Wednesday, 09 March 2005

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Fry Me a Steak! All those categories, still one topic. Go figure. As you can tell by the "currently reading" bar sort of directly to the right of this post--probably a scroll or two down as well--I'm "currently reading" T.H. Williams' biography of Louisiana politician extradorinaire Huey Long. A couple of years ago, I taught Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here, a roman a clef of Huey's life. What I failed to realize is how poor a roman a clef it was. It transformed Huey into a dictator of the fascist sort, when he barely resembled the European socialists-in-name-alone-dictators with whom Sinclair compared him. Wish I could admit to being a homer here, but I'm not: Long was a political enigma, but he was no more a fascist than Gandhi...both genuinely wanted to help as many people as possible...except to do so in America requires a sort of pragmatic dictatorial streak. Huey had it. Gandhi didn't. Should we hold that against the Kingfish? Since I'm only about 443 pages into the book, maybe I shouldn't make such bold proclamations, but I will anyway. I'm not afraid of being as wrong as genocide. So here's a statement typical of the aristocrats Huey opposed: "The two worst things that ever happened are universal suffrage and universal education." Huey opposed this. What a fascist. Now, for some of the Kingfish's greatest hits: When told that nepotism marred his administration--that far too many of his kinfolk were living on the dole--Huey replied that that's only true if you count "ninth cousins, the in-laws and cousins of in-laws," and hinted that his critics were probably correct, but needed some proof. He suggested they "investigate the rosters of the state penitentiary," where they'd find "plenty of his kin doling from the pen." When his oppoents complained about Huey's entirely legal but non-traditional appointment of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Huey replied: "No music ever sounded one-half so refreshing as the whines and groans of pie-eating politicians. They say that they were steam-rollered. I think that is true. The only reason that the roller didn't pass over more of them was because there were no more in the way." After a particularly heated battle won by Huey, but thought, in the heat of the moment, to have been won by his opponents, the Kingfish declared: "That was a great contest. Give 'em rope." One of the man's favored stock phrases: "bosses and bosslets." I know one of those isn't a word, but fuck me if it oughtn't be. I could continue, but you ought to read this book. Especially if you're Some Canadian Guy, since Huey is widely acknowledged as being the first U.S. politician to put expertise above political commitment...because the non-political experts in whom he put his faith respected his ability to defer to their expertise. Brilliant. [Edit: Another 300 pages into the biography, and I can't help but think that Lewis might not've been as wrong as I initially thought. Huey might've been a colorful and...
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Cat Embodies History, the Real Scott McLemee, intellectual affairs columnist for www.insidehighered.com, asks "What did Jacques Lacan mean by 'the Real'?" That question has as many answers as some people have faces* ... and deserves to be taken as seriously as any question about a psychoanalytic work. Not at all. Seriously. Taken not at all seriously. You can judge the seriousness of McLemee's seriously serious account of "the Real" for yourself: What did Jacques Lacan mean by "the Real"? I found out, sort of, by walking across my apartment in search of a copy of the recent re-translation of his Ecrits -- a volume replacing another (somewhat notoriously unreliable) translation released by the same publisher more than 20 years earlier. When a manufacturer of toasters finds out that its toasters are defective, it will issue a recall. About halfway to the bookshelf, the light bulb went off: Time for a class action suit! Suddenly, a rogue housecat interposed himself between my feet -- causing immediate "walk failure" and consequent wrenching of lower back. Now, the Imaginary is for Lacan the dimension of the human human psyche that permits us to feel more or less cohesive. It is the raw material of ego identity. By contrast, the Symbolic includes all the systems we use for communication and exchange with others. It is "language," very broadly defined. But what about Lacan's third term? Just to back up a little.... I'd been reading Slavoj Zizek, the wild and woolly cultural theorist, who is about as Lacanian as they come. He slings the lingo like a pro. But every so often, my reading comprehension disappears, like the steam from a bowl of cooling soup. Zizek refers to the Real "escaping" the Imaginary and "errupting into" the Symbolic. Which is good to know, but not that helpful. It left me wondering: "OK, the Real -- what is it? And where?" And then, out of nowhere, I got an answer. The Real is a silent but (potentially) deadly housecat. The realm of the ego's Imaginary dignity is violated. The order of the Symbolic is reduced to groans and obscenities. The Real is what leaves you on the floor. Fredric Jameson, the lefty lit-crit guru maximus, once equated Lacan's concept with the Marxist notion of History -- a word that Jameson always capitalizes, like the name of a god. History, and hence the Real, he explained, "is what hurts." OK, but does that mean my cat embodies History? McLemee follows that with a brief discussion of the forthcoming Zizek: The Movie, in which, according to the official website, "Zizek never stops philosophizing." Not that one would expect anything less from "the Elvis of cultural theory," a man for whom, according to Judith Butler, "discussing Hegel and Lacan is like breathing." *A practical guide to what Campbell called "the monomyth" outlines "the stages of the HERO," and for some reason, it does so entirely in CAPS: THE HERO IS INTRODUCED IN HIS ORDINARY WORLD THE CALL TO ADVENTURE THE HERO IS RELUCTANT AT...

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