Monday, July 22, 2013

Marx as Intellectual Magician

The following is an excerpt from Roberto Calasso’s book The Ruin of Kasch

Looking to the origins, Marx regarded the earth in two different ways: it was at once an “extension of the body” of man, and his “great laboratory,” “arsenal,” “working material.” These antithetical modes recur often in his thought. On the one hand, there is an analogical chain of symbolic correspondences, in which the earth is enfolded as soon as it is considered an “extension of the body” of man (and thus we see despite incessant secularization, terms like “heart,” “brain,” “flesh,” remain symbolic poles). On the other hand, there is an Enlightenment-inspired dissociation, an experimental use of the whole, an absence of premises, represented in the image of the “great laboratory.” But Marx’s attention—and passion—is always directed at the second pole. The first, he realizes, obviously exists; but he is clearly too bored by it to specify its characteristics. For him it suffices to posit a state of belonging, both at the origin and (though here it is more problematic) at the end, as well as a considerable number of states of separation, in all that occurs between those two stages. Marx analyzes these states of separation with a kind of tireless, turbulent, sensual pleasure, referring often and eloquently to something lost or to be recovered. But his eloquence fades, and he becomes suddenly distracted, as soon as he has the opportunity to clarify exactly what has been lost and what might be recovered. All this does not imply that Marx has given two incompatible definitions of the “land” of origin. The definitions are indeed discordant and contradictory, but they have always lived side by side in history: one is the latency of the other. Marx reveals his perceptiveness in the very fact that he posits them together. The euhemeristic gesture, the severing of correspondences, also takes place where the order of analogies has been established. Indeed, the order can be regarded as a conciliatory reply, a suturing of correspondences that ritually follows every act of severing.(magic)

“Fully developed individuals, those whose social ties are completely their own, who are borne of communal relations which they control collectively—such individuals are products not of nature but of history. The degree and universality of the development of abilities in which this type of individuality becomes possible presuppose production based on exchange value. This production, together with universality, for the first time gives rise to the alienation of the individual from himself and from others, but it also creates the universality and all-sidedness of his relations and abilities (Continuation of magic). In earlier stages of development, the single individual appears fuller, because he has not yet realized the fullness of his relations and established them as an ensemble of powers and social relations independent of him. It is as absurd to regret this original fullness, as it is to think that we must forever remain in our current state of emptiness. The bourgeois viewpoint has never gone beyond the antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and thus the latter will accompany it as its legitimate antithesis until the blessed end of the bourgeoisie.” This passage exalts the metaphysical function of capital, which stands magnificently apart from everything else we know. Other apologists lack Marx’s far-sightedness, and never can attribute such evocative power to the commerce they are defending. The universal itself, that spoiled firstborn child of the bourgeois era, is here considered the offspring of “production on the basis of exchange values”—and of nothing else. Marx disdains the communitarian connectedness of all prior stages (even though he is ready to shed a hypocritical tear for its lost “original fullness”), because he knows that those stages are inevitably bornes, limited. And for Marx, Borniertheit is the supreme defect, worse than any emptiness. It is a permanent threat, a hostile memory of the ghetto.

The “original fullness” is not polutropos, not “all-sided”; this is what Marx means. (But does Ulysses belong to that “origin” or not? A question which remains unanswered.) At the other end of history we see that, in an age when the bourgeoisie is flourishing most successfully, the essence of the bourgeois individual is indeed universal but completely empty, void, hollow, the result of an inexorable process of emptying. The anthropological question must then be posed in these terms: How are we to deal with that “total emptying” without yielding to some fatuous reference to the lost “original fullness”?

At this point the apparatus of dialectic, with all its deceptive aggressiveness, once again seems immensely useful. What development has emptied, development will refill (the magician in action). People will talk about “universal development of individuals” instead of about the relations of production. Thus, instead of speaking of a real emptying, they will use a vacuous expression that nevertheless is tuned to the inclinations of a period which, more than any other, wants to “make it on its own.” One need only avoid certain questions. What if the concrete (the individual) stubbornly refuses? And what if the universal will tolerate continued existence only in conditions of perfect emptiness? Around these same points, some masterly sleight of hand had already been performed by Hegel. Now Marx did the same, though his methods were cruder and he knew much less about the history of philosophy. And such legerdemain would be performed countless more times, with ever more brutal manners, by increasingly nefarious great-grandchildren, travelling cadres of the Third International, or the heirs of some black Byzantium, inhaling the sacrificial fumes of polytechnic schools while waiting to transform their savannah {the leaders of the Khmer Rouse in Cambodia in the aftermath of studying in France and absorbing the tenets of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser} into a bloody scene a la Raymond Roussel, steeped in slaughter, to baptize a belated entry into history.

Marx does not always abandon himself unrestrainedly to the worship of “development.” Behind the word, he sometimes glimpses inevitable divergences. There are passages in which he comes dangerously close to asserting a full break between the two models of development, one perverse (that of capital) and one good (that which comes after capital); and in so doing he lets down his guard…

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Egypt: Which Side Will the Dominoes Fall?

In view of the removal of  President Morsi by the army responding to the call of the majority of Egyptians for his ousting, I'm republishing the following essay that was written in February 2011, that foreshadowed and tried to prevent by a proposal of mine the fall of  the country to radical Islam,  for the readers of this blog.

By Con George-Kotzabasis February 08, 2011

Swallowing victory in one gulp may choke one.

Egypt, not unexpectedly for those who have read history and can to a certain extent adumbrate its future course, as one of the offsprings (Tunisia was the first one) of the rudimentary Democratic paradigm that was established in Iraq by the U.S. ‘invasion’, has a great potential of strengthening this paradigm and spreading it to the whole Arab region. The dominoes that started falling in Iraq under a democratic banner backed by the military power of the Coalition forces are now falling all over the Arab territories dominated by authoritarian and autocratic governments. The arc that expands from Tunisia to Iran and contains all other Arab countries has the prospect and promise of becoming the arc of Democracy. But Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty in physics also and equally applies to politics. For one cannot predict, especially in a revolutionary situation, and more so, when it is combined with fledgling and immature political parties that is the present political configuration in Egypt as well as of the rest of the Arab world due to the suppression of political parties by their authoritarian regimes, whether the dominoes will fall on the side of Democracy or on the side of Sharia radical Islam. This is why the outcome of the current turmoil in Egypt is of so paramount geopolitical importance. And that is why the absolute necessity of having a strong arm at the helm that will navigate the presently battered State of Egypt toward the safe port of Democracy is of the utmost importance. Contrariwise, to leave the course of these momentous events in the hands of the spontaneous and totally inexperienced leaders of the uprising against Mubarak is a recipe of irretrievable disaster. For that can bring the great possibility, if not ensure, that the dominoes in the whole Arab region will be loaded to fall on the side of the extremists of Islam. And this is why in turn for the U.S. and its allies in the war against global terror, it is of the uttermost strategic importance to use all their influence and prowess to veer Egypt toward a Democratic outcome.

One is constrained to build with the materials at hand. If the only available materials one has to build a structure in an emergency situation are bricks and mortar he will not seek and search for materials of a stronger fibre, such as steel, by which he could build a more solid structure. Presently in Egypt, the army is the material substance of ‘bricks and mortar’ by which one could build a future Democratic state. It would be extremely foolish therefore to search for a stronger substance that might just be found in civil society or among the protesters of Tahrir Square. That would be politically a wild goose chase at a time when the tectonic plates of the country are moving rapidly toward a structural change in the body politic. The army therefore is the only qualified, disciplined organization that can bring an orderly transitional change on the political landscape of the country. Moreover, the fact that it has the respect of the majority of the Egyptian people and that it has been bred and nourished on secular and nationalist principles, ensures by its politically ‘synthetic nature’ that it will not go against the wishes of the people for freedom and democracy, that it will be a bulwark against the extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that it will be prepared to back the change from autocracy to democracy, if need be, with military force and thus steer the country away from entering the waters of anarchy and ‘permanent’ political instability that could push Egypt to fall into the lap of the supporters of Allahu Akbar.

The task of the army or rather its political representatives will be to find the right people endowed with political adeptness, experience, imagination, and foresight from a wide pool of political representation that would also include members of the old regime who will serve not only for their knowledge in the affairs of state but also as the strong link to the chain of the anchor that will prevent any possibility that the new political navigation of the country will go adrift. The former head of Egyptian Intelligence Omar Suleiman will play a pivotal role in this assembly of political representation which will not exclude members of the Muslim Brotherhood. What is of vital importance however is that this new political process will not be violently discontinued from the old regime. While room will be made to ensconce the new representatives of the people to government positions, this will not happen at the expense of crowding out old government hands. The only person that will definitely be left out will be Hosni Mubarak and some of his conspicuous cronies. And Mubarak himself has already announced that neither he nor his son will be candidates in the presidential elections in September. The call of the Tahrir Square protesters to resign now has by now become an oxymoron by Mubarak’s announcement not to stand as president in the next election. Further it is fraught with danger as according to the Constitution if he resigns now elections for the presidency must be held after sixty days. That means a pot- pourri of candidates for president will come forward without the people having enough time either to evaluate their competence nor their political bona fide and might elect precipitatingly without critical experience and guidance a ‘dunce’ for president, an Alexander Kerensky in the form of Mohamed Al Baradei, that will open the passage to the Islamic Bolsheviks. To avoid this likely danger I’m proposing the following solution that in my opinion would be acceptable to all parties in this political melee.

The Vice President Omar Suleiman as representative of the armed forces, to immediately set up a committee under his chairmanship that will comprise members of the variable new and old political organizations of the country, whose task will be to appoint the members of a ‘shadow government’ whose function in turn will be to put an end to the protests that could instigate a military coup d’├ętat , to make the relevant amendments to the constitution that will guide the country toward democracy, and to prepare it for the presidential elections in September. The members of this shadow government will be a medley of current holders of government that would include the most competent of all, Ahmed Nazif, the former prime minister, who was sacked by Mubarak as a scapegoat, and of the old and new political parties that emerged since the bouleversement against Mubarak. The executive officer of this 'government in the wings' will be Vice President Suleiman, who, with the delegated powers given to him by the present no more functional president Mubarak will be the real president during this interim period. Finally, the members of this shadow government will have a tacit agreement that their political parties will support candidates for president in the September elections who were selected by consensus among its members.
The ‘establishment’ of such a shadow government might be the political Archimedean point that would move Egypt out of the crisis and push it toward democracy.

Hic Rhodus hic salta