present


it is happy lifestyle and me
it is happy ideas and me
it is transparent pleasures and me
it is transparent manners and me
it is fresh appetite and me
it is fresh love and me

memories of blue past
all dumped in ink bottle

From Kitasono Katue’s poem, “Semiotic Theory” (1929). Translated by John Solt. In oceans beyond monotonous space: selected poems of Kitasono Katue. Hollywood, CA: Highmoonoon Books. 2007, p. 22.

Any cancellation of history, in the sense of real times and real places, is essentially a cancellation of the contemporary world, in which, within limits and under pressures, men act and react, struggle and concede, co-operate, conflict and compete.

Raymond Williams. “Effects of the Technology and Its Uses.” In Television: Technology and Cultural Form. [Middletown, Conn.] Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press University Press of New England, 1992: 129.

If the effect of the medium is the same, whoever controls or uses it, and whatever apparent content he may try to insert, then we can forget ordinary political and cultural argument and let the technology run itself. It is hardly surprising that this conclusion has been welcomed by the ‘media-men’ of the existing institutions. It gives the gloss of avant-garde theory to the crudest versions of their existing interests and practices, and assigns all their critics to pre-electronic irrelevance. Thus what began as pure formalism, and as speculation on human essence, ends as operative social theory and practice, in the heartland of the most dominative and aggressive communications institutions in the world.

Raymond Williams. “Effects of the Technology and Its Uses.” In Television: Technology and Cultural Form. [Middletown, Conn.] Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press University Press of New England, 1992: 128.

… the United States give the idea of a colony, not of a mother country; they have no past; their manners and morals are not the fruits of their laws. The citizens of the New World took their rank among nations just at the time when political ideas were entering into their ascendant phase: and this explains why they have changed with such extraordinary rapidity. Any thing like a permanent condition of society seems to have been inpractical amongst them; on the one hand from the extreme ennui of individuals, and on the other from the impossibility of remaining in any fixed place, and the necessity of movement which controls and urges them on; for people can never be stationary when their household gods are continually wandering. Situated on the highways of oceans, and at the head of progressive opinions, as new as his country, the American seems to have received from Columbus rather the mission of discovering new worlds than of creating them.

François-René Chateaubriand. Memoirs of Chateaubriand, From His Birth in 1768, Till His Return to France in 1800. London: H. Colburn, 1849: pp. 304-305.

The universally accepted ideas and norms of a bourgeois audience represent a wall with which it screens itself from the perils of a developing society, and it is the bourgeois artist’s job to preserve this wall intact. Contact with the richness of the outer world must inevitably be alarming for the bourgeois artist. Whereas with our audience and our artists it is, of course, quite different.

– Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin. Film Technique and Film Acting (1929). New York: Grove Press, 1976, p. 266.

America, you have it better
than our continent, the old one,
you have no ruined castles
and no basalts.

Your inner self is not troubled,
when it is time for living,
by pointless memories
and futile strife.

Use the present fortunately!
And if your children write verses,
may a happy fate protect them
from tales of knights, brigades and ghosts.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To The United States”(1831), Franco Moretti, trans. In Franco Moretti. Modern Epic: The World-System From Goethe to García Márquez. London ; New York: Verso, 1996, 35.

Why is ending the silence on Hegel and Haiti important? Given Hegel’s ultimate concession to slavery’s continuance–moreover, given the fact that Hegel’s philosophy of history has provided for two centuries a justification for the most complacent forms of Eurocentrism (Hegel was perhaps always a cultural racist if not a biological one)–why is it of more than arcane interest to retrieve from oblivion this fragment of history, the truth of which has managed to slip away from us? There are many possible answers, but one is surely the potential for rescuing the idea of universal human history from the uses to which white domination has put it. If the historical facts about freedom can be ripped out of the narratives told by the victors and salvaged for our own time, then the project of universal freedom does not need to be discarded but, rather, redeemed and reconstituted on a different basis. Hegel’s moment of clarity of thought would need to be juxtaposed to that of others at the time: Toussaint-Louverture, Wordsworth, the Abbe Gregoire, even Dessalines. For all his brutality and revenge against whites, Dessalines saw the realities of European racism most clearly. Even more, Hegel’s moment would need to be juxtaposed to the moments of clarity in action: the French soldiers sent by Napoleon to the colony who, upon hearing these former slaves singing the “Marseillaise,” wondered aloud if they were not fighting on the wrong side; the Polish regiment under Leclerc’s command who disobeyed orders and refused to drown six hundred captured Saint-Domiguans. There are many examples of such clarity, and they belong to no side, no one group exclusively. What if every time that the consciousness of individuals surpassed the confines of present constellations of power in perceiving the concrete meaning of freedom, this were valued as a moment, however transitory, of the realization of absolute spirit? What other silences would need to be broken? What undisciplined stories would be told?

– Susan Buck-Morss. “Hegel and Haiti.” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 4 (2000): 864-65.

… modernity is always citing primal history…. Ambiguity is the appearance of dialectic in images, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image. Such an image is afforded by the commodity per se: as fetish. Such an image is presented by the arcades, which are house no less than street. Such an image is the prostitute — seller and sold in one.

Walter Benjamin, “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” in The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006), p. 41.

Dear Blind Man –

You are, I hope, to be an instrument for the accomplishment of an important an much-needed  work in America: namely, the fostering and encouragement of a truly native art. An art which will be at once the result of a highly vitalized age, of a restless artistic spirit, and of a sudden realization — on the part of our artists — of America’s high destiny in the future of the world. Such an art must very closely embody the spirit of our time, however morbid, however hurried, however nerve-racking that time may be….

So, if you can help stimulate and develop an American art which shall truly represent our age, even if the age is one of telephones, submarines, aeroplanes, cabarets, cocktails, taxicabs, divorce courts, wars, tangos, dollar signs; or one of desperate strivings after new sensations and experiences you will have done well. The future dwellers of the earth will then be able to look back with truth and conviction, and, say: “Yes, they had an art, back in New York, in the days following the Great War, an art that was a vitalized part of their life.’”

– Frank Crowninshield. “From a Friend.” April 27, 1917. The Blind Man, No. 2, p. 10.

The material hardship of nineteenth-century industrial workers finds its parallel on the psychological level among twentieth-century white-collar employees. The new Little Man seems to have no firm roots, no sure loyalties to sustain his life and give it a center. He is not aware of having a history, his past being as brief as it is unheroic; he has lived through no golden age he can recall in time of trouble. Perhaps because he does not know where he is going, he is in a frantic hurry; perhaps because he does not know what frightens him, he is paralyzed with fear. This is especially a feature of his political life, where the paralysis results in the most profound apathy of modern times.

– C. Wright Mills. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York: Oxford University Press, [1951] 1956, p. xvi.

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