ ever get there.
And then there are bioweapons.
The US has, this is a matter of public record, been working on these since World War II. It has used these as well, to certain effect, also a matter of record, in its wars since the 1950s and so on. Indeed, there are scholars who argue that two centuries ago, smallpox was deployed as a vector of deliberate depopulation. This is disputed and re-argued academics keep busy across the disciplines, following mainstream schools that flourish — “normal science” emphasis on the normativizing force of the same — from time to time, before fading. And a similar case may be made for introducing alcohol, devastating, poisonous in direct effect, to peoples who have previously had no exposure to grain alcohol. Or refined (white) sugar, a variant/version of the same. But these are subtle arguments and we are addicted to both so it is hard to see these things as ‘poisons.’ Surely not. And if so, ubiquitous and slow in any case, at least to us, acclimated as we are to both alcohol and white sugar. To cite the German physician who was fond of verse,
Wer Sorgen hat, hat auch Likör! [Whoever has worries, also has liqueur (i.e., ‘the cure’).]
Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966)
The beauty of disease as an agent in war is that the agent is invisible. It works via the immunity of some, that would be the European settlers for whom smallpox is not a problem and the lack of immunity on the part of native peoples who die so catastrophically, so dramatically, that lands are cleared for expansion, in effect, from sea to shining sea. Afterward, the entire academic community will occupy itself with denial, refusing the suggestion that the contamination was deliberate, because there are, after all, other hypotheses.
Act of god, divine right, white man’s burden, all that.
Genetic modification is part of this — we may recall that GMOs as we have them are developed using viruses — and what better vector than the common cold, ie., coronavirus if one means to develop a viral pathogen to be used on an enemy population. Alternately, relatedly, vaccination is part of this, because viral material is part of the vaccine. What better way to introduce that material into a population than by injection? In the olden days one gave blankets away in cold winters. Today, we have vaccines. Thus, very directly, one can deploy such a means of population control on the population as a whole for the sake of reducing population. Health workers, hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics can be deployed for the sake of population control.
The best way to kill, so Plato has told us, is via those whose mission is otherwise dedicated to saving lives.
For the sake of health, for your own good.
Thus my realization from the end of last year, a lifetime ago: we either need to change what we are doing to the world, the rapacious way we live, fishing, hunting, mining, logging. This is unlikely as all the powers that be are aligned against this.
Or, and there is massive support for this, at the highest governmental and NGO levels, all ‘we’ need to do is to reduce the number of people living on the earth who are doing these things to the world.
Do that and everything changes.
That was the insight lent me by that dream, reversing figure and ground, whereby those still standing, the wealthy, the ‘kings of the world,’ are liberated to proceed, without protest, to continue doing whatever they like, for as long as they like.