Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Train Boxer

The Proposition:  A young woman/female, but more like a man or at least mannish/masculine/butch in her fearless approach to men on the train.  She is a probability-boxer-talker or talker-probability-boxer. 

She wore a hoodie with LSE Boxing on the back.  Her first ‘target’ was a very obese man, dark hairy arms and a very dark five o’clock shadow of a beard, straight oily shoulder length black hair, but soft brown eyes.  He had the physique of a darts player who are often obese – and their steadiness of gaze.  A bear type.  She entered the coach and sat down opposite the giant as if they knew one another.  But they probably didn’t –he introduced himself at the end when he got off at Slough – “I’m Jay.” “I’m Marianne.” “Stay awake.”
His business was the subject of the conversation – almost without any preliminaries.  Perhaps being very fat, although his face was pleasant enough, he was flattered to be approached/addressed by any woman.  He works with probability, odds – it sounded like some sort of betting system.  “We manipulate data.  It’s a mathematical system.”  He tried to retreat from further explanations by saying it was complicated.  She:  “Try me.  I just finished my PhD in probability.”  He was hooked – no turning back.  As soon as he got off,  she continued almost without pause, socially/mentally freight train hopping with the next targets.  They were two young men – younger than Jay the Bear, possibly filling out the crossword puzzle.  She simply went on speaking to them as if they were part of a flowing seamless Platonic series of male embodiments, the second prefigured in the first – this time dispensing information about a festival, maybe helping out with one of the crossword spellings, explaining why the train stopped before the station.  The two young men had come in shouting and boisterous.  They calmed down quickly next to her.  She was more the aggressor than they.  Maybe they believed she was some kind of boxing expert, a black belt pugilist or the like. “I was out with my boxing club tonight.  Next week I’ll know my grade for my PhD.”  Young man next to her: “Will it be good?”  She: “Yes.  I spoke to my tutor already.”  The boy was so impressed he moved closer to her and asked permission to hug her as a farewell gesture.  He banged on the train window from the outside on the platform and shouted, “I’ll ring you.”  I wondered how he would know her phone number.  
We were next.  All she asked me were the directions to the toilet and then if she could leave her rucksack with me while she went off looking for them. I: “Sure.”  She alighted at the posh station Twyford.  As the train pulled out we saw her talking to an older potbellied white haired man who looked like the brother of the now retired famous Twyford platform conductor.  But he didn’t have his long beard and walrus moustache.  In profile she really did look like a boxer – with a face that had been in the ring on the receiving end of some hard punches – a strongly indented nose, unnaturally pointing upward, a super ski-slope job.  From the front she looked more waifish – straggly long hair of a mousy colour, tucked behind slightly cauliflowered ears.  Her jeans were very tight – white flab hanging over her belt – but not too much.  


Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Morris Flavoured Halo Drink and the Big Girls

The big girl gods are feeding on my liver again
I’m a vegetarian
You’ve been I sigh with big girls before?

The Sights

The sleeping semi-ripe bald man - on the train – a pile of nulls in an anorak who wouldn’t wake up even after being prodded by three different people including me, the cleaning lady and another male passenger.  He was on the local train into Paddington which had terminated – and he just stayed put.  “Do you think he’s ….”  I ask the cleaning lady too superstitious to finish the sentence.  “Let him go back to where he came from.” she joked.


Morris announces our reward in the New Year as if it were a private audience with the Pope or a prize draw at the synagogue raffle – a vegetarian meal with the father in law from Lvov aka Lemberg.  Fadjan might be an Armenian name – there is an Armenian Church in Lvov – and historically a small Armenian population.  Morris fills us in on his travel plans to the US for a couple of big American weddings.  Eleanor his wife is worried the American trip might interfere with their ancestral pilgrimage to Lvov – organized by their dynamic evangelist rabbi – whom we are also supposed to meet.  Morris is worried about what to wear when visiting his rich American distant relations.  “Maybe I could just rent a tux there.”  The person he refers to as ‘our parliamentary lady’ (probably the charity’s lobbyist at Westminster – her name is Claire and she has soft sweaty hands and a receding chin but a kind of ingratiating lilt) reassures him “Whatever you wear will be fine – they’re always behind us over there.” Eleanor is an aficionado of Americana such as the sights on the Hudson River – she wants to travel up the River, look at residences of FDR (the sister dwellings to Hampton Court, Blenheim etc for the English tourist-loyalist), see the paintings of Frederic Church.  Me: Who? He: Frederic Church an American painter. Me: I only know “American Gothic”, miming standing with the pitchfork. American art just started to be interesting with Edward Hopper. 
Church, says he somewhat reproachful, is from the Hudson River School of Painting – an important landscape painter in the traditional vein (not in my book on American painting).  Morris: Eleanor has quite a lot of artistic interests.  I encourage her in that.  

All the people at the ‘work drink’ table in the pub including the ‘birthday’ host Morris work for the same medical charity.  Morris is a part time volunteer. Their office is within spitting distance of the pub – it’s their local.
At least half of London’s clerk demimonde, office worker fashion plates and sub-celebs work ‘in their proper jobs’ for charities. Dementia is very popular around London and the Home Counties. The English charities are very Victorian being ultra utilitarian – in other words they’re fundraising racketeers.  They quantify and monetize the needs of the ill, feeble minded, underdeveloped or victims of natural and military disasters to acquire huge global fortunes and enterprises. Along the way they diversify into simple secondary monetization like selling motor insurance etc or full-blown financialization by investing in futures and shorts.
The humanitarian charity is a typical follow-on project for an ex-empire service economy. 
But what else to do with all those old boys and old girls, who, had the empire turned out differently, would have filled the ranks of mid level colonial administrators?
The public schools (which are themselves charities) alias ‘sausage factories’ still churn out the same amount or more of sausages – but without an empire they would just rot dockside.  So let a 1000 charities bloom…  The commodities produced by incestuous charities are incestuous charity workers.

Even the land-mine clearing enterprise which employs the neighbor’s ex-soldier nephew as a ‘consultant’ in places like the Syrian Turkish border or in Ceylon is called a ‘charity’ – with the pastoral sounding name of Halo Trust.  In a recent twitter Halo Trust thanks the “foreign office” for all its support in the charity’s latest remit on the West Bank.  The presumably authentic BBC-John Le Carré television series The Night Manager shows what the latter-day T. E. Lawrences and their gangs of merry mercenaries do in their charitable/humanitarian camps called havens on the Turkish Syrian border.  Behind the humanitarian scenes they sell napalm, sarin and ‘standard’ weapons to assorted Middle Eastern suits, who come to their obscure desert hideouts to watch the goods in spectacular action.  The transactions are disguised as trade with biblical sacks of grain and agricultural machinery.  An interesting coincidence – the appropriately named Dromgoole, M16’s (‘River House’) deep state/black ops contact to the ‘rogue’ weapons dealer Roper is code named ‘Halo’ like the land-mine charity.  Dromgoole sounds like a cross between a dromedary and a ghoul – reminiscent of Poe’s “homo-cameleopard” or four beasts in one.  A ‘gul’ (Arabic) is a desert demon who robs graves and devours corpses – so a ‘Dromgoole’ is a ghoul who roams the desert in the shape of a homo-dromedary.  No one could possibly wish to contradict him when he tells the petty international enforcement agency lady to stop meddling: “we need Roper to be what we are, to punch above our weight in the world.” One of Roper’s entourage sees it otherwise: We have our own country, gesturing towards the Turkish sand – which doesn’t seem like much nowadays. United Fruits had their own continent. Roper says he is an ancient Roman who has his own ‘kingdom’ as he slithers down a sand bank in his fenced off desert camp.  This brings to mind a line in one of Cicero’s letters when he jokes about how he, who is not a king, has handed out many kingships to foreign satraps as the Consul of the Roman Republic.
The Dromgoole actor looks like he had a few extra jaw bones implanted for the role – so that he could keep at least one jaw clenched at all times.  He is the much forbearing unsung hero of the piece. 

Pub Grub (Birthday Party)

The Royal Oak on Nebraska Street to which we were lured by the promise of a ‘birthday party’ is one of numerous way stations belonging to a famous brewery – its beer flowing out of taps in taprooms all over London maybe even further –thousands of iron breasts at which the city, the nation suckles – like Remus and Romulus suckling at the wolf’s tits.  We staked out the place briefly before entering – looking inside over the flimsy cheesy half curtains on their golden rods to see if we recognized the host, we’d only seen him once before. That’s when we met him – in the queue at the proms.  Afterwards we stood with him under a Shostakovich waterfall at the back of the Arena. Anyone can look good under those conditions. In the pub he sat with 6 to 8 others on a long narrow church pew like bench pushed against the wall, on the plain deal table nothing but a mess of glasses, not even a crisp or a pack of peanuts in sight.  The whole braying grunting scene was bathed in dirty yellow light of a Salvation Army (Sally Army) brass band orgy. (At close range – the assembly resembled more the AGM of a pigeon fancier’s club, which has wanted to disestablish itself for years.)  After much hesitation we braced ourselves to meet the faces, the beer barnacles – the entrance was indirect as if one were to break into a church through the sacristy – the tabernacle of metabeer for metaholics.  

When Morris saw us, he rose from his seat in a strange cataclysmic fashion, almost exploding into the upright position, his crooked forearms thrust before him like a pugilist - battering rams ending in mallets. He is nearly bald except for Fu Manchu shaped tufts of hair in the back.  His aquarium face swims before me.  Every look a fleet of scales.  A maniacal stray vatic gleam in his sidelong glances grazes my shoulder.  As soon as I sit down I realize our huge mistake in coming.  I curse our criminal naiveté in following a call, which in fairy tales can lead you straight to the bottom of the river (the Thames swishes at you in so many places in the city). Why did we believe in this birthday party and even bring gifts (two precious vinyls from our collection) for this lewd stranger?   There is a book on the table in front of him East West Street.  “Here here” he says with a stutter still locked in his throat, pointing to this book which is supposed to be why we’ve come, why we’re there.    

I learn the names of whiskeys – the life drink.  Claire tells me she drinks Blue Nun from Aldi – whiskey of a lesser quality, to drink when nothing else is around.  If this were a quiz question she would have lost the point.  Aldi’s £18 whiskey has been ranked one of the best in the world and it’s not called Blue Nun.  But Blue Nun is everywhere else – Blue Nun is not just wine and “Germany’s greatest export”, someone on Instagram holds up a massive “blue nun pineapple”.  How is it possible to have lived and never to have heard of Blue Nun although the whole world bathes in its pineapple notes?

Morris is fond of Talisker – high quality beloved whiskey from Skye.
He basks in idyllic memories of a whole pre-dinner bottle on the house in the hotel bar on Skye – watching the sunset die in the sea.
Thinking of the ‘sleeping Man’ on the train I ask Morris as a drinker – “Do you think it would be possible to be so drunk, that you would fall asleep and not wake up even if someone were to shake you?
He: I’d wake up.
I:  I don’t mean you. I mean anyone.  Do you think anyone could?
He: I’d wake up.

Could we have still turned back while we were looking through the half curtained window to see if we recognized him and his ‘birthday party’ or when we entered the ‘foyer’ of the bar which divides the two pub rooms, or when he clenched both fists and made a kind of victory sign – as if his team had just scored a goal or he had backed a winning horse at Newbury.  The gulls had entered the trap.  Dickens’ territory – Little Dorrit and Chaucer.  The pub could have been one of those where in earlier times an unsuspecting traveller falls into a vat of boiling water through a trap door.  Not a peanut or crisp in sight – like drowning on dry land.  Just chew on the table.   But we didn’t leave.  Not just because as soon as we sat down our coats and rucksacks were buried under the massive scrum of dozens of other coats and bags – not because we were caged in on all sides on that very narrow bench.  It was the superior power of an action in the prime of its unfolding over the instinct aroused by a moment of danger.  What sort of anti-evolutionary tic is that?  Or is it the shadow of the death drive?
Once we arrived the only mystery was how we came to be there at all.

Scene: Tearing apart (limb by limb – as in the blood smeared jaws of Goya’s Saturn devouring his son) - Sparagmos on the real presents for the fake birthday party – tearing apart of the living birthday god – we were witnesses of his tearing apart – the others too – but probably didn’t notice.  Morris fist fucks the wrapping. Our ‘bells and whistles’ never stand a chance.  He pounds and rips his way through the wrapping and baroque swirls of ribbon and crepe paper, flaying the packages with eager claws.  I expect him to gently prise open the tape – but he bulldozes down the front – tears out the ‘face’, which a few hours earlier we had repaired and re-taped – especially the fragile paper relief floating on top – and carried on the train and tube in separate bags to prevent them from being crushed …

After the act, the epidermis is brutally crumpled, crushed in the paws of the giftee – shoved under the bench.  I rescue out of this human shredder blade – the ‘birthday’ note with its arcane symbols and letters and charms against il malocchio. He lays this inverse spell on top of the vintage records – our musical sacrifice.   (Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations” and a historical recording of “The Mikado” - the soloist Alfred Brendel can easily be missed, and if I’m honest I would never listen to any Gilbert and Sullivan tripe.  The record sleeves are the best part.  Morris seems to be pleased though.)
Dodging his volleys of spit on the narrow bench, worn in places or hollowed out; generations of pub bums over Chaucerian eons have carved out seats my buttocks contradict.   
Tales of doomed Victorian mariners, the ill-fated polar expeditions of Scott and Franklin and an Iron Vampire (a new kind of superhero), which sucks iron neat out of you and doesn’t mess around with blood, creep into the conversation.  
Nigel the office wit and master of the Christmas quiz asks everyone to consider what they would choose as their ‘Mastermind’ specialist subject – “nothing major – like the Works of Gilbert and Sullivan,” (winking in our direction) “or the history of Lancashire County Cricket Club, just something minor but rare enough for you to ‘own’ it – mine would be the first ten series of “The Simpsons””. I: You should visit Didcot Parkway, everyone says it looks like Springfield.
Morris is impressed by new findings that show evidence of cannibalism amongst the crew of the lost ships Erebus and Terror. 
I: Wasn’t it tempting the devil, a risky act of Victorian hubris, to call a ship HMS Erebus, the first port of call for the newly dead in Hades or HMS Terror? And I thought mariners were such a superstitious lot. No wonder the Franklin story turned out the way it did. 
The demon waiter cop haunts our corner – he rubber limbs it over the bar and confiscates every glass the moment it is set down on the table.  He takes away my glass with its spurious liquid contents without asking me.  He is like Ganesh the quadruple armed elephant headed god – god of beginnings and remover of obstacles.  The new beginning is each drink; obstacles are the half empty glasses, which stand in the way of the next beginning.

Morris Flavoured Halo Drink

Hours spent looking up the drinks menu of the Royal Oak on Nebraska Street  just to see how much our ‘host’ cheated us when he ‘paid’ for our lime cordials which weren’t like any lime cordial I’d known.  (Just read the standard lime cordial is Roses’ patented in 1867 to ward off scurvy in the Royal Navy – this was standard medical practice – all those culturally engrained products have to do with English seafaring and then colonies to supply the seafarers with lime and sugar and the rest. That’s why the British are still known as Limeys till this day.  Rose preserved his limejuice in sugar not in rum as before.)  What Morris brought us from the bar was probably not a drink at all.  Certainly not on the menu.  Which I couldn’t find – as if it had been destroyed as incriminating evidence.  Only something about ‘pub grub’ – some Ploughmans – not even the vegetable and stilton pie I’d seen once but never again – more likely he’d asked the bartenders for 2 small glasses of London tap water – and when they weren’t looking gave each glass a squirt or two of piss – just so a cough lozenge would melt in them or a dash of lemsip, maybe he dissolved an old dextrose tablet into the glasses – or some lint flavoured saccharine packet – he found in the bottom of his trousers pocket – right next to his testicles.  And then when L. tentatively offered him a fiver for this delicious brew – he looked at the bill, his face flickered once and he made it disappear somewhere in the same pocket to the same place of no return where it performed pre-lycanthropic pub sex on some poorly endowed bald castrato coin. 

The Big Girls

From the body snatcher hoods of Southwark we fall into the arms of ‘the exterminating angel’:  We can’t leave Paddington – no trains to nowhere, all the trains are cancelled indefinitely. “It can take a very long time – best look for other means of transportation,” the very patient Great Western rep (the man in the green coat) tells a mob of stupefied passengers and us.
The Big Girl phalanx – arrived on the same very slow Southwestern train we had to take from Waterloo station because of the Paddington signal meltdown. They walked/swayed down the platform in Reading arms interlocked, the outer girls waving half empty open wine bottles offering other passengers a sip.  They wore off the shoulder dresses, had broad shoulders, no coats, big heads, hindquarters like shire horses and heavy legs in very high stiletto heels. They look like a mass of galleon figureheads on the run.  Maybe the big girls are trans.
They provoked a near altercation in our coach with a group of drunken Landsknecht sorts, randy lads from Reading back empty-handed from a big night out in Wokingham – it was over the possession of a bottle.  One of the mates demonstrates a crude style of ‘traffic cop’ seduction – much admired by his fellows.  He plays the warden and keeper of public order.  He lights up a cigarette for one of the bar dames, snatches it out of her mouth, and throws it on the tracks then reviles her for littering. (this was told in the coach by one of his male admirers so we could keep up with the plot and previous episodes.) In the midst of the raging bottle fight – the ‘girls’ bolted – one of the blokes followed them into the next carriages – but they had vanished.  The rest of the ride was filled with elaborate revenge lust – “let’s push them onto the tracks – take them out.” Some specs were bandied such as their ‘price’ “18 pounds an hour”, “you could eat 18 pounds an hour.”  “Your mother is biodegradable.”  Someone groans, that was below the belt. The ‘warden’ was on a one man ‘crusade’ – and the loudest of the wags couldn’t stop talking about St George and knights mounted on horseback waving their swords and taking out whole harems (pronounced ha-reem). 

Monday, 19 March 2018

The True Fake and Other Nobodies

“God it would be great to be a fake somebody, rather than a real nobody.” 
(Mike Tyson)

Some differences between English and French seafaring – as a national myth or seafaring culture – are spontaneously evoked when I compare Walter Benjamin’s tribute to Paul Valéry upon his 60th birthday and the case of the amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst who died from his own faked voyage.  Tacita Dean made two films ‘about’ him – one 14 minutes, the other 7 minutes in length.  In one film a lighthouse looks out at an empty sea – the other later film shows Crowhurst’s boat “Teignmouth Electron” where it was finally beached and still lies rotting on Cayman Brac - part of the Cayman Islands, a tax haven and the one of the last ‘crown colonies’.  The first film is called Disappearance at Sea.  There are so many disappearances in English life and lore – it is a beloved plot but does not quite do justice to the complexity of the Crowhurst affair.  The other national trope is the grand deception – the monumental breathtaking fake.  Crowhurst’s fate combines both – making his story canonical (almost immortal) in the eyes of a British audience.  Dean concludes: maybe I’m a fake and everyone else has his inner Crowhurst too.  

For Valéry the sea was mathematics – like his young wish to be a naval officer.  The sea’s image is captured in precise charts over which the mariner bends – or bows – to that mathematical sea.  Benjamin writes: “Valéry once wanted to be a naval officer.  In what he became – the features of this youthful dream are still recognizable.  First in his poetry, in the restrained fullness of forms, that language claims from thinking like the sea from calm/calmed winds; and second, this thinking is mathematical through and through, that bends over situations as if over a sea chart and without preening in the mirror of ‘depths’ is already content to steer a dangerless course. The sea and mathematics (…)” (Walter Benjamin, “Paul Valéry for his 60th Birthday”)  And yet – even Valéry’s mathematical poetics would wither without his ‘bad thoughts’.

Crowhurst uses his navigation instruments and radio log to record and chart a fake course.  On the fake course he is winning the Sunday Times solo race to circumnavigate the globe in a sailing boat – on the real one he is fatally lost.  Somewhere on the real journey (although one will never know for sure) - he jumps overboard with his chronometer and his fake log. (Why the chronometer?)  Now once again his slight pissant drama has been heroicized, this time in a proper movie starring the profusely decorated actor Colin Firth who already played the last king George the Sixth. 
The urge to compare the two roles is irresistible – is there something of the king in the fake and of the fake in the king?  And does the story of Crowhurst like the king ‘never die’?

The “King’s Two Bodies” is the fantastical juridical device (mystic fiction) invented by English jurists of the Tudor period to legally amalgamate the mortal and immortal monarch.  Although mystical the portmanteau of kingly bodies was grounded in the solid legal precedence of the two sexes of the hermaphrodite.
Alongside the ‘original’ King’s two bodies enters a third body – that of the actor who plays the king – just as for the Norman Anonymous clergy in 1100 A.D. the Christian kings are imitators, impersonators or actors of Christ – “christomimetes”. (E. H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies, Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 47)  The actors of kings are thus impersonators of the impersonators or ‘christomimetai’ once removed.

The nous of central casting, that absolute spirit which mates actors and their roles – the cinematic eye of God – designs/establishes a historical topology in which the doomed mendacious amateur sailor and the ex-naval officer king reside in the same actor body. The counterfeit yachtsman Crowhurst and the stutterer ex-sailor king George the Sixth are hybridized in the history of one concrete instance of actor flesh – in the body of Colin Firth.  Rather than just the king housing two bodies in his one, the actor swells to metahistorical proportions. Of the many sorts of double or multi bodied kings he is the primary vehicle.
In the actor Firth the King (commander in chief of the Ship of State) and the dubious Yachtsman become each other’s double. It is somehow befitting – that some scenes of the George the Sixth film (The King’s Speech) were shot at the London residence of the convicted society conman and aristo impersonator ‘Lord’ Eddie Davenport. 

Ironically each time an actor doubles for the king in one of those eternally recurring historical re-enactments, it is the actor’s body or his effigy, which stands in for the king’s immortal self.  As such the actor impersonating the king in film mimics the custom of ritual effigies in ancient roman funeral rites for the emperor – a source for the doubling of the corpse with effigies in the funerary ceremonies of French and English kings.  After the emperor’s or king’s unadorned decaying corpse is cremated or buried and removed from the scene his effigy wrapped in the full regalia of ‘Dignitas which never dies’ (Dignitas non moritur) prolongs the symbolic life and agony of the ruler.  The paradox of the king’s two bodies in death is that the ‘real’ funeral with triumph and regal effects is that of the ‘immortal’ perpetual effigy – which can’t die – whereas the royal corpse has become a negligible sort of ‘homo sacer’ to be buried with a minimum of ceremony.
To redress this imbalance the actor king like a royal zombie or repeating effigy dies over and over again – assuring the spectator subject that the ‘King never dies’.  

⎨ℵ  This paradox though hides another more pernicious dilemma for the Tudor casuists – without the physical corpse – the desired parallels between the Christian king and the ‘God-man’ Christ are greatly diminished: without a body – no Crucifixion, no Resurrection.  The new political theology of absolutism undermines the medieval Christian mystagogy of the King and its corresponding ‘Christ-centred Kingship” (Kantorowicz)  – from which though it still draws its legitimisation.  By discounting the monarch’s natural mortal body, it forfeits any imitation of the physicality of divine resurrection – such as anticipated when Christ hands his disciples bread at the Last Supper with the liturgical words of the Eucharist  ‘hoc est enim corpus meum’.  The refrain “the King never dies” implies perpetuity in the eternal time zone of aevum – but not the nunc stans of “this is my body” of the Eucharist – symbolizing the physical temporal resurrection of a crucified ‘God-man’ corpse.  The ‘Christ centred Kingship’ alluding to the divine King as a stand in/double for Christ, a ‘christomimetes’ and the ‘secular’ state doctrine of Dignitas non moritur are mutually exclusive.  A sign of their profound difference is the appearance of an alternative ‘pagan’ symbol of resurrection in regal iconography: the mythical ‘phoenix’ born of its own ashes.
The Christology submerged under the erasure of the crucified body in early modern monarchical state jurisprudence and in the ‘glory’ of self-deifying Christian monarchs resurfaces in the economy. Marx reflects a species of “gemina persona” or the medieval device of the twinned persons of the king’s mortal body and his immortal divine Christ-King-Body in “The Fetish Character of the Commodity and Its Secret”, Capital, Volume I.  He speaks of the “mystical character of the commodity”: When the labour product makes its appearance in the commodity form in capitalism, it ‘naturally’ assumes a mystical, metaphysical character/existence – becoming a double-bodied ‘sinnlich übersinnliches Ding’ (material immaterial thing). Underlying this ‘real analogy/allegory’ is Marx’s discovery of the religious nature of capitalism – or political economy as the prolongation of the Christian economy of salvation.  As Kojin Karatani observes – for Marx the critique of political economy is a direct continuation of his earlier critique of religion – both are rooted in the “religio-genic-process that continues to create and expand the phantasmic domain of value.” (Transcritique On Kant and Marx, MIT Press, 2005, p. 221) Of course, the religion/theology of capital, its religious oikonomia is not limited to the commodity form any more than Christianity is to the Eucharist - the credit system and ultimately finance capital are the economic forms of Christian aevum (perpetuity) whilst at the same time offering/guaranteeing the indefinite deferral of payment alias salvation. 
Baroque drama adds another anatomical twist to this play of natural and supernatural bodies as Benjamin notes in his Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels – the royal corpse is emblematic/heraldic, the prism of the drama – the “production of the corpse” is the main action of the play. The awesome holiness of sovereignty in such drama requires that the king’s mortal body be kept in view – rather than hidden/removed from sight as in the doctrine of King’s Two Bodies.⎬

The actor is a crucible for what is and is not and that multiplied times all his diverse roles. He is something of a ‘floating signifier’ or ‘empty throne’ or a symbolic void – assuming any and all meaning or none, as the occasion requires.  The ‘floating signifier’ or what Agamben calls a ‘signature’ is never chemically pure – it like the ‘pores’ of the actor retains particles of every signification it has ever performed. 

It is only natural that these roles/meanings/significations begin to communicate promiscuously with one another. Some roles one can safely overlook or discard – but others are symptomatic of a national/collective or historical unconscious such as Crowhurst the amateur globe circumnavigator fake navigating himself to perdition and George the sixth – the king who presided over the waning power of the British Empire, its shrinking and devolution to the amorphous quotidian humdrum Commonwealth. 
The fake enters as if by chance into the imago of the King via an actor’s casting as both - inadvertently revealing the ultimate inoperativity of any kingship – its essential ‘brokenness’ sub specie aeternitatis.

Many commentators seem to think the Crowhurst story has something to do with the British Empire or lack of it (and its vicissitudes). Didn’t he grow up for a while in ‘British’ India?  Somehow Crowhurst has crossed the frontier of doom to enter that pantheon of ill-fated holy-grail explorers – up with the likes of Scott, Franklin and Shackleton and other ‘fatal Englishmen’ who set out to claim remote parts of the globe for the crown and never came back. 
The distributors of the latest film The Mercy have even expunged mention of Crowhurst’s great work of fiction, his faked positions, from their film propaganda – the newcomer to the story would expect just heroic failure on a ‘shoestring budget’.  Reality was even more prosaic. He entered the race as a partner in an awkward sort of joint business venture not as a soloist in pursuit of adventure. The maiden voyage of his hastily built and untried trimaran “Teignmouth Electron” was to have been a flashy start-up, a grandiose publicity stunt – like participating in the great British bake-off.  Yet the key dramatic hinge of the story is Crowhurst’s signing of a Faustian contract with his backer.  Mephistopheles appears in the guise of the ‘hard nosed caravan businessman’ Stanley Best who stipulates - should Crowhurst quit the race he would forfeit the backing.  

The wreck of Crowhurst’s ‘Teignmouth Electron’ castaway on a melancholic Caribbean shore (one of the few still in British possession), its white hulk lying like blanched whale bones under the tropical sky – recalls another startling white appearance – the alabaster like skeletal torso of George Mallory mummified by decades of snow and ice, discovered by an American team many years after his disappearance in a ravine on the slope of Mount Everest.  Both these relics of ‘great adventures’ magically transmute into the signs of a dying lost empire.

Simon Rumley, the director of another Crowhurst film called simply Crowhurst said: “During the British Empire we were well - dominant – you could just decide to do something and generally you were successful (…)”.  But this conception of the BE is itself quite contemporary – nostalgic.  In the heyday of the BE one was aware that disasters and not just at sea can and did frequently happen.  Not just solo ones.  One classic example is the massacre of General Gordon and thousands of Egyptian colonial troops by the forces of the Mahdi ending the siege of Khartoum.  In those days catastrophic imperial failures may have been seen as par for the course.  They inspired a febrile mentality of glorious failure instilled in generations of public school boys, so as to prepare them for future martyrdom in other infallible imperial projects.   
In the trenches of World War One or in the massive naval and army defeat at Gallipoli or even the ‘victories’ of Somme and Passchendaele etc – the imperial troops would have been drilled from boyhood despite everything to “play up! Play up! and play the game!”  

The French mariner poet Bernard Moitessier, who also competed in that first Sunday Times global solo race in 1968-9, ignored the prize but he played the game.  Almost the antithesis of Crowhurst - Moitessier could have won, he was gaining on the front-runner Knox Johnston in the final stretch but decided not to return to the finishing line – instead he continued sailing around the world a second time.  In some of Moitessier’s comments, which he recorded whilst in the Southern Ocean around Cape Horn, the most dangerous waters of the circumnavigation, – one hears the same calm mathematical French sea voice Walter Benjamin attended/detected in Valéry’s writings. Most likely he would have agreed with Valéry that “the essence of the species is adventure”. 
“One forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat and the sea, the play of sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to that game, one has to be careful not to go further than necessary to the depth of the game, but that’s the hardest part, not going too far.” (in Deep Water, 2006 directed by Jerry Rothwell and Louise Osmond) 

Did Crowhurst go too deep, too far into the game?

Out of Crowhurst’s stock-in-trade of Crown and Empire an implacable spectre of boys’ own hara-kiri seizes hold of his soul. His ‘last words’ are about the game.  He writes in the ‘true’ log: “It has been a good game that must be ended at the // I will play this game when I choose I will resign this game // It is the end of my game, the truth has been revealed //”  

The old siren Davy Jones compels him to ‘end the game’ – while still oddly reassuring him “there is no reason for harmful”.  So that verses such as that late Victorian ode to an end with honour, Vitaï Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt might have haunted Crowhurst’s final hours:
 “(…) The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke,
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! play up!
and play the game!”

Substitute leaky boat and fake log for jammed Gatling (an early mounted rapid fire machine gun) and blind regiment – and England and honour are just as far away for Crowhurst in the Argentine sea as they were for an imperial trooper in the Sudan desert in the good old days of ‘easy’ Empire. 


the former London address of
the High Commissioner of Sierra Leone
became under rather dubious
circumstances a
‘petrified forest’

still etched
for money and fame
this dredged up world
(made at the behest of the BBC)
dehydrated psychic revenants
easy conquest
for strictly come dancing
atavistic joint ventures
free from harm

specially designed

atavistic spectre/
as described by Herodian

An old ghoulish avatar
from the Faustian zone who …
plays dead for England.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why: Part Three✦

4.  The Monstrous Site

The maitre of topologies is very good at disguising them – they are protean and polymorphous and more or less invisible in constant metamorphosis. A vortex of topologies or strategies and counter-strategies.  As he writes in Broken Hegemonies – how is one to live under the sign of Proteus? (Broken Hegemonies, Indiana University Press, 2003, p. 514)  But then proposes a detour – paraphrasing Heidegger: “Proteus alone can save us now.” (ibid., p. 513)  Proteus is one signature of the alchemical for Schürmann – he poses a whole series of similar questions of transformation as a means of flight, evasion and conversion: “Toward what, then, may man transmute himself?”  In the chapter on Meister Eckhart transmutation in “the great alchemical work” still means the old alchemical solve et coagula – where the human body and soul are regarded as a metal – capable of becoming liquefied and indistinct so as to be transformed into the noblest singular form of gold. (see ibid., p. 278, p. 280)
Isn’t Schürmann perpetually composing and decomposing his ‘an-archic self’ in his own Birth of Tragedy alias Broken Hegemonies – which he also calls “this monstrous site”?  

What is a ‘monstrous site’ – it appears to contain both archic and an-archic determinants which are at war with one another.  It is a post-diremptive state resembling a post-apocalyptic landscape.  Parts of the broken hegemony still pulse with quasi-life, while the flayed and withered limbs of other hegemonic carcasses are strewn about on the charred ground - the birth of the ‘new’ though is unfinished, nameless – still inchoate, formless hence monstrous.  The monstrous site is a warning against itself. It is the condition of being that the diremption of the modern hegemonic fantasm of self-consciousness reveals.
Schürmann following Heidegger also calls this condition simply “Übergang” or transition. It places us in transit - makes us into transitional beings.  But Schürmann cannot say in transit from where or where to – not even which transition it is. (Broken Hegemonies, ibid. p. 552)
The monstrous site has no fixed address – it breaks ‘normative principles’ and it is itself fractured time.  Schürmann suggests that within the breaking hegemony of consciousness another counter-fracturing takes place of time.

Whatever else it might be – the monstrosity has to do with Heidegger – and his flawed suspicious awakening with pain from a “failed uprising” or “the fault from which Heidegger awakened” (ibid., p. 277).
His pain rings out in the history of being like the cry of a wounded beast down until our own ‘fissured moment’ – the book in which Schürmann reads Heidegger as if it were an intimate confession of his political folly – Beiträge zur Philosophie: Vom Ereignis – is itself a “play of functions and dysfunctions, no longer in ancient or modern texts, but at the level of Heidegger’s utterance itself, (making) this utterance the most pathetic document of broken hegemony.” (ibid., p. 524) 
It is the vertiginous aspect of Schürmann’s text, its never coming to rest, its staying liquid – that  Schürmann-Heidegger stand both inside this shipwreck of broken Nazi hegemony and somewhere outside at an undisclosed other site or distant shore viewing the wreckage from multiple obscure angles.  This is Schürmann’s elaborate version of Sophocles’ tragic method  – amphinoein – or thinking from two sides.  Like the goddess enjoining Parmenides’ kouros – the chorus in tragedy urges the tragic hero: “Young man, hold disparates together (…)” (ibid., p. 38).   Schürmann discovers a similar vision in Virginia Woolf – “One thinks of the words of Virginia Woolf: It is fatal for anyone to be a man or woman pure and simple.  One must be woman-manly, or man-womanly.” (A Room of One’s Own, 1975, p. 108) (ibid., 639)  In everything see the shadow of its opposite:
“In day, see night; in the boy, the girl; in Solon, Alciabiades; in a democratic regime, tyranny; in the right, the left.” (ibid.) 
In the case of Heidegger – Schürmann himself acts in the manner of Parmenides as the “one that holds contrary beings together” (hen synechés)” (ibid., p. 67).
One may ask though: how does it come to pass that the long agony of modern consciousness, the history of being itself and its epochality suddenly hinge so exclusively upon one so-called Nazi uprising, its failure and Heidegger’s ensuing disenchantment?  Wouldn’t that be making history of being contingent on singular facts even philosophical facts of thinking, a move Schürmann otherwise condemns?

Could it be though that Heidegger’s brutal awakening is not from “having been duped” or from an error or errancy in his political aspirations – rather he awakens to the indifference of this uprising, its contingency, that it failed to interrupt or break into the history or condition of being – leaving this history untouched?  As such – at this point Schürmann’s text is riveted to its own inward turning double bind – or the tragic differend of his repulsion from and attraction to Heidegger’s folie de grandeur of errancy – isn’t the ‘monstrous site’ we’re supposedly riveted to - itself a fantasm? And if it is not a fantasm – then it alone in the history of being would be immortal – eluding the pull of the ultimates: the double binded Scylla and Charybdis of natality and mortality.  Hence Schürmann’s boast “of what other figure of our century can it be said that 1933 and its aftermath opened his eyes to what there is of being?…”  ( see Broken Hegemonies, ibid., p. 527) presumes what it would prove - that “1933 and its aftermath” affects or disrupts the history of being – begging the question if any other 20th century figure other than Heidegger would have had his eyes opened by it.
 Yet Schürmann’s ‘holding together’ of Heidegger is tenuous/ambiguous – one has the sensation – he could at any minute let him fall into the grand Abgrund of post-metaphysics. In an almost offhand manner he questions Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie: “Is so stripping Da-sein of its transcendental structure and singularizing it as ontic tantamount to taking a step back so as to leap further? Leaping onto some post-subjectivist terrain?  It seems doubtful.  No longer transcendental, phenomenology risks becoming merely descriptive.” (ibid., p. 521)
The parricide/‘destitution’/diremption Schürmann holds ready for Heidegger remains buried, locked in the text.  You can take Schürmann out of Heidegger but can you take Heidegger out of Schürmann?
Carmen Hendershott and the Author at Arnhold Hall, NYC, April 2017
Richard Bernstein is unequivocal when I ask him in his office in the New School philosophy department one floor down from Simon Critchley – do you consider Schürmann a Heideggerian?  “If you would have told Schürmann he is a Heideggerian he would have felt insulted.  He is not a Heideggerian, he’s a radical thinker.”  His radical project of an-archy undermines and attacks the anthropological urge for the ‘ground’, ‘the principle’ ‘the origins’, the natural metaphysician in us, the desire to hold on to a foundation.  
Richard Bernstein and the Author at the New School, NYC, May 2017
True to the law of the double bind though – the instrument with which Schürmann proposes to shatter the ground – Heidegger as a topological monstrous site – has itself become a ground, a principle, a foundation, and as such a hegemonic fantasm. Or as Schürmann writes: “No one is more solidly fixated on the figure of the father, the male, or of principles, than he who claims to have freed himself from it.” (Broken Hegemonies, ibid., p. 514) 

5.   Notes on “Film without Why”

Some philosophers knowingly strive to annihilate their predecessors.  Other philosophers bring them back to life. Modernity may see itself in a perpetual momentum of surpassing – but there is always a counter-movement of returning.  Schürmann is a philosopher of reversals and turnings and conversions and transmutations what he also refers to as errancy – a random/an-archic method of overcoming the need to surpass.   Coming back though is as powerful as surpassing. Deleuze and Guattari ask of those aliens in ancient Greece, the first philosophers known as sophists pouring into Athens from the east – “What sort of stranger is there within the philosopher, with his look of returning from the land of the dead?” – a look stamped on their features from a metanoia d’outre-tombe. (see What is Philosophy?, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 69)
Boris Groys and the Author at Hotel Malmaison, London, July 2017

There is no more powerful return than that.  In the ancient world it was only the physician god Æsculapius who could perform this cure of resurrection – as he does for Hippolytus in one version of the myth.

The Greek-American experimental filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos sets his film Twice a Man, his modern soteriological/homoerotic fable of Hippolytus, in the New York City of his day – a decade or so before Schürmann arrived.  
Markopoulos himself moved in the opposite direction to Schürmann – born in the US, a son of Greek immigrants he left the United States for his patrimony Greece never to return.  Both Schürmann and Markopoulos felt most at home in austere communion with the ancient sites of Greece.  
Markopoulos created Eniaios or the One, 22 cycles equaling 80 hours of film screened till this day only at a special outdoor site he called Temenos near his father’s birthplace Lyssaraia in the Peloponnesus.  Schürmann spent all his summers in a primitive house on the Greek island Amorgos where he wrote many of his works.
Reiner Schürmann's Chair in Madison, New Jersey

Markopoulos withdrew his films from the archives, restricted screenings to the ‘cult-site’ Temenos – it would seem – in the anachronistic attempt to reverse the ‘decay of aura’ Benjamin describes in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility.  Ideally his images should appear as unique cult-images only to the physically present spectator.
Reiner Schürmann also resisted the decay of aura – in his concept of ‘singularity’.  Aura is a function of distance. Even when the material cult object is spatially close - its cult-image is unapproachable.  As Benjamin writes: “In fact, Unapproachability is a major quality of the cult-image.” (“In der Tat, ist Unnahbarkeit eine Hauptqualitat des Kultbildes.”, Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Walter Benjamin Gesammelte Schriften, I 2, Frankfurt, 1991, S. 480)
Assuming in himself – for his contemporaries – the inviolability of a cult-site – Schürmann is transmuted into his own unapproachable cult-image. 
Or in the words of Baudelaire – “J’ai pétri de la boue et j’en ai fait de l’or.  Glorifier le culte des images (ma grande, mon unique, ma primitive passion).”

The mythical figure of the god-physician becomes in Twice a Man the artist or filmmaker as physician. He brings Hippolytus back from Hades on the Staten Island Ferry – they become lovers.  Markopoulos’ rendering of this myth brings to mind Schürmann’s rite de passage in the New World – where he comes back to life in the New School for Social Research.  In Hippolytus and his artist-god lover I see Schürmann and Louis Comtois in their Manhattan bohemian ménage.  Lovelorn Phaedra is Hannah Arendt, Theseus, the cruel merciless father is Heidegger (‘the hidden king’) – both are transmuted in Broken Hegemonies into the mother-father pair of ultimates – natality–mortality.  Schürmann has his own methods for bringing back the dead.
Markopoulos’ simply expressed ontology is “film as film”. Although at least as ancient as Plato’s cave ‘film as film’ is not just a technological species of embalming or mummification – a kind of death mask, arising from an anthropological drive to preserve corporeal mementoes of the dead.

Whatever its form or quality – through the hallucinatory nature of its photographic base and its broken reversible registers of time (even more than in music) – film is inevitably a spectral theatre of the afterlife.  But in the hands of the filmmaker-demiurge it has the potential for resurrection.  
Film though is also the continuation of philosophy with other means.
It relates to philosophy like war in Clausewitz’s doctrine does to politics.  Philosophy is the sphere of linguistic discursive negotiation and a certain cacophony – similar to politics.  Film follows the laws of action, the sphere in which power is demonstrated – like war.  It subverts dialectics – what Nietzsche mocked as Socrates’ plebeian stratagems.  Although the spectator is not the enemy – in a certain sense film undermines his capacity to resist film.  In Schürmann’s words – it compels him to stop asking why.  Film without why – to borrow the vernacular – is itself a condition of being – and like being – it is time, duration, not just in succession, also in its ‘fissuring’.
Carmen Hendershott and the Author at La Maison du Croque Monsieur, NYC, April 2017

As bellicose action and real hallucination – film without why needs no other ground than itself – it is self-engendering and escapes the constraints of any metaphysics of causes. For all the wrong sentimental neo-communitarian reasons even Stanley Cavell in The World Viewed is convinced “(…) movies are inherently anarchic.” (World Viewed, Reflections on the Ontology of Film, Cambridge Mass./London, 1979,  p. 214)
How to see though philosophy (in film) not just verbally but eidetically –through the ‘thought-image’ – or the ‘thought-phantasm’? The Phantasmatic is that aspect of film which has expression but no substance.  The Real is that aspect which has substance but no expression. 
Film is the phantasmatic casing – in which the Real (the expressionless) and the chimera, (the expression)(or as Bazin says, the hallucinatory) together become actual – one with another.  Deleuze alludes to this as the ‘crystalline regime’: Like the dead white horse dangling over the river Neva from the raised drawbridge in Eisenstein’s October “(…) the real and the imaginary, the actual and the virtual, chase after another, exchange their roles and become indiscernible.” (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, London, 2000, p. 127)

In film – thought, image and sound (but affect as well) are fused in the cinema frame - and in the pores of this apparently indivisible frame lurk ‘the powers of the false’.  No film can tell you when to look away.  For every world viewed there is an equal and opposite world unviewed.
Film as such is an inimitable medium to theatricalize philosophy.  Even more in Schürmann's case – he dared to live a dramatic experimental life, as a ‘Byronic hero’: “among them, but not of them; in a shroud of thoughts which were not their thoughts (…)” (Childe Harold).  Or in what Nietzsche calls a “noble” (vornehm) fashion: “that one perpetually contradicts the many not through words but actions.”

Our film shows glimpses of the drifting shipwreck of Reiner Schürmann’s mystery – “partly destructive, partly ironic”.

✦ The Unapproachable Reiner Schürmann - A Phantasmatic Philosopher: Film Without Why (Parts 1-3) is an expanded version of our film project presentation and trailer premiere at the Reiner Schürmann Colloquium, Espace diaphanes, Berlin, November 2nd 2017.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Mark Theunissen, New School for Social Research, for his photographs of Broadway, Lower Manhattan and the Louis K. Meisel Gallery. Sources of the Reiner Schürmann photographs are and the Reiner Schürmann Papers in the New School Archives, NYC.  We are extremely grateful to the archivists Wendy Scheir and Jeanne Swadosh for their kind help and expert guidance through the maze of the Schürmann papers.
The 'Resurrection Screen' is from Jean Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Part 1.  Source of the historical photos of the German capitulation is Eva Berthold, Kriefsgefangene im Osten, Königstein/Ts., 1981
Lamarchefunèbre is from Libération: Livres, 1st February 2001.

We owe our deepest gratitude to our cast of fascinating interlocutors and profound thinkers.  They are the primary source of inspiration for our Film Without Why (in progress).

© Shannee Marks and Peer Wolfram, Ulysses Productions, November 2017