Putin and Fellow Travelers

In a previous article here, I took on what I called “Trumpism on the Left” with a focus on Stephen Cohen’s defense of the Trump-Putin bromance in The Nation magazine.  A friend of mine suggested that the title of the article should have been “The Strange Case of Stephen Cohen,” implying perhaps that “Trumpism on the Left” was an unjustified generalization from a single example.  Cohen, as I noted fleetingly, is not alone in his affinity for Putin and by extension Trump.  What my piece lacked was the context of other advocates of the two leaders, which I try to provide in what follows.

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Michel Foucault is My Favorite Skinhead

Do you remember when we used to go and dance at those punk rock shows/it feels so…long ago/do you remember that night when that skinhead threatened me with my life/ you should have realized right then…that something…something went quite right/we were just teenagers, looking for a scene/based upon simplistic notions of equality/oh ain’t it a fucker when you discover fuck when you discover that it’s all based upon slightly altered versions of the same old crap. —The Casual Terrorist

Nine Theses/Nine Lives

1.  When did the Enlightenment die?   2. What I really mean is, When did the Enlightenment die for the left?  3. (And I don’t mean the so-called “White Jacobin” left, the left of white terror, which takes as a pseudo-Leninist occasion the alt-right mainstreaming of Foucault and the Thule Society to declare themselves the sole bearers of the torch of the Sokal Affair: though naturally there’s always a bridge, a hallucinogenic path, between fascism and the Enlightenment, and that bridge could be called John Locke or Jorge Luis Borges, Vilfredo Pareto or Peter Thiel’s hemophilia).  

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Tease

Molly Klein is working on a piece for First that links Trump’s spectacles to “a war on rationality that began in Baltimore in 1966 with the Johns Hopkins conference on structuralism/post-structuralism, which introduced the mountebanks Lacan and Derrida to US academia.” In the meantime, here’s a taste from her recent demolition of Slavoj Žižek, “The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Slovitzie,” published this year in a Belgrade academic journal. Klein’s clarity about “ecstasy of the bullying” makes her a national resource for Americans in our time of the Don. 

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Compline 2016

The very heart of the very last hour of the daily rhythm of prayer, both in the very ancient and contemporary rites of the liturgy of the hours, is psalm 91, especially these lines:

“For you he has commanded the angels,
to keep you in all your ways,
they will bear you upon their hands,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
Ps 91:11-12

I learned some deeper meanings to these words in the last weeks. Bear with me, as I try to explain.

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French Provincial

being17

 

On my way to Andre Techine’s Being Seventeen, I stopped by Patisserie Claude for savory take-out and felt nicely sated as I found my seat in the theater, but the film stoked other appetites. (We cannot live by quiche alone, not even Claude’s.) Techine’s french lessons sky beyond “grub-first, then ethics” materialism. His scenarios feed your head and your heart, tuning every organ to desire’s pitch. I sensed Being Seventeen would be one of Techine’s full body-and-soul workouts early on when Thomas (Corentin Fila)—lovesome, bi-racial bully-boy (who’ll end up taking it like a man once he beats his fear of being gay) humps it up the mountain, past where his adoptive parents have their farm. The snow looks freshly fallen—perhaps it’s not that frigid?—and his secret brook hasn’t frozen over yet. He strips and dives in…

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The Falcon and the Pardon-Seeker

Maybe it is a good time to revisit the story of Christopher Boyce. Certainly Open Road Media, which just re-issued an E-book of Robert Lindsey’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1979), thinks so. I had not read the original, but I’d seen the movie — Timothy Hutton as Boyce (The Falcon) and Sean Penn as Daulton Lee (The Snowman). Now, having mastered Adele’s Kindle, I’m down with ORM’s decision.

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Common Sense

Meredith Tax’s A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State is a book of revelations about life during wartime in Rojava—the autonomous region in Syria led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to (what Tax terms) the “Kurdish liberation movement network.” Readers should be inspired by PYD’s experiment in secularism, radical democracy, pluralism and feminism. Tax’s reporting certainly gave me a lift. Her take on Rojava, though, may be a little too rosy.  In this review, I’ll try to touch on what’s iffy about her positivity without undercutting her effort to cultivate solidarity with Middle Eastern women who fight the Islamic State.

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Twenty-Something(s)

Charles O’Brien helps launch the new First Choice section focusing on our writers’ favorite things. 

“Twenty-Something” is the third track on Pet Shop Boys’ latest cd, Super. You can find it on YouTube in a few different versions. The two most obvious go-to versions are the “official video” and one remix. The “official video” is a b&w short about a gangbanger in San Diego, fresh out of the joint and trying desperately to adjust to the world. It’s about as efficient a short narrative as you’re likely to see, and as an illustration of these lyrics, not what you’d be likely to expect.

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Czechmate

The following Q&A is an excerpt from an interview with filmmaker Agnieszka Holland originally published at Director Talk. In this section of the interview Holland talks about the Czechs’ response to the Soviet invasion in 1968, the subject of Burning Bush, a three-part HBO miniseries directed by Holland.

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Counter-Insurgency Preceding the End of the World

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge–unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable. –Walter Benjamin

Paul Feyerabend—a half-forgotten Calibanal apostle straddling the right-wing Vienna side of European modernism and California anti/pseudo-science counterculture—was shot three times by the Red Army while retreating from the Eastern Front. His injuries left him neuralgic, prone to a particularly (in/post-)fertile depression, and impotent.

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Whorehouse Music

Asa Zatz, who translated nearly 100 books from Spanish to English, was 100 years old when he died last month. Asa was a modest man. He once compared translating to dentistry and joked he was the guy publishers called once they found out Gregory Rabassa wasn’t available.  But he was truly (and rightly) proud of his 1987 translation of José Luis Gonzalez’s classic novella of Puerto Rico, “Ballad of Another Time.” (You can find out more about “Ballad’s” undervalued author in this companion post by Irene Vilar—a slightly compacted version of the foreword to University of Wisconsin Press’s 2004 edition of the novella.) What follows is a chapter from “Ballad.” Take it as our public tribute to its (humble) translator who was a longtime supporter of “First of the Month” and a dear friend. B.D. 

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