Sunday, December 13, 2009


I confess I've never been overtaken entirely by passion. I've never given myself over unconditionally and without reservation to anything; neither joy nor grief, hate nor love. Likewise for any given idea; but this is just another way of saying the same thing, for the passions are ideas too. The purest ideas, confounding transposition into mere language and only hinted at by even the most sublime art. One has to live such ideas. The poets tell us the lover, as opposed to the merely amorous, is a zealot prepared to accept death itself on behalf of the idea of love.

But for me always there is an inaccessible self-consciousness, a clinical awareness that becomes alien. There is a foreigner within narrating the varying circumstances of my existence: so this is Dennis stricken with grief; so this is Dennis afflicted by love; etc. It has taken in every tragedy or conquest, every humiliation and all the pride, unaffected. This awareness constitutes, impossible I know, a distinct entity. Another Dennis.

I've always had my suspicions about this separate consciousness that is not conscience. It's not the opposite of the conscience, but the absence of it, that part between mindless instinct and moral self-awareness. It--he--observes me as if from without. He waits for the thing, whatever it is, to end; he makes no distinctions of geography--the peak of Everest or the easy chair, it's no difference. He takes everything in with a wonder-less curiosity, and never with surprise, even as he takes note of the novelty of a given occurrence, how familiar it is, or not, how it might change the dynamic of my existence, but not really, because, he knows, it's all just protocol and convention in the end, until it all ends--and this I expect he will witness with the same idle, abstract gaze. He is impossibly inhuman.

But there he is, always, looking down on the confusion of my psyche as if through impenetrable glass. I can only dimly sense his formless presence behind the reflection I cast on the pane separating us--of me, unsentimental and unforgiving in its clarity. He sees all and records nothing; he doesn't care. He humors no vanity. He has the goods on me; he doesn't care. He taunts me with his lack of reproach for anything, great or small. He will not be run off; he can't be gotten to. His indifference is eternal, mocking, superior.

I've felt passion, of course, even "deeply", whatever that means to you. But if a man hasn't at least once been "consumed" or "blinded" by passion, whether it be love or hate (and what's the difference, in the end, between these inversions of each other?), he cannot say he knows them. It then follows that he cannot recognize them in others; he can only behave as if he understands. He knows what a thing is supposed to look like and responds accordingly, in the interests of order, but mostly out of habit. Eastern mystics of one sort or another--and I can't tell them apart--might say he is unrealized as a human being.

But a human can only be human, in part and in whole, no more or less in the depths of "inhumanity", and always. The depraved man appalls us not only for his deeds but for his irrefutable demonstration of humanity's potential for evil; it must then follow that he demonstrates for each of us our own capacity for evil, because we cannot escape the bond that is our shared humanity. With each transgression the evil expand the Devil's realm, as surely as the the great establish the uppermost boundaries of human achievement. Every iteration of a man is an argument on behalf of and proving itself; lives committed to malice, lives sacrificed selflessly or stupidly, "madmen", lives "wasted" to sloth or obsession; all are competing models of man. No man can escape the assertion that is his life; he lives as he would have everyone live. Each life is the proposition: "this is Man."

There is some sort of accommodation between the reasoning frontal lobe and the reptilian brain stem, a Faustian bargain, a grotesque, conjoined symbiosis, right here in my head. Here appetite meets abstraction. A devil's workshop fashioning rationales for base impulse. It's a bureaucracy employed in legalizing anything, as needed. But it is not immoral--that would be too human, a transgression of morality and thus a recognition of it, leaving the prospect for contrition and redemption; it is amoral. It's out of this world, man.

A Christian might call him the Devil. Popular convention calls him "detachment", a sort of psychological debilitation, an unfortunate byproduct of modern society, or of Society; a decayed capacity to feel resulting from the ease and equivocal nature of the age; a problem of too little struggle--and too much time. One convention even, ironically, blames Convention. Vanity imagines him as a superior posture. Psychology gives him one name after another, as if to coax him out by finally landing on the magic invocation; after long and total failure, this science of the mind resorts finally, crassly, to myriad refinements and specialized forms of the original, temporary solace from the alien self: the intoxication and suppression of the senses.

These answers may suffice for a time, even a lifetime, but in the end they all fall short, because they allow for some accommodation or destruction of the demon. Even the Devil cowers before God, just as we mortals do. I am witness: my demon is a constant in presence, measure, and autonomy, immutable and ageless, there from the flash of conception to a death he will likely witness with the same impenetrable indifference. But in the end he cannot be separate, even if he confounds my will to the end; he is central, he is in fact the last reducible part of me, to be resolved by fire or oblivion, as the case may be. He will not distinguish between these two, therefore I cannot. I speak only for myself, understand.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Barry Bugs Out

Tom Englehardt nails the true nature of President Obama's address to cadets at West Point:
Certainly, the choice of venue, and so the decision to address a military audience first and other Americans second, not only emphasized the escalatory military path chosen in Afghanistan, but represented a kind of symbolic surrender of civilian authority.
Rush Limbaugh's wistful musing about a military coup is more oblivious than devious: after a perfunctory, brief struggle, the coup is victorious (Of course, if the president had been arrested at West Point and replaced with a military junta, I'm not entirely sure Limbaugh wouldn't find a way to justify it. Are you?). Under political duress, the president has accepted the role of conditional, if not yet nominal, Commander-in-Chief, surrendering an authority he doesn't want and wouldn't know what to do with anyway. Now he bites his nails and waits, like the rest of us.

But it's not the president's prerogative to divest himself of command over the armed forces to avoid its political consequences--elite convention notwithstanding. The extraordinary executive power over war itself remains, insulated from legislative or judicial interference, nominally vested in an elected president, wielded by a cabal. This is dereliction of duty of the highest order. The Commander in Chief has abandoned his post to cower in the rear while his mutinous subordinates take command.

But okay, this is all retrograde and simplistic, I know. Just the sort of thing to set elite eyes rolling, like taking the Constitution and sovereignty too seriously. Let's crassly accept the "political reality" and acknowledge the asymmetry between the White House and the the military establishment :

The Pentagon dictates policy directly to the Republican Party, Fox News, conservative radio and Internet, while fighting to a draw in the contested middle that is the the unallied media.
Obama, on the other hand, leads a party divided on the war and has a more conditional alliance with a media complex--MSNBC, NPR, etc.--that is both less powerful and less subservient than their adversaries. It's no great boast, but the liberal media and Democratic Party have, on this issue, shown superior independence and character. The difference casts in relief the decadence of the Republican Party and its staunchest media organs.

Meanwhile, in the Boy Wonder's White House Joseph Biden, garrulous and glib, self-imagined Caesar to Iraq's Gaul, is what passes for a pragmatist and sage. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (her position the product of a previous political capitulation), known for taking flight in hectoring recrimination before the galling indignity that is the unscripted media encounter, is sent abroad to placate a resentful world. The charmless representing the clueless. God help us.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I think I am allowed to conclude, as a fact established by modern history, that everyone, or nearly everyone, in a given set of circumstances, does what he is told to do; and, pardon me, but there's not much chance that you're the exception, any more than I was. If you were born in a country in a time not only when nobody comes to kill your wife and children, but also nobody comes to ask you to kill the wives and children of others, then render thanks to God and go in peace. But always keep this thought in mind: you might be luckier than I, but you're not a better person. Because if you have the arrogance to think you are, that's just where the danger begins.

--The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell


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