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<nettime> We are all Straussians now
ed phillips on Fri, 28 Jan 2005 13:39:51 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> We are all Straussians now


 In a mood of doleful irony Ovid lays out his rhymes, in lugubrious
sputterings the rapper of late antiquity begins to tell a story in
myths, in the distillates of wisdom, which must always be crude and
naive in form, not because he believes but because he has so much to
say, because he wields the accumulations folklore and folk
wisdom. It's a big, ugly Perl script but it gets the job done. One is
not necessarily proud, as if one were the creator, but rather more
crafty. craft-like.

 Like Zizek's philosophy brut which endlessly repeats the folk wisdom
 of a loose tribe of open source critics or kritiks to use the
 nettimism, one doesn't care so much about this or that little piece
 of wisdom. One is playing unto an understanding of the
 totality, to use the anachronism. The anachronism is the point.

 It's the staging of the clashes, of the immense contradictions
 which are a matter of course in an advanced global money
 economy. Zizek is a true philosopher, if that means anything;
 it only means anything at this, our own late time, because of and not
 despite Leo Strauss, an irony Kojeve appreciated. Zizek calls this
 clashing by a straight name. He just calls it the deadlock.

 Welcome to the deadlock. You can't see it, because you are so deep in
 it, and you already know this riff. One must have the playfulness,
 the insouciance, to work these kind of games. One has recourse to old
 stories, to the fabric of myth, not as some Joseph Campbell thought
 he might, or even a Philip Wheelright but as Mohammed did or Northrop
 Frye or Norman O. Brown. As Blake did. It is a plaything, deep play
 if you want engage the folklore of kritiks. Or as Fellini did with
 his fake-looking sets that exposed the construction of worlds. It's
 the infrastructure, smarty. Not the tedious accumulation of facts,
 but the ability to read, to wield, to throw out a demo, a mock up.

 Zizek, for all the silliness of his mention of an Oriana Fallaci Passion of
 the West, reminds one more of what Norman O. Brown said about the seal of
 the prophets and that mastery of, that play with, that crushing of
 folklore, the Koran. In his reckoning with the greatness of the
 Koran, Brown starts with a damning quote from Carlyle about the text.
"We cannot read the Koran" Brown says, and then he quotes Carlyle.

"A wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations,
long-windedness, entanglement; most crude, incondite;-insupportable
stupidity, in short!" It is not a book at all he then says.

That's a summary that many would make of Zizek's "Organs without
Bodies". To those steeped in the folklore, the staging of the
impossibility of thought in Zizek is right on and obvious; it points
to something beyond itself; it is even revelatory in its failure to
cohere, in its inconditeness 

Mohammed who renounces all miracles other than the book and the
imagination, is actually that much closer to the "minimal difference"
that the constellation agamben-badiou-zizek keep going on about than
Jesus. Yes, the mount of olives is that split inside of god-man
man-god and a confusing of the boundaries. Yes, the split is internal
to the totality.  ok as Zizek would say as he quickly sums up an
argument before even more quickly moving on to the troubling part, the
disturbing part. ok, But Jesus returns to Miracles.

Muhammad is too late for miracles, but just in time for the book, or
for the not even a book, for revelation. But not the idea of
revelation that they might have taught you in school, but the kind
that crushes you and knocks you off your mule. He lays bare the
form of myth; he lays open the hidden heart in paroxysms of song, in yearning.
In war and hunting, the two rivers of eden.

Norman O. Brown said that a syncretism in late twentieth century
thought opens a way to read the Koran and perhaps a way to read our
own book. We must have the perspicacity, the shrewdness, to read our
own book. And in many ways, Leo Strauss is our book, the problems he
worked on, the questions he asked, the costs he saw in this game of
nation states and global capital.

Shadia Drury won't do. Nor will, I'm sorry to say, Earl
Shorris as much as his heart breaking attempt to awaken the neocons to
their lack of mercy arouses pity.

One must have the perspicacity to read Leo Strauss, as that Russian
import to the Gallic world of thought, Kochevnikoff, or Kojeve as they
called him in France, did. We lose the accent on the first e of Kojeve in
my ascii brut, but why not, since the French shortened it already?
It's not that hard. Strauss is on the face of it, not that hard to
read, and there is no excuse for even a tad of close reading in any
kind of mention of Strauss. He's even a model of clear writing. The
Harper's piece which Shorris wrote is ridiculous, and he spends
precious ink gossiping about how hard it was for Strauss to land a job
in the ridiculous academy. 

That is as laughable as the Strauss
disciple Harry Jaffa saying that one need the "necessary academic
qualifications" to read Strauss. Strauss would have laughed at the
thought, and you can see in his correspondence with another lefty
friend Karl Lowith, what he thought of academic qualifications. They
ain't philosophy. It's alway been a hard slog to find a gig as a
philosopher. Philosophy is not hard to read. But it takes time, and for
that a culturally sanctioned place to think can be of some aid, but
then you have to teach, etc. It ain't easy, as they say. It is very
hard to think.

You're better off working in your spare time to think through Hobbes
than taking a job as some kind of academic in a troubled institution.
 Strauss got a very small grant and moved to England to work on Hobbes in the
30's when he was corresponding with Lowith. He struggled for money. But
he had the confidence of someone who thinks a little; He was
biding his time. He thought out knotty problems, social and political
ones, and even as you disagree with him you have to acknowledge the problem and
the arguments both.

Zizek is getting wiser. He has afforded Fukuyama some respect in his
latest reiterations, and Fukuyama deserves respect, as did Allan
Bloom. The philosopher bides his time, or has his own time, and there
is a wisdom to a Straussian anti-historicism, even if it is only a
front. 

Strauss was a modern who honestly confronted what those who
think they are so modern like to call nihilism, a whole rubric that
many an honest person has confronted, for long before the modern period.

The direction in the myssal in the hymnal the rubric in the old sense is
followed only by the newbie, by the unsure; for the familiar, the
dicates can be overlooked as one sees fit. One begins to be able to
think a little, to appreciate the contradictions. Heartbreak. 

One can read Strauss or Adorno for that matter. Adorno is harder
really, in that he doesn't want the lazy to read his books at
all. Strauss is content to be misunderstood. Adorno puts up a wall at
the front of his books as he did so intimidatingly in the Jargon of
Authenticity. But if you slog through it, about halfway, you get to
the funny parts. And you'll never use that word
authentic again, not without thinking twice. Strauss is an easy read,
a deceptively easy read. Don't blame Adorno's unreadability on bad
translation. It is intentional. Philosophy often walks on lame feed as
Nietzsche said. There are unreadable books that are full of good solid
thinking and then there are just plain poor and dishonest
thinkers. Zizek is one of my favorite unreadable or even unthinkable
thinkers.

There are some academics on the left who are reading Strauss closely,
such as Lampert, and one that Kermit Snelson mentioned whose name
escapes me at the moment, so it's not like the Drurys of the world are
the only critics who try their hand at Strauss. But Lampert falls into
Strauss's and Nietzsche's trap when his shrewdness and his wisdom does
not extend to a fair assessment of an Allan Bloom or a Fukuyama. There
is nothing special about the philosopher and Nietzsche knew that much
better than his self-proclaimed heirs. He was no academic in the
end. He was just a guy taking walks around a little lake, giving
himself the time to think, as dark as the thought might be. Thinking
is difficult for reasons that go far beyond cleverness or smarts.

Hic Niger est. Here I grow black. The black hole that is opening up in
Iraq opens up a split inside the mediaverse. A moralist, if there could
be one, would look honestly at this growing blackness inside. Yeah as
the Ziz says, inside. Not afar off. Close, too close.

As for the fools, the William Bennetts of the world, they are no
Straussians, and they are no moralists. Bennett wrote "The book of
virtues". I can't help saying it the way you start to do when
you read Blake, with a vicious country twang. Veertjyoos. Bennett
thought he was some kind of Straussian because he started peppering
his writings with quotes from Aristotle. He frothed about relativism
and lo and behold straight out of a folktale from one of our good
books, a garden variety kind of nihilism has bit him hard in the ass.
He is stuck in some rung of hell on earth, dumbly, blindly pulling on
a slot machine, bored to hell. 

No handwringing here about gambling, pick your poison, but slot
machines? Those are just plain stupid. The guy has got no grip on
probability. And he even tried to delude himself that he was winning
at the slots. I love the reply of the at least forthrightly bottom
line nihilistic casino manager who said in reply to that comment from
Bennett, "There is a reason that the casino is still standing." Morons
like him keep them in a healthy uptrend. He's not playing baccarat. 
He's not even playing blackjack or craps which are at least social
games in which people play with chance, with each other, and with
sleight of hand and social hypnotism, in which you can at least see
the weakness of your fellows if not yourself. Slots is just lonely old
you and dumb luck, and what a sad, sad late couple you make together,
you Bill and your slot machine.

You can't get a better parody of the last man than Bennett stuck at
the slots at the end of time. From providence to dumb luck. A history
of chance. The wicked laughter that comes out of Strauss's chair at Chicago.
I can hear it now.

Strauss was honest with himself, as Bennett could never be. You don't
need a fancy word for nihilism or some fancy pedigree that leads on
down from Freddie Neech to Heidegger or somesuch nonsense, to get what
you are up against. Blake called it the Miser's net and the Glutton's
trap, and you don't get off easy. You have no chance at all if you
underestimate what you are up against socially, politically,
personally.

I rant for too long.....


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