Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Gävle Houses: Photo of the Day #31

On Learning of E.M. Ciroan's Embrace of Fascism in the 1930s

It's disappointing to learn that E.M. Cioran (1911-95), whose dark, aesthetic aphorisms I enjoy reading from time to time (in the grim and grueling weeks just before taking my graduate qualifying exams I especially savored the bleak existentialism expressed in On the Heights of Despair. Provocative assertions like "The importance of insomnia is so colossal that I am tempted to define man as the animal who cannot sleep," a line from "Man, the Insomniac Animal," corresponded directly to my immeidate experience and had a perverse allure) was a Hitler enthusiast in the 1930s.

According to Marta Petreu's account in An Infamous Past: E.M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania, Cioran later both acknowledged and more importantly rejected his embrace of fascism as a young man (in his twenties) describing it as "unacceptable." Nonetheless, I suspect that from now on I'll never read Cioran with as much appreciation.

I discovered Cioran's writing haphazzardly, picking up On the Heights of Despair on the philsophy shelves of the Border's on Clark Street in Chicago. For those who haven't read any, here's a small sampling. The Temptation to Exist opens with an essay titled "Thinking Against Oneself" that begins with this insight:

Almost all our discoveries are due to our violences, to the exacerbation of our instability.

On a related note I'm disturbed by the way the author of this article, Carlin Romano, portrays Paul de Man as a more 'tainted' figure than Cioran. From what I know about de Man's journalistic activities as a young man in World War II Belgium, and from what I've read some of this work, de Man was not really 'pro-Nazi' and his essays could be reasonably described as opportunistic pieces that tried subtly to distance themselves from the strong anti-Semitism of the day.

One thing is certain. De Man's wartime prose was not hate filled in the way that Cioran's prose was. That doesn't mean de Man's decision to write for a collaborationist newspaper was justified, nor should we excuse him for attempting to bury his wartime past. I'm not condoning de Man's actions or the decisions he made. That said, it is a gross distortion, I think, to condemn him as a fascist and leave it at that. And to construe the essays found in brilliant texts such as Allegories of Reading to be an ellaborate deconstructionist ruse designed to excuse his wartime writings is twisted.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gävle Bibliotek: Photo of the Day #26

Law Students Protest Gonzales' Defense of Domestic Spying

Georgetown Law School students staged a silent protest during an appearance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was speaking in defense of the NSA's domestic spy programs. Approximately thirty students (out of how many, I wonder?) stood up, one by one, and turned their back on Gonzales during his speech. Five students, wearing Abu Ghraib-style hoods, unfurled a banner with a Ben Franklin quote: "Those who would sacrifice liberties in the name of security retain neither."

I applaud the actions of the Georgetown students and encourage them to retain their commitments to liberty when they become professional lawyers and Big Capital offers them big bucks to find ways to circumvent our civil liberties.

A friend of mine who attended Duke University Law School and has subsequently worked for various nonprofits once told me that something like 95% of students enter law school claiming to have aspirations to serve the public good. Perhaps their idealism is all show, empty rhetoric to fill applications essays, because for whatever reason, and money is the one most widely given ('We need to pay off our student loans), it turns out that something like 95% of them go on to take jobs working for corporations where the profits, not the public good, is the primary motive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Functional Footwear: Photo of the Day #25

While the blue plastic slippers don't conform to the aesthetic dictates of sleek Scandinavian design, they do prevent dirty snow from being tracked inside and keep the floors clean. We had to don these plastic slippers before entering the doctor's office this morning, though Ira says that they're fairly common at places other than health-care providers as well.

Sweden has made me recycling conscious, and I wondered about the fate of the used slippers. Would they be recycled or were they destined for the trash heap, like the infamous blue bags in Chicago.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wine Shopping: Photo of the Day #24

It took longer than I would've liked to buy two bottles of wine at the Systembologet. With the state having a monopoly on the sale of beverages with an alcohol content higher than 3.5%, prices ain't cheap. With the dollar week versus the kroner, prices for alcohol are almost twice as much in Sweden as in the States. Consequently, we tend to think through our wine purchases more deliberately. We miss the discount bin at Binny's, where you can always get a good bottle of wine for under $5!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Don't Fall Asleep on the Sofa: Photo of the Day #23

ACLU to NSA: No Surveillance Allowed (without a warrant)

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the National Security Agency for spying on innocent Americans without court approval. American freedom lovers know that this is unconstitutional.

The list of clients filing this lawsuit includes a surprising assortment of groups and individuals. Glad to see Christopher Hitchens is taking part. It has been disturbing to read some of his bizarre defenses of the Bush Administration's post-9/11 policies, most notably its pre-emptive war in Iraq. You can read Hitch's client statement on the ACLU's webite.

I'll be monitoring this lawsuit closely. But the real question, I suppose, is whether Big Brother (or perhaps more accurately, some government flunky working under a self-serving Bush-Cheney crony, e.g. "Brownie") is monitoring me, and you.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pet Flaskor: Photo of the Day #22

The recycling machine, located at Willys, a supermarket, accepts your bottles, scans the labels, and spits out a receipt indicating the value of the recycled material. You give the receipt to the cashier when checking out and the discount is applied to your purchase.

They must have these gizmos somewhere in the States, like Seattle or Portland, right? I can imagine a right-wing argument against them: 'What will the homeless do? Recycling bottles and cans provides them with a source of income and a way to serve as productive members of society.'

Performance, Performativity, and Posthistoricism in Don DeLillo's Underworld

J.L. Austin's account of performatives has been enormously influential in literary studies; scholars routinely deploy speech-act theory to explain how words and texts do things in, rather than simply report on, the world. However, critics have begun problematizing the widespread use of performativity as an interpretive heuristic: focusing on illocutionary force makes interpretation irrelevant by shifting attention away from what texts mean to what they do. An emphasis on textual effects, Walter Benn Michaels and Amy Hungerford argue, valorizes the subject position and makes claims concerning cultural identity primary.

In recent books, Michaels and Hungerford explore how identitarian misconceptions inform the postwar thinking of a disparate assortment of literary, theoretical, and historical writers - including Don DeLillo. Erroneously ontologizing language, these writers misconstrue the relationship between history and experience, memory and identity. Consequently, their texts (including Underworld and Mao II) sustain a fundamental posthistoricist, neoliberal fantasy: a world divided by cultural differences rather than ideological beliefs.

Is this critique of DeLillo's project accurate? Does DeLillo's fascination with performative resignification lead him to produce deeply posthistoricist works? Is Underworld an historical or a posthistoricist novel, and what’s the distinction? To begin addressing such questions, I analyze an allegedly posthistoricist trope—nonsensical performatives as a technology for fashioning personal identity—found throughout DeLillo's work. While I discuss various literal performances in Underworld, the primary focus is on Nick Shay's performative attempts to live “responsibly in the real,” particularly his efforts to negotiate his criminal past via rote memorization.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Uppsala Train Station: Photo of the Day #19

A confession, lest the detectives and PIs (photo investigators) expose this image as a fake: I shot today's Photo of the Day yesterday. This picture of the Uppsala Train Station was shot on Wednesday, January 18, 2006. Today I did not leave Gävle. In fact, I only briefly left the apartment. The reason I'm posting this pic is because I did not shoot a photo on January 19. I intended to. In fact, I took my camera with me in my backpack when I went to mail a letter and buy some milk. However, it was so cold (-10 centigrade or so) out that I decided I didn't want to bother taking my camera bag out of my backpack, let alone spend time look for something interesting to shoot outside. The rest of the day, before and after my brief excursion into the cold, was spent on the phone, net, and e-mail taking care of various pressing business matters and collecting and compiling research material for my dissertation. By the end of the day I was exhausted - from all the brisk cold-weather walking around the icy streets of Uppsala, I think - and the end of the evening was consumed with technology maintenance. I was erasing and reformatting my backup hard drive and reinstalling backup software on it. I'm still not certain it's working 100% properly. In any event, I simply forgot to shoot a photo. My apologies, then, to Jan 19, 2006 for failing to preserve a digital image of something during its 24-hour duration.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Snowy Sculpture: Picture of the Day #18

Shot this photo in front of the train station in Uppsala, where we spent the day running about town in the cold and snow taking care of business at Uppsala U. and at various bureaucratic offices.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Cafe Bogården: Photo of the Day #17

On our daily walk today, we looked at the new library on the campus of the local college and stopped by for hot coffee and a slice of apple cake in vanilla sauce at the Cafe Bogården, a nearby family-run business located in a charming, older, house across from the soccer stadium.

Postmodern Historiography: Niall Ferguson's Fictional Case for Pre-emptive War

Niall Ferguson's The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented is a fictional piece of history that uses a horrific, but not entirely implausible, imaginary event in the near future, a war in the Middle East precipitated by a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran in August 2007, to make the case for the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive warfare.

The narrator of Ferguson's fiction, a historian writing at some unspecified date in the future, describes the conditions that led to the Great Gulf War, an event said to mark "the end of the oil age" and perhaps "the twilight of the West." The three leading preconditions for the war are (1) economic: the rising geopolitical importance of the Gulf region due to the world market's ever-increasing demand for oil (2) demographic: the rapid population growth in Islamic countries coupled with the declining birthrates in European countries and (3) cultural (or, as I would put it in, ideological): the spread of an "anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and anti-Semitic" Islamism. Although this is a fictional piece, it is informed by a thoughtful analysis of actual trends.

In Ferguson's fantastic scenario, the Great Gulf War is precipitated by the failure of the Western powers to respond to Iran's violations of the non-proliferation treaty. Failing to take Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's very real threats to Israel seriously and unwilling to act decisively to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the Western powers allow Iran to become a nuclear power. As a consequence, a new world war erupts after a "nuclear exchange" between Iran and Israel. There's a lot to think about in Ferguson's fictional history, including the accuracy of his clash-of-civilizations scenario: Is it the case that the West is underestimating the threat of Islamisism? Does Ferguson exaggerate the pernicious effects of European secularism? How valid is the comparison between Ahmadinejad's Iran and Hitler's Germany? Why does he imagine China allying itself with Iran?

However, the most pressing question concerns Ferguson's agenda. The essay closes with what I read as not only a defense of pre-emptive war, but a call for a strike against the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran:

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

I found the piece to be a chilling and highly effective piece of political propaganda. Effective because the scenario Ferguson describes - a global conflagration triggered by a nuclear conflict between Israel and Iran - seems possible. Chilling because I recognize the danger that an Ahmadinejad-led Iran poses but fear that a U.S. or NATO-led invasion of Iran (which is what ultimately Ferguson appears to be lobbying for) would only further destabilize the Gulf region.

In any case, I'm filing Ferguson's essay to discuss the next time the topic of postmodern historiography comes up in one of my literature classes. Usually when the topic of postmodern historiography comes up, one thinks of Left-leaning novelists writing fictionalized histories and coming under attack for distorting the facts and undermining the notion of the truth. In this case, however, we have an influential historian who is writing a fictionalized history of the future in order, perhaps, to advocate for neoliberal (some would argue Right-wing) political agenda of pre-emptive warfare. One thing is certain: the stakes couldn't be higher.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Harassing Daniel

Woke up this morning to learn that the Bears had lost their playoff match to Carolina. They were losing when I went to bed the night before, so it wasn't much of a surprise. After they dropped their last game to the Vikings, I feared that the team was not peaking at the end of the season.

Anyway, the Bears and more academic concerns filled my mind today. I damn near forgot the Picture of the Day. I'd taken my digital camera out during our daily walk, but we departed in the late afternoon so it was too dark out to take a decent photo. I was in bed when I remembered that we hadn't shot any photos. Fortunately, Ira volunteered to shoot today's photo. She went and banged on Daniel's door and shot this blurry photo of him looking bleary-eyed.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

And the Winner Is...

In the battle of the Belgian blond ales, Leffe Blond defeated Affligem Blond in today's taste test. The event was not without controversy. With her eyes closed, Ira initially chose the Affligem. However, when she tasted the beers with her eyes open she picked the Leffe and declared she thought she was choosing it the first time. Eric, who was administering the tasting, admonished Ira not for basing her initial decision exclusively on what her taste buds judged to be the better beer. Was this an instance of ideology trumping aesthetics?

Obviously Affligem advocates are declaring today's results invalid and are demanding a future rematch. Eric chose the Leffe Blond with his eyes shut and with them opened, though he insisted that the Affligem was a fine beer. He was heard to say that he would gladly drink either most anytime, if only he could afford Belgian beers in America or Sweden.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Duck Watching: Photo of the Day #12

Took a solitary stroll today. Ira was good and stayed home working on her disseration. I shot the photo of the ducks at the same location where the man was fishing the other day (7 Jan 2006). It's warmed up a bit since then. The photo of me is a self-portrait, obviously. It turned out well, I think. The grey in the goatee is just a trick of the golden light.

Dave Sez: If You're Talkin' Shit, I'll Have to Put the Smack Down

SuperJim writes in an e-mail: Did you see Letterman skewering Bill O'Reilly on his show last week? Go to the Video Dog section of Salon for the best-edited clip I've seen. O'Reilly's voice actually cracked because he was so intimidated. I mean, Letterman is such a pro broadcaster, I'm sure O'Reilly looks up to the guy. And Letterman was so brilliant in his measured and funny and reasoned interview. Ah he's terrific.

As the wing-nuts repeat in response to the other obnoxious right-wing hypocrite polluting America's airwaves with stupid lies and misinformation: Ditto.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Welcome to My World (The World as Text/The Text as World): Photo of the Day #11

After visiting Stockholm yesterday, all day today was spent at the work table. Had Ira not reminded me late this evening, I might have forgotten to shoot the Photo of the Day. Quickly, I took the following photo, which gives a glimpse of my work environment. The book open on the stand is Paul Auster's Leviathan. The highlighted words from the novel are from the quote below.

After David was born, the situation only grew worse. Money became my single, overriding obsession, and for the next year I lived in a state of continual panic. With Delia no longer able to contribute much in the way of work, our income fell at the precise moment our expenses began to go up. I took the responsibilities of fatherhood seriously, and the thought of not being able to provide for my wife and on filled me with shame. -- Paul Auster, Leviathan

The narrator of the passage is Peter Aaron, a writer, and an author surrogate, perhaps, for Paul Auster, who has written extensively on living 'hand to mouth.' Hear me now and believe me later: I can empathize.

If one wants to read the author's biography into the novel - something that, having cut my chops on my Barthes and Foucault, I am generally reluctant to do, than parallels might be drawn between Delia and the writer Lydia Davis, Auster's first wife.

Sporting Thoughts Prompted by St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon
Originally uploaded by erasmus.
For Swedes, the allegorical significance of the statue is straigtforward: St. George (Sweden) vs. the Dragon (Denmark).

The traditional rivals, Sweden and Denmark, haven't been to war for something like 250 years, since the days of Napoleon, and consider themselves to be close allies - except when their teams meet on the football (soccer) field. If I were to root for Denmark against Sweden in such a match because I can trace part of my family tree back to Denmark, would I be succumbing to posthistoricist identitarianism? That depends, of course, on the reasons I might give for rooting for Denmark.

Remember, folks, this scenario is purely hypothetical, for sporting purposes only.

Although I can also trace my ancesters back to Norway, I feel no particular affinity for Norway or its national team. Is that because I haven't traveled there?

I won't even begin to discuss where my team allegiances lie in a U.S.A. versus Sweden or Denmark soccer match. The sports-as-war logic is too engrained in the American psyche and any suggestion that I might enjoy watching a Scandinavian team kick America's ass in a hypothetical soccer match might be construed as a form of treason under some obscure Homeland Security bylaw.

I will close, then, by noting that Daniel roots for Russia, the country in which he was born, when they play Sweden, even though he is a Swedish citizen and has lived here since he was something live five-years old.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

St. Erik (Eric) in the Stadshuset

St. Erik in the Stadshuset
Originally uploaded by erasmus.
As an Ameican-born Eric who occasionally wishes that his name was written Erik, I was surprised to see St. Erik written as Eric on this mural in Stockholm's Stadshuset. Generally, Swedes spell my name with a k at the end.

My favorite spelling is probably Eirik, which is how Ira used to pronounce my name (ear-ik) when we first met. After living in the States, her pronunciation of my name has become Americanized (air-ic). She tells me that this was not intentional on her part.

Dude Looks Like a Lady: Photo of the Day #10

Today Ira and I returned to Stockholm's Stadshuset, the City Hall, where we were married, for a tour of the building. The yellow lady adorning the flag flying outside the Stadshuset (see photo) is no lady. It's Erik Jedvardsson, King Erik IX, who was elected King in 1150 and who has been the patron saint of Sweden and Stockholm's protector since the end of the twelth century. According to the City of Stockholm website, Erik legends depitc Erik as a "great leader, fair legislator and commited Christian." Our tour guide joked about the gender confusion regarding the figure on the flag which raises a question about this iconographic representation: why is the king is portrayed in such an epicene fashion?

My building manager in Chicago, who immigrated to the States from Poland, might have an explanation. Recalling that he and his family had considered moving to Sweden but decided upon the USA, he suggested - in a conspiratorial tone of voice - that Swedish men had been emasculated by their women. I supsect that the fact that at present women hold a majority of seats in Stockholm's City Council, including the mayorship, would, in his view, confirm his cultural hypothesis. It turns out, I later learned at an arms museusm, that Erik died at a young age. How young, nobody appears to know. He was only king for eight or ten years. By contemporary standards, Erik was probably still a boy.

And how did Erik die? He was beheaded by the Danes in Uppsala in 1158 or 1160 following an Ascension Day Mass.

Jävla Danskar! (Bloody Danes!)