Violence – exemplary and otherwise

February 25, 2010

The brilliant Professor Wanowsky weighs in on the most crucial political question:  evolution or revolution?

My previous post on the film, La cérémonie, evoked some comments on class conflict and violence.  This is an issue that has interested me for some time:  both the serious questions about whether or when violence is justified, or even practical;  and the way that violence is romanticized by political types of various stripes.  I consider the Left and the Right, the bolshevik and the fascist attachment to violence to be romantic, overtly so in the case of most fascists, especially the Italians, and covertly so among the devotees of the cult of terror in revolutionary Russia.  (They liked to think they were always being scientific.)

Pancime’s comment on that post got me thinking once again of an old comic by Robert Crumb – click on the image to see the entire rant by Professor Wanowsky (my italics):

Reading Sartre, Foucault, Ranciere, and current school texts and academic works in this country – all of which celebrate or promote violence – leads me to believe that there is a violent strain of the revolutionist left that is still strong and seeks to depose by violence whoever it constructs as its enemy. In this country that enemy is despised in part merely for its commitment to peaceful change.

Ah yes, the eternal argument between the “candy-assed liberals” and the real radicals committed to change.  The good Professor captures the tone of that split so well!

Pancime also pointed me to the Papin sisters, who were an inspiration to many French intellectuals (what is the matter with those guys…and gals?) and certainly to Claude Chabrol.  Two maids who maimed and killed their employers and were found huddled together in bed in 1933.  For some, there was clearly a ideological frisson to be had if you could stomach the bloodshed.

“In its broad outline, the tragedy of the Papin sisters was immediately clear to us. . .One must accuse their childhood orphanage, their serfdom, the whole hideous system set up by decent people for the production of madmen, assassins and monsters. The horror of this all-consuming machine could only be rightfully denounced by an exemplary act of horror: the two sisters had made themselves the instruments and martyrs of a sombre form of justice… For two bourgeois women hacked to pieces, a bloody atonement was required.   The killer wasn’t judged.  He acted as a scapegoat…” (my italics)

Simone Beauvoir in La Force de l’âge

This intellectual romanticizing of violence, often dissembled as hard-nosed realism, is not foreign to America:

In America all too few blows are struck into flesh. We kill the spirit here, we are experts at that. We use psychic bullets and kill each other cell by cell.

Norman Mailer

Moving along to the right, we have the oft-quoted Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who put his aesthetic into practice and  became an early supporter of Italian fascism:

War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns.

And finally, Lenin, in a rare moment of intellectual undress:

I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps with a childish naiveté, to think that people can work such miracles! … But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. These days, one can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. Hence, you have to beat people’s little heads, beat mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm – what a devillishly difficult job!

This quote was spoken in full by the heroic Soviet figure skater man-of-ice while Melina, the hot socialist babe, is trying to get him to warm up to her in the fantastic film WR:  Mysteries of the Organism.

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Chosen few

October 4, 2009

Onan - Genesis 33:8

The Bible, the Book of Genesis in particular, has been coming up in my daily rounds, lately.  I’ve been on a Bible binge of late:  read the King James Five Books of Moses, got the Wolverton illustrated version, and was just looking at some nice linoleum prints of the text in my local library.

And…R. Crumb’s long-anticipated illustrated version of the first book of the Bible, “All 50 chapters!  Nothing left out!” has arrived at last.  For devotees of Crumb or the good book, it’s a happy day.  Crumb has played it straight, so if you are hoping that he has turned the stories into an excuse for weirding us out, you will be disappointed.  If you doubt it, look at his representation of Onan in the leading image of this post:  Who would have thought that coitus interruptus would be treated with such discretion by the creator of the Snoid, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, and innumerable other phallic maniacs? Eve and the Serpent

He stays very close to the text, although the words are not my favorites, but a modern translation, and he’s done a lot of research.  He did take a liberty with the serpent – showing him as an upright lizard with legs rather than a snake – or did he?  In his notes, he gives a convincing justification for his change from tradition.

Abraham is the patriarch to whom God makes an offer that he cannot refuse.  He really can’t – Sacrifice of Isaacdeclining an offer from Yahweh is not an option.  Somehow, I feel that the story of Abraham and Isaac is the center of the whole convenant thing between Jehovah and the Jews.  Was it really such a good deal for the Jews to be the Chosen People?  It had advantages, but oy!, in the long-term?  There really wasn’t a choice in the matter, maybe that’s the ultimate lesson of the story.

Which brings us up to the present time:  Marek Edelman was remembered in an obituary in the New York Times yesterday.  Edelman was the last survivor of the Jewish uprising – he didn’t think that word was appropriate – against the Nazis as they moved to destroy the Warsaw ghetto and murder all of its inhabitants…liquidate is the word that everyone uses.  Apparently, he was prone to speaking inconvenient truths, are at least, truths as he saw them.  He dismissed the word “uprising” saying it was simply the desperate attempt by a couple of hundred people to determine when they would die and how.  There was not question of success.  He was not keen on Israel or Zionism.  He decided to remain in Poland all his life, a fact which drove some Jewish scholars of the Holocaust batty.  He ridiculed the notions of heroism that people retroactively assigned to some peoples’ actions, while others, those who went quietly to their deaths, were categorized as passive.  He said they only did what they could to maintain their dignity, to comfort their families for whom there was no hope at all of rescue.

For some Jews, the question of the nature of the deal they got from God rankles.  “If we are the Chosen People, how could you let this happen?”  Which brings up the question – Chosen for what?

For a depressing sample of scholarly venom deployed against Edelman, read these letters in Commentary from the 1980s regarding an article on Poles and Jews.  Commentary is a creature of the Podhoretz gang, a bunch of Jewish former leftists who “got religion” and turned hard right.  The original neo-cons.