Beautiful Things: Fake Flowers By Crispin Sartwell
"Fake flowers are better than real," my five-year-old daughter Jane told me recently in a restaurant bestrewn with artificial phlox, "because they don't get all messed up." I always thought of fake flowers as a signal failure of taste. Indeed, I think that even in a case where they look precisely the same, real flowers are beautiful and fake flowers are not. Beauty is connected with time. What is beautiful is fragile or elusive. Experiencing something beautiful is poignant because it is a longing. The beautiful thing calls on us to long because it is already being lost. This is as true of persons as of flowers and despite the efforts of cosmetic companies and plastic surgeons, a lovely girl is also a cut flower. "To the virgins, to make much of time." The cut flower is, hence, not only beautiful, but a symbol of every beautiful thing - everything that blossoms, glows, and passes - which is why it accompanies the valentine, the wedding, and the funeral. The cut flower is the central beautiful object in our culture. So even if they look the same, the real flower and the fake flower are antonyms: they mean oppositely. But the longing that a fragile beautiful thing calls forth motivates us to hold onto it, preserve it, depict it, reproduce it. The movie starlet ages, but her image remains forever as a testimony to the moment of her bloom. Flowers themselves are one of the great subjects of painting, from Dutch painters such as Willem van Aelst who spent whole careers depicting them to Monet's water lilies. The fake flower represents the same impulse on an everyday level: the other day I saw a bucket of fake blue roses for sale at a gas station, with fake blue rose scent. Fake flowers are everywhere and they express something deep and common and sad and sweet: our inability to fully face losing what we love. Even in their ugliness, they capture and preserve our need for beauty.
hey buck owens, one of the best half-dozen or so artists in country history, is dead. songs like "tiger by the tail" are just absolutely central: in the middle of the form like mozart in the classical tradition.
"media coverage" is making it tough to conduct the war. i don't know whether i am the media, but it's not really my job to help you conduct your war, boyo. at any rate, i think we are entirely screwed. the place is disintegrating to the point where we don't know at any given moment who is kiling whom, why, where etc. if we try to intervene, we merely add another incomprehensible layer. the idea that we're going to impose order and nurture democracy is now just absurd; they're still talking that claptrap cause they don't know what else to say. the idea that we're going to be drawing down troops cause iraqi units are taking over is just laughable; we'll draw down because we cannot control the situation at all, at which point it's pointless to be there. as due to our intervention we keep running into large piles of beheaded bodies etc, even the trial of saddam takes on a certain absurdity; who wouldn't be just the littlest bit nostalgic at this point for the old iraq?
Crusader Mike has been quite on eye of the storm but saw this culture note in the Times and was blown away. We got Jeff Beck, James Brown and Buddy Guy jammin' in the Moat at the Tower of London along with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings and Madeline Peyroux and Dionne Warwick. (Have you seen her lately? How're they going to get her into the moat? With a giant crane.) I suspect that control freakish as Beck and Brown have always been, a true jam would be out of the question, but the thought of a Brown-Guy-Peyroux Blues Brothers Sweet Home Chicago with Bill Wyman playing bass and maybe Charlie Watts sitting in on drums along with Beck playing lead would be very cool indeed. Perhaps the Dixie Chicks could come along. One of the most bitchin' things I have seen on TV musically in decades -- going back to the In Concert/Midnight Specials of the 70s -- was right before the tragedy of 2004. It was on late, has never been reshown to my knowledge and nothing else was released that I know of, but the MoveOn.org music show turned up. Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, Jackson Brown, REM and a cast of dozens doing their thing. Highpoints to me included Michael Sipe and Bruce doing Because the Night (if only Natalie had shown); Bruce's set which was almost a throwback to the 80s shows he did; and the finale -- Natalie, Bruce Eddie Vedder and Michael doing a smoking cover of What's So Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding. If anyone has a bootleg of that show, I'd love a copy. Back when we thought music could change the world; well, it does, but not really fast enough.
this whole islamic outfit thing is pitiful to begin with and can be solved by the simple directive of letting people wear what they want and what they've got. however it strikes me that this
is actually a really cute getup. and were i a british schoolgirl (oh the dreams of middle aged assmonkeys), i'd buy one and wear it to school, not only as a gesture of solidarity, but as a killer fashion statement.
you've got to admire the government of afghanistan, for even the very idea of executing people because they convert to christianity. and you've got to admit that it is very broadminded of the current administration, where you can't swing a hatchet without hitting an evangelical christian, to set up a regime where this could be the case. i also would endorse executing people for converting to islam, by the way. anyone who establishes a relationship with god should be immediately transported to the supernal realm.
all things being equal, i of course dig it when hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets, angry with their gov. but i don't quite get the idea that if you hire someone, you owe them a job for life, or whatever. talk about building in perverse incentives every which way. in other words, if you're out there because the gov is oppressing you and your people, that's one thing. if you're out there because the gov owes you a job no matter how badly you perform, that's just fucking pathetic.
everyone's getting tired of hearing me say this, but i guess i am going to keep saying it anyway. what in the world is the washpost op-ed page doing giving space to donald rumsfeld and ibrahim al-jafari ? is it that these people have no other outlet for "their" "views"? is it that we haven't heard all these cliches and useless mumbo-jumbo a million times? is it that we don't have the time to interview these people? is it that we admire the prose style of their staff? it's useless; it's redundant; it's not even actually writing at all, much less a variety of opinion journalism. they are not stating their own views. they are not writing their own prose. all you're doing is reproducing us government press releases. stop acting like idiots and toadies to power, you fuckheads.
surely, surely, it's well past time for the artform known as opera to die. christ we're not still writing court masques or painting baroque ceilings, you know? anyway, if it doesn't die soon, i'll have to kill it. then i think we should all set about expunging the whole nasty idiotic thing from the cultural record.
my love and respect for humanity are fucking universal. they know no fucking bounds. and yet, there is one event, one event that, were I cynical and inclined to believe that human beings were inhuman monsters, might give me pause. and that is when huge crowds gather to mourn the death of their dictator...
yo, profcrispy, watcha working on? well, i was writing a big book on anarchism. the first half was an attack on all the arguments for the legitimacy of state power; the second was the construction of an "emersonian" anarchism. i kept not really being able to organize or write the second half, though the first is close to complete. so now i've detached the destructive portions and intend to publish them as a short book. possible titles: "against the state," "philosophy bomb." i'm having some trouble selling it, though. pitched it to verso recently. for probably twenty years or more i have been working in the back of my mind on the theory of truth. i've got what i think is an original approach to the question, which is good because if you ask me the going ideas are very played out and wrong. i've attacked it as a book at different times etc. but i have trouble moving from a kind of visionary, rhapsodic paean to truth as i understand it to something that could at least pose as an alternative to the correspondence or coherence theories etc. so i keep eeking out ideas and formulations. maybe i should give up on being able to give it to you in predicate calculus or something, but on this thing i sort of feel like rigor is required. maybe i'm also intimidated by my own conception ofr this project as a magnum opus etc.
all on fire: william lloyd garrison and the abolition of slavery, by henry mayer this is one of the best biographies i've ever read. a very good balance of detail with overall narrative thrust. i so should have ditched emma goldman and written about garrison in extreme virtue. i've been especially interested for years in the period 1820-60 in american radical politics. this is certainly the political tradition with which i would like to associate myself. it's the origin point of american individualism as i understand it; garrison is of course a christian anarchist; this is the ground on wich josiah watrren, emerson. and thoreau emerge. also adin ballou, john humphrey noyes, the efflorescence of feminism. garrison himself was an extraordinary...agitator i guess is the term.
jurgen habermas, between fact and norm i have long identified habermas as the or at least an enemy. but there's no denying the force of nature or anti-nature. this is a magisterial summation of h's career framed as a treatise on the philosophy of law. you wouldn't have thought that our era was capable of generating a kant, would you? the systematicity is amazing, even if the philosophy is closed in on itself in a kind of insane inbreeding of technical terms (they'd better be technical terms, though one might hear them tossed around carelessly in ordinary conversation) that have only one another for company. i think probably i've unfairly thought of habermas as a sort of totalitarian; certainly he would never understand himself that way.
niklas luhmann, social systems well now. this is a kind of insanely perverse wayintoeverything, with a scope as big as habermas, whom luhmann attacks relentlessly. i'm just beginning this book but at a first stab the idea of autopoietic is extemely compelling; his idea is that "systems" from networks to persons to arenas of practice (such as law) develop essentially by detaching themselves from and simplifying their environment. systems close themselves off; are individuated by their closedness to input from the outside world, are constructed recursively out of their own ramifications. um, yes! ok, now...
chris kenner, totally out of control an incredibly creative set of close-up and standup magic tricks and mere baubles. the tricks take delight in skill, and some have quickly taken on classic status. the "sybil" cut - introduced here - has led to a whole flourish sub-industry. kenner's "3 fly," reworked here with incredible economy as "menage et trois" is as poerformed and reworked as any sleight-of-hand trick in the contempo world. i've worked up the first effect, a rubber-band thing called "missing link," and it's lovely; i think i could ghet it pretty miraculous.
here's the iraq analysis from the crispy command center. we are getting out: the political realitty has obviously dawned on the republican party. the language of withdrawal out of dc (and london, btw) comes with confidence, an optimistic assessment of the "readiness of iraqi military and police units," etc. but now this talk is in absolutely bizarre juxtaposition to a situation that is in freefall disintegration. it took the admin about 10 minutes to declare victory over civil war after the golden mosque. al-sadr urged restraint. then the bodies started piling up. what will happen is this: we will "draw down," ceding more and more of the country to a government not distinct from the shia paramilitary units. the government we leave iraq with is going to be a monster of reprisal; its crimes against humanity are already obvious (even the us gove isn't happy) . and we leave a strengthened iran, obviously, now by far the most strategically aggressive and formidable country in the region. the chickenheartedness of the admin at this point is astounding considering the perversity of their sticktoitiveness up to this point. but no one is at last immune from political realities. the 2008 republican nomination fight is going to have a lot to do with articulating a policy. the dems on this are truly, truly useless, as always. i saw harry reid "replying" to bush's recent iraq speeches. someone asked him: do the democrats have a clear program for iraq? reid replies, looking soulfully into the camera, that they would train the iraqis and let them run their own country. in other words, he recapitulates the speech he's attacking. there has never been a moment when the dem mainstream leadership from kerry to hill has disagreed even one iota with the republican policy. so: what is trhe proper response? well, maybe you need to start thinking about the real alternatives: abandonment. or here's one way to interpret what we owe these people at this point: a partition, in which the u.s. force is going to be as much as anything preventing destruction of the sunnis. obviously, there ought to be a kurdistan, though the turks don't want to hear it. this of course takes even more commitment over even a longer haul. but do these people even for a moment frankly confronting the situation or broaching the real alternatives?
a milosevic or a saddam. what can they do but maintain that they remain (until, er, death) the president? christ when they did all this shit they had impunity. by definition they cannot be held responsible now. indeed, the basic functions of government, such as taxation or imprisoning people (much less invading countries or ordering airstrikes and stuff), would be crimes if anyone other than the authorized agents did them, and political power is definable as impunity (of varying degrees and over varying subject-matters). dude: you are trying a judge for having condemned people to die. this could make judges nervous. the world is certainly topsy-turvy when the law is a crime. on the other hand you might let this teach a little something about...law.
one of the few pacifist terrorists: the advocate of personal and universal peace thomas merton; exactly like zarqawi, but replacing hate with love. yo i can personally recommend all the books below. merton's chuang tzu is luminous.
One document said the Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force had learned
that ''The Thomas Merton Center . . . has been determined to be an
organization which is opposed to the United States' war with Iraq."
so, i've been writing a series of mini-columns that are like little bits of "6 names of beauty." i'm still trying to find someone to sell them to, so don't tell anyone i'm putting them up on my blog.
Beautiful Things: Weapons By Crispin Sartwell
A good weapon is a most beautiful thing. There are few objects on which human beings have lavished more craft or ingenuity; there are few things which are as enshrouded in mystique or more redolent as symbols. From the enchanted object that can only be wielded by the true king; to the soul or self of the samurai; to the footsoldier's axe and pike; to the dagger, the dirk, the stiletto; to the merest shiv, lovingly sharpened: blades are objects of devotion and fantasy. The blade's relation to air is a figure of speed, purpose, effectiveness, an image of how, at best, we might move inside an environment. There is no more compact and perfect machine than a decent pistol, nothing better suited to the human hand. The Colt, the Barretta, the Glock: you can't say you're not getting riddled with symbols as well as projectiles. It's true that human beings are violent and destructive. But even our detractors can't say we are violent and destructive without art or without devotion or without pleasure. Indeed, of all the arts of our species, the art of weaponry is perhaps the furthest advanced. But it will never be perfect until it becomes capable of consuming or erasing the entire universe. The only reasonable conclusion from our devotion to the weapon is that The End is something for which we yearn. And though the apocalypse will be an occasion for wry, melancholy reflection, it will, of course, be beautiful, like a sunset or a supernova.
al-sadr is urging restraint in shi'ite response to sunni violence, pulling back from the brink of civil war. why? gee whiz grandpop, if he just holds on a bit his people will have free reign; they will be the state; the revolutionary guard. as it is, the shi'ite response is massive and seems to be proceeding with impunity: there are bodies just kind of turning up all over. bizarrely at this moment of maximum risk, both the us and britain are drawing down their forces? suddenly cheney is reading polls. we'll be out of there, there will be a bloodbath, and then a period of relative stability.
ever since i did my little american kadima thing, people have been ragging on me re:mccain, and mccain himself seems intent on showing that they're right to do so, evincing a sudden extrme enthusiasm for the bush administration. it would take a lot lot to get me to stop respecting john mccain, and what i don't think people understand is how oppositionally he views himself. it's worth saying that the rest of the republican field is jumping ship as fast as possible. but it is typical of mccain that he mobilizes in your support when your poll numbers go radically bad. that said, i just do not think in his right mind he can continue the kissup, and i'm praying that he comes to realize that there's no real future for him in the republican party. yo russ feingold was beautiful yesterday, and how you could listen to that and then not even want to bring the censure to a vote is beyond me.
what have you been listening to, profcrispy? for some reason i've been listening to the strokes' most recent album first impressions of earth continuously. i hear it more and more as a classic of this moment. every single song is strong melodically and thematically. it's like the stripes but with a different set of references, but no less completely mastered and represented. the opener, "you only live once," for example is an inverted tribute to keith richard. you also hear the doors and u2. i hate u2, but i love casablancas "on" u2. yes i have heard brummie lout/geniuses arctic monkeys. then i put on the strokes again. obviously the strokes face every prim-rocker's dilemma: develop melody and polish but still play with focus and restraint this side of pretension. a dilemma that accompanies becoming a truly excellent player or producer.
this may in the end seem an amazingly bad call, but i think you do actually have to mobilize against iran. exploring these options and increasing intelligence etc are the bare minimal responsibility. it's sad but true: it's not only theocrats, but theocrats who are trying to be as provocative as humanly possible, parading an explosive irrationality. now on the other hand i don't see coming out in public and saying you're supporting resistance groups. this is typical tin ear: you've just discredited every opposition group in the country by hinting that they're all cia fronts.