Monday, 29 January 2018

Barthes's S/Z & Theory as terrorism

'Only when we know what we are doing when we read, are we free to enjoy what we read. As long as our enjoyment is instinctive it is not enjoyment it is terrorism'.
Richard Howard makes this extraordinary claim in the introduction to his translation of Barthes's S/Z. Howard thought Freud's 'instinctual renunciation' militated for a lemming like mimetic of semiotic stupidity. It meant, for lovers of literature, killing the thing we would otherwise love- viz. the author.

What is terrifying is that neither Howard nor Barthes understood Balzac's short story, Sarassine,  despite shitting all over it in the name of some spurious enjoyment of a supposedly intellectually superior kind.

Briefly, Balzac's story is about a specific type of ostentatious wealth (at the bottom of which might lie a great crime or the cover up of something inherently repugnant) which buys itself a glittering place in Society so as to burgeon by corrupt means in the chimerical realm of Chrematistics, the hybrid sterility of High Finance & Factionalist Politics, such that the State is suborned, Civil Society subverted, Savants are seduced and the Press prostituted.  In this case, the plot twist is that the original 'crime' has to do with Beauty, not Use- Aesthetics not Industry- and it is Idealistic philosophy- more particularly in its Romantic, 'storm & stress' incarnation- which prompts the foolish pharmakos, or satyriasis shaped scapegoat, to discern a Christian benefaction in a Cardinal's order for his own peremptory slaughter.

A beautiful Italian castrato from a comely and musically gifted family- one probably so very poor that they sacrificed a golden voiced son or little brother to the gelder's knife so as  not to see him starve- made a fortune. His niece is beautiful and her lovely daughter a sublime singer.

 Sarassine, a sculptor of genius from a solid middle class provincial family, enraptured by the young castrato, too could have made his fortune. It would be natural for a shapely soprano to take a great sculptor as a lover so that the latter might capture her form and increase her fame. However in Balzac's story, the castrato makes eyes at the sculptor merely by way of a practical joke to please his patrons- chief of whom is a Cardinal. Sarassine does produce a superb female sculpture but fails to destroy it as he also fails to kill the castrato who led him on. He is himself killed by the Cardinal's bravos.
The castrato- now very old- is a mysterious presence at his niece's mansion. However, it appears, he is responsive to beautiful girls, not beefcake. Thus this story is about castration being repugnant merely but not otherwise fundamentally changing the tropisms of the heart. It was an option, like taking clerical orders, motivated by kin selective altruism, and thus purely economic, in a milieu which took the Biblical text 'some made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven' at face value. Whether an attractive young castrato is also homosexual is of no account. Homosexuality isn't a crime against nature and castrating a pre-pubescent male does not cause that crime. People who live by 'games against nature'- i.e. who wrest a living, feeding and clothing us in the process, from Gaia's stony breast are not rendered homophobes on that account.  On the contrary, all they ask is that you leave their sheep, or chickens in my case, alone.

As for those whose labour is of 'first order' aesthetic or intellectual value- i.e it can feature as Schelling focal solutions to coordination problems- all that matters is excellence in one's Art and providing for one's family and Guild.

Sarassine, though no journeyman, is a shithead because he gets himself killed and doesn't end up enriching his family or passing on his craft. He- who could have made himself worthy of the Cenacle!

Balzac's story isn't about missing ball-sacks. In any case, there is no such thing as 'castration anxiety'. Freud was a fool.  Money matters. Testicles- meh.
Come to think of it, Freud was charging money: so not so much a fool, he was a fraudster- the Cardinal of a bogus Church.

Now let us look at Barthes's theory of the story-
It is Mme de Lanty who reveals the proper structure: in opposition to her (passive) daughter,  Mme de Lanty is totally active: she dominates time (defying the inroads of age); she radiates (radiation is action at a distance, the highest form of power); bestowing praises, making comparisons, instituting the language in relation to which man can recognize himself, she is the primal Authority, the Tyrant, whose silent numen decrees life, death, storm, peace; finally and above all, she mutilates man (M. de Jaucourt loses his "finger" because of her). In short, the precursor of Sappho who so terrifies Sarrasine.

This is a crock of shite. The castrato's niece is a smart and sensible hostess who knows who to sleep with and how to throw a party. Clearly she has husbanded the castrato's fortune to good effect. The family has risen and will continue to rise. Her daughter will be married off very advantageously  while her son too will have his pick.
Incidentally, 'action at a distance' must be the weakest form of power. Gravitation is much much weaker than the other fundamental forces.

The depiction of Mme de Lanty, it seems to me, changed the naive 'dancer' whom the narrator had brought to the party and who becomes the foil to the now decrepit castrato, into the type of  destructive, High Society, 'unhusbanded' young Marquise.

Balzac, whatever authorial personality was attributed to him, appreciated- as every ambitious man must- the virtues of a 'managing' woman. No doubt, La Rochefide's misadventures earn the novelist's advances, still it is La Lanty- perhaps resurrected by Charles Rabou?- who conserves it as a mise en scene.
Consider what Balzac actually says-' Have you ever met one of those women whose startling beauty defies the assaults of time, and who seem at thirty-six more desirable than they could have been fifteen years earlier? Their faces are impassioned souls; they fairly sparkle; each feature gleams with intelligence; each possesses a brilliancy of its own, especially in the light. Their captivating eyes attract or repel, speak or are silent; their gait is artlessly seductive; their voices unfold the melodious treasures of the most coquettishly sweet and tender tones. Praise of their beauty, based upon comparisons, flatters the most sensitive self-esteem. A movement of their eyebrows, the slightest play of the eye, the curling of the lip, instils a sort of terror in those whose lives and happiness depend upon their favor. A maiden inexperienced in love and easily moved by words may allow herself to be seduced; but in dealing with women of this sort, a man must be able, like M. de Jaucourt, to refrain from crying out when, in hiding him in a closet, the lady’s maid crushes two of his fingers in the crack of a door. To love one of these omnipotent sirens is to stake one’s life, is it not? And that, perhaps, is why we love them so passionately! Such was the Comtesse de Lanty.'
In medieval Provence, such a person might be the 'midons' of a Court of Love. In the long eighteenth century, she might manage a Kingdom or raise up a school of philosophy. In Balzac's time, her salon might form Cabinets as well as Industrial Cartels or Colonial Enterprises. If 'lives are staked' by her admirers, it is for very tangible returns.
M. de Jaucourt, in Balzac is a stereotype of the chivalrous gallant of the ancien regime. He might hide in a closet for weeks to be close to the woman bearing his child or allow his fingers to be crushed without uttering a sound so as to protect a lady's reputation. Barthes thinks this legendary figure was the actual lover of La Lanty and that the crushing of his fingers was a symbolic castration. This is an extraordinary blunder for a well read Frenchman to make. But then the fool had been masquerading as some sort of Marxist since the Fifties and this habit of mendacity had destroyed his skills in even the most basic sort of literary comprehension.

Barthes, as the canonical mise en abyme of every Marxist Freud's asshole continually buggered by its own coprolite, also says there is a Sappho who ' terrifies Sarrasine' coz, for some reason, she wants to chop his goolies off.

This is a stupid lie.

 The castrato had feigned a fainting fit apprehending brigands. At that moment, Sarrasine's fate is sealed. Previously he had disliked this sort of female affectation of helplessness.  Now, his sentiments are reversed. He says he would now flee a strong and courageous Sappho- because he is captivated with this frail and trembling creature endowed with a divine voice.
What had actually happened was that the Frenchman had tried to rape the Italian who produced a knife and threatened his life causing him to back off. Later the Frenchman tries to kill the Italian but is killed. Nobody is interested in castrating him because he is not a pre-pubsecent boy with great singing ability who has a higher commodity value once gelded. There are people who want to make the Frenchman a laughing-stock- but to do so he has to have a dick and let his dick do his thinking for him. There are also people who will be quick enough to stab him to death. What is lacking is any desire on any one's part to chop off his goolies.
This French dude's destiny, in Rome, is to end up being knifed. Why? He thinks with his dick. At one moment he tries to rape an attractive girl at a party, at another he kidnaps her though she clearly has powerful protectors. Perhaps, in late Victorian England, he would have been arrested by the constabulary and incarcerated. In Eighteenth Century Rome, he was stabbed. Such is the destiny of rapists and kidnappers who aren't experts with the stiletto or wealthy enough to command a superior bunch of bravoes.
Balzac has mercilessly dissected the pathological amour propre of this rapist who backs off when his life is in danger but who gets killed when he botches a kidnapping intended to avenge a cock-block of a pathetic type. This worthless piece of shit cares more about being made to appear ridiculous- though the thing could happen to anybody- than the terrible crime that had been committed against a child who, in talent and spirit, in character and vivacity, could be that very predestined friend of the spirit who might have enabled him to rise in not just the mathos but the pathos proper to his techne. There was possible a 'suhrit praapti'- a spiritual friendship- between the singer and the sculptor such that what is frozen in Music or musical in wrought marble overtops the Sublime by the mere sentiment of Pity- such being the only Mercy the Creator affords creatures wretched in every respect save that of cherishing each other- a loving care which, in Balzac's story, the hideous cadaver of the castrato yet receives in the bosom of his family and from the touch of his great-niece's hand and the trill in her voice. This is the Yoga sung off in the Gita which saves from futile foreknowledge's gelding hand- all doom being but abandonment's atomised akrasia- by asserting the supremacy of loving service which abides its own pathetic inadequacy or motivating passion's abrupt passing away.

Turning back to Balzac's story, the truth is- supposing the singer had really been a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl as the boyish part of us hoped- then she would have displayed courage, in the unblustering manner of her sex, when the  brigands threatened. In that case both might genuinely have come to love each other- for shared danger brings together people of mettle, no matter how differently constituted, by a salutary discovery of complementary virtues .

Sadly, the whole thing was a practical joke. Only a Frenchman would be stupid enough not to spot a dude in a dress and only an arrant provincial would be so ignorant as to think girls were employed as singers by Cardinals.

Barthes was writing this shite around the time a French diplomat commenced an affair with a Chinese opera star by whom he fathered a son despite the singer having testicles. True the diplomat was a very junior one- a courier or accountant- and probably drunk off his head; still Balzac was right about French men being a tad unobservant when it comes to genitalia.
 Mme de Lanty is the castrating woman, endowed with all the hallucinatory attributes  of the  Father: power, fascination, instituting authority, terror, power to castrate. Thus, the symbolic field is not that of the biological sexes; it is that of castration:  It is in this field, and not in that of the biological sexes, that the characters in the story are pertinently distributed.
On the side of active castration, we must include Mme  de Lanty, Bouchardon (who keeps Sarrasine away from sexuality), and Sappho (a mythic figure threatening the sculptor).
Mme de Lanty may fuck dudes who can help her family's social ascent. For this to happen, dudes need dicks. She is not a castrating woman at all.
I didn't know Dad's had the power to castrate. Is that a French thing? Nope- it is a Freudian fraud. Barthes's close reading consists in finding things that aren't there in the text by ignoring what is actually written.
Bouchardon is a good mentor keeping a young genius away from the brothels- where he'll get the pox and his dick will fall off. He gives his protege a fine sword. This is scarcely a castrating act.

Once the young man has mastered his craft and is making good money, this mentor will help him find a good wife who'll run his household and raise a family.  That's something you need a dick for.

Neither mentors nor matrons want to chop the bollocks off talented young men. They want them to work hard and do research and establish themselves epistemically before pairing off in Eros.

On the passive side, whom do we find? the "men" in the story: Sarrasine and the narrator, both led into castration, which the former desires and the latter recounts.
Stupid lies! Sarrasine may be said to desire death because he'd just failed to destroy both the statue and the castrato who memorialised his absurd folly. But he doesn't desire castration. Nor does the narrator. If they did, they could go under the knife.
As for the castrato himself,  we would be wrong to place him of necessity among the
castrated: he is the blind and mobile flaw in this system; he moves back and forth between active and passive: castrated, he castrates; the same is true of Mme de Rochefide: contaminated by the castration she has just been told about, she impels
the narrator into it.
Nonsense! The castrato really was castrated but did not impel anyone into the same condition which he could have done by laying out a little money so as to have a money maker of his own to train up. What Sarrassine actually said was 'Have you no sisters who resemble you? No? Then die!'. In other words he wasn't castrated at all. He wanted to fuck, if not a cute dude, then a similarly cute sister of the dude.

At the end of the story, the anonymous dancer who turns into the Marchioness, Mme de Rochefide, decides not to put out to the narrator.  She doesn't chop his dick off. She just doesn't want it in her. She echoes the words of Sarrasine about some 'fatherland of   the heart'- which for him, was a woman's but for her- because OMG Paris is so corrupt!- is in Heaven.
Why? She's a bit of a shithead- like the sculptor. After all, the sculpture of the castrato was quite good. He should have sold it to the Cardinal and then wryly told this story against himself and been the first one to chuckle over it. That would have established his reputation as a true Olympian.

Similarly, this Rochefide dame should have fucked the narrator and been immortalised in one of his stories. As a dowager, it would be an excellent tale against herself to tell other grandes horizantales made good who, mollified, will advertise her as a sly minx equal to themselves in their prime. It is by the cultivation of such legends that ageing chatelaine's renew their lease upon the hearts' of a new generation of scribblers.

In Ballsack's Sarrasine, the only castration is of the female ball breaker. Stories are like the scenarios used by the blade runner to detect an android. In this case, both the manner of telling the story and its reception excise the very faculty that is human and generative.
The next evening we were seated in front of a bright fire in a dainty
little salon, she on a couch, I on cushions almost at her feet,
looking up into her face. The street was silent. The lamp shed a soft
light. It was one of those evenings which delight the soul, one of
those moments which are never forgotten, one of those hours passed in
peace and longing, whose charm is always in later years a source of
regret, even when we are happier. What can efface the deep imprint of
the first solicitations of love?

"Go on," she said. "I am listening."

"But I dare not begin. There are passages in the story which are
dangerous to the narrator. If I become excited, you will make me hold
my peace."


"I obey.
Though Love's solicitor, the narrative, nevertheless,  is subject to a purely conventional Justice-of-the-Peace.
Balzac, in 1830, writing up a droll anecdote, but doing so in an esoteric manner, is certainly taking a risk by explicitly equating a faithless Marquise's sensation seeking excursions with a castrato becoming a, socially atomised, utterly abandoned, catamite, as opposed to an inspiring & scrupulous reinforcer of, not Patriarchy, but the Family's, Friendship's, Fraternity's Platonic or Patristic values in which anhedonia is evidenced by but promiscuous rutting and all that is hedonic is also hermeneutic of mutuality, tenderness and love.

“‘Now that we are alone,’ cried the artist, ‘and that you no longer have reason to fear the effervescence of my passion, tell me that you love me.’
“‘Why?’ said she; ‘for what good purpose? You think me pretty. But you are a Frenchman, and your fancy will pass away. Ah! you would not love me as I should like to be loved.’
“‘Purely, with no mingling of vulgar passion. I abhor men even more, perhaps than I hate women. I need to take refuge in friendship. The world is a desert to me. I am an accursed creature, doomed to understand happiness, to feel it, to desire it, and like many, many others, compelled to see it always fly from me. Remember, signor, that I have not deceived you. I forbid you to love me. I can be a devoted friend to you, for I admire your strength of will and your character. I need a brother, a protector. Be both of these to me, but nothing more.’
The castrato's words are those of a circumcised heart. They teach the faithless flirt how to live in Society in a manner constructive, not destructive, of character and wisdom.

Alas! The narrator is naively preaching to the damned! The dictum- 'To talk of danger to a man in love is to sell him pleasure'- is Patristic though at best 30 pieces of silver changes hands. This is that theory, similar to Origen's, that Judas so loved the Lord, he hanged himself so as to be beforehand in welcoming him to that Hell, He would soon harrow.

"You have disgusted me with life and passion for a long time to come.
Leaving monstrosities aside, are not all human sentiments dissolved
thus, by ghastly disillusionment? Children torture mothers by their
bad conduct, or their lack of affection. Wives are betrayed.
Mistresses are cast aside, abandoned. Talk of friendship! Is there
such a thing! I would turn pious to-morrow if I did not know that I
can remain like the inaccessible summit of a cliff amid the tempests
of life. If the future of the Christian is an illusion too, at all
events it is not destroyed until after death. Leave me to myself."

"Ah!" said I, "you know how to punish."

"Am I in the wrong?"

"Yes," I replied, with a sort of desperate courage. "By finishing this
story, which is well known in Italy, I can give you an excellent idea
of the progress made by the civilization of the present day. There are
none of those wretched creatures now."

"Paris," said she, "is an exceedingly hospitable place; it welcomes
one and all, fortunes stained with shame, and fortunes stained with
blood. Crime and infamy have a right of asylum here; virtue alone is
without altars. But pure hearts have a fatherland in heaven! No one
will have known me! I am proud of it."

And the marchioness was lost in thought
The narrator told a 'cheap talk' anecdote so as to send a 'costly signal'. Civilization does advance and the Marquise could chose a Uranian path. By contrast, subjective idealism is a 'pooling equilibrium'. Since everything is the same, nothing can make anything better.

 If Paris is hospitable to fortunes stained with shame, then the fortunate should be shameless.
What do women want?
A child is being castrated...
Yeah right!

Balzac's story is interesting for economists for a reason I will explain- if you haven't already worked out what it is for yourself.
Let us see what the idiot Barthes makes of this passage-
This mysterious family had all the attractiveness of a poem by Lord
Byron, whose difficult passages were translated differently by each
person in fashionable society; a poem that grew more obscure and more
sublime from strophe to strophe. The reserve which Monsieur and Madame
de Lanty maintained concerning their origin, their past lives, and
their relations with the four quarters of the globe would not, of
itself, have been for long a subject of wonderment in Paris. In no
other country, perhaps, is Vespasian's maxim more thoroughly
understood. Here gold pieces, even when stained with blood or mud,
betray nothing, and represent everything. Provided that good society
knows the amount of your fortune, you are classed among those figures
which equal yours, and no one asks to see your credentials, because
everybody knows how little they cost. In a city where social problems
are solved by algebraic equations, adventurers have many chances in
their favor. Even if this family were of gypsy extraction, it was so
wealthy, so attractive, that fashionable society could well afford to
overlook its little mysteries. But, unfortunately, the enigmatical
history of the Lanty family offered a perpetual subject of curiosity,
not unlike that aroused by the novels of Anne Radcliffe.

Vespasian's maxim is 'money does not stink'.  He was a good Emperor whose fiscal reforms included a tax on urine (which was used for some commercial purposes). His son complained of the odious nature of the tax. The Emperor asked if a gold coin had any bad odour. Hence the maxim.

Tax is the price we pay for civilisation. When the Roman Empire decayed because its tax system became 'incentive incompatible'- i.e. killed its golden goose- it was replaced by 'feudalism'. Essentially, land was  given to a soldier who farmed it out or otherwise managed it so that he could furnish his Lord with a certain number of soldiers. The problem with feudalism is two fold- firstly, subordinate lords might declare their independence and anarchic warlordism might prevail, secondly, economic development might languish. A superior system would be centralised taxation. Both feudalism and centralised government use an 'Index' to decide how much money or how many soldiers or other produce each province should yield. As the economy develops and becomes monetised it is necessary to move to an equitable and efficient system of taxation. Obviously, entrenched elites will resist paying their fair share. Thus class conflict is a feature of fiscal policy not the capital market. It is necessary to accurately survey or 'index' the actual resources of the Country before fixing any sort of tax- be it in money or kind. The modern State has both a 'real' system of National Income accounting- tracking physical quantities and locations- as well as monetary taxes- like Income tax. From time to time, depending on what is happening in the real economy,  money taxes have to be reconfigured.
All this is common sense. But not for Barthes who wrote-
In the past (says the text), money "revealed"; it was an index,  it furnished a fact, a cause, it had a nature; today it "represents" (everything): it is an equivalent, an exchange, a representation: a sign.
The text says no such thing.  Rather it points to the scandal that the manner in which the  National Debt had been capitalised created arbitrage opportunities for 'insiders'. These guys with big mansions and flashy lifestyles were busy corrupting officials as well as the Press and rising politicians. They also engaged in outright stock market swindles. Balzac understood these things but a lot of his contemporaries were still talking Physiocratic or Rousseau type shite.

At no time has money revealed anything. It is memoryless simply. Transactions, however have historicity and hysteresis effects.

Indices have always existed. A gangster 'laundering' his money has to show ledgers and receipts of actual transactions. The real economy is what every type of due diligence has to focus on- not just that of Tax inspectors or the Police. Auditors, Notaries, Broker's Analysts and Credit Rating Agencies too always have to exercise vigilance to ensure that monetary flows correspond to 'real' indices.

Signs are worthless unless they are constantly being audited and verified as  relating to something real or useful. Balzac knew this- which is why Marx rated him. Barthes didn't know it because he was a stupid academic caught up in a wholly bogus availability cascade.
Between index and sign, a common mode, that of inscription.
Fuck off! I can inscribe any sign I like, including signs I don't know the meaning of. I can't tamper with an index in the same way. Indices are protocol bound. Signs aren't. Kids and lunatics can play around with them to their heart's content. Indices, on the other hand, are computational and subject to internal, algorithmic, checks for conjugacy and consistency. Double entry book-keeping is a simple example.
Shifting from a monarchy based on land to an industrial monarchy, society changed the Book, it passed from the Letter (of nobility) to the Figure (of fortune), from title deeds to ledgers, but it is always subject to a writing.
Rubbish! The Book of 'Political Arithmetic' hadn't changed at all. Nor had the Social Register. What changed was the Law Book. Industrialisation was a force in changing the Law. It had nothing to with writing or literary theory.
The  difference between feudal society and bourgeois society, index and sign, is this: the index has an origin, the sign does not: to shift from index to sign is to abolish the last (or first) limit, the origin, the basis, the prop, to enter into the limitless process of equivalences, representations that nothing will ever stop, orient, fix, sanction.
Nonsense. There are no runaway economic processes because the economy is wholly material, not symbolic at all. There can be runaway chrematistic processes but they quickly crash whether the economy be agricultural or industrial. A wholly despotic slave economy can have hyperinflation same as a bourgeois society.
Parisian indifference to the origin of money equates symbolically with the non-origin of money;
Fuck off! All money has a well documented and verified origin.
a money that has no smell is money withdrawn from the basic order of the index
Right! Coz bank cashiers have strict instructions to wipe their arses on every newly delivered note before handing it over to a customer.
from the consecration of origin:this money is as empty as being-castrated: for Parisian Gold, what corresponds to the physiological impossibility of procreating is the impossibility of having an origin, a moral heredity: the sign (monetary, sexual) are wild because, contrary to the indices (the meaningful regime of the old society), they are not based on an original, irreducible, incorruptible, immovable otherness of their component parts
If Barthes is correct, then a Black ex-slave woman in Restoration Paris would have been equal to a White nobleman with the same amount of money. She would have had no difficulty getting elected to Parliament or buying a house in the Faubourg St. Germain if she had the cash.

Why does Barthes believe that using money that isn't actually smeared with shit will cause your dick to fall off? Why is procreation impossible for our species which has no exact consecrating date of origin according to Darwin?
What was so incorruptible about the ancien regime? Wealthy families could always buy their way into the nobility. Equally, nobility could be derogated for an offense or economically constrained mode of living. Why is Barthes writing in this naive fashion? He can't possibly be so ignorant of French history.
_in the index, what is indicated (nobility is of a different nature from what indicates (wealth):there is no possible mingling; in the sign, which establishes an order of representation (and no longer of determination, of creation, as does the index),
Nobility can be created and destroyed like title in land and this did happen for purely pecuniary reasons. There was plenty of 'mingling'. As in England, Aristos did marry the daughters of wealthy families who had thrived in trade or the professions. But, the reverse also happened. Wealthy men had been rising into the nobility since the Thirteenth Century. Barthes is describing a fairy tale world- not Balzac's Paris.
the two elements interchange signified and signifier revolving in an endless process: what is bought can be sold, the signified can become signifier, and so on.
WTF? Jacques Coeur- the great merchant- was ennobled in the early fifteenth century. Did the sign or nobility turn into the man as the man turned into a patent of nobility? Did this interchange continue till his fall from grace? Do words ever become things? Do things ever become words? What fairy tale world is this?
Replacing the feudal index, the bourgeois sign is a metonymic confusion.
There is no bourgeois 'sign' corresponding to Money. There is fiat currency- meticulously checked by the state- and there is specie currency which is checked by qualified assayers. Credit is not a sign- it arises out of protocol bound operations based on verifying real economic transactions.

The 'metonymic confusion' here is only that of Barthes who does not understand the difference between a sign which means something verifiable and one which means anything you like because nobody bothers to verify it. Thus if I call myself a Medical Doctor, I might be prosecuted. If I say I have a Doctorate in Semiotics nobody will care. The thing is worthless.

Signs and Values and Stories are solutions to coordination problems.They are associated with protocol bound indices but the fit is never very good. This does not matter because our instinct, in any case, is to hedge on discoordination games. In every act of Socialisation, there is a corresponding investment in, or damming up of, ontological dysphoria. Meanwhile some things do change for the better. Kids needn't be castrated so Religion can pretend to possess a choir of angels. Still, that pretence of a 'kingdom of heaven' or 'fatherland of the heart' is kept up. There is a Red Queen race here between Sarassine's pathology of idealising egotism and the pathos of the realistic castrato's redeeming family values.

Balzac had some esoteric theory- like Malfatti's- about the union of the genders and the mystical mathesis of the hermaphrodite and so forth. He mobilises it effectively in his stories, which however can be read in a wholly materialist way. For this reason, though all texts wither and die with their range of reference- and Barthes's S/Z died before its author because its Semiotic codes were immediately known to be horseshit- Balzac burgeons and yet lives.

By contrast, terrorism- which is a theory- is evanescent and defeats itself. Consider the following fustian-
The symbolic field is occupied by a single object from which it derives its unity
A semantic field may have a number of objects. It is still unified. Words can be used as symbols- like Sumerian logograms in Old Persian. Why should the symbolic field be different from the semantic field? In any iconography, there are multiple symbols with the same semantic value. Equally, the same symbol may have very different meanings. If I return home to find a Swastika daubed on my front step then either I'm a victim of a Hate Crime or else my Hindu neighbour has very kindly rendered my home auspicious in accordance with our common ritual calendar.

Barthes's unilateral assertion is terroristic- it can only be believed, or entertained as other than unspeakably silly and self-defeating, for that first moment in which it is apprehended.
(and from which we have derived a certain right to name it, some pleasure in describing it, and what may pass for a privilege granted the symbolic system, the symbolic adventures of the hero, sculptor or narrator).
We have an absolute right to name things. This right does not 'derive' from anything at all. I can take pleasure in naming Barthes a bleedin' cunt. No privilege is granted any symbolic system save in the same manner that all privilege entrenches itself. That means actual violence, or actual utility- not verbal violence or wordy claims to worth.

Heroes have actual adventures- these may be imaginary, like those of Walter Mitty, or delusional, like those of Don Quixote- but they are still real because some psychological advance or effect of pathos is achieved. Sculptors make tangible statues. Narrators tell stories. Symbolic systems may supervene but do so only symbolically.
This object is the human body.
The human body does not determine anything. Ontological dysphoria is ubiquitous. Symbolic systems, in particular, are ontologically dysphoric. They are wholly divorced from the body.
Sarassine recounts the topological transgressions of this body.
Topology is about the deformation of objects into other objects. The topological deformation of the body- e.g. reconstituting it as a chair- is certainly transgressive because it involves murder or the defilement of a corpse.
Amputation or other surgical operations are not topological because the whole body is not deformed in a continuous manner. The operation is not measure preserving.
The antithesis of inner and outer: abolished.
Even gender reassignment surgery does not 'abolish' the distinction between inner and outer. It is not the case that we could every walk around with our veins or spleens outside our bodies.
The underneath empty. The chain of copies: interrupted.
The underneath is not empty. It is full of shit. Human beings aren't a chain of copies- i.e. clones. Celibates or infertile people nevertheless contribute, generally in a kin selective manner, to reproductive success. No interruption to this has occurred.
The contract of desire: falsified.
Desire is not a contract. It could be the motive for acceding to a contract. It isn't 'falsified' though it may be resiled from.
Now we can enter this symbolic field by three routes, no one of which is privileged:
Symbolic fields can only be entered symbolically. They don't actually exist.
provided with equal points of entry, the textual network, on its symbolic level, is reversible.
Texts involve non commutative operators. They are not time-reversible. Even Derrida, the fuckwit, recognises this.
The rhetorical route discovers the transgression of the Antithesis, the passage through the wall of opposites, the abolition of difference.
 Fuck off! Rhetoric can allude to a discovery made by some other discourse. It can discover nothing itself. Certainly, it can consist in telling stupid lies. That is terroristic, because it fails immediately- unless a battle is genuinely won, in which case War not Terrorism is what prevailed.
The route of castration, strictly speaking, discovers the pandemic void of desire, the collapse of the creative chain (bodies and works).
Quite false. Castrated people still feel desire and have successful relationships. If the castration is post puberty, some are better, not worse, in bed after the operation. No creative chain collapses. Bodies and works continue to burgeon. In this story, the castrato's genes multiply themselves more successfully (albeit though his siblings' families) than would otherwise have been the case. This is something predicted by the theory of kin selective altruism- which was taking its current shape at about the time Barthes wrote this shite.
The economic route discovers the disappearance of all fake currency, empty Gold, without origin or odor, no longer an index but a sign, a narrative corroded by the story it bears.
Economics has long known that 'bad money drives out good'. Fake currency drives out the genuine article because the latter is hoarded. Gold is not empty- it has intrinsic value. No 'narrative is corroded by the story it bears'. All money- even fake money has an origin and is discounted accordingly. During the early Nineties, five different printing presses, operated by different Governments or factions, were busy printing the Afghan currency. It did not thereby become valueless. Why? It still solved a coordination problem. Schelling won a Noble Prize in Econ for the discovery. David Lewis used it for his theory of Conventions. Both these things happened before Barthes wrote this ignorant shite.
These three routes are all conducive to stating the same disturbance in classification :  it is fatal, the text says, to remove the dividing line, the paradigmatic slash mark which permits meaning to function (the wall of the Antithesis), life to reproduce (the opposition of the sexes), property to be protected (rule of Contract).
The text says no such thing. It shows a castrato who fulfills his reproductive duty to his ancestors in a better and nobler (for self-sacrificing) manner than is normal. We know that high status males have more progeny. The castrato has helped ensure that his grand nephew will be very high status indeed.
Clearly this family's property wasn't just protected it grew by leaps and bounds despite Wars and Revolutions. Napoleon had been impressed by an Italian castrato whom he loaded with honours. Barthes knows this. Yet he tells us this stupid lie.
In short, the story represents (we are in a readerly art) a generalized collapse of economies: the economy of language:-usually protected by the separation of opposites,
WTF?! Balzac's language is perfectly clear. There is no collapse. We are touched by the heart-felt words of the singer to the sculptor. We understand that a Platonic friendship between the two would immeasurably advance both their art forms. We are appalled at Sarrassine's stupidity and egotism.

I suppose, if we were homophobes and believed that castration turns one into a catamite, then some 'collapse' would occur. But being a pig ignorant fucking homophobe is not a good thing. Don't fucking do it mate. You're better than this.
the economy of genders (the neuter must not lay claim to the human),
Wow! Why is Barthes not banned for such naked hate-mongering against asexual people!
the economy of the body (its parts cannot be interchanged, the sexes cannot be equivalent),
Fuck me! This guy hates transgender people! Ban the cunt!
the economy of money (Parisian Gold produced by the new social class, speculative and no longer land-based-such gold is without origin, it has repudiated every circulatory code, every rule of exchange, every line of propriety-in French, a justly ambiguous word propriete, since it indicates both the correction of meaning and the separation of possessions).
WTF! Paris does not have gold mines. The new social class did not dig it out of the ground. It is true that, thanks to the manner in which Reparations were financed, the Financial sector had taken off. But, then as now, securities were based on mortgages on land, or quarries, or fisheries, or factories etc. It was the redoubtable French notary who laid the foundation for the expansion in credit and economic activity. This class of people understood and understand propriete very well. The documents they draft are a model of accuracy and diligence. Barthes's theoretical posturing on the other hand is adolescent terrorism of a sort that terrorises no one. It provokes mirth- or the desire to purchase whatever it is they are smoking.
This catastrophic collapse always takes the same form: that of an unrestrained metonymy.
The only 'unrestrained metonymy' is this sort of pig ignorant pseudo Marxist, faux Freudian, bullshit.
By abolishing the paradigmatic barriers, this metonymy abolishes the power of legal substitutions on which meaning is based:
The first lesson you learn in Law or Accountancy or Engineering or Medicine or any other non-shite subject is that you can't use words in a Humpty Dumpty manner. You have to use the exact term specified by the Profession's governing body.
It is quite true that 'unrestrained metonymy' could cause a Judge to disregard a legal document on those grounds alone. However, the Judge will then look at what the intention behind the document was.
Meaning is not based on 'legal substitutions'. Unrestrained metonymy does not render a poem meaningless. Suppose I have written some garbled nonsense in my Will. This may make it legally invalid but the Judge will still try to discover my intent and rule accordingly.
it is then no longer possible regularly to contrast opposites, sexes, possessions; it is no longer possible to safeguard a system of just equivalence;
Sheer nonsense! I may talk utter shite but people can still look at my intention- or the intention a good and reasonable man might have in my position- and consider that in order to represent my utterance.
in a word, it is no longer possible to represent, to make things representative, individuated, separate, assigned;
This is always possible if we act in good faith. The bad faith of the stupid, self aggrandising, academic who thinks he can do Theory, on the other hand is merely an absurd type of terrorism.
Sarrasine represents the very confusion of representation, the unbridled (pandemic) circulation of signs. of sexes, of fortunes. 
It represents this only to racist, elitist, homophobes who dream of a return to a world of serfs and Grand Seigneurs.

Reactionary assholes may, from time to time, discern, in a hike in the rate of Capital Gains Tax, the imminence of the end of days when dogs will say meow and fine upstanding gentlemen, unbuttoning themselves at the urinal, will cry out in despair at encountering not a penis but a vagina.  But, outside such circles, nobody fears 'the unbridled circulation of signs, of sexes, of fortunes' because History shows no such thing has ever occurred.

What was Barthes's major malfunction? Unlike most current academics, he had literary talent. He actually liked reading books and did so for pleasure. Why did he succumb to the most witless academic availability cascades of his period? Why did he himself become part of one, which still trundles on, dedicated to the proposition that to take pleasure in reading is a most heinous type of Terrorism? Why did Barthes end up as the French precursor to Boko Haram?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now more than ever we can see that Barthes was a true prophet. There has been an 'ubridled' or 'pandemic' circulation of signs, sexes and fortunes.

Since the financial meltdown, meretricious or mercenary micturation a.k.a the 'Golden Shower' has become the paradigmatic politico-financial transaction. Trump usurped Hillary's political fortune because he got pissed on by some Russian hookers which is why Putin used Social Media to put that smelly old man in the White House.