The appeal of such fictional peace does have its limits, as it turns out. One can begin to suspect that all thriving cities look pretty much the same, that even the most successful equilibrium is simply boring. The popularity of “disasters”—the calamities, ranging from fires and airplane crashes to, in the more baroque later versions, locust swarms and U.F.O. attacks, that the player can purposely inflict on his city, or allow to occur randomly—bespeaks this creeping boredom. But it points as well to a desire to demonstrate the strength and elasticity of the world’s stability. These disasters are designed to be manageable. There is a never an unfixable problem, never a ruin that can’t be cleared and rebuilt. It is an almost comically American vision, a pure product of the Reagan dream: zero history, infinite future.
— Gabriel Winslow-Yost, SimCity’s Evil Twin, The New Yorker
— Franz Kafka, A Letter to his Father
Kafka’s Inner Life: A portrait of the author before his name became an adjective | New Republic
He wrote me: coming back through the Chiba coast I thought of Shonagon’s list, of all those signs one has only to name to quicken the heart, just name. To us, a sun is not quite a sun unless it’s radiant, and a spring not quite a spring unless it is limpid. Here to place adjectives would be so rude as leaving price tags on purchases. Japanese poetry never modifies. There is a way of saying boat, rock, mist, frog, crow, hail, heron, chrysanthemum, that includes them all. Newspapers have been filled recently with the story of a man from Nagoya. The woman he loved died last year and he drowned himself in work—Japanese style—like a madman. It seems he even made an important discovery in electronics. And then in the month of May he killed himself. They say he could not stand hearing the word ‘Spring.’ [Chris Marker, Sans Soleil]
Cy Twonbly, Cold Stream Rome (1966)
The predicament of the urban poor today requires us to step back from the relatively recent frameworks of public policy and urban studies and to consider poverty from a more fundamental viewpoint. Contemporary understandings of poverty and the poor are closely connected with the emergence of demography, development studies, and 20th-century applications of census techniques; one result is that poverty has come to be seen largely as a result of failed policies, and the poor, especially in cities, have come to be viewed as an impersonal mass, a statistical aberration, a disease of numbers. Thus in the past couple of centuries, the age-old condition of poverty has moved conceptually from the space of ethics to the space of technology and public policy.
Before this great transformation, however, poverty was not understood as a statistical or political fact; in many pre-modern societies, the fact of poverty did not in itself disqualify an individual (or a group) from possessing the moral power to contest those in authority, and to claim charity and generosity from those more fortunate. In the great religious traditions, poverty was often associated with purity and asceticism, with virtue and even power. So we have here a paradox. Before the liberal presumption of equality — the quality of all before the law and the state — the poor may have lacked in political voice and suffered political exploitation. But their humanity was not in question. With the triumph of liberal democratic ideals in the West — and with the spread of the concept of “the people” as a global fact that has united liberal, socialist and fascist polities in the 20th century — poverty has increasingly become an outgrowth of measurement, and the poor have increasingly become what we might call “bare citizens.”
Here I am recalling the work of the contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who argues for the distinction between bare life (zoe) and political life (bios). Agamben develops this distinction in his discussion of the prisoners now being held by the U.S. military at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base ; the prisoners, or “detainees,” have been placed in a state of exception, reduced to the condition of “bare life.”  And Agamben in turn is building upon an earlier idea; in her 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism , Hannah Arendt articulated the powerful concept of “naked life.” Reflecting upon the experience of prisoners in the Nazi death camps and also upon the status of mid 20th-century political refugees, Arendt argued that both groups had in effect lost all rights in the context of sovereign powers; they had become naked.
I would argue that large masses of the urban poor have been pushed into this state of bare citizenship. They have become to a pathetic extent invisible in the eyes of the law, stripped of rights and privileges — and as such similar in status to refugees , war prisoners and illegal aliens. If this seems an extreme characterization, I would draw your attention to the alarming frequency and scale of slum evictions and demolitions throughout the world. And I would also draw broader attention to a whole range of gross violations of human rights that have largely escaped the notice of activists, politicians, and human rights experts, beyond those who specialize in the problems of the urban poor.
In wartime, any force that is not actively engaged in surrender is fair game. This was the justification for the “turkey shoot” on the “highway of death” —the attack on Iraqi forces as they were withdrawing from the front lines after Saddam Hussein had accepted the UN resolution and a ceasefire had been declared, and the concurrent “Battle of Rumaili”, a five-hour air and artillery bombardment carried out by General McCaffrey’s forces against helpless units of the Iraqi Republican Guard boxed in on the Rumaila Causeway on their way back to Baghdad.
It is different for accused criminals in the United States. Some kind of trial/sentencing/due process thing is supposed to intervene before someone can be killed for not surrendering.
The thought processes of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department—which had lost one of their own to Dorner—are probably reflected in an alleged transcription from the radio chatter that the LA Times demurely declined to reproduce, but was reported by the no-holds barred NY Post:
“Burn this motherf—ker!” one officer shouted …Amid sounds of gunfire, voices can be heard shouting, “Burn it down!” and “Shoot the gas!”
— Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit
There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
It is with people like Simon, educated, moneymaking, that the visitor feels himself in the presence of vulnerability, dumbness, danger. Because their resentments, which appear to contradict their ambitions, and which they can never satisfactorily explain, can at any time be converted into a wish to wipe out and undo, an African nihilism, the rage of primitive men coming to themselves and finding that they have been fooled and affronted.
— V.S. Naipaul, “A New King for the Congo” from The Writer and the World: Essays, p.220-21
I do not wish to give the impression that Benjamin used works of art or literature as convenient illustrations to already formulated arguments. The principle that works of art are not for use but only for judgment, that the critic is an impartial go-between between the utilitarian and the ineffable, this principle with all its subtler and still current variations, represents no more than a claim by the privileged that their love of passive pleasure must be considered disinterested! Works of art await use. But their real usefulness lies in what they actually are—which may be quite distinct from what they once were—rather than in what it may be convenient to believe they are. In this sense Benjamin used works of art very realistically. The passage of time which so intrigued him did not end at the exterior surface of the work, it entered into it and there led him into its ‘after-life’. In this after-life, which begins when the work has reached ‘the age of its fame’, the separatedness and isolated identity of the individual work is transcended just as was meant to happen to the soul in the traditional Christian heaven. The work enters the totality of what the present consciously inherits from the past, and in entering that totality it changes it. The after-life of Baudelaire’s poetry is not only coexistent with Jeanne Duval, Edgar Allen Poe and Constantin Guys but also, for example, with Haussmann’s boulevards, the first department stores, Engels’s descriptions of the urban proletariat and the birth of the modern drawing room in the 1830s which Benjamin described as follows:
For the private citizen, for the first time the living-space became distinguished from the place of work. The former constituted itself as the interior. The counting-house was its complement. The private citizen who in the counting-house took reality into account required of the interior that it should maintain him in his illusions. This necessity was all the more pressing since he had no intention of adding social preoccupations to his business ones. In the creation of his private environment he suppressed them both. From this sprang the phantasmagorias of the interior. This represented the universe for the private citizen. In it, he assembled the distant in space and in time. His drawing room was a box in the world theatre.
Perhaps it is now a little clearer why Benjamin was more than a literary critic. But one more point needs to be made. His attitude to works of art was never a mechanically social-historical one. He never tried to seek simple causal relations between the social forces of a period and a given work. He did not want to explain the appearance of the work; he wanted to discover the place that its existence needed to occupy in our knowledge. He did not wish to encourage a love of literature; he wanted the art of the past to realize itself in the choices men make today in deciding their own historical role.
— John Berger, “Walter Benjamin” from Selected Essays pp.186-190
He turned to the only Apple executive in the room, the senior vice president for operations, Jeff Williams. Apple needed to change as well, the inspector said. Apple, to its credit, had been working for years to improve conditions in overseas factories, but the company was treating such problems too much like engineering puzzles, the inspector said.
“Long-term solutions require a messier, more human approach,” that inspector, Auret van Heerden of the Fair Labor Association, told Mr. Williams.
..apart from this, the system of sensibility as a whole must mean something quite different from what is called the nervous system, the irritable system something different from the muscular system, the reproductive system something different from the intestinal mechanism of reproduction. In the system of shape as such, the organism is apprehended from the abstract aspect of a dead existence; its moments so taken pertain to anatomy and the corpse, not to cognition and the living organism. In such parts, the moments have really ceased to be, for the cease to be processes. Since the being of the organism is essentially a universality or a reflection-into-self, the being of its totality, like its moments, cannot consist in an anatomical system; on the contrary, the actual expression of the whole, and the externalization of its moments, are really found only as a movement which runs its course through the various parts of the structure, a movement in which what is forcibly detatched and fixed as an individual system essentially displays itself as a fluid moment. Consequently, that actual existence as it is found by anatomy must not be reckoned as its real being, but only that existence taken as a process, in which alone even the anatomical parts have a meaning.
[Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, p.166, ¶276]
Of course it was all a load of nonsense. If anybody was capable of keeping track of ideals and reality, he was. After all, it was his job. Moral issues were his home ground. To think that he might doubt his own purity was really to think very little of him. Tom was angry. And in the midst of it all, he discovered why. It was not because he’d been wrongly accused, but because the charges were true. His anger consisted of a most unpleasant feeling of being found out.
It was all quite a blow to the young philosopher! And realistically enough, he thought that if the doubt was already present, it could grow. Perhaps so great that one day it would prove detrimental to his entire moral mission.
Tom stopped. He almost began to shake when the threat to his career as a writer dawned upon him. It didn’t take him long to agree with himself that the risk was too great to run. The danger Grace was to the town, she was also to him. Tom did not like it, and he was man enough to take action to prevent it.
Fortunately Tom was as conscientious as regards his future profession as he was practical. He allowed sincerity, and ideals plenty of room in his life, without getting “sentimental” about it, as he would put it.
[Lars von Trier, Dogville]
Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.
In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.
Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition
I conducted an interview with Kokhavi, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, who at 42 is considered one of the most promising young officers of the IDF (and was the commander of the operation for the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip). Like many career officers, he had taken time out from the military to earn a university degree; although he originally intended to study architecture, he ended up with a degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University. When he explained to me the principle that guided the battle in Nablus, what was interesting for me was not so much the description of the action itself as the way he conceived its articulation. He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls… . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”’ Kokhavi’s intention in the battle was to enter the city in order to kill members of the Palestinian resistance and then get out. The horrific frankness of these objectives, as recounted to me by Shimon Naveh, Kokhavi’s instructor, is part of a general Israeli policy that seeks to disrupt Palestinian resistance on political as well as military levels through targeted assassinations from both air and ground.
If you still believe, as the IDF would like you to, that moving through walls is a relatively gentle form of warfare, the following description of the sequence of events might change your mind. To begin with, soldiers assemble behind the wall and then, using explosives, drills or hammers, they break a hole large enough to pass through. Stun grenades are then sometimes thrown, or a few random shots fired into what is usually a private living-room occupied by unsuspecting civilians. When the soldiers have passed through the wall, the occupants are locked inside one of the rooms, where they are made to remain – sometimes for several days – until the operation is concluded, often without water, toilet, food or medicine. Civilians in Palestine, as in Iraq, have experienced the unexpected penetration of war into the private domain of the home as the most profound form of trauma and humiliation. A Palestinian woman identified only as Aisha, interviewed by a journalist for the Palestine Monitor, described the experience: ‘Imagine it – you’re sitting in your living-room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal, and suddenly that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else. The children are screaming, panicking. Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror experienced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, 12 soldiers, their faces painted black, sub-machine-guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?’ [Eyal Weizman, The Art of War, Frieze Magazine]
image: Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect (1975)
Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded: they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities: a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function:”It” makes a move. “It” could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess. it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. The “smooth” space of Go, as against the “striated” space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space: consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere …). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.[Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus]
(Image: top, This14U: Israel-Palestine Map ; bottom, BBC News - Israel to build 3,000 settler homes after UN vote)
It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. For a long time already he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I was awake. I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clew to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river.
“… Yes—I let him run on,” Marlow began again, “and think what he pleased about the powers that were behind me. I did! And there was nothing behind me! There was nothing but that wretched, old, mangled steamboat I was leaning against, while he talked fluently about ‘the necessity for every man to get on.’ ‘And when one comes out here, you conceive, it is not to gaze at the moon.’ Mr. Kurtz was a ‘universal genius,’ but even a genius would find it easier to work with ‘adequate tools—intelligent men.’ He did not make bricks—why, there was a physical impossibility in the way—as I was well aware; and if he did secretarial work for the manager, it was because ‘no sensible man rejects wantonly the confidence of his superiors.’ Did I see it? I saw it. What more did I want? What I really wanted was rivets, by heaven! Rivets. To get on with the work—to stop the hole. Rivets I wanted. There were cases of them down at the coast—cases—piled up—burst—split! You kicked a loose rivet at every second step in that station yard on the hillside. Rivets had rolled into the grove of death. You could fill your pockets with rivets for the trouble of stooping down—and there wasn’t one rivet to be found where it was wanted. We had plates that would do, but nothing to fasten them with. And every week the messenger, a lone negro, letter-bag on shoulder and staff in hand, left our station for the coast. And several times a week a coast caravan came in with trade goods,—ghastly glazed calico that made you shudder only to look at it, glass beads value about a penny a quart, confounded spotted cotton handkerchiefs. And no rivets. Three carriers could have brought all that was wanted to set that steamboat afloat.
“He was becoming confidential now, but I fancy my unresponsive attitude must have exasperated him at last, for he judged it necessary to inform me he feared neither God nor devil, let alone any mere man. I said I could see that very well, but what I wanted was a certain quantity of rivets—and rivets were what really Mr. Kurtz wanted, if he had only known it. Now letters went to the coast every week… . ‘My dear sir,’ he cried, ‘I write from dictation.’ I demanded rivets. There was a way—for an intelligent man. He changed his manner; became very cold, and suddenly began to talk about a hippopotamus; wondered whether sleeping on board the steamer (I stuck to my salvage night and day) I wasn’t disturbed. There was an old hippo that had the bad habit of getting out on the bank and roaming at night over the station grounds. The pilgrims used to turn out in a body and empty every rifle they could lay hands on at him. Some even had sat up o’ nights for him. All this energy was wasted, though. ‘That animal has a charmed life,’ he said; ‘but you can say this only of brutes in this country. No man—you apprehend me?—no man here bears a charmed life.’ He stood there for a moment in the moonlight with his delicate hooked nose set a little askew, and his mica eyes glittering without a wink, then, with a curt Good night, he strode off. I could see he was disturbed and considerably puzzled, which made me feel more hopeful than I had been for days. It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to my influential friend, the battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clambered on board. She rang under my feet like an empty Huntley & Palmer biscuit-tin kicked along a gutter; she was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.
[Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness]