Friday, 16 November 2012

The silence of the dead- part 1

The 'sluagh'. in Irish and Scottish folklore, was the spirit horde of the restless dead, and the 'slogan', the Highland Regiment's battle cry, was an evocation of the army of the dead, sluagh-ghairm tanmay (sluagh "army", "host" + gairm "cry"), who were invited to come join the living and vent their malice upon the foe-men  thus adding to their own ranks.
On the other hand, the Danish 'trickster-hero', Hamlet, who scares off the English by propping up corpses so as to give the appearance of having a huge army at his command, pays Rationality's tribute to the even more terrifying silence of the dead- which indeed is modernity's slogan.
 Elias Canneti, in 'Crowds and Power', suggests that there are 'World Historical Personalities' who go one up on Hegel such that their consciousness hungers not merely for the destruction of every other but something more radical, which is to be the lone survivor of the departed crowd of the now unanimous living and dead. Thus Mohammad Tughlaq, depopulating Delhi, or the Xhosa Chief Sarhili, who agreed to the slaughter of the tribe's cattle in order to bring its dead warriors back to life, are considered by Canetti to be prototypes of Hitler in his bunker, still repeating his hateful slogans and hoping to survive a universal slaughter.
Behind this curious doctrine, propounded against the unlikely backdrop of McMillan's 'you've never had it so good' triumphalism of  Consumerism and Slum Clearance and the manic construction of New Towns and ambitious Council Estates where 'you can only see the old houses in the faces of the people', is another inversion- that of Marx's doctrine of the Vampirism of Capital, 'dead labor', which dictates the disposal of that living creative power which alone is productive of Value- whereby the crowd, mass-man, becomes the Monopoly Capital of the 'survivor'- an Ancient Mariner obsessed with his own narrative and celebrating his own wedding at Cana by turning all wine into the blood of the host of the departed Dead.
Two Barristers, Jan Smuts, considered the creator of the League of Nations, and Mohandas Gandhi, supposedly the father of Indian Independence, like the Xhosa Chief Sarhili, had much truck with the horde of the dead, initially adopting policies ruinous to their own people, before seeing that the living and the dead form a holon, as does Capital and Labor, as does the Paramount Power and 'subaltern' classes- and, moved by the terrifying silence of the dead, both broke with the power of the slogan, the political Capital they could have virtually monopolized, in favor of a self-willed diminunendo, a looming ever smaller in their own Wagnerian Twilight of Public acclaim, till even their still small voice of conscience, or rat's squeak of rationality, became unanimous with the benign and silent Eumenides of the un-departing dead.

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