Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Temperature"

Hans Castorp calculates the yearly cost of staying at the sanatorium and finds it is well within his means -- not that he admits even to himself that he did the sums on his own behalf.

It is half a week until Castorp's expected departure, and he has caught a severe cold. The cold drives the story in this section, from his encounter with Fraulein von Mylendonk, his acquisition of a thermometer, his discovery of his fever, and the overknowing and apparently mistaken reaction of his tablemates (who suggest and perhaps think he really has tuberculosis) to Castorp's decision to have an examination, the seemingly challenging look from Madame Chauchat as he is thinking about skipping it, and the final revelation of his diseased state.

Hans Castorp has trouble with time and the thermometer -- at first time goes too slow, and he can't seem to get to the end of the seven minutes. Then he daydreams a little, and the time goes by so quickly that he is already more than a minute over before he realizes it.

Castorp on Hofrat Behrens, and himself (thinking, I guess, of his odd relationship with Madame Chauchat), 174-175: "Settembrini said his joviality is forced, and one must admit that Settembrini has his own views and knows whereof he speaks. I probably ought to have more opinions of my own, as he says, and not take everything as it comes, the way I do. But sometimes one starts out with having an opinion and feeling righteous indignation and all that, and then something comes up that has nothing to do with judgments and criticism, and then it is all up with your severity, and you feel disgusted with the republic and the bello stile --"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 4, "Professional Reputation"

Presidential persuasiveness also depends upon other actors' perception of his ability and will to use his advantages. Other Washington insiders form this perception on the basis of the president's past performance. Since every president's performance has its high and low points, what is looked for is a pattern of being skillful and tenacious, or the opposite.

Though a president can't expect to have a reputation for invincibility, he at the very least wants to leave his enemies with as much uncertainty as possible about the dangers of crossing him and his allies with as much certainty as possible about his steadiness if they support him.

The Eisenhower administration's budget prevarications of 1957 are an example of how presidential reputation is diminished. This situation was not permanent, however, which shows that a president has the means to recover a damaged reputation, even if this ability is limited.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 3, "The Power to Persuade"

American government: "separated institutions sharing powers." (27)

In order to achieve his ends, a president depends on members of Congress, party officials, business and labor leaders, administration officials, and foreign governments who have their own authority and sources of legitimacy. Likewise, in order to accomplish anything all of these must depend at some point, in the future if not at present, on actions that only the president has authority to perform.

The president's power to persuade comes largely from this mutual dependence -- it comes from the ability to bargain.

This analysis is a commonplace except in the case of the executive branch itself. It has not been widely appreciated that the executive itself does not act with one agenda, that other members of the administration and the bureaucracy have goals, authorities, and responsibilities that may conflict with those of the president, and that the president must persuade them to do what he wants.

The president's power to persuade consists in convincing other agents with whom he shares authority that acting as he wants coincides with their own interests and responsibilities.

The Marshall Plan as an example of an initiative where the key actors -- Marshall, Vandenburg, Bevin -- cooperated with the president's goals. Even in this case a great deal of give and take was required from Truman. In fact, he was fortunate that so much was required from Congress, to whom he had the ability to grant concessions to ease the path for the plan, rather than from actors within the executive branch itself, with whom he might not have had the same influence.

Points to a key issue of for presidents: making choices that preserve future influence.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Doubts and Considerations", "Table Talk", "Mounting Misgivings. Of the Two Grandfathers, and the Boat-ride ..."

The passage of Tuesday is marked with short scenes in which Hans discusses and pays his bill -- Hans' billing week ends on Tuesdays, since had had arrived on a Tuesday -- and then an account of Hofrat Behrens personal history -- he is the widower of a victim of the tuberculosis who had taken the altitude treatment before dying and being buried in Davos, and himself seems to have been afflicted. Hans expresses doubt about whether a fellow-sufferer is fit to approach a disease with the proper objectivity.

Some part of the second week is disposed of -- none too precisely -- in a chapter describing Hans' mounting infatuation with Madame Chauchat and the part that the schoolmistress at his dining-room table, Fraeulein Engelhart, plays in it. Fraeulein Engelhart, observing Hans' interest, becomes Madame Chauchat's advocate while Hans makes himself out to be her critic. She finds out Madame Chauchat's given name -- Clavdia -- and fills in Hans with what is generally known about Clavdia's life story, which doesn't seem to be something we can have any confidence in.

Hans assuaged his conscience about this preoccupation with the thought that he would soon be leaving anyway.

139-140: "Hans Castorp, when he rose from one meal, could straightaway by anticipation begin to rejoice in the next -- if, indeed, rejoicing is not too facile, too pleasant and unequivocal a word for the sentiments with which he looked forward to another meeting with the afflicted fair one. The reader, on the other hand, may very likely find such adjectives the only ones suitable to describe Hans Castorp's personality or emotions. But we suggest that a young man with a well-regulated conscience and sense of fitness could not, whatever else he did, simply 'rejoice in' Madame Chauchat's proximity. In fact, we -- who must surely know -- are willing to assert that he himself would have repudiated any such expression if it had been suggested to him."

The relationship provided the emotional correlate for the physical agitation which Hans had experienced since his arrival.

Clavdia, too, becomes aware of Hans interest. Hans contrives to meet Clavdia's eyes in the dining-hall, and to encounter her in the hallway.

Castorp casts about for somebody to provide a counterbalance to his indulgence. He determines that neither Joachim, with his own preoccupation with Marusja, or Hofrat Behrens, with his probable affliction, would do. He settles on Settembrini. And so a few more days are disposed of, again none too precisely, recounting what Settembrini had said over the course of several conversations and how Castorp had reacted to it.

Settembrini spoke about his grandfather, the lawyer and political agitator (who reminded Castorp of his own grandfather because he dressed all in black, though for opposite reasons, that is, to mourn the imprisonment of liberty by the old regime). Settembrini expounded on his understanding of human history as a conflict between justice, freedom, and knowledge, on one had, and oppression, tyranny, and ignorance on the other. Thus Settembrini saw his father, a humanist scholar, as engaged in the same fight as his grandfather.

The narrator's voice suggests that by subjecting himself to this stream of strenuous moralism, Hans Castorp felt more free to indulge his weakness for Clavdia Chauchat.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Politically Suspect", Hippe", "Analysis"

Hans' first Sunday is one of the fortnightly Sunday band days -- one of the regular variations in the sanatorium routine that Hans is beginning to discover. Settembrini is late, and Hans chides him. Settembrini responds that he is suspicious of music, because it only stimulates emotions, while words alone can convey reason. Joachim responds that he is grateful for music because it breaks up and organizes time. Settembrini that music can in fact enliven us to the passage of time, but then he says it has the tendency to do the opposite -- to deaden us, to encourage quietism -- and thus he calls it 'politically suspect.'

Monday brings another variation: Krokowski's psychoanalytic lectures on love and sickness. In the morning before the lecture, Hans takes a long, singing hike through the hills -- which proves too much for him. He is exhausted and coughs up blood. He has to take a long, delirious rest before returning to the sanatorium. He daydreams about Pribislav Hippe, a schoolmate who had been a two-year preoccupation is his youth. Hippe's 'Kirghiz' eyes are the hidden memory of which Madame Chauchat reminded Hans.

Hans arrives to Krokowski lecture just after the start -- and finds himself behind Madame Chauchat and her distracting back and arm. The theme of the lecture: suppressed love reappears as illness.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, "Necessary Purchases", "Excursus on the Sense of Time", and "He Practices His French"

The second day is dismissed in two paragraphs. On the third, it turns cold and snows. Hans walks to the village with Joachim to buy rugs for wrapping up outdoors. On the way back, they have another talk with Settembrini. Settembrini mocks the doctors and patients, which Hans and Joachim silently disapprove of. Hans attributes dignity to sickness and dying; Settembrini objects at length. Hans tells Joachim that he thinks Settembrini cares for the chance to talk beautifully as much as to instruct. He senses a tension with Settembrini about his purchase of the rugs (and he may be right; we have already seen Settembrini's hostility to anything that makes Hans' stay more permanent).

Over a short duration -- a few hours or a day -- time passes more quickly if one's experiences are new and varied, but over much longer periods this seems to stretch time out, while monotony compresses the recollection of even years to very little. These reflections are made in a narratorial excursus, but then are attributed to Hans. (The narrative time of the novel certainly seems to work this way. The passing of a few more days is noted in the sentence which begins the attribution of these thoughts to Hans -- presumably nothing unusual happened in those unexamined days.)

Hans sees his first dying man -- and is impressed with the dignity of his death. He practices the dying man's roll of his eyes, and Madame Chacuchat she is making eyes at her. Hans and Joachim labor to escape from Sister Bertha, the nurse. Hans meets Tous-les-deux, and consoles her in French.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 2, "Three Cases of Command"

Sometimes a president can get things done by command. This turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. Presidential commands require five things in order to succeed (to be self-executing, in Neustadt's terminology): personal investment, clarity, publicity, recognized authority.

Three cases: Truman's dismissal of MacArthur in 1951, Truman's seizure of the steel mills in 1952, and Eisenhower's dispatch of federal troops to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock in 1957. In each case, command was actually the outcome of a failure to achieve the desired result by softer means. It was in effect a last resort.

Furthermore, in each case the command did not actually achieve the ultimate policy aim. In firing MacArthur, Truman hoped to avoid a prolongation and extension of the Korean War. But the firing forced the administration to be explicit about its intention not to attempt the conquest of the North, which removed China's incentive to reach a rapid settlement. In the steel dispute, Truman sought to preserve steel production while maintaining price controls, but a strike and price-control breaking settlement were only delayed. In Little Rock, integration of the local schools was not sustained into the next year.

In each case, the real effect of the command was to keep open further policy options that otherwise would have been closed. But the presidents were not able to fully exploit these options anyway.

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Herr Albin", "Satana Makes Proposals That Touch Our Honor"

Herr Albin makes a show of shocking the women with suggestions of suicide during laying-in.

80: "[I]n effect it seemed to him that, though honour might possess certain advantages, yet shame had others, and not inferior: advantages, even, that were well-nigh boundless in their scope. He tried to put himself in Herr Albin's place and see how it must feel to be finally relieved of the burden of a respectable life and made free of the infinite realms of shame; and the young man shuddered at the wild wave of sweetness which swept over him at the thought and drove on his labouring heart to an even quicker pace."

At dinner, Frau Stohr claims to know how to prepare 28 different sauces for fish.

Settembrini and Castorp converse at the after-dinner reception. Castorp babbles about Frau Stohr's sauces and his first impression of Settembrini as an organ-grinder. Settembrini sizes up Castorp's physical, mental, and moral fragility, and urges him to leave right away (an action which Castorp had earlier suggested he might have to take to Ziemssen). Castorp rejects this out of hand -- and perhaps not coincidentally is trying at the same time to recall what Madame Chauchat reminds him of.

Insight from the night's dreams. The silent sister -- a thermometer without it's own numbered scale -- as a metaphor for time. Hans remembers what Madame Chauchat reminds him of (although we don't yet find out).

Hans ends up dreaming about kissing Madame Chauchat's hand. 92: "And at that there swept over him anew, from head to foot, the feeling of reckless sweetness he had felt for the first time when he tried to imagine himself free of the burden of a good name, and tasted the boundless joys of shame. This feeling he experienced anew in his dream, only a thousandfold stronger than in his waking hour."

This concludes ten chapters devoted to a single day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Satana", "Mental Gymnastic", "A Word Too Much", and "Of Course, a Female!"

Settembrini -- chatty, impecunious Italian, full of literary allusions, bon mots, and gossip -- an anticlerical freethinker, but at the same time a somewhat old-fashioned literary humanist

a philosophical Hans holds forth on the immeasurability of time -- the idea that time flows evenly is based on the convention that it can be measured by regular movements in space -- but this is arbitrary, time and space don't necessarily have any relation -- we don't experience time as something steady: sometimes it feels fast to us, and other times slow -- we have no direct perception of time, as we do with space

the lying-down cure -- breakfast again --Joachim smitten with Marusja but trying to hide it

beer, extreme drowsiness, a clouded head, and heart palpitations with no emotional trigger for Hans (the body acting without reference to the soul, as Hans sees it)

Hans discovers the culprit who bangs the door: Madame Chauchat, from the good Russian table, with braided hair and narrow eyes, who seems to remind Hans of something.

Herr Blumenkohl takes a break from lunch to use his Blue Peter -- Hans discovers blood on his handkerchief

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 1, "Leader or Clerk?"

This is a strategic examination of presidential influence. Key questions: what is the nature of this influence and how do presidents sustain and increase it?

This is an examination of the "mid-century" presidency, which is characterized by an unusual continuity of issues, an unprecedented complexity of policy challenges, and the weakening of political party ties.

Presidents have been burdened both legally and by consensus with a greatly expanded set of tasks. In performing these tasks, they are beset by five constituencies -- executive officials, legislators, supporters, the public, and foreign countries. These tasks and pressures impose a kind of limitation on a president's ability to set his own agenda -- Neustadt calls this clerkship to suggest its conflict with leadership.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Drawing the Veil", "Breakfast", "Banter. Viaticum. Interrupted Mirth."

Spanish mother of two afflicted sons -- tous le deux

description of Hans Castorp's reaction to hearing the Russian couple's lovemaking -- avoidance, attempted escape, embarrassment -- 40: "And he began to blush through the powder; for what he had all along seen coming was come, and the game had passed over quite frankly into the bestial." -- all from within Hans Castorp's point of view

My impression is that Castorp is light-headed, even giddy, when he discusses meeting the Russians and Tous le deux with his cousin

breakfast room -- Hans Castorp seated looking toward down the length of the room with the door to the front hall behind him to his left -- he became annoyed when the door was slammed

We get only Doctor Behrens' side of a conversation with Hans Castorp and his cousin, and are left to infer how they responded -- he urged Castorp to follow the regimen of the sanatorium.

walking with Joachim, who struggles to keep up -- a whistling pneumothorax and sick young people for whom time has no meaning -- Joachim: "Sometimes I think being ill and dying aren't serious at all, just a sort of loafing about and wasting time. Life is only serious down below." (51-52) -- Hans' cigar disappoints him --last rites for little Hujus, terminal cases who make a fuss on the verge of death, Behrens admonishment to one such, and Hans' protestation in favor of the priority of the dying

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, "An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric" in After Philosophy: End or Transformation

Related antitheses in philosophical anthropology and rhetoric: man as a rich or a poor creature, rhetoric as the means of communicating truth or of coping with the lack of it.

Formulating the condition of lacking truth as a consequence of an anthropological deficiency implies expanding the domain of rhetoric to include a broad range of conventional interactive behavior.

430-431: "The epistemological situation that Plato imputed to Sophism is radicalized, anthropologically, into the situation of the "creature of deficiencies," for whom everything becomes part of the economy of his means of survival, and who consequently cannot afford rhetoric -- unless he has to afford it. A consequence of this anthropological intensification of the initial conditions is that the concept of a rhetoric that is associated with those conditions must also be formulated in a more elementary of fundamental way. Then the technique of speech appears as a special case of rule-governed modes of behavior that produce something to be understood, set up signs, bring about agreement, or provoke contradiction. Keeping silent, visibly omitting some action in the context of connected behavior, can become just as rhetorical as the reading aloud of an outcry of popular wrath, and the Platonic dialogue is no less rhetorically inclined than the Sophist's instructional discourse, which it opposed by literary means. Even when it is below the threshold of the spoken or written word, rhetoric is form as means, obedience to rules as an instrument."

Philosophical tradition: language as referential, good as what is evident to reason
Rhetorical tradition: language as pragmatic, assumption of the lack of evidentness of the good

The metaphysical tradition has divided the world into two orders -- ideas and nature. Man, awkwardly, doesn't fit on either side of the divide, and in fact seems to be governed by both. This has been solved in the tradition by subordinating one aspect to the other -- and the quashing of this tension means that metaphysics has had no real insight into man.

Rhetoric reflects a fundamental condition of man -- a lack of pregiven structures that order behavior -- action must take the place of automatic processes. What distinguishes man is not language but a deficiency of ready-made behaviors and responses; language is significant for its ability to make up for this deficiency.

433: "Action compensates for the 'indeterminateness' of the creature man, and rhetoric is the effort to produce accords that have to take the place of the 'substantial base of regulatory processes in order to make action possible. From this point of view, language is a set of instruments not for communicating information or truths, but rather, primarily, for the production of mutual understanding, agreement, or toleration, on which the actor depends."

Skepticism creates an opening for coming to terms with the anthropological deficits and determining how to manage them. Blumenberg takes Descartes' provisional ethics -- which was to guide man until the completion of science made a definitive ethics possible -- as an example of the avoidance of this opening. Descartes envisions this provisional ethics as static. Blumenberg notes that this overlooks the possibility of an indefinite delay in accomplishing the project of a complete knowledge. A static provisional ethics avoids dealing with change, fluidity, and indeterminateness in actual circumstances.

435: "The 'method's' promised final accomplishment gets in the way of man's process of self-understanding in the present and also gets in the way of rhetoric as a technique for coming to terms in the provisional state prior to all definitive truths and ethics. Rhetoric creates institutions where evident truths are lacking."

436: "This difference [between persuasion and force] is understood as one of language and education, because persuasion presupposes that one shares a horizon, allusions to prototypical material, and the orientation provided by metaphors and similes. The antithesis of truth and effect is superficial, because the rhetorical effect is not an alternative that one can choose instead of an insight that one could also have, but an alternative to a definitive evidence that one cannot have, or cannot have yet, or at any rate cannot have here and now. Besides, rhetoric is not only the technique of producing such a[n] effect, it is always also a means of keeping the effect transparent: it makes us conscious of effective means whose use does not need to be expressly prescribed, by making explicit what is already done in any case."

The language of shared horizons in the first sentence above sounds strikingly like Gadamer's vision of hermeneutics.

Even science depends on consensus, and hence in a sense rhetoric. But science, as an institution whose work can always be passed on to others, can endure the provisionality of its results indefinitely. Rhetoric assumes a constraint to act.

Rhetoric can substitute a verbal action for a physical one. Cassirer's anthropology sees substitutions of the verbal for the physical as something of a free act of man's symbolic nature, but Blumenberg notes that this creates a discontinuity between what man needs for existence and what his "nature" is. The capacity for symbolic action must be seen in light of its ability to secure man's existence.

On social contract theory as a prototype of an approach that converts what are assumed to be creative expressions of human nature to functional requirements of human existence, 438-439: "What is philosophical about this theory is not primarily that it explains the appearance of an institution like the state (still less that it explains the appearance of the absolutist state), but rather that it converts the supposed definition of man's nature as that of a zoon politikon ['political animal' -- Aristotle] into a functional description. I see no other scientific course for an anthropology except, in an analogous manner, to destroy what is considered 'natural' and convict it of its 'artificiality' in the functional system of elementary human accomplishment called 'life.'"

439: "Man's deficiency in specific dispositions for reactive behavior vis-a-vis reality-- that is, his poverty of instincts -- is the starting point for the central anthropological question as to how this creature is able to exist in spite of his lack of fixed biological dispositions. The answer can be reduced to a formula: by not dealing with this reality directly. The human relation to reality is indirect, circumstantial, delayed, selective, and above all 'metaphorical.'"

Metaphor is not a just a rhetorical ornament, it is the paradigmatic structure of man's rhetorical relationship to reality.

Blumenberg sees this rhetorical relationship extending not just to substituting representations for things, but to substituting actions -- particularly verbal actions -- for other actions which might be more direct and therefore risky. He notes the importance of this for social contexts, and particularly international politics.

Roles are another kind of rhetorical-metaphorical means of managing not just interaction, but identity and self-understanding. (References made to Simmel and Goffman) It works by establishing a framework which retains a sense of consistency and continuity, which is preserved by avoiding contradiction.

442: "The 'agreement' that has to be the goal of all 'persuasion' (even of self-persuasion) is the congruence -- which is endangered in all situations and always has to be secured afresh -- between one's role consciousness and the role expectations that others have of one. Perhaps 'agreement' is too strong a term, because approval would always already go beyond what is called for. Fundamentally, what is important is not to encounter contradiction, both in the internal sense, as a problem relating to consistency, and in the external sense, as a problem relating to acceptance."

Substitution and roles are creations, but unlike artistic production they are not necessarily designed to gain attention. Such creations need to be explicitly recognized in order to affect action, however, and this means that at some point they must have been advocated, campaigned for. I think there is a gesture here toward saying that it is turtles -- which is to say rhetorical conventions -- if not all the way down, then at least as far as is immediately visible. For these rhetorical creations are not just conventions that can be assumed and used, their conventional place is itself the product of a consensus which was arrived at rhetorically.

Blumenberg now introduces an antithesis between rationality -- particularly technical rationality -- and rhetoric: rationality accelerates and "saves" time while rhetoric slows time and delays action. (444-445) The essay turns here to considering rhetoric as a tool for one who does not want to act (or more to the point, react), at least not right away or in the most obvious way. There is an obvious tension with the previous account of rhetoric as the resource of those who are constrained to act -- to the point where a pure delaying tactic like a filibuster is portrayed as belonging to the category of force rather than persuasion (see 437). Certainly Blumenberg is incorporating into his conception of rhetoric here conventions and behaviors which would not be included in it.

These different functions and means of rhetoric, however, simply reflect the different means needed in order to achieve deliberation in different contexts. Rhetoric as a delaying operation serves a characteristically modern need. We are increasingly surrounded with automated processes and rapid access to information. These create momentum for rapid decisions -- or rapid acquiescence to pre-programmed decisions. The rhetorical building of consensus as a ground for action is lost; and different kinds of procedural delays and reviews provide an opportunity to make what is done more a matter of conscious, deliberative action again. There's even a defense here of liberal education for providing a pattern of thinking which isn't just functional and aimed at efficiency.

447: "If classical rhetoric essentially aims at a mandate for action, modern rhetoric seeks to promote the delaying of action, or at least the understanding of such delay -- and it does this especially when it wants to demonstrate its capacity to act, once again by displaying symbolic substitutions."

447 (continuing immediately in next paragraph): "The axiom of all rhetoric is the principle of insufficient reason (principium rationis insufficientis)."

prayer as a form of rhetoric -- which presumes a persuadable God -- what an insight!

Rehabilitation of opinion as opposed to the presumed superiority of knowledge or science, 448: "But the principle of insufficient reason is not to be confused with a demand that we forgo reasons, just as 'opinion' does not denote an attitude for which one has no reasons but rather one for which the reasons are diffuse and not regulated by method."

In practical affairs, where endless inquiry is not feasible, it is irrational to expect that decisions can be justified on the basis of complete knowledge. Even scientific advice as it bears on public affairs is liable to be incomplete, and so while the advice may borrow the dignity of science, it still operates on the plane of persuasion as well. (Curiously, I think in America today there is rather too acute a consciousness of the rhetorical entanglement of scientific recommendations (see the short shrift given to global warming), while the proclamations of business leaders are treated as a kind of pure knowledge.)

Public policy depends on postulates about human beings which have not been and possibly cannot be scientifically validated. In particular, much policy assumes that human beings can be shaped significantly by exogenous factors. If anything, however, scientific methodology leads toward a bias in favor of theories favoring endogenous factors -- because such factors are less diffuse and thus easier to isolate and test. (I think this insight is mostly sound, but recent rethinking about the effects of fetal environment on the inheritance of characteristics through multiple future generations shows that methodology allows for more flexibility than Blumenberg appreciated.) Blumenberg considers such postulates of practical reason (and the reference to Kant is explicit here) as part of the rhetoric of ethics -- they enable us to persuade others (and ourselves) that action to improve our lot is not futile.

Man as the "the subject of history" as a rhetorical assumption of modernity. Metaphors of transfer of power make it easier for individuals and groups to persuade themselves that they have the right and the ability to assume the role of the subject of history.

For Blumenberg, rhetoric is not a surplus creative talent that marks out man as having special dignity. It is a way of coping with not always having the fullness of reason available to us. 452: "... I would like to hold to the idea of seeing in [rhetoric] a form of rationality itself -- a rational way of coming to terms with the provisionality of reason."

Blumenberg's critique of Hobbes' assertion of the superiority of "right reason" over rhetoric (and of today's assertion of the need for "critical reason"): First, how can one determine whether right reason is being employed except through the exercise of right reason? In other words, the critique is circular. Second, rhetoric is, after all, something that men have it in their power to control -- unlike the anti-rhetorical absolute dictatorship that Hobbes prefers.

For Hobbes, reason is based on concepts while rhetoric is based on metaphors, but metaphors do not grapple with the things themselves. Blumenberg notes that Hobbes' own theory of concepts is that they are entirely artificial, and thus they have no natural affinity with the things in themselves, either. Moreover, Hobbes own deduction of the necessity of an absolute state depends on mutually incompatible organic and mechanistic metaphors.

453-454: "Now metaphor is in fact not only a surrogate for concepts that are missing but possible in principle, and should therefore be demanded; it is also a projective principle, which both expands and occupies empty space -- an imaginative procedure that provides itself with its own durability in similes."

Classical polarity: rhetoric as art; reality as nature. But reality today is not simple nature, it is nature mediated through artificial processes (and thus mediated through rhetoric, in the broad sense that Blumenberg uses the term). The admonishment to return "to the things themselves" is itself a rhetorical trope. (455: "If reality could be seen and dealt with 'realistically,' it would have been seen and dealt with that way all along.") Such programs fall short on actually providing the things themselves, and end up focusing rhetorically on the illusions which are supposed to have prevented us from getting to reality.

Man's weakness for rhetoric -- his susceptibility to being influenced -- leads to Blumenberg's final point: there is no transparent relationship to oneself, either. 456: "Man has no immediate, no purely 'internal' relation to himself. His self-understanding has the structure of 'self-externality.'" So there isn't any direct access to our true desires and character that stands cleanly apart from rhetoric; self-persuasion is an intrinsic part of our predicament.

The means that we have to understand ourselves are themselves rhetorical, and foremost among these is the contrast with what we are not -- above all, the contrast with God.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Chapter 4: "On the Counterrevolutionary Philosophy of the State (de Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortes)"

The counterrevolutionaries who interest Schmitt are conservative Catholic political philosophers. He picks out their emphasis on the necessity of a decision --starting above all with the necessity of a decision between Catholicism and atheism. This focus allows them to comprehend and puts them in sympathy with the function of the state as decision.

The intensity of this focus on the decision -- and the concomitant support for authoritarianism -- increased from de Maistre at the time of the French revolution to Donoso Cortes in the generation of 1848. This was a consequence of their engagement with revolutionary foes who were far more radical. The battle lines were fundamentally drawn on the issue of whether human nature is good or evil. As the revolutionaries of 1848 were far more committed to the proposition that human nature is good (and thus that the state is unnecessary), the counterrevolutionaries became more strident advocates for the opposite view (and thus also of the need for a decisive, powerful state).

Donoso Cortes characterized bourgeois liberalism as a tendency to discuss rather than decide, though a decision between Catholicism and atheistic socialism, between monarchical and aristocratic authority and popular rule, was necessary. He called the bourgeoisie una clasa discutidora. Socialist thinkers similarly excoriated the incoherence of liberal attempts to combine monarchical and popular rule.

62: "Liberalism, with its contradictions and compromises, existed for Donoso Cortes only in that short interim period in which it was possible to answer the question 'Christ or Barabbas?' with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a commission of investigation. Such a position was not accidental but was based on liberal metaphysics. The bourgeoisie is the class committed to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and it did not arrive at those freedoms from any sort of arbitrary psychological and economic conditions, from thinking in terms of trade, or the like."

In other words, political liberalism, with a commitment to debate and free speech, is prior to economic liberalism.

63: "Donoso Cortes considered continuous discussion a method of circumventing responsibility and of ascribing to freedom of speech and of the press an excessive importance that in the final analysis permits the decision to be evaded. Just as liberalism discusses and negotiates every political detail, so it also want to dissolve metaphysical truth in a discussion. The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion."

Schmitt sees the political moment increasingly dissolved not just by the unending conversation of liberalism, but also by valorization of technical-economic administration. (65)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Of the Christening Basin" and "At Tienappels', and of Young Hans's Moral State"

Hans Lorenz Castorp -- grandfather -- conservative throwback

christening basin -- names of seven generations of owners engraved on the accompanying plate -- one must be Hans Castorp, but this is not made explicit -- gives young Hans Castorp a feeling of change and continuity at the same time -- 23: "A familiar feeling pervaded the child: a strange, dreamy, troubling sense: of change in the midst of duration, of time as both flowing and persisting, of recurrence in continuity" -- the original German is more starkly oxymoronic, and the reference to time is not made explicit

24-25: "The painting showed Hans Lorenz Castorp in his official garb as Councillor: the sober, even godly, civilian habit of a bygone century, which a commonwealth both self-assertive and enterprising had brought with it down the years and retained in ceremonial use in order to make present the past and make past the present, to bear witness to the perpetual continuity of things, and the perfect soundness of its business signature."

grandfather in the really old public outfit as the true grandfather, and grandfather in his old-fashioned everyday attire as an imperfect expression

funeral - grandfather in his public outfit -- decay

The two years of Hans Castorp's life with his grandfather are captured with just a handful of descriptions: of the house and his grandfather, of the (recurring) scene with the christening basin, of the picture, of being shielded from witnessing his grandfather's struggle with sickness, of his grandfather's laying in state.

Hans spends the remainder of his youth in the charge of his uncle, Consul Tienappel. Tienappel liquidates Hans's father's business and invests the proceeds so that Hans has a comfortable endowment. Hans intended to supplement this by a career in ship design -- a field that he more or less fell into rather than choosing.

Hans has a lethargic disposition -- he respects work, but has no appetite for it. Mann depicts this as a symptom of a more general tendency of an age that lacks conviction of the meaningfulness of its efforts. Another theme: this moral degeneration is linked to physical deterioration. And in fact, Hans becomes sickly and pale while away from home pursuing studies, and his doctor counsels a restorative vacation to the mountains.

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Chapter 3, "Political Theology"

36: "All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts, not only because of their historical development -- in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver -- but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology."

Schmitt does more to justify the affinity of structure than the genealogy. He certainly shows that early modern political thought is saturated with theistic analogies. Schmitt insists that this is more than a historical accident. He thinks that the image of an omnipotent authority is essential to the conception of the state; it is required because law itself must be applied, and requires an authority to do the job. Moreover, he criticizes recent sociologically oriented analysis of the state for attempting to evade discussion of such a unitary personal authority.

In the end, however, he shortchanges the promise to demonstrate the derivation of concepts of sovereignty from theology. He falls back on arguing for the concurrent development of modern conceptions of God and sovereignty.

So he sees a parallel in early modern views of a God who established natural laws and then remained thereafter detached from creation, and of the sovereign as a lawgiver. (This is clearly Schmitt's preferred formulation, but the analogy here seems not too exact -- Schmitt's point about sovereignty is that it required an authority which can never really remain detached, after all.)

He sees an analogous development towards immanence in both fields in the 19th century -- God either doesn't exist or is simply identified with His concrete expression in the world; the sovereign doesn't exist or is identified with the the law or the actions of the people.

Along the way, he notes in passing (see 42 and 52) that legal reasoning has a form which is drawn from medieval thought -- which he finds natural because he holds that medieval thought was juristic rather than scientific in form. But, for me, this raises a question: from where did medieval thought acquire this juristic form? This reveals the problem with holding that modern concepts of the state are secularized borrowings from theology. Law and state didn't emerge for the first time in modernity. They were already present in classical times, and medieval thought took shape against this background. So Modern political thought may seem to have derived its concept of sovereignty from medieval theology only because the horizon is placed at the sixteenth century. In a longer view, the God of medieval thought may already have been shaped by ancient law.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Foreword", "Arrival" "In the Restaurant"

Rather in the manner of a philosophical treatise, this novel has a foreword, and Mann occupies it by playing with the theme of time. He beseeches his reader to consider the story old, although the setting is quite recent. He takes up this time motif again in the opening passage of the first chapter, as he describes Hans Castorp's trip to Davos. He observes the fungibility (though imperfect) of time and distance, noting that the effect of distance in changing Castorp's preoccupations is similar to the passage of a considerable stretch of time.

Mann makes the scene feel more distant by presenting the protagonist impersonally at the start. From the first paragraph, we find out only that there was a young man on a trip to Davos. After two paragraphs describing the route (in present tense), we finally learn Hans Castorp's name -- and immediately have him put at a distance again with a parenthetical interpolation noting that he has been introduced (a trick which is soon repeated with his uncle Consul Tienappel).

Soon enough, time becomes compressed for Hans Castorp, for his trip ends one stop earlier than he expects -- just as he thinks that the journey will be over soon, it is already over.

Castorp's conversation with his friend Joachim Ziemssen quickly turns to time, too. Ziemssen informs Castorp that the scale of time is different for the inmates of the sanatorium, whose lives have been suspended. For them, Castorp's three week visit feels like nothing more than a day.

Krokowski -- psychoanalysis -- 16: "I, for one, have never in my life come across a perfectly healthy human being."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Chapter 2, The Problem of Sovereignty

Conventional definition, according to Schmitt, 17: "Sovereignty is the highest, legally independent, underived power."

Schmitt notes a problem with such a definition: in reality, no agent acts with unrestricted, unshared power.

Schmitt's statement of the problem: 18: "The connection of actual power with the legally highest power is the fundamental problem of the concept of sovereignty."

One solution: restrict the analysis of sovereignty to jurisprudence, relegating all issues concerning the actual exercise of power to "sociology." This is the approach of Kelsen and the neo-Kantians. The state is envisioned only as a system of norms, and these norms can only be derived from more basic norms, not from any personal authority. Schmitt concedes that a consistent system of law can be constructed in this fashion, but at the expense of divorcing it from actual laws and norms; this kind of analysis of irrelevant to an analysis of the workings of law and the state. (18-21)

Hugo Krabbe's system makes law rather than the state sovereign. Law is based on men's sense of right. Krabbe uses the term "spiritual" to describe the status of law, which seems to refer to it's basis in ideals rather than particular human authorities. The task of the state is to determine what interests exist and "ascertain" how those interests can be interpreted into law. (21-24)

Association theory, represented by Hugo Preuss, Otto von Gierke, and Kurt Wolzendorff, sees the common life of the people as the primary value. Law is an expression of this common life, and the task of the state is to act as an agent of the people to formalize the law. (24-27)

Schmitt discerns three concepts of form in Weber's sociology of law: as a transcendental presupposition specifying the domain of inquiry, as regularity derived from repeated practice, and as rationalization by professionals aimed at calculability. (27-28)

The theories of Kelsen, Preuss, and Krabbe all require sovereignty to be objective, stripped of any personal authority of command. (29-30) Schmitt argues that personal authority is ineradicable from law. Law can only be realized in a concrete situation, and some authority must decide what the law means in that situation. (30-33) Schmitt claims Hobbes as a precursor in arguing for legal personalism. (33-34)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Chapter 1, "Definition of Sovereignty"

Opening sentence, 5: "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception."

Key terms: exception, norm, sovereignty, juristic.

Schmitt insists that extraordinary situations are a better measure of the meaning of sovereignty than ordinary ones, because sovereignty is what he calls a borderline concept.

Schmitt puts the terms exception and norm in opposition. Norm, in his usage, refers to established, written law. He contends that such law cannot be an exhaustive account of legally exercised decision making.

6: "When Robert von Mohl said that the test of whether an emergency exists cannot be a juristic one, he assumed that a decision in the legal sense must be derived entirely from the content of a norm. But this is the question. In the general sense in which Mohl articulated his argument, his notion is only an expression of constitutional liberalism and fails to apprehend the independent meaning of the decision"

Central dispute: are decisions which are made outside the existing rule of law, in order to preserve legal and constitutional order, themselves part of the legal order? Schmitt's argument depends on an affirmative answer.

6-7: "The exception, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, or the like. But it cannot be circumscribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law.
It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty, that is the whole question of sovereignty. The precise details of an emergency cannot be anticipated, nor can one spell out what may take place in such a case, especially when it is truly a matter of extreme emergency and of how it is to be eliminated. The precondition as well as the content of jurisdictional competence in such a case must necessarily be unlimited. From the liberal constitutional point of view, there would be no jurisdictional competence at all. The most guidance the constitution can provide is to indicate who can act in such a case. If such action is not subject to controls, if it is not hampered in some way by checks and balances, as is the case in a liberal constitution, then it is clear who the sovereign is. He decides whether there is an extreme emergency as well as what must be done to eliminate it. Although he stands outside the normally valid legal system, he nevertheless belongs to it, for it is he who must decide whether the constitution must be suspended in its entirety."

Schmitt holds that the exception is a fact which recent liberal theorists ("liberal constitutionalists") have tried to wish away. He suggests that only some kind of metaphysical-historical commitment (I'm thinking this means a belief in Whiggish view of progress) would lead one to believe that the exception can be extinguished from governance.

Schmitt claims Bodin as a precursor in this analysis of sovereignty.

8-9: "Bodin asked if the commitments of the prince to the estates or to the people dissolve his sovereignty. He answered by referring to the case in which it becomes necessary to violate such commitments, to change laws or to suspend them entirely according to the requirements of a situation, a time, and a people. If in such cases the prince had to consult a senate or the people before he could act, he wold have to be prepared to let his subjects dispense with him. Bodin considered this an absurdity because, according to him, the estates were not masters over the laws; they in turn would have to permit their prince to dispense with them. Sovereignty would thus become a play between two parties: Sometimes the people and sometimes the prince would rule, and that would be contrary to all reason and law. Because the authority to suspend valid law -- be it in general or in a specific case -- is so much the actual mark of sovereignty, Bodin wanted to derive from this authority all other characteristics (declaring war and making peace, appointing civil servants, right of pardon, civil appeal, and so on)."

Note that Bodin's analysis presupposes that sovereignty is unitary.

Schmitt claims the 17th century natural law theorists in general as precursors, and particularly Samuel von Pufendorf.

The state has certain goals embedded within it, depending on what kind of state it is.

9: "[S]overeignty (and thus the state itself) resides in deciding this controversy, that is, in determining definitively what constitutes public order and security, in determining when they are disturbed, and so on."

Thus the existence of the state presupposes a decision. The decision is prior to the norm.

10: "[E]very legal order is based on a decision, and also the concept of a legal order, which is applied as something self-evident, contains within it the contrast of the two distinct elements of the juristic -- norm and decision. Like every other order, the legal order rests on a decision and not a norm."

I would object that such a decision can exist only in a conceptual and not a historical sense, because no government or state is ever totally formed anew without dependence on existing structures and conventions.

Schmitt contends that the standard used to determine who was sovereign in debates about the old Holy Roman Empire was simply who had the authority to act in cases where no rule had been set down. He points out that Max Seydel's analysis of the sovereignty of the old states within the new German Empire rests on the same assumption: the states were sovereign, according to Seydel, because the Empire was limited by explicit law while the states retained the power to act in extraordinary circumstances.

Schmitt suggests what he means by the exception in two ways. First, the exception is a situation where authority is unlimited. 12: "What characterizes an exception is principally unlimited authority, which means the suspension of the entire existing order. In such a situation it is clear that the state remains, whereas law recedes. Because the exception is different from anarchy and chaos, order in the juristic sense still prevails even if it is not of the ordinary kind."

Schmitt goes on to describe the exception in terms of the decision, which he holds to be in fundamental conflict with the norm. 12-13: "The existence of the state is undoubted proof of its superiority of over the validity of the legal norm. The decision frees itself from all normative ties and becomes in the true sense absolute. The state suspends the law in the exception on the basis of its right of self-preservation, as one would say. The two elements of the concept legal order are then dissolved into independent notions and thereby testify to their conceptual independence. Unlike the normal situation, when the autonomous moment of the decision recedes to a minimum, the norm is destroyed in the exception. The exception remains, nevertheless, accessible to jurisprudence because both elements, the norm as well as the decision, remain within the framework of the juristic." I'm not clear if the its in the first sentence refers to the state itself or to the principle of the decision. I take it that what is at stake in the last sentence is that decisions taken in a state of exception still have legal standing; they are true exercises of sovereignty rather than standing outside of it.

13: "Every general norm demands a normal, everyday frame of life to which it can be factually applied and which is subjected to its regulations. The norm requires a homogeneous medium. This effective normal situation is not a mere 'superficial presupposition' that a jurist can ignore; that situation belongs precisely to its immanent validity. There exists no norm that is applicable to chaos. For a legal order to make sense, a normal situation must exist, and he is sovereign who definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exists."

Conceding the plausibility of this, isn't it also true that no total exception exists? No decision made in a vacuum of institutional legal order could be in any way effective. There is a lot of law below the level of the constitution or even statutory law -- army and police codes and rules about chain of command, quite significantly -- that need to be depended on especially in a state of exception. So the decision itself always requires a residue of the norm to be put into effect. Since, moreover, the cooperation of these institutions is also a matter of decisions made in the chain of command, this also shows that the decision is not unitary. And all this is to say nothing of the place of informal norms about the conduct in politics which do much to determine the actual paths of events in cases where the law is not explicit.

Schmitt continues directly in the next paragraph (still 13): "All law is 'situational law.' The sovereign produces and guarantees the situation in its totality. He has the monopoly over this last decision. Therein resides the essence of the states sovereignty, which must be juristically defined correctly, not as the monopoly to coerce or rule, but as the monopoly to decide. The exception reveals most clearly the essence of the state's authority. The decision parts here from the legal norm, and (to formulate it paradoxically) authority proves that to produce law it need not be based on law."

An interesting question is what authority consists of for Schmitt.

Schmitt insists that the exception actually reveals more and is more interesting than the norm, which just governs the operation of the state in its boring everydayness.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 6, "Shipbuilding out of the Shipwreck"

This quirky chapter combines investigation of shipwreck metaphors in the rhetoric of science with a favorite Blumenbergian topos, the question of what can be expected from reason. Blumenberg finds a characteristically hopeful but modest answer from the 19th century physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond, in reference to Darwin's theory of natural selection: it is a plank that keeps us afloat. Here, Blumenberg notes, the actual shipwreck event has been removed from the frame of vision altogether -- it is something that has already happened. In fact, the entire background to the metaphor, the reference to voyages and destinations, has also been so removed. What remains is just survival, though du Bois-Reymond acknowledges that some would take away even that by saying that the plank is but a straw. (73-75).

73-74: "Shipwreck has lost its story setting. What has to be said is that science does not achieve what our wishes and claims had expected of it, but what it does achieve is essentially unsurpassable and suffices to meet the demands of maintaining life."

75: "In the reception histories of metaphors, the more sharply defined and differentiated the imaginitive stock becomes, the sooner the point is reached where there seems to be an extreme inducement to veer around, with the existing model, tn the most decisive way and to try out the unsurpassable procedure of reversing it.
The shipwreck metaphorics seem to have escaped such a reversal, even if the image does seem to be wound backward by considering the shipwrecked man and his efforts to salvage, from what was almost the end of his sea voyage, a Robinson Crusoe-like new beginning of self-preservation."

Paul Lorenzen, in his dispute with the logical positivist Otto Neurath about the difficulties of providing a sound linguistic foundation for thought, resorts to just such a metaphor of shipbuilding from a shipwreck. Neurath had illustrated his position that about the limits of our ability to create language anew by comparing language to a ship on which we are already embarked on an endless voyage, and which can only be repaired as it sails. Lorenzen retorts that the ship had once been built at sea, by our ancestors, from material they found afloat around them. The implication is that it would be possible to jump off the ship and start building anew. Blumenberg remarks that the metaphor actually pulls us a way from such a resolve, however, because of the central position it gives to the security of the already existing ship. (75-78)

78-79: "The demiurgical, Robinson Crusoe longing of the modern age is also present in the handiwork of the constructivist who leaves home and heritage behind in order to found his life on the naked nothingness of the leap overboard. His artificially produced distress at sea does not come about through the frailty of the ship, which is already the end result of a lengthy process of building and rebuilding. But the sea evidently contains material other that what has already been used. Where can it come from, in order to give courage to the ones who are beginning anew? Perhaps from earlier shipwrecks?"

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 5, "The Spectator Loses his Position"

Now we take up with the shipwreck-with-spectator metaphor in Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer makes the distancing of reason from the turmoil of life the key to his (all-too-Hegelian, according to Blumenberg) philosophy. The human being is both an agent of will, entangled with the pursuit of life, and a subject capable of detachment from this struggle. Appropriately, as Schopenahuer uses the metaphor in his exposition, the distinction between sufferer and spectator is extinguished; man is both at the same time. (59-61)

The distance of the spectator in Schopenhauer's reception of the metaphor is paradigmatically the distance of memory. Because he thinks that we experience pain directly, while happiness is a product of reflection on the absence of suffering, memory is essential to his conception of happiness. (61-63)

Schopenhauer's subject-spectator is also able to look towards the future and recognize that his demise is inevitable, although it is not quite clear whether this too counts in favor of happiness as a withdrawal into contemplation. (63)

Schopenhauer also describes his dual theory of man with another spectator metaphor, this time drawn from theater -- man as one who is both an actor in a drama and a spectator. Schopenhauer depicts the calm distance of the spectator as ultimately an asset to the man of action -- his ideal man is the Stoic. Of course, if the the role of actor is given up entirely, then there is no more life. Blumenberg notes this conclusion had already been drawn by the Enlightenment, which saw calm reason stripped of the passions not as a preparation for action but as its extinction. (64-66)

Heine's story about Boerne is notable for the justification he gives for remaining an unhelpful spectator while his friend ca,me to political grief -- in preserving himself, he was preserving a cultural heritage acquired from Boerne for the future. "This is the frightful formula of all those who refuse the little humanity of the present in order to fulfill the allegedly greater humanity of the future. So the expression used by the poet who sails past the shipwrecked man is of the most singular and frigid precision: ' I was carrying on board my ship the gods of the future.'" (66-67)

Blumenberg sees the reception of the shipwreck metaphor becoming increasingly detached from its original reference to the relationship between man and nature. During the 19th century, the metaphor becomes almost exclusively used to explore the great dilemma of historical knowledge, the tension between objective detachment and human engagement. Burckhardt, in his lecture "On Good and Bad Fortune in World History," holds that the historian must avoid a focus on fortune or misfortune, personal hope or despair, because these have a merely particular, subjective relationship to events. Nevertheless, he sees history as having the unity of a single dramatic narrative for an ideal spectator unattached to any particular interest - though this ideal of pure narrative knowledge can never actually be realized by the historian. (Here, once again, Blumenberg discovers a thinker in danger of becoming the Hegel he is struggling against.) (67-69)

Burckhardt paradoxical seafaring metaphor for historical knowledge -- the historian is a sailor who would like to see the wave his ship is riding, but he himself is the wave. (69-73)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Preface to the Second Edition

In this preface (written ten years after the original publication of the book), Schmitt amends his typology of legal theories. He had originally categorized legal theories as either normativist or decisionist. He now adds institutionalism as a third type. I am curious about how well these translate into schools of Anglo-American legal theory. My guess is that normativism, due to its sense of closure, is akin to positivism and decisionism is closest to realism. I am at a loss to make sense of his brief critique of each of these legal theories, but he thinks that, in isolation, all of them are lacking.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 4, "The Art of Survival"

Here Blumenberg turns his attention to a kind of political deployment of the shipwreck metaphor. The touchpoint of the discussion is Goethe's reaction to the French victory over Prussia at Jena, as reported decades later by his contemporary Heinrich Luden. Goethe disappointed Luden (as he would disappoint German nationalists again by meeting Napoleon a year later) by adopting an aloof pose with respect to the event, referring to his situation as that of a spectator to a shipwreck.

Blumenberg points out that a younger Goethe had himself once been annoyed by the pose of political spectatorship. He had used the image of Voltaire observing storms in a mirror from his bed to mock a poem of his contemporary Gessner. Essential to understanding this annoyance is that Voltaire portrayed his lakeside residences as havens free from political interference or involvement -- they were part of a pose of autarkic indifference he fashioned for himself.

Blumenberg asks: "What has changed?" His answer takes us back to the purpose behind Lucretius' philosophy, which was to above all to liberate men's minds from fear of natural events. Even the fear of human action that exposes men to disaster can be neutralized, once human action itself is understood as governed by drives and passions that are themselves part of nature. (In fact, Blumenberg sees Voltaire's inclusion of curiosity among men's passions, and thus his nature, as in this sense a step to realizing the full potential of Epicurean philosophy).

Goethe's dispassionate spectatorship, on the other hand, is notable for its disciplined resistance to natural feeling -- its studied artificiality. Goethe observed the battlefield of Jena a year later and discussed the event without betraying any feeling at all. In respect to this, Blumenberg makes an observation about Goethe's stance that is difficult to interpret. "The observer of the battlefield appeals to the ancient poet's comparison precisely in order to protect his history from history per se, insofar as the latter is always, and must remain, the history of others. However, it is no longer possible to put historical catastrophes on the same footing with physical ones." (52) (Why "no longer"? And is this meant globally or just about Goethe?)

At this point, Blumenberg takes an excursus to ask what use Hegel made of Lucretius' metaphor for his philosophy of history. Hegel incorporates the metaphor into account of how reflection transforms perception of the apparent suffering and tragedy in the world. Reflection reveals that these world-historical travails contribute to the deeper rational order of the progress of freedom.

Goethe is not in sympathy with either Lucretius' philosophy or Hegel's. Goethe sees the aim of Lucretius' philosophy -- overcoming the fear of death -- as fundamentally in conflict with being human. In Goethe's invocation of the shipwreck metaphor, the key to the sense of distance is not reflection but rather escape from danger. It is not the spatial distance of an observer in real time, but the temporal distance of a survivor recollecting his own shipwreck.

Blumenberg notes Goethe's temporal configuration of the shipwreck metaphor in another instance -- a consolation letter to his friend Zelter -- and remarks that it again puts the focus on personal survival. He then pursues the peculiar image which concludes Goethe's use of the shipwreck motif in his letter -- "the sea already is hungry for figs again." (56) Blumenberg notes that this classical saying, perhaps taken up via Erasmus, showed up in a number of configurations, but he takes special notice of its use in a story about a sailor who is shipwrecked once carrying a cargo of figs, and demurs taking to the seas again.

Finally, Blumenberg draws attention to another of Goethe's seafaring metaphors -- the metaphor of the ship's trace which disappears behind it, which he uses in his critique of the Enlightenment's expectations of progress.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 3, "Aesthetics and Ethics of the Spectator"

I learned from taking notes on the first two chapters that it's hard to get a handle on Blumenberg's approach to his material. It isn't an argument in any usual sense, nor is it a typology or a narrative. His organization is loosely thematic, in that he takes up some variant or aspect of the seafaring metaphor and examines it for some stretch before moving on to another topic. Within his exploration of these topics, he tends to follow the series of treatments chronologically, but not rigidly so. So while there is no overarching account of either the structure or the genesis of the metaphor, there is episodic insight into both. In pursuit of a better understanding of sum of these insights, I will seek to record not just Blumenberg's observations about the different treatments of seafaring metaphors, but the logic of his transitions, insofar as I understand them.

In the image of the shipwreck with spectator, the spectator carries on the ancient ideal of theory as contemplation, but with a new object. Instead of the cosmos, the object of contemplation is man's own consciousness. (26-27)

Lucretius describes the forms of the natural world as being like debris from a shipwreck thrown up from an inexhaustible ocean of atoms -- making the point that man would do well to remain a spectator to these forms instead of trying to comprehend them. The birth of a human being is also depicted as a kind of shipwreck, like a sailor being thrown ashore from the sea. The notion that seafaring is unnatural informs these uses of the shipwreck metaphor. This analogy is metaphorical and literal at the same time -- seaborne commerce really is driven by a refusal to accept all limits to desires as natural limits. Remaining content within the boundaries of natural needs = staying ashore. Wanting and pursuing in excess of those needs = taking to the seas and risking shipwreck. (27-29)

The Enlightenment, by contrast, sees the danger of shipwreck as the price that must be paid in order for their to be wind, and therefore sea commerce, at all. (29)

29: "In complete contrast to this, it will be one of the fundamental ideas of the Enlightenment that shipwreck is the price that must be paid in order to avoid that complete calming of the sea winds that would make all worldly commerce impossible. Through this figure is expressed a justification of the passiones, the passions, against which philosophy discriminates: pure reason would mean the absence of winds and the motionlessness of human beings who possess complete presence of mind."

This formulation of the Enlightenment attitude is taken almost directly from the debate between Herostratus of Ephesus and Demetrius of Phalerum in Fontanelle's Dialogues of the Dead -- with the omission of an explicit reference to the possibility of shipwreck. (The context is that Herostratus, destroyer of the temple of Ephesus, is arguing for an equal claim to fame with Demetrius, who had erected 360 statues in Athens, because the destructive work of the passions is a prerequisite for clearing the ground in order for new human achievement to be possible.) (29-30)

Blumenberg proceeds to another dialogue from Fontanelle's work in which shipwreck is thematized -- the argument between Margaret of Austria and Hadrian about whose death was better. In the case of Margaret, this was an imagined death by shipwreck rather than her actual one. Margaret sees her reckoning with this death, expressed in a poem, as superior because it was not planned ahead of time. Hadrian sees his as superior because his calm acceptance, also expressed in poetry, achieves the classical ideal. Hadrian poses the question whether her poem was not actually composed after her brush with shipwreck, to which Margaret counterposes the question whether his poem was not actually composed well before his death. The dialogue is resolved on the acceptance of moderation even in virtue. Blumenberg finds irony both in the ultimately unacknowledged fact that the poetic ideal was separated from actualization in both cases, and in the exaggerated metaphysical distance of the interlocutors from the human predicament in that they are dead and thus beyond any threat of disaster. (30-32)

A shipwreck metaphor also comes up in Fontenelle's pioneering Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, which imagines the Earth as it would be seen through the higher rationality of an intelligent alien. The work's protagonist, the marquise, boldly wishes for a shipwreck of such aliens on the Earth so she could see what they look like. She has to be warned, none too successfully, that the aliens could reverse the role of spectator and specimen, since they could just as well catch her like a fish as be shipwrecked. (32-33)

Voltaire and his circle focus on the passions as the indispensable moving force in human existence. Candide, for instance, may retreat to his garden in the end. But he does not start with renunciation like Lucretius' spectator. Rather, it is the actual experience of the arbitrariness of shipwreck which extinguishes his passion for believing that things could be better. In the Marquise de Chatelet's "On Happiness," reflection is portrayed as a force that delays action until it is too late to achieve happiness. She counsels that time is short, and feeling and thinking must not be delayed by too much careful preparation -- like a ship always in port being caulked rather than being made use of while it could. For Voltaire, moreover, even the role of spectator with shipwreck is seen as the result of a passion -- curiosity -- rather than, as Lucretius would have it, as an opportunity to dispassionately comprehend one's own security. And he believes that animals share the passion of curiosity. (34-36+)

Voltaire describes himself in his letters as shipwrecked when he hastily escapes from the Prussian king. Compares his feeling of security to that of passengers who are saved from a shipwreck, and look back at their experience from a safe harbor -- but then goes on to express doubt that there is a safe harbor in the world. (37)

Voltaire's Micromegas describes a shipwreck caused by curious alien giants examining what, to them, are tiny vessels -- so small that they are unable to perceive the men in them at all. Through this story, Voltaire hopes to illustrate triviality of human history. Here Blumenberg says that man is removed from the possibility of even being a spectator, as in Fontanelle's story, of more advanced beings , and is only an object -- but in fact it seems he is not even that! (37-38)

Voltaire takes on Lucretius' account of the spectator again in his article "Curiosity" for the Encyclopedia. He shows his revulsion with an analogy to an angel who would use his observation of the sufferings of the damned as an occasion to reflect on his his own imperviousness to suffering; this angel, according to Voltaire, would be indistinguishable from a devil. And he goes on to say that it is his experience and that of others that curiosity rather than taking pleasure in safety drives people to gawk at a shipwreck. (38-39)

Abbe Galiani contradicts Voltaire in a letter to Madame d'Epinay. Curiosity only exists where there is security, he contends, otherwise men would be occupied with his own immediate concerns. Moreover, animals do not share the ability to be curious, because they lack the capacity of detachment from what is strange and frightening, and the sense of security it brings. Galiani forgoes the shipwreck metaphor altogether in his argument, preferring the to illustrate his point with the image of a theater. There, spectator are able to take interest in the drama because they are sheltered and secure. Blumenberg notes that the dangers of the spectacle to which the audience devotes its interest are not even real, so that in preferring this metaphor to that of the shipwreck Galiani aestheticizes what was originally a moral relationship. In suppressing the shipwreck metaphor in this case, Blumenberg also sees an abandonment of the classical implication of precarious human existence in the face of nature. Instead, in his Dialogues sur la commerce des bles, Galiani portrays the relationship between man and nature as a somewhat equal struggle between to indefinite powers. And so seafaring and shipwreck metaphors are made available for use to illustrate the proper prudence of administration informed by the best available evidence. (39-41)

Blumenberg notes that the first appearance of the shipwreck with spectator theme in German comes in Ewald's short poem Der Sturm from 1755. The poem has an intense, present tense description of a storm and shipwreck, with a an abrupt transition to a past tense coda when the topic switches to the "I" which is revealed to have been only a spectator. (41-42)

Blumenberg takes this as an opportunity to revisit Horace's employment of the shipwreck and spectator theme. Here the spectator's interest is justified by an attempt to warn the battered ship to return to port -- the involvement is moral rather than aesthetic. This leads to a reflection on the relative degree of involvement of Cicero's narrator and the narrator of the Greek poet Alcaeus' shipwreck story (which Cicero had used as his model). Although Alcaeus' narrator's experiences the storm aboard the boat, his involvement is in a way both more passive, because it is the perspective of confused immediacy, and more detached, since it is the view of an even that has passed. The orientation of Cicero's narrator, on the other hand, is toward the future, and an attempt to prevent the imminent peril to the ship. In this sense, the view from the Alcaeus' surviving passenger is more that of a spectator, than is the view of Cicero's actual spectator. (42-43)

And from here, we have a remarkably stream-of-consciousness set of transitions. Blumenberg notes that Ewald's poem was written in 1755, the year of the Lisbon earthquake which shattered Leibnizean metaphysical optimism. Then he notes that Herder, in turn, used the shipwreck metaphor in 1792 to describe the relationship between the German public and the French Revolution. He then turns to trace the succession of Herder's use of seafaring references, starting back in 1769. In that year, when he sailed from Riga to visit the Enlightenment thinkers in France, he uses sea exploration as a metaphor for philosophical discovery. On the return voyage the next year, Herder was shipwrecked on the Dutch coast; though it does not seem that Herder himself made this into a metaphor of anything, Blumenberg notes the irony of the sea intransigently asserting its power in light of the previous year's remarks. By 1774, Herder is using the shipwreck metaphor to express the current situation of philosophy in his Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. In his Letters for the Advancement of Humanity of 1792, he turns this metaphor, and the metaphor of the theater, to the task of accounting for the reception of the French Revolution in Germany. He sees the relationship between the events in France and the German public as a comfortably distant one (secured by the difference of language) akin to that between spectators and actors, or a spectator and a shipwreck. Blumenberg notes that the shipwreck metaphor is deployed with an unusual destabilizing twist, however: Herder suggests that a demon toss the spectator into the sea. Also, as with Galiani, Blumenberg notes that the shipwreck is presented as the superficial level of a more profound metaphor of theatrics. (43-46)

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 13, "The War of Independence"

The tragedy of Toussaint: he would not face up to the need for a decisive break from France, because San Domingo needed association with France in order to develop, and he believed that black freedom was impossible to reverse in any case.

Napoleon instructed his commander, LeClerc to accommodate Toussaint and the black leaders until he got his army established. Then the black leaders were to be arrested, the black officers dismissed, and the black populace disarmed so that "special laws" -- meaning, according to James, slavery -- could be imposed. The plan required a lot of naivete on the part of the black revolutionary leaders, but excepting Toussaint, Dessalines, and a few others that expectation was well justified.

After Toussaint prevented Christophe from handing over Le Cap to the French, the battle for the town began on February 4th, 1802. The black army retreated, burning Le Cap behind them -- the beginning of a scorched earth policy that the island's defenders would pursue with vigor throughout the war.

Toussaint made little headway raising the mass of laborers, who were disillusion by his policies of accommodation with the white planters. Moreover, the officer's of the San Domingo army themselves vacillated in the face of French demands for submission, and several key positions, including the capital Port-Republicain, were surrendered without a fight.

In the West, Dessalines waged a campaign that combined audacious raids behind French lines with a fighting retreat, and also initiated his policy of massacring all the whites who fell in his hands.

The French tried to use Toussaint's sons to persuade him to give up, but to no avail.

Toussaint's strategy: use his smaller forces delay and harass the French until the rainy season without getting drawn into a decisive battle (with the wet weather would come disease that would deplete the French).

From mid-February, LeClerc's forces marched on Gonaives by converging routes. Christophe and Toussaint fought and orderly fighting retreat in the east, while Maurepas in the northwest and Dessalines in the south halted the French entirely. Just as the black masses were stirring to revolt in the north, however, Maurepas' was left exposed by the unexpected surrender of several of his subordinates who had been alienated by Toussaint's policy of destructive defense. Maurepas, too, submitted to preserve his position as a military leader. The French immediately put him to work leading the suppression of the revolt, with the added aim of undermining his credibility among the black masses.

As LeClerc prepared another offensive, this time aiming to converge on Verrettes, Toussaint struck out into the north to rally the laborers to revolt. He left Dessalines to hold the key fortress of Crete-a-Pierrot. The French suffered thousands of casualties attempting to seize the fort. Meanwhile, the political divide between the sides widened. Dessalines rallied his defenders behind a new cause: independence. French retaliation for Dessalines' massacres increasingly turned the black population in favor of revolt. Toussaint returned south to relieve the siege, but the black defenders broke out before he arrived.

With Crete-a-Pierrot subdued, LeClerc felt able to begin a crackdown on the mulattoes by deporting Rigaud. But Toussaint, hoping to secure a truce, refrained from seeking an alliance with the mulattoes. In the meantime, LeClerc received reinforcements and resumed the offensive against the rebel forces, but all of the French attacks were repulsed.

Toussaint still hoped for a favorable peace with the French, and began secret negotiations with LeClerc through Cristophe, one of his generals. Christophe's decision to surrender his forces -- accepting French guarantees to maintain black officers in their positions -- was a blow to the revolution and the negotiations. Toussaint persisted, however, and came to terms with LeClerc in late April on surrender with the same essential guarantee.

Though all Toussaint's commanders submitted to the deal, this was the key event that made Dessalines lose confidence in him. Dessalines began planning to lead a fight for independence himself. First, by suggesting that Toussaint was conspiring against the French, he goaded LeClerc into arresting and deporting him. This disposed of the only leader who could halt the momentum for Independence once fighting renewed.

In the wake of Toussaint's arrest, black laborers rebelled in some areas of the north, and these scattered rebellions spread and persisted thereafter. The black military leaders did not join the rebellions, and helped to contain them, but in the meantime the white French army was wasting away from disease. In late July, blacks in San Domingo received word that slavery had been reimposed in Guadeloupe, and the rebellions intensified, but the black generals still remained loyal to the French.

Finally, in October, 1802, first Petion, and then Clairveaux, Dessalines and Christophe, joined the rebellion with their troops. LeClrerc died at the beginning of November and was succeeded in French command by Rochambeau, who sought a more aggressive policy. He sought permission to restore slavery (not realizing that Napoleon had already authorized it to LeClerc). Once he received reinforcements, he went on the offensive and also started massacres of the mulattoes. This policy incited the mulatto-dominated South province to revolt. Meanwhile, Dessalines and Petion were bringing the local rebels under their control, training and imposing army discipline on them.

Toussaint died in a French prison in April, 1803.

In 1803, war had resumed in Europe. This was a turning point for the revolution, since there were no further reinforcements from the French, and the national army could buy all the arms it needed from the British. In November, the national army attacked Le Cap. The French fought off the attack. The battle convinced Rochambeau that the French position was too precarious to sustain, however, and he evacuated Le Cap.

On December 31st, the national leaders issued a declaration of Haitian independence. The following October, Dessalines declared himself emperor.

In early 1805, partly at the instigation of the British (who sought to stifle French trade), all the remaining whites in the country were massacred. In consequence, Haiti was isolated from the rest of the world for generations, and its development was stifled.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 12, "The Bourgeoisie Prepares to Restore Slavery"

Napoleon was determined to subdue San Domingo and restore slavery. His motive was not prejudice (although he had plenty of that) or an eagerness for colonies but profit for his bourgeois supporters. Once his plans to use Russia to strike at British India were foiled, he had no reason to hesitate any longer. Fully aware of the formidable foe he faced, he launched the largest French overseas expedition in history -- 20,000 men -- on 21 November, 1801.

Toussaint continued his policy of appeasing whites, hoping this would convince Napoleon not to invade. He was not able to come to terms with the fact that the die had been cast, that the decision to attack had already been made. Revolutionary blacks became increasingly discontented with Toussaint's policy, and they revolted in the North province in late September. Toussaint harshly suppressed the revolt, and had Moise, whom he suspected of anti-white revolutionary tendencies, executed as well. Toussaint's approach disoriented the black masses who were essential to defending the island while also failing to overawe the white who could disable the island's defense from within.

James contends that if if Toussaint had communicated the prospect of an invasion and the aim of his policies in forestalling it more openly, he could have retained the support of the black laborers. He draws a parallel to Robespierre, who also crushed his left-wing supporters and destroyed his own defense in doing so. But, according to James, Robespierre could only be expected to do this because he was, after all, bourgeois, while there was no difference in political outlook between Toussaint and the masses. Their difference, he contends, was only in the view of how to manage the issue of race in order to secure the interests of the laborers. Accommodation had to be made to the understandable anti-white feelings of the black masses, according to James, in order to sustain their support for revolution -- and there was little to be lost, since the whites within and without could not be won over by further accommodation, anyway.

This seems right as a prescription for policy, but I have to think that James has misapprehended his man here. It strikes me that there was an ideological gap between Toussaint and the masses. In the end, it was not just a vain hope for appeasement that drove Toussaint's policy, but his essentially bourgeois inclinations. He saw promoting and protecting of the rights of property -- albeit without slavery -- as a positive good. And in the end, the black masses were not going to be content as mere laborers.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 11, "The Black Consul"

Can we just sum this up by stating that Toussaint was bourgeois in both policy and mores?

Toussaint put great stock in the bourgeois virtues of work, education, and sociability. He strove to make the colony productive and to develop the human capital of its people. His methods were authoritarian rather than liberal: for instance, he compelled the black laborers to stay on the estates, while guaranteeing them a share of the produce.

Besides serving the end of economic development, his protection of propertied interests was also designed to forestall conflict with metropolitan France. This was also true of the favor he showed to whites. The black masses remained suspicious of the whites, however, and James argues that Toussaint's signal failure was neglecting to explain his approach to them. I will allow myself to doubt that the masses would have been swayed. In any case, this division between Toussaint's policy and popular attitudes became his key political vulnerability.

Toussaint's ruled as a dictator. He took advice from many people, but made all decisions himself. This arrangement was codified in the constitution he promulgated for the colony. This constitution opened up a new breach with France, since it gave no place to metropolitan France in the rule of the colony at all. Napoleon, meanwhile, refused to acknowledge Toussaint's position as ruler of San Domingo at all -- avoiding an open beach as yet, but refusing to grant legitimacy as well.

Friday, April 2, 2010

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Chapter 10, "Toussaint Seizes the Power"

This is a disappointing chapter. James fails to satisfy me on a significant point, the nature of the conflict between the the mulatto-ruled South and the the North ruled by Toussaint. James makes this out to hang upon the personal conflict between Rigaud, who was unfailingly loyal to France, and Toussaint, who was sought to unify the island under his own control in preparation for independence. James even suggests that if Beauvais had been allowed to succeed Rigaud -- a succession which was stymied by the new French governor, Roume, in order to sow division -- unification could have taken place without conflict. But the vigor of the Southern defence belies any such expectation. I think we must understand this level of commitment as rooted in social and economic differences which could hardly have failed to produce an insurrection, no matter how peaceful the initial unification had been.

In any case, here are the main narrative points. (1) Toussaint cut a trade deal with the British. Given the British control of the seas, he could hardly have done otherwise, whatever his intentions towards France. (2) Toussaint conquered the South and dealt unusually harshly with the defeated mulattoes. (3) Toussaint then Spanish San Domingo to bring the entire island under his rule. (4) Toussaint kept the purpose of these actions largely to himself and failed to engage the people on the conflict with France for which he was preparing them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My ten most influential books

I saw that Matt Yglesias had listed the ten books that had influenced his thinking the most, and I wanted to try the same thing.

This leaves out something that was really important for me in my youth: the political and cultural periodicals such as the Washington Monthly, the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the Atlantic Monthly. I started reading most of these in high school, some thirty years ago, and that reading was the key influence in shaping many of my concrete political views.

Most of these books are important because they became a constant touchpoint of reflection. In general, they changed and challenged the frame through which I looked at things more than they changed my mind on any specific thing.

  1. Alisdair Macintyre, After Virtue. Macintyre was such a revelation for me because he demonstrated the necessity of thinking about the social and institutional contexts of ethics, but in the long run the work was most influential for the way I think about art and aesthetics.
  2. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. Granted that the the historical divisions Foucault draws are a little too neat and crisp (an issue I was aware of even when I first read the book in college), the pointed questions he raises about knowledge, power, and institutions still shape the way that I think about policy questions.
  3. Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land. This is really cheating, since I had long before read the original articles in the Atlantic which grew into this book. In any case, it really did drive home to me the significance for social policy of the stickiness of social and cultural influences across generations.
  4. Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity. Despite the title, it is not religion which made this book important to me, but it's explanation of the ways that community matters for ethics.
  5. Johns Lachs, Intermediate Man. This short, overlooked work has kept me thinking about the costs of mediated action in modern society ever since I read it in college.
  6. Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters. In addition to how it helped to form my appreciation of the central place of race and civil rights in recent American history, this book also gave me plenty else to chew on. Branch's mordant illustrations of journalists' captivity to conservative spin on civil rights informed my understanding of media long before there were blogs.
  7. Christoper Alexander, et al, The Oregon Experiment. This fortuitously discovered book first introduced me to Alexander's work, which has been the key influence in my thinking about architecture and urban design. The key insights for me are an anthropological approach to assessing the success of buildings and an incrementalist approach to design.
  8. Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. I only read this in the last year, but it has been a huge influence in how I think about the how to deal with imperfect progressive party and interest group institutions over the last year.
  9. Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. Although I never read the whole book until a year ago, I had read bits and pieces of it for two decades before that. The answers Blumenberg gives about the nature of modernity actually matter less for my development than his explicit methodological reliance on philosophical anthropology. This work was the entry way for me to learning something about the German tradition in this field, and if anything the introduction by Robert Wallace was nearly as influential as Blumenberg's text.
  10. V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River. I read this for the first time when I was just fifteen, after seeing a review in Time, and something of its vision and its anger has haunted me since.
  11. Thomas Sowell, Ethnic America. Sowell's well-supported argument for the persistence of social and cultural disparities across generation has shaped my support for social policies to reduce inequality (although Sowell inexplicably fails to draw this natural conclusion to his argument).

All right, so my list goes to eleven. Cue the Spinal tap jokes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 1, "Seafaring as a Transgression of Boundaries", and 2, "What the Shipwrecked Person is Left with"

Two presuppositions of the ancient use of seafaring as a metaphor for life (8)

1. The seashore is a natural boundary of man's activity.

2. The sea lacks order; it is arbitrary and (in Christian terms) even evil.

Hesiod sees commerce and a desire for gain behind the crossing of this seemingly natural boundary, which opens such voyages to a critique based on alleged immoderation . (9)

Horace portrays shipwreck as a restoration of a natural order where the elements are separated, and man belongs only to the element of earth -- an order that has been upended by man's seafaring. (11-12)

The philosopher Aristippus is shipwrecked on Rhodes. He sees geometrical figures drawn in the sand, and realizes that he is close to civilization -- and he proceeds to go into town and earn his return cost by teaching. He proclaims the lesson of this is to possess no more than what can be saved from a shipwreck, because that cannot be touched by war or turmoil. (12)

Montaigne takes up this theme of what can be salvaged from shipwreck with his dictum "Certainly a man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himself." According to Blumenberg, this is to be understood not as a refuge into interiority from external pressure, but as self-possession gained through self-examination. (14)

Montaigne's ethics through nautical metaphors: caution (don't stray far from port), awareness of bias towards subjectivity (like the optical illusion of the receding shore from a ship going to sea), steadiness (hold a steady course). (15)

Montaigne as spectator of political tumult. Avoids commitment to a cause as far as possible, because that would put him in danger. "One can almost feel how the skeptic approaches the the secure position of spectator, by raising higher and higher the conditions under which he would still be prepared to allow himself to go down, in what was then a thirty-year-old political situation." Takes pleasure in being a spectator to turmoil, although he feels compassion for those who suffer - compares it to watching a play. (16) (is it relief at being spared or the cathartic emotions of internalizing others suffering that create the pleasure?)

Montaigne does not use Lucretius' description of the shipwreck with a spectator to define his political situation. Blumenberg notes that he has already used it to support his thesis that nothing in nature is useless -- not even uselessness. Here being a spectator -- which amounts to a capacity to keep one's distance -- stands for uselessness, but this distance keeps the spectator alive. In particular, the ability to take malicious pleasure in being able to survive while others perish fosters the ability to stand apart -- and survive. This example is also part of a more general thesis argued by Montaigne: that human institutions require vices in order to work. (17)

Goethe's describes his predicament -- both generally and with regard to the reception of his theory of colors -- as the survivor -- in the latter case the sole survivor -- of a shipwreck. (18) For now this goes nowhere and we take up ...

Pascal's innovative twist on the seafaring as a metaphor for life -- "you are embarked." This dictum, which sets a condition for his wager about belief, excludes the cautious, skeptical path of staying in port recommended by Montaigne. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche follows this up with a further condition -- we have destroyed the land behind us as well, so there is nothing to be done but sail. Yet further, in Zarathustra, Nietzsche adopts the metaphor that not only are we already embarked, but already shipwrecked as well. (19)

Prince de Ligne -- an 18th century precursor to seeing metaphorical shipwreck as a primordial condition, at least of his experience. He claims to have always sought out the reefs, but always to have been saved by hanging on to a plank. (20)

Nietzsche on freely rearranging the debris of the shipwreck as a metaphor for intellectual liberation. (20)

Franz Overbeck on Nietzsche's endeavor as an existentially unavoidable sea voyage (21)

Nietzsche's metaphor for science -- the shipwrecked person finding dry land. Notable that the metaphor is not the spectator's relationship to land. The point is that science, like solid land to the shipwrecked, is a change, and even an unexpected one. Science provides a secure ground for further research -- something that had not been provided by man's thought throughout history. (21-22)

Nietzsche's use of voyages of Columbus and his discovery of a new world as an analogy with his philosophizing. (22)

Nietzsche on understanding Epicurus -- takes Epicurus' happiness to be that of the sufferer who has found serenity, like the seafarer who has come through the storm to find calm seas. Relationship of subject rather than (as with Lucretius) spectator to the storm-tossed ship. Nietzsche regarded the image of shipwreck with spectator as alien to Greek thinking, which Blumenberg calls a "profound insight." (22-23)

But is Nietzsche's insight true? Blumenberg brings up the anonymous Greek distich: "I have found the port. Farewell, Hope and Fortune!/ You have played enough with me. Now play with other men!" (Inveni portum. Spes et fourtuna valete!/ Sat me lusistis. Ludite nunc alios!) He considers its reception in both Casanova and in Alain Lesage's character Gil Blas di Santillana.
In both cases, he finds that the distich lends itself to leaving contemplation of the struggles of other with the game of fate-- the role of spectator -- out of the picture. (23-26)