quarta-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2009

Mind on Copenhagen, Disgust at Danemark

Consciousness, Literature and the Arts
Volume 6 Number 3, December 2005
Gatta, John. Making Nature Sacred. Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present. New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2005. 291 pages. ISBN: 0-19-516505-5; 0-19-516505-3 (pbk.) Hbk: $ 74.00. Pbk: $ 19.95

Reviewed by

Universidade Gama Filho, Brasil

Thomas Pynchon opens Gravity’s Rainbow with Wernher von Braun’s immemorial assertion on how “Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.” In his meditation, the German space scientist went on to assert that: “If God applies this fundamental principle to the most minute and insignificant parts of His universe, doesn't it make sense to assume that He applies it to the masterpiece of His creation, the human soul?” As Pynchon quoted he skipped over God. But his mise en scène aims specifically at calling Braun’s bluff over what science teaches. His hand was to show how associating an idea of God to Nature is often a pretext for prospects of a more daunting end.

There is optimism in Nature within the American literature surveyed by John Gatta in Making Nature Sacred. It is often the guarantor of the soul’s eternal flight. There is also a breed of tension in this work, perhaps most highlighted when Gatta introduces a quote from Herman Melville. The author of Pierre waxed in thrall at “Nature’s total indifference to the human catastrophe once ‘all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago’”(121). In Pynchon’s monumental novel, human agency is shown to be manipulable up to a certain threshold of chaos. This is when Nature in a broad sense takes over, rolling on as it rolled... We are then bodies at mercy wandering in the Zone. There, Nature encompasses the urban as well as the rural, destroying beyond repair – mutating into an outer worldly process.

It is thus not surprising to see Pynchon absent from Gatta’s extensive study, subtitled Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present. In fact, few authors have managed to portray Nature’s decay and putrescence as sensorially as Pynchon. The fragmented Braun quote used as opening salvo is not mere irony. It shows how Gravity’s Rainbow stands as the counter-intuitive debunking example, the anti-transcendent limit, to the design of Gatta’s work. As such, it might have provided scraps of some radical doubt to set off the elated tone upon which the environment’s current state of critical transformation is equivocally feted in this book.

Throughout time, sacralizing nature has equated Zeus’ body with Daimon’s spiritto cite only one tradition. Nature’s supreme destructive force, beyond the beauty it fosters, slams moral yearnings shut against an ecstatic foray into faith as explosion. Little wonder, then, that monotheists have often viewed Nature under a most inauspicious light.

Gatta’s ambitious work lushly draws the reader into Nature as the setting out of which the United States of America emerged. The book’s structure is subtle, and denotes a project. It bears itself as a prescriptive struggle against environmental destruction, though it takes in a large mass of thought in other to allay any sense of tragedy. The outcome of the book’s tone is thus mingled in pathos, though its purpose stretches toward redemption.

This is also why it is difficult to venture into Gatta’s work without confronting its philosophical and metaphysical undertones. Doing so merely heightens the book’s outstanding merits. At times, the scope of the work attains the encyclopedic. The discussion of lesser known authors and poets opens spaces of interest somewhat removed from a purely religious dimension.

Gatta structures his inquiry cleverly. At first, he appears to present the work of William Bradford and Thomas Morton as two formative poetic paradigms of the religious experience in colonial America. In “Hideous and Desolate Wilderness” Bradford expounds on the pilgrim experience, whereas the nominally Anglican Morton describes an egalitarian spirit celebrating Nature’s beauty in Of Plimoth Plantation. Just as soon as the puritan vs. naturalist religion dialectic seems established, Gatta tips it to crumble. He keenly disturbs the traditional opposition between the Pilgrim/Puritans and the New England mercantile class, by connecting Bradford’s naturalism to a form of “neopagan entrepreneurship”. (31)

Few are the saints in the early part of American literature, which only means authors are presented as human beings. Next to humankind there lies the land. It scurries about in this narrative’s foreground. This is land emptied by the early settlers’ imagination of indigenous peoples, despite the menace the latter did seem to breed for the foreigners. For the taking is in the land, and beauty is merely a euphemism for application of the settlers’ god-given right to make that land their own.

To populate that land, Gatta’s history unfolds into a list of honors. Anne Bradstreet is cited as “the first poet to give an embodiment to American nature.” (47) Yet she writes at a time when another relationship to incarnation begins. This is the intense corporeality begun in Taylor’s “Carnall Love” and culminating, a century on, in Whitman’s “vision of love as a king of living tissue” (114). With the explorer/botanist, J. Bartram, Gatta traces back the “beginning of respect for ‘brute creation’”. (54) What remained dominant in popular mentality was the frontiersmen’s ethic. In the scruffiness of these windblown faces, one can almost overhear the sigh: “whoever heard of mercy on a muskrat?” (83)

Casting away from the 17th century, we witness the burgeoning of botanical literature coming into full bloom in the 19th with the Transcendentalists. This is the moment when Romantic religion reaches the American shores, and beckons a “shift to the book of nature as central text.” (74) Not everything the era created was outstanding. Some writers like W.C. Bryant, bathing in the day’s leitmotif, imagined a prehistoric race inhabiting the land. He called them the “mound-builders” – though setting their existence prior to the contemporary indigenous peoples whose creation these sacred surges have proved to be. This is perhaps the most diabolical case of attempting to displace Native Americans from their rightful heritage. Gatta is quick to strip the myth that evaporates them from the sacredness of “empty space”.

Otherwise, the great works of the 19th century do prevail. Emerson’s Nature first opens truly modern ground. The sharing between naturalist religion and science (understood as the basically descriptive empirical field it was in contemporary times) flourishes fully in the work of H. D. Thoreau. Thoreau’s Walden is perhaps the unsurpassed expression of the North American sacralization of nature, bound to a political vision.

In Brazil, Sergio Buarque de Holanda described how explorers and early settlers, the bandeirantes, consecrated the Eastern tropical forest as a “vision of paradise”. It was out of its forests that the myth of the noble savage and of Eden’s parousia was cast. Walden’s gesture was instead to throw science’s net far broader than we have come to expect in our own times. In doing so, it captured a nature beyond the one prophesied in the scriptures.

As such, Thoreau’s politicized reclaiming of the wild in the name of the sacred proves to be the limit to the American spiritual experience. The Civil War blurred the line between beauty and torment, and between the background and foreground of what nature was expected to provide to Americans. From that wound, Thoreau’s work crafts a sense of place. Gatta reminds us of the punned titled of “Walled-in”, and the carving out of a temple from the natural space.  He draws a mindful lesson for our times: this attention to immanent expression of the sacred is what led Thoreau to “disavow the argument from design.”(136)

The narrative moves on to argue that it was the ecological conscience forged by Jonathan Edwards nearly a century later, instead of Thoreau, which ultimately leads to the mixture of spiritual awareness and social concern raising pointed questions for the American political system regarding its people’s “god-given” rights to a lifestyle. As Gatta asks, “if, in present-day democracies, the shaping of green political policy must depend largely on the behavior of popularly elected representatives, can the relatively few ‘saints’ who possess true virtue hope to prevail?” (69) Such pertinence notwithstanding, Gatta’s political inquiry begins to fade with the ongoing chapters. It is a major drawback for the book’s project.

On the surface a series of case studies is aligned. Their diversity prevents the sacralization of nature from being assembled according to clear-cut paradigms. Types accumulate to form the author’s understanding of an environmental religion. On the other hand, there is some surprising teleology at work. We are left with an uncanny sense that the tone upon which the book had started, namely a prescriptive wager to place religion at the service of environmental consciousness, is shifted a half-circle. By the end, institutionalized religion and the name of the god are there to undermine the political independence of environmental consciousness, subjecting the latter to its aims, as it were.

These shifting patterns are germane to the spiritual expression Gatta perceives as dominant in this heightened environmental consciousness as delivered by the apophatic spiritual attitude, the via negativa. For as the poet Denise Levertov emphasizes, God is not in the objects of nature.  To which Gatta comments, “this last apophatic principle also helps clarify what ‘making nature sacred’ might mean in present-day terms.” (242) Though it beckons iconic creation instead of divine localization, in revealing this pattern fully by book’s end, Gatta seems to bid farewell to the terms of praxis by which environmental consciousness can implement real change in judicial decisions such as Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation (1990).

It also seems to ward off another wager. In the early half of his book, Gatta insightfully gives the historical backdrop of land allocations to some of the leaps in poetic inventiveness tracing North American literature. The framing of the “village common” (93) crowns the act of social preservation of nature, still powerfully exerting its importance on how we nowadays think of our spaces. Such insight makes the book’s recurrent philosophical motif a justifiable blend of phenomenology and hermeneutics. The work strives to “see nature”, which Gatta recognizes as “a hermeneutical problem of interpreting the visible world as text.” (11) But seeing requires a labor of love.

The history of a religion is often its own deepest critic, lest of course one believe that its history is merely the reflection of man’s imperfection. Other cultures have clearly lodged imperfection in all of nature. When immersing into Gatta’s literary archaeology, it is astonishing to encounter the complexity of past spiritual forms. Judeo-Christianity and its younger brethren, Islam, all tend powerfully toward a vision of the divine as unique, God or Allah as One. By contrast, modern science is faced with the predicament, confirmed with every leap and punctuated moment of equilibrium, of nature’s massive diversity and multiplicity. In its hermeneutical form, philosophy attests to the reality of both.

This is a dominant motif in the work of Paul Ricoeur, under whose aegis Gatta sets his own interpretive method.(10) For all the religiosity and faith in Ricoeur’s thought, the late French philosopher believed primarily in a split subject. In order to get to the sense of philosophy’s interpretation and conception of subject, Ricoeur believed it acceptable to go the path to atheism as a last resort. Yet he did not yield in his conviction and trust in the irreducibility of two separate discourses: the philosophical and the religious. There is no leap of faith in Ricoeur’s work, though there is devotion to the original insight, division, and through it the unfolding multiplicity of the names of god specific to religious discourse.

After being steeped in the challenge of heightening environmental consciousness, which has been the topic of considerable discussion within post-Nietzschean structuralist thought, Gatta curtails the import of this latter field on grounds of its skepticism regarding the coming-to-presence-of-sense. But is this not a more radical understanding of the via negativa, which does not parlay to the act of naming transcendent signifiers? C.S. Pierce, Gatta’s other forgotten one, would surely comply when defining his doctrine of “agapasm” as an immanent logic of historical progression as “a positive sympathy among the created springing from continuity of mind”. 

Despite the via negativa, the book emphasizes continuity between the North American Indian to present times. Although Black Elk figures prominently in the second part of this work, it is somewhat hard to be convinced of Gatta’s reassurance. A momentous gap of silence covers, well beyond this book, the notion of continuity with Turtle Island. One day, literary history will have to come to terms with this by integrating Native American oral expression into the literary tradition. Despite Gatta’s remarks that curiosity about Indian spirituality only begins in the 1930s, (146) it is plain to say Native peoples themselves clearly do not recognize the act of making nature sacred as specific to post-contact.

The silence of the native underscores how the “wild” in America cannot thus refer to nature alone, let alone to divinity. This is why the book’s ultimate conclusion, leaning on W. Berry’s vision, portraying God as the “wildest beings in existence”, seems to be too large a step for mankind to make. It flushes history out into a void. It may be philosophically Nietzschean to criticize this teleology, but the thread of thought in this book aims politically at an ideological capturing of reality by organized religion.

Many of the ecological tales of the closing chapters are euphemisms for compelling testaments of faith. But if “pilgrimage is a religious quest” (227), one might wonder at what point the spiritual is elided into the religious, and whether religious experience transfigures the political means to progressively reorganize an economic order to avert a change in the very conditions this book uses as its wellspring to existence. As we ponder over these questions, we commend Gatta’s accomplishment in offering a major collection of authors whose verse and prose provides a predominantly urban culture with its threatened, timeless, nature.

CounterPunch May 18, 2002

The Kyoto Protocol

Canada's Faltering Green Epic

From natural environmentalist beacon to major environmental polluter, NAFTA's success is proving to be its bitter pill
By Norman Madarasz
There's little over a month left before the Kyoto Protocol is to be ratified. As things stand right now it may instead go down as the late 20th century's grandest testament to good intentions. In preparation for that fateful moment, the Federal government of Canada unveiled its long-awaited Kyoto technical paper on May 15, dealing with some of the economic stakes involved in caring for ecology.

The "Discussion Paper on Canada's Contribution to Addressing Climate Change" has the stated aim of seeking public and business consultation in order to decide on whether to ratify the agreement. In it, four different "options" or strategies are given equal importance. Yet, even before the Bush Administration turned its back on the environment, Ottawa was not hiding its preference for the fourth one: a credit system that would allow as much as 30% of its Kyoto commitment to be drawn from so-called "clean energy" sources.

Sounds good. So where's the catch? As Greenpeace-Canada has been quick to point out, Option-4 does not exist in the Protocol. The government will try to convince Europeans, who have already indicated they're unfavorable to this option, that it's entitled to get credit for the cleaning-power of its forests and the remote curbing influence of natural gas exports. However, it proposes no contingency plan for penalizing use or exports of energy known to produce greenhouse gas emissions.

As for the three other options, the government seems to have counted them out from the start. They would involve the delicate matters of either raising gasoline and energy prices. Their results would financially hurt the treasuries. Or, worse, they would pave the way to a doomsday scenario: the entire economy would be hit hard.

Option-4 does however make clear who the Canadian government's partners are. As quoted in "The Globe and Mail" on May 15, the "Discussion Paper" contends that Option-4 "would appear to have the potential to reduce Canada's [greenhouse-gas emissions] in a reasonably cost-effective way and provide the flexibility to capture the ideas and contributions from the provinces, territories and stakeholders."

It's high time it be known that Canada, the perennial green country, has skirted the issue of being the world's No. 2 polluter per capita (roughly 4.42tons accounting for 133.9m tons of carbon dioxide produced in 1997). The Kyoto Protocol calls for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990's level. Yet the country's emissions are 20% higher now. This means that leaning on Option-4 in the "Discussion Paper" is tantamount to doing nothing in real collective terms on curbing emissions.

What's more, Option-4 would also exempt Canada from developing energy sources known to emit greenhouse gases so long as it were to export them, here complying with the wishes of fossil fuel rich Alberta. Though this province stands opposed to the Protocol it would still like to see exemption for its plans to exploit local tar sands for petrol in case Kyoto does live.

Faced with the constraints of the Protocol, the U.S. and other countries have pleaded for the misguided idealism of former leaders, when it hasn't simply rejected the agreement. This can hardly be the case of Canada's Liberal government. In power since 1993, its Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has adorned many political robes. What he could never be is an environmentalist.
Chretien's team has continually stated their commitment to ecology, as it has for public education, scientific research, artistic creation, health care, farm help and other items on the social agenda. Meanwhile, the cabinet keeps delegating real implementation to provincial governments financially strapped due to the fed's shortening arms. For the role of environmental liquidation through limitation, Chretien has chosen the right man. David Anderson is to lull a disenchanted nation as it lives out the denouement of a faltering epic.
Mr Anderson looks like everything a green-friendly country would expect from the caretaker of its holiest mounds. Originating amongst the majestic redwood standing tall in the coastal rainforests of the West, he has been Minister of the Environment since 1999. Prior to appointment, he received recognition for working on conserving salmon stock in the waters of British Columbia. In pop terms he's a typical West-coaster, i.e. he looks ecological. Were it not for his seat in the Federal common house, Mr Anderson would surely flinch at an invitation to change from his lumberjack shirt and Birkenstocks into suit-and-tie.

Vancouverites and residents of the Gulf islands are generally the most laidback of Canadians, drawing liberally from the relaxing effect of potent greenery. Graced with Orca-filled waters, the area's the only part of Canada basking in a microclimate reminding residents of the tropical world curving concavely below. Yet elating relaxation is not what marks the features of Mr Anderson's otherwise clean-air filtered face. Like most urban Canadians, which generally means central-east city dwellers, he no longer knows how or what to think of the nation's natural spaces.

Internationally, Canada's surely recognized as one of the greenest of states. For its citizens, it's become a defining image of its youthful mingling among the mighty. Yet, prior to the 1960's, Canada was still little known outside of its national boundaries, save for its past as England's proudest colony. Its history, grandiose in close detail, in fact follows so much of the plight of the colonial venture in the Americas. The territory known as 'Nouvelle France' fell into Britain's dominion in the 1760's. Unlike other American tales, the French-speaking population perdured. The term used to refer to this period, 'The Conquest', is still ignored by most 'Anglos', not to mention unacknowledged by most indigenous natives who lend to it a quite different meaning.

Many regions west of the US Prairies are striking by their majesty. Canada's lake-studded Great Shield never could reflect the manifest destiny of John Ford's epics of Far West conquest, or the perdition of Euclides de Cunha's time-exposed strata clashes amidst the Brazilian highlands as they erode into the drought-ridden backlands. Canada's winter deflects and keeps repelling epic narratives into the indeterminacy of boundless unvanquished terrain best captured by painters like Lorne Harris. It's not only Nature's chill that has brought Canadians to the humbleness of respect. It's their environment's Being.

After the land had been colonized into a nation, its proximity to two Anglo powers prompted affiliation to the struggle in Europe during the two world wars. Canada's real promotion to the international stage would still have to wait for the naming of future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his minister of justice and successor as Prime Minister, exploded what had stayed locked in the shell of provincialism in Pearson's commitment to international peace. After all, Pearson had about-faced during his tenure in the top job in support of the U.S.'s nuclear arms race. Although Trudeau got his hands dirty in the hysterical reaction to the nationalist violence of the FLQ by imposing the War Measures Act and suspending civil liberties in the fall of 1970, his Canada kept its image as a broker for international peace. It's an image it has jealously conserved up to present times.

Recent decades have shown that remaining a peace-loving nation becomes complex when you benefit from one of the world's most privileged standards of living. Trudeau was an indignant, but careful opponent of the Cold War. A non-aligned leader in thought, he befriended Fidel and was a catalyst to Nixon's meeting with Mao. For all his independence, he could not fail to recognize that the romanticism of Canada's ties to England had shriveled at amazing pace in contrast to its love affair with its southern neighbor. If those of English, Scottish and Irish stock generally stood up for what it meant to be Canadian, few French Canadians did, and even less the Eastern European and East Asian immigrants and their offspring. For them, the dream was to watch the border be transfigured into the promise of a secure economic American future.
During the seventies and early eighties, Canada managed to maintain its independence from US militarism, so long as it agreed to partake of NORAD and NATO. The trade-off meant allowing extension of the American military-industrial economy well into national territory. Peace and social democracy still withstood changing times, but Trudeau's retirement from politics in 1984 ushered in the challenges that were already gnawing at Canada's nationhood.

Canadians often describe the essence of their country as a brew consisting of two conflicting cultures, the French and English. No matter how one wishes to reconcile the distinctions separating these two solicitudes, they remain locked in self-dependency. The diversity that Canada really is, its indeterminacy and expanse, is firmly rooted in its environment, its Nature, 'ses grands espaces'.
You can blame the weather, you can cite stiff immigration conditions and quotas, you can even accuse French Canadian separatism, but Canada, including Quebec, are vastly under-populated lands. At barely 30m, its population remains a speck in the second largest country in the world territorially, though it frugally enjoys living off the world's 8th GDP, being comfortably snuggled in the Top-10 rank of Purchasing Power Parity. Canada's main player in this economy, and its overriding source of wealth, remains its natural resources.

Even as the Cold War raged under Reagan, Canada turned environmentalist pride into a world political stance. The country exalts no national 'parks' the way the US does: the nation is but an unfolding part of the Nature that only arbitrarily bears its name. Which is why, notwithstanding the birth of GreenPeace in British Columbia in 1971, there has seemed to be no need for a dominant 'Green' party in its political world. Environmentalism simply blended in with the country's social democratic history. The recent collapse of its provincial namesake, in the British Columbian provincial elections of all places, perpetuates this distance.

Soon enough, Canadian citizens began taking stands internationally on environmental questions. A moment of naive arrogance came with the ambiguous global drive to preserve the Amazon rain forest as those involved stupidly tended to override the sovereignty Brazil holds over the region. There was a chance for reparation at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro itself in 1992. Thereafter the spirit slid into remission and the nation further saw itself undergo what had been occurring with greater pressure since opening to international currents.

In a rebound, environmentalists renamed BC's coastal temperate jungles as 'rainforests'. Awareness grew that the ecology battle was homeward bound where nothing original, neither Nature nor Natives, was living as happily as had seemed. But Canada still saw itself as a country that made ecology a priority over the economy-- an unconscious extension of its debt to the First Nations. As the effort to care was twisted by business at the expense of others, the environment began facing off with economic concerns.

Such tension may have very much to do with how oblivious the electorate is to Green and green-determined economic policies and programs. Even so, most of the country's political parties do not fail to address the multiple facets of ecological issues. When Ontario's Conservative provincial government did, it wound up with 7 deaths and 2 300 illnesses at a small town called Walkerton in 2000. E-coli has contaminated the town's drinking-water system. Owing to mismanagement and budget-strapped environmental controllers, it was left to fester there for months before brutally striking.

By then, Canadians sensed there had been a change in global perception of their stance toward the gift bestowed by the Great Chief Above. As Green activists were castigated for their unconvincing economic analyses, Walkerton proved that the environment had been shifted to the intensive care of another political practice: public cutbacks and downsizing of skilled staff.


The business and political classes, thriving through late-nineties growth, saw with conviction that the source of future wealth increasingly lay in the service sector. They caught upon the wave that the public would best gobble this idea were its ties to heavy industry downplayed. Little had changed, despite its decorative "consumer" driven dynamic.

The players in this 'new economy' or 'e-economy' may well be living in increasingly urbanized city centers, but their generative force lies in the backlands. The need to drive the service sector at speeds approximate to the US's has to rely on energy generation from sources far beyond what the voting majorities ever have to see. As a background, government, motivated by NGOs, raised the question of developing "efficient" energy generation from "renewable" sources. Despite the tuned-in ears of public interest, the fact is that, so far, efficiency has never been implemented on even a minor scale in Canada.

As the economy heated up at a pace unseen since the early 1970's, so did the environmental feed providing the fodder. The Toronto Stock Exchange 100 Index blew through the ceiling, passing the NYSE's DJIA in 1998 and moving above the 10K point volume in every bit the same type of fantasy on which the southern economy was surfing.

With the quick wealth available to market players and stock option draped executives, the population confided in its business elite in a way perhaps only Torontonians or Albertans had in the past. Former conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, even saw fit to try to definitively clean his name from kickback allegations by emerging from his smoke-screened limousine. He reminded us that NAFTA stood as the raison d'etre of Canada's prosperity, and happened to be passed through the wisdom of the government he had led.

With money to spend from the electronics and bank sector booms, Nature became a cottage playground when it wasn't being transformed into other material for industry in less regenerative ways. As it did, its useful "consumer" products, automobiles and airplanes first among them, were engulfed in an overwhelming amount of greenhouse emissions. With the economy going strong, Canada moved into its last international conference as a world environmental leader: Kyoto, 1997.

Western economies hung on for another two years before finally starting to slip up. The Stock Market boom turned out to be a bubble after all. Ever since, countless Pension Funds invested in the pride of Canada's economy, John Roth's Nortel electronics, have been dragged down the slopes of the earnings inverse-pyramid right into the maze of the funeral chambers. As a provider of fiber optics hardware, the market slump that hit Nortel in the fall of 1999 was but the tip of an iceberg that is still veering uncertainly out of the subsidiary-free market. By Amsterdam 2000, Canada suffered the final blow to its green prestige, crowned by environmental activists as one of the world's biggest polluters.

Everyday, five and a half million Torontonians awake under a sky thick with smog. And they're not alone. Air pollution has been affecting life in many of the country's major cities. In addition, bio-invasion has begun afflicting wildlife and shellfish stocks.

Like the rest of the world, Canada has not been spared freak climatic phenomena, all regularly cited as effects of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. Unending rain in the Prairie provinces in 1999, unusually warm winter weather in the Saint Lawrence river valley between Toronto and Montreal, and the most troubling symptom: streaks of warming air in the Arctic. More shameful is what UNEP GEO-2000 has cited as the regional and world environmental stress that Canada and the US are responsible for as a whole. With barely 16% of the world's entire population, it is estimated that their car, airline and industry-heavy territories produce more than 70% of the world's pollution.

One of the long-standing truths, or half-truths, of economics may be that only with prosperity does philanthropy grow. Never mind: ecology is a matter of philosophical wisdom, not philanthropic pretension. For all the talk of globalization and world markets, Canada has balked severely at recognizing its international responsibilities and growing liabilities. In this sense, it's merely aping the US.

Canadians can seldom be as up-front and confrontational as Americans. On May 15, the federal government basically confirmed suspicions of underhandedness. It has not come out explicitly to say it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But its "Discussion Paper" places acceptance conditions on Option-4 that the international community is not likely to accept.
That the government can act this way lies largely in the way the idea of citizenship has evolved in Canada. The thinking Canadian has too often mortgaged criticism to either determinist visions or statistical facts. In the ecological spectrum, the options presented either try to reduce Green voices to economic myopia, or economists to the moral obsessions of scientists. After years of touting globalization, the time has come to bring that hijacked idea back to its origins in internationalism.

That's because being the enlightened polluter it is, Canada cannot not afford to let its educated conscience assume its responsibilities. But far into the winter hinterlands, tuning Canada to the agenda of a global village has not been as forthcoming as one would expect from the people that brought the world Marshall McLuhan.

If there were an overriding problem with Kyoto, it has to do with a missing clause on how the environment is not something to be protected only in times of prosperity, while reneging on commitment during others. The Rio Earth Summit had included a clause in which rich countries pledged support for developing ones to help them implement environment-friendly technologies. Little has been done in that way, though Mexico has benefited strongly from cleaner technologies thanks to NAFTA. Still, W. Bush's refusal to ratify Kyoto is tantamount to declaring economic war on the world.

As for the damaging problem of the susceptibilities of consumers who don't see reduced energy use as a matter of citizenship, let them provide some answers. Namely: why wouldn't certain consumers be hit harder by Kyoto exigencies than others? Why is it that countries as whole have to apply for green credits, but citizens who make no concerted commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions are treated on par with those who do?

Many Establishment consultants argue that in a country like Canada, one can only make enemies by enforcing restrictions on automobile and especially SUV use. SUV owners are becoming the National Rifle Association among 4-wheelers. It's time that Canadians and Americans realize that the same applies in every country. You can find the automobile industry pretending everywhere, through the slick absurd images of smart marketers, that their products add to environmental cleanliness. No matter how you try to square the equation of increasingly efficient car engines, the number of cars on the road worldwide more than doubled between 1970 and 1990 to about 560 million.

This is why politically and environmentally aware citizens have every right to expect recognition for using public transport. They cannot be wrong in demanding that governments increase aid to companies likely to suffer from ecological enforcement. There's been far too many and far too liberal tax-credits given to only the most profitable corporations. Now they're asking for ecology credits. Executive management has their part to play as well in this collective effort for the future. Show us your conscience.


One of the effects of globalization has been the fading of national economic control under the intense amount of cross-border and off-shore capital transactions. While this powerlessness may not be entirely accurate, being often hijacked by politicians as better reason to return campaign-funding favors, it does underscore a vital point. Economic decisions no longer merely affect the current state of one nation's economy, culture or territory.
Nor is a country a business. And the drawbacks of having manager-like politicians running the nation like scaled-down reengineered versions of G.E. has bared its fruits: increased profits for executives, lack of innovation among staff, downsizing in crisis times.... Canadian cities, with the direct assistance of both federal and provincial governments, must now begin to invest again in public transport on a large scale. The federal government must stand by its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and take leadership over polluters-- regardless of the costs. They're being paid to govern for the people: we're expecting innovative funding schemes for pollution control, not some sad-faced story about the billions and billions of lost corporate income. If that's the only alternative, it's the whole economic system that's the cause of the pollution. That's where the buck must stop.

The "free" market picture has hit full steam into an illusion festering at the highest tiers of the economy. The time has come for the American corporate consultant, posing as experts on international news programs, to quit weaving the free market fantasy. W. Bush's protectionism has even eliminated the need to call its bluff. Steel import tariffs, $70billion agriculture subsidies all added to October's $600billion increase in the US defense budget in a time of recession! All without tax increases!

The US administration is putting the future of the US and its world domain on credit. It's a system in which only the wealthiest individual investors stand to profit. As a population, though, Americans are bound to benefit from it more than others. Countries with poor fiscal policies, or poor countries period, are already enslaved to the absurd interest that American bank-funded multilateral organizations such as the IMF are charging them. Emerging nations haven't seen anything yet as subsidy-raised cheaply priced products begin to flood their domestic markets, sending manufacturers into ruin by being forced to seek out handouts or loans.

Canada is unreasonably reliant on that economy, as far as a sovereign nation is concerned. It would be hasty to dismiss its sovereignty here, but the Canadian politician is hedging on the bet that innovative politics doesn't pay. Health care will have to take up the fiscal slack in the future due to the side effects of uncontrolled air and water pollution. But who cares, Canadian public healthcare will be privatized by then, too.

Cynics from the US are adding insult to injury. V-P Cheney sent awe-inspiring insults to the South when calling for Latin American economies to withdraw from subsidizing their own industries, after being forced to swallow the recent wave of U.S. protectionism. On this, Canadians have given up asking the right questions. Although this is assuming that at this point they have any remaining control over their own government.

Kyoto is an investment for Canada's future, and the fact that Canada will inevitably be led back into massive debt due to the current conduct of the American government, it would be wise to at least be a debtor nation with a population that's as healthy as possible. Economic recovery and performance depends also on a nation's physical and moral health.

There are some smart events occurring in the flux, which will have to be dealt with in a subsequent article. To the government's credit, though hushed up at home, the "Jornal do Brasil" reported on May 9 that Canada has moved to engage in bilateral trade negotiations with the Mercosul, the South American free-custom zone. Thanks to the Cheney-clan, the FTAA can only be said to have died. This time it's happened regardless of the protests in Quebec City. It's happening because of economic cynicism. Canadians have got to keep their eyes open.

To Americans, it has to be made clear that their jobs are at risk not owing solely to environmental concerns, though it is that too, but to the lack of state and federal social planning essential to living a healthier future.
To Canadian politicians: remember your vocation, not your campaign financers. Even with the money of the latter, you depend on the votes of the former.
The bitter irony to this fading epic is that the more Canada turns inward upon itself the more its loses its distinction and claims for sovereignty in the eyes of the world. Without ratifying its Kyoto commitments, the Canadian government is opening the environment to intense commercial exploitation at the hands and ownership of Americans and Germans, the silent amigo. The malaise and illness to which it is prepared to subject its population may ultimately be slight in comparison with the long-term collective effects of an erased border and the forgotten distinction of once having been an environmental beacon.

domingo, 11 de outubro de 2009

Slovakia: The Forbidden Languages

István Deák

Viktor Hulik’s sculpture of a sewer worker, Bratislava (Rudy Sulgan/Corbis)
On September 1, the Slovak parliament made it largely illegal for its citizens to use any language other than Slovak. The use of minority languages in “official” situations is now punishable by fines of up to €5,000 (US $7,270)—and possible offenses include:
a fireman responding in Hungarian to a call for help from a person in a burning building; a civil servant discussing job opportunities with an unemployed Roma in Romany; a German book club discussing a book in German without first introducing it in Slovak; a [train] conductor addressing a passenger in Hungarian on a train from Slovakia to Hungary; a radio station broadcasting in English without Slovak translation; failure to re-carve a 50-year-old grave marker [into Slovak]
(I know from experience that not even manhole covers in Slovakia are allowed to display the old Hungarian-language inscriptions.)
How these rules will be enforced in daily life is another matter; the law appears to rely, at least in part, on denunciations. It’s enough to scare public employees in Slovakia—including even doctors, teachers, postal workers, and railroad clerks—into self-censorship.
What accounts for this law, from a recently minted EU country no less? According to the Slovak government’s twisted reasoning, the law is designed to ensure that “no Slovak citizen…feels disadvantaged or discriminated against” because of the language she speaks. But its real impetus seems to be fears on the right about the country’s minority populations.
Yet these populations—including Hungarians, Rusyns, Roma, Czechs, and Germans—make up only 15 percent of Slovakia’s population and their numbers are steadily declining. Moreover, to meet the requirements for EU membership, which it was awarded in 2004, Slovakia was supposed to adopt more—not less—liberal policies toward its minorities. But Slovakia has swung to the right since it joined the EU; the Slovak National Party, known for its suspicion of the Hungarians and other minority groups, has been a member of the government since 2006.
What is certain is that the country’s ethnic minorities -Hungarians in particular—are frightened. The Hungarian community has already shrunk in recent decades from 30 to 11 percent of the total population, as a result of forced assimilation, urbanization, emigration, and, especially after World War II, deportation. The Beneš Decrees of 1945 turned Germans and Hungarians in Czechoslovakia into noncitizens and general pariahs. Ironically, these cruel decrees were revoked by the Communists after they came to power in 1948, but now a democratic government, made up of a coalition of ex-Communists, socialists, and super-nationalists, seems prepared to revive the ethnic hostilities that surfaced at the end of World War II.
Some observers speculate that the new language restrictions are designed to help right-wing parties in next year’s elections by reinforcing the notion that the ethnic situation at home—as well as deteriorating relations with Hungary—are threatening the country’s ethnic Slovak majority. If the right-wing coalition is victorious in next June’s parliamentary elections, the European Union will be further weakened by what its leaders like to describe as a “quarrel between two of its member states.” Strong international condemnation might persuade the Slovak government that linguistic diversity will enrich, not impoverish, the country.
October 8, 2009, 5:07 pm | 5 comments | Share this



The Hungarians. A Thousand Years Of Victory In Defeat. By Paul Lendvai (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).Translated by Ann Major, xii + 572 pp.
A Concise History Of Hungary. By Miklos Molnár, (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Translated by Anna Magyar, 388 pp.
Requiem Pour un Empire Défunt. Destruction De l’Empire Austro-Hongrois. By François Fejtö (Éditions du Seuil, 1993), 467 pp.

Hungary has moved into yet another phase of its history by becoming a member of the EU. But the relationship between the dominant culture to the historic “nationalities” (i.e. Germans, Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Jews, and Gypsies) is worthy of a most thorough inquiry. Tackling the challenge of modernizing the country’s history is akin to a delicate act of cleansing the rather fragile “Hungarian earthenware”, to cite Széchenyi, the great 19th century reformer. This is where Paul Lendvai’s The Hungarians splendidly excels over what has historically proved to be a most delicate hurdle.

On September 11, 1989, the Hungarian government opened its Western flood gates to East German refugees fleeing their homeland. A tidal wave ensued thereafter. Since then Hungarian historiography has worked at shedding its shadows of doctrine and dogma. Francois Fejtö, who had revealed the trial of Communist leader Laszlo Rajk in the 1940s, swept history’s stage for Hungary to open onto its post-communist era. In Requiem pour un empire défunt, Fejtö overturned the disdainful history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy once taught to his compatriots when their country lay battered under the weight of Soviet domination and exploitation.

He was soon followed by Miklós Molnár, a fellow of the Institut universitaire des Hautes Études internationales de Genève, whose major work appears in English translation for the first time. Molnár upped the bar of quality and science in historiography by stripping Hungary’s past from its Romantic pride. Adhering to the parameters of liberal scholarship, his Concise History of Hungary provides a detailed and factual account of the Danubian nation. In the process, he steers clear of the legends and fabrications characteristic of far too many versions Hungarians worldwide hold of their homeland.

Both of these accounts tend to converge onto a common avowal. The rebirth of Hungary in the 19th century would not have been accomplished without the romantic history built upon its fallen heroes, a history compiled during that very century. So has it occurred that the Romanticized epic of the Hungarian saga itself is now part of its history. Aligned with this insight, Molnár and Fejtö both chose to re-evaluate the tale of the country’s victimization under the rule of Austria’s house of Habsburg. 

Building upon their revisionist accomplishments, Paul Lendvai has taken the next logical step. As a distinguished journalist and editor-in-chief of the Europäische Rundschau, he understands that neither fact nor ideology alone completely molds a nation’s identity, let alone its history. In Lendvai’s brew, identity arises through the will of its people—or, as the case was for Hungary, its peoples.

Countless pages of The Hungarians describe the popular leaders who once held, and still sway, the nation’s flame in the Magyar imagination. Although nationalism may serve the politician, it fails the scientist. The reader is thus quickly led to understand that from the folk basis out of which Lendvai spins the nation’s history emerges not an ideal Hungary, but the natio Hungarica. For countless great Hungarians, such as Miklós Zrinyi, King Mathias Corvinus, Lajos Kossuth and John von Neumann—from Serb, Romanian, Slovak and Jewish backgrounds, respectively—“belonged to the political nation of Hungary which was not an ethnic but a juridico-political category”. (127) 

To citizens of today’s Hungary, this may be but a vision of the past. Where it very much persists is in the minds of its émigrés and offspring. Still, it is the only vision through which current leaders may coherently venture when claiming to speak for the diaspora of 15 million Magyars. Whether this number “has to be revised” (506) or not, Lendvai’s foremost object is to show that the process of ‘Magyarization’ in the 19th century, i.e. establishing Hungarian as the official language and projecting it over its historic territory, consisted of a desperate screening out of its own asymmetrical ethnic dominance. After the cataclysm of the Ottoman invasion and occupation, Magyar was only enacted the country’s official language over Latin in 1844 at a time of great uncertainty regarding its demographic preeminence.

Propelled by a sense of injustice, the 19th century Hungarians successfully and dramatically recreated a new nation. Yet it is important to beware of short temporal cuts when considering history. So it is that Lendvai painstakingly argues that the accomplishment of the Hungarians could not have materialized without the complicity of the nationalities spread throughout their lands. But by obscuring the ties between the nation and the nationalities, a propensity marshalling the thoughts of even such a maverick revolutionary as Lajos Kossuth, the process of Magyarization ended up spelling the territorial demise of historic Magyarorszag, first in 1920 and then, once and for all, in 1947.

Lendvai does not yearn for his readers to shed tears for what could have been. Thanks to his fluid prose, elegantly rendered into English by Ann Major, many readers may even overlook the pivotal nature of chapter 26: “Total Blindness: The Hungarian Sense of Mission and the Nationalities”. His loving renditions of folk tales and inspired quotes from the country’s host of great authors and poets soften the critical stakes waged by his work—as if with a lover’s words of comfort that separation will bring newfound prosperity.

Some Hungarian readers of Christian faith may observe that Lendvai’s natio Hungarica is substantially Jewish. Let there be no illusions: this is where his remarkable book fills a gapping lack. There has been scant discussion, and only suggestive analyses, of the role the Jews played in Hungarian industry and culture since the emancipation act of 1849 had first granted them equal rights.

Regarding István Bibós’s testimonial “On the Jewish Question”, Lendvai writes “it is still the best contribution to this topic, not least because it is not written by a Jew, a Communist or a Socialist, but by a progressive bourgeois thinker.” (416, ft. 18) Taken inversely, this statement powerfully stands for the author of The Hungarians: Lendvai’s book could only have been written by a Jewish Hungarian-Austrian émigré. Despite the myth breaking, his eloquent account files the author comfortably among the great raconteurs of the Hungarian saga.

It is doubtful whether a Hungarian Gentile could have asserted with such transparency that “the ‘demographic revolution’, in favor of Magyars [in the 19th century], would have been impossible without the mass of Jewish assimilants.”(330) Apart from the factual justification for this claim, the author also spends considerable time demonstrating how the “symbiosis” (328) of the Central European Jews with the Magyars surpassed even that forged with the Germans.

Objective history can only exalt the truths enshrined within myths by breaking a few of its own. History’s undercurrents are too fierce, too unconscious, for satisfied self-righteousness to be the lingering residue left in the wake of reading its literary productions. Lendvai goes on to add an article to this law of critical faith: “with myth-making also comes the myth of treason-making. While there may be no lack of traitors in history, there is also no lack of traitor making in history, with the latter not always, and perhaps, seldom, overlapping with historical facts.” (242) Since Trianon and the end of WWII, domestic folk history has too often painted the nationalities with traitor’s tones.

The urgency of myth-breaking applies perhaps most to recent history, resulting in two important corrections. Hungarian communism, a culmination of sorts of the peasantry’s centuries-long squalid servitude under the nation’s feudal lords, cannot be evaluated outside of the loss incurred to national sovereignty by the Soviet occupation. Only a fiercely anti-communist rendition of history can claim that Hungary’s post-1946 version was sui generis. Likewise, Hungarian history has often single-handedly recorded the ire of Christian Hungarians faulting Hungarian Jews for the doings of Mátyás Rákosi, Stalin’s man of Terror in Buda from 1947-1956. Lendvai explains away the idea that ethnic background has any relation to brutal dictatorships, but only by painfully seeking to answer why the freedom fighters among the second generation of Hungarian communists turned to tyranny and terror when they haplessly assumed power.

It is a truism that ethnic resentment cannot be erased merely through the brush of a historical determinist stroke. One must not forget that for a vanquished nation, the aftermath of war invariably overflows with suffering and a yearning for retribution. In turn, the horror of the two 20th century world wars could only have been followed by an aftermath steeped in social terror and collective pathology.

In apposition to his detailed character portrayals, Lendvai’s general method is anchored in pattern identification. He proceeds by the formal excavation of repeated event patterns as a more accurate means to deciphering a nation’s distinctive features. The subtitle to his work, “A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat”, also projects into the future. The “thousand years” refers to Hungarian statehood as proclaimed by Stephen 1st, the act by which the kingdom was affiliated to Rome’s Catholic tutelage. Until then, from the Caucasus to the Carpathian basin, the Magyars had struggled through shifting political and religious alliances.

As a deeper undercurrent, the historical pattern of “victory in defeat” is the folk song to the nation’s survival. Lendvai’s is not the portrait of a victimized nation, though the plaintiff poignancy of a Rom’s violin may be overhead in the background. In the footsteps of Fejtö, such refusal owes principally to its author’s full-scale revisionism of the Habsburg Compromise: “If the political, economic and financial facts are viewed objectively, it has to be admitted that the Hungarians were less victims than beneficiaries during this period of their history.”(287) Defeat in 1848-1849, led to fusion in 1867. Defeat in 1956, led to the emergence of Goulash Communism in the 1970s.  

Indeed, this pattern has solidified into the rational ground from which the modern day Hungarian heroic character strides forward. In the past it had aroused the passion of the nationalities to partake in the Magyars’ struggle. As far as into the ranks of the famous thirteen generals of the 1848 honvéd army, brutally executed in Arad on Feldzeugmeister Haynau’s orders, the nationalities helped make the Nation. Among these would-be martyrs, one could find “a German of Austrian origin, a German-Austrian, two Hungarian-Germans, a Croat, a Serb from the Bánát and two Hungarians of Armenian origin.” (240) 

While anyone could become Hungarian in the 19th century even without mastering the language properly —this was the case of composer Franz Liszt—official recognition of one’s own ethnicity was harder to achieve. Lendvai will surely spark many objections by asserting that:

“[in] contrast to the representation of national romanticism, Hungarian historians of our time, such as Domokos Kosáry, emphasize that the radicalization of these nationalities was not the result of Vienna’s policies, Pan-Slavism or rabble-rousing foreign agents. These ethnic groups, in their own social and political development, had reached a similar level of national feeling and national assertion as the Hungarians, but Kossuth and most of the authoritarian Hungarian politicians were unwilling to accept their demands.” (224)

Regardless, it stands that this “blindness”, or rather blindspot, to history’s cunning would eventually solidify into the blow to shatter the Hungarian earthenware.

It is history’s destiny to stare helplessly as the past’s effect on facts have them act no differently on our minds and bodies than do fictions. In his loving rendering of Hungary’s troubled saga, Lendvai has shown us how our knowledge and memory are a tangle of both threads. His demand on readers is to stretch their reasoning powers so as to represent these threads singularly as they intertwine. Therein lies his great achievement: Lendvai is an educator. The only blood and sole battlefield his work condones are set in a classroom of inquiry and debate.

No power, no country and no president may be excused from scorching the earth anew. Vengeance is the only child of such wanton destruction; from it, students never emerge. As Hungary prepares for a new era as a member of the European Union—and not, one would hope, as a disruptive American vassal—Fejtö, Molnár, and Lendvai stand out as our pointers and signals.

sexta-feira, 3 de julho de 2009


May 2009


Professor T has delivered a finely crafted reflection on boredom as seen through the philosophical prism. He begins by tracing a genealogy of the notion of malaise, which he links to the emergence of modernity. However, T’s main concern is not this concept, which is why its intrinsic link to modernity remains somewhat buried in his argument. If he had used some Foucault, T’s reasoning may have simply set the symptomatology of malaise as immanent to the rise of modernity, instead of being its by-product. But that’s his methodological option, and I respect it.

Prior to establishing the specific linking mechanism between his main topic, boredom, and malaise, T ventures us through the culture of German Romanticism. He converges upon Heidegger as the one to draw out an explicit connection between boredom and the malaise that beset the German spirit. Boredom is posited by Heidegger as an existential category, fundamental to the being in the world of Dasein. The reckoning made by Heidegger of the need to attribute an authentic experience to boredom is sufficient grounds, as far as T is concerned, for connecting such a view of boredom to Nazism, especially when the progression of Heidegger’s own political career is taken into account.

Yet, as T shows, there is an alternative to sliding from boredom into the need for a collective epiphany, which fascist regimes have dramatized and implemented. This has to do with identifying boredom as essentially the outcome of leisure. Now, T’s take on leisure draws less from contemporary accounts of the significance of the “leisure society”, than it does from the perception the ancient Greeks, and especially Aristotle, had of it. But by making this choice, T leaves a key categorical choice unresolved and indeed latent in his presentation, which is that boredom in contemporary society is best explained by referring back to the way boredom relates to modernity. Nothing is less certain than this presupposition.

In his epoch-making classification of the virtues, Aristotle gave a special place to leisure as the precondition for achieving the highest manifestation of virtue. Aristotle’s account of leisure becomes an ethical journey, by which leisure is a condition to be earned and preserved. To be sure, this is far from the way our society considers leisure. T argues that our relationship and conception of leisure is anything but ethical. And he strives to strip aesthetic connotations from leisure as well.

T gives little in the way of debate as to the tie between boredom and time, especially vacant or idle time, when not leisure time. As far as I see it, the omission of a more detailed discussion is symptomatic of a liberal democratic view to restrict boredom to idle time. By contrast, boredom connects to something quite different than leisure, as far as I’m concerned. For boredom is tied to the general types of labor-based options our society and indeed our industry supplies, and entrenched in the division of labor existing in our society.

In that regard, I would argue that it isn’t merely the cultural products favored by most of the public which accounts for the spreading of boredom, notwithstanding distinctions of class. It is the very notion of capitalist division of labor which does. As T points out in his quote from Fukuyama, the way for the modern man and woman to overcome boredom is to engage in the heroics of extreme sports or cutting-edge innovation. Fukuyama gives us the beautiful ideal of creating our own jobs to create our own lives (just see the May 25 issue of Time Magazine, “The Future of Work”, for a variation on this theme: “[…] there’s a world of opportunity. If you can figure out a new path”). But what is the percentage of the public to which such an option is truly available?

In terms of the deceptions cited by Charles Taylor as produced by modern society, none perhaps is deeper and more harmful to the representation of self shaping citizen-consumers than this one. In an increasingly automated world, in which any number of boring jobs is sent abroad, the laboring classes are left with plenty of idle time to contemplate how to turn idleness into the dream of being an idol. If this is pertinent, then it points to a lack of contextualization in T’s discussion.

Now, whatever one might think of an intrinsic link between Heidegger’s phenomenology and his political commitments, there is little doubt about how cutting edge his sensibilities were on the existential moods (Stimmung), regarding being-for-death, care as well as boredom. Yet just like I feel T’s phenomenological rendering of the genealogy of boredom at times lacks contextualization, i.e. we move from the culture industry to modernity with hardly a mention of a plausibly fundamental split between the two, which in other circles would prompt the category of post-modernity, so also do I feel that steeping Heidegger’s existentials in a literal reading of authenticity ends up depriving us of the aesthetic impact his categories otherwise have.

Just contemplate the late Zen-Buddhist composer John Cage’s thoughts on boredom. Cage once explained that “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Here we have a conception of boredom which has little if anything to do with the existentialist finality, and indeed passive fatality, of waiting for a time of redemption, or for that God, whose coming, Heidegger proclaimed in the infamous Der Spiegel interview, was the only thing that could save us. Cage’s commitment to boredom is minimalist to the extreme. But it is a possibility open to anyone doing basically anything. As such, there is no need for the patriarchal Athenian slave-state democracy of Aristotle’s time to render leisure its own authenticity. The boredom-leisure complex need not return to a more authentic relationship to be saved.

This need is something I cannot help but infer as being expressed in T’s paper. Through an alignment with Taylor’s reading of modernity especially, T seeks out, without saying as much, the more authentic conception of leisurely activity, i.e. of leisure untarnished by boredom, which he finds in Aristotle. The title of his paper should have read: let’s go to the Lyceum, instead of to the movies.

The drawback for a minimalist approach, in the Cagein vein, is how it appears to be aesthetic only in the sense of applying to the experience of art. Minimalist aesthetes have gone out of their way to underscore how art appears through a minimalist spectrum to be available for anyone to create. Aesthetics then becomes economics, i.e. a way to govern one’s home, very similar indeed to what led Aristotle to engage in his Politics. Miniminalism, like punk, has stressed every person’s creative potential. And I consider the following statement by Robert Rauschenberg to stipulate just that:

“Boredom and understanding are the same thing: I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop. At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

This is where the singularity of our time, as opposed to the tensions and dynamics of modernity, once again come to bear. Referring now to the introductory citation to T’s paper, it is often said that Adorno and Horkheimer, despite their Marxist background, were elitist when it came to pondering the specifics of the culture industry. The way Adorno lumped jazz in with the mere entertainment products typical of the cultural industry tainted him forever with the elitist dye. While I don’t believe that elitist is an appropriate description of Adorno – and I’m certainly not referring here to his intellectual, say, “aristocracy”, i.e. culture of being the best, which characterizes all of the great innovators and thinkers – I do believe his conceptions are pre-contemporary. In that regard, even Guy Debord, the Situationist, remains pre-contemporary in certain ways, as when he abides by the notion of an avant-garde literary and artistic movement, no matter how vacant any situationist movement really was, structurally speaking. This is best represented when Debord proclaims that “boredom is always counter-revolutionary.” Leonard Cohen would probably join in this contempt for boredom when complaining of being “sentenced to twenty years of boredom” in “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.”

However, it was Debord, an archetypical artistic punk, who dared, even before Godard, to construct a film around a black image – black on black in the darkness of the cinematic cell. (Is this the movie T has invited us to see?) Godard himself used such a superposition to transcend the lower art form status of cartoons, cut-up editing gimmicks, the Marxist social-realist aesthetic, and cinema itself to make entertainment in a form that, at least in its appearance, is open to everyone to create, and is often “boring” as hell.

So T’s plea that modernity does not have to be boring may be a way of pointing to the great art works that a more virtuous, Greek, sense of the aesthetic life may end up prompting us to consider.

However, once we argue in favor of a radical split between the contemporary and the modern, which some theories and other trendists have called post-modernism, the experience of boredom points to two further analytical options. First, generalized boredom is linked less to idle time than to labor. Here lies the possibility of transcending Debord and one’s atomism. Second, boredom is the tip of creation, the becoming of Andy Warhol’s potential that each and every one may become famous for an instant, in which idleness crosses with a desire for idolatry, idle to idol to conjure away the black on black.

If we are contemporary minimalists, that which comes from it all this homegrown art ought to escape judgment. On the other hand, if we are modernist, it prompts calls for a more authentic conception of the idol and the ideal.

In other words, for a minimalist seeking to be rid of all deceptions including those of the ideals and idols of others, self-assertive boredom is not only healthy: it’s cool.