Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Signora Martha Mone R.I.P (1998)
Monday, 23 November 2020
Socrates' Methexis & Shantideva's Antidosis
Yoneda's lemma as Patripassian dilemma
Sunday, 22 November 2020
Khilnani's crap idea of India
It is more than 20 years since Sunil Khilnani's 'The Idea of India' came out. It contains no ideas- as opposed to ignorant and absurd assumptions about the unique and magical nature of India- or, indeed, coherent thoughts, whatsoever. It is wholly vacuous. Consider the following-
In the first instance, the history of independent India can be seen, most narrowly but also most sharply, as the history of a state:
This could be said of any country at any time. But it isn't true. The history of independent India must be seen, most narrowly and most sharply, as the history of Indian people. The history of the Indian State is merely a minor part of a much bigger story. No doubt, for some specific purpose- e.g. to write a shite book- one may have a more narrow focus. But that focus is misleading and myopic.
one of the first, largest and poorest of the many created by the ebb of European empire after the end of the Second World War.
European empires ebbed at the end of the First World War. India, like Ireland, Egypt and Afghanistan, could have secured independence by 1924. It didn't because of Gandhi- who unilaterally surrendered and thus broke the Congress/Khilafat combine. This meant that Independence would come at the price of partition and it would be Britain which would decide when and how power would be transferred.
The 'idea of India' started of as the idea of British Raj being turned into an Indian run operation- with at least some of the Indians involved being directly elected by the masses. But first Buddhist Burma, then the Muslim majority areas went their own way. What was left was simply the idea of the Hindu majority areas, with some contested margins, taking over from the Raj, while the 'idea of Pakistan' was the idea of the Muslim majority areas which had been formerly Hindu setting up their own State.
Thus the only real story here is how Hinduism came to have a National horizon. To cut this long story short, it is sufficient to concentrate on status competition between endogamous sub-castes which could either express itself as superior adherence to highly restrictive rules or else advertise its purity by readiness to make sacrifices in the struggle against foreign, mleccha, hegemony and paramountcy. Everything else which needs to be mentioned applies equally to other countries. It is history, but not specifically Indian history.
Thus, the reason India abandoned the Monarchical model was because everybody else did. During the First World War, it became obvious that War was no longer the sport of Kings. Thus Nationalism would triumph under either a military junta or, if the Army played no role in the transition, then, it would be under the rubric of democracy. In India, the pay off for the latter was high and had to do so with curbing wasteful inter and intra-caste status competition with respect to holier than thou ritual purity and restrictive rules on women, permissible occupations, overseas travel etc.
Khilnani, because he teaches a shite subject, is forced to tell a different story- a fairy tale. Apparently, India is unique. It is magical. It isn't like any other country. He belongs to Yakov Smirnoff school of Indian political thought. In other countries, the Social landscape features a State- which can only be as modern as the Society is modern. In India, Society is so hide-bound that any sort of State might make landfall upon its shores without anybody objecting, or taking much notice.
The arrival of the modern state on the Indian landscape over the past century and a half, and its growth and consolidation as a stable entity after 1947, are decisive historical facts.
No they aren't. Nobody can agree what a 'modern state' is or when it arrives or whether or not it is a 'stable entity'.
They mark a shift from a society where authority was secured by diverse local methods to one where it is located in a single, sovereign agency.
Authority is always secured by 'diverse local methods' even if some stupid pedagogue locates it in a 'single, sovereign agency'.
Seen in this perspective, the performance of the Indian state invites evaluation
by its outcomes for its citizens. That's all that matters.
by external and comparative standards: for example, its ability to maintain the territorial boundaries it inherited from the British Raj,
this is irrelevant. Maintaining or extending territorial boundaries matters to Empires. It doesn't matter to modern nation states. We don't think less of the Czechs because they parted company with the Slovaks.
to preserve its domestic authority and the physical security of its citizens,
by itself, this too is irrelevant. A modern state need not be obsessed with maintaining 'domestic authority'. Getting 'mechanism design' right means spontaneous order and the rule of law.
to act as an agent of economic development,
If the State acts as an agent then agent-principal hazard arises. It is better if it simply sticks to incentive compatible mechanism design.
and to provide its citizens with social opportunities.
Social opportunities? Like what?- speed dating? What's wrong with just organizing a Collective insurance scheme to maintain a 'social minimum' safety-net?
Unlike the states of modern Europe, which acquired these responsibilities in gradual sequence, new states like India have had to adopt them, and be seen to pursue them, rapidly and simultaneously.
This is a fantasy. States don't work that way. It takes time and money to build State capacity. True, after the War, State Capacity in industrialized countries could be repurposed because, by 'Wagner's Law, the State was getting a much larger slice of GDP.
India, like other similar countries, did not 'adopt' the sort of responsibilities that Atlee's Britain did. It couldn't. It was too poor. It is by telling such bien pensant responsibilities to go fuck themselves that poor countries become less poor.
The ability of a modern state to meet these heavily instrumental criteria is undoubtedly crucial to the life chances of its citizens.
This is meaningless gibberish. Getting the fuck out of shitholes is crucial to life- chances. In the case of modern India, emigrating to the highly traditional state of Saudi Arabia was a pretty effective way of improving life-chances.
But these responsibilities have raised expectations often very distant from the state’s practical capacities.
These weren't 'expectations'. They were fantasies. Indeed, it is a fantasy of shite pedants of worthless subjects that States have magical properties.
Why is India a democracy? The answer is simple. Princes took one look at modern warfare and realized they couldn't do that shit. The First World War showed the Emperors sucked ass big time. India couldn't go the way of the Soviet Union or Fascist Italy because Indians were so stupid they thought the sun shone out of Mahatma Gandhi's back side. But the man was an utter cretin. In February 1922, just when Britain was at weakest militarily and had to concede defeat in Turkey and on the anti-Bolshevik front and was forced to recognize the Independence of Ireland and Egypt and Afghanistan, Gandhi, gibbering with fear and shitting himself incessantly, unilaterally surrendered saying India was not ready, might never be ready, for Independence but, since he himself was as stupid as fuck, could the Govt. just kindly lock him up tell he became slightly less stupid or lost his capacity to work mischief? The Brits were happy to oblige. Congress, under Gandhi, muffed its next two opportunities- the second was when Britain was financially weak due to the Wall Street Crash. This time, Gandhi's great achievement was to unite all the Minorities, not just the Muslims, against the Hindu dominated INC. The Brits stopped talking to Gandhi and just jailed Congress if it didn't play nice while imposing a solution which maximized their 'residuary control rights'. Even with the Japs knocking at the door, Gandhi and Congress managed to fuck up with their last big push. The new question was whether those nutters would stay in jail while power passed to Princes and Sectarian leaders with Commies lurking in the underbrush biding their time.
It was in this context that the Nehruvian 'idea of India' triumphed. What did it involve? The answer is that power should pass to 'the last Englishman in India'- as Nehru described himself in the Fifties. Gandhism was transformed into Macaulayism- instead of barristers pretending they were ignorant peasants, ignorant peasants would pretend they understood whatever high falutin' bureaucratic shite they were obliged to read out, in halting tones, during Ministerial question time. Begging bowl diplomacy permitted the burgeoning of this type of bureaucracy that Kipling had satirized while, in the boondocks, Vinobha Bhave and Jayprakash Narayan and other such nutters pursued Gandhian programs of Social Reconstruction which were purely farcical. 'Bhoodan', it will be remembered, was so successful that the entire state of Bihar was gifted away! J.P's 'sampoorna kranti' involved the replacement of Indira Gandhi by Morarji Desai! This would be like the American Revolution replacing George III with Henry VIII!
By the time of Independence, it was clear that India could neither be an Empire nor a Dictatorship (because Bose's INA was a miserable failure). What could it be? Because of the 'Martial Race' theory, it couldn't be run by the Army because recruitment was heavily biased geographically. Thus, the answer was, India had to continue to be whatever it needed to be so as to raise enough in taxes to pay salaries and pensions with a little left over for shite Professorships in shite subjects. It turned out that the Hindus the Brits transferred power to were perfectly happy to stick with the institutions Britain had built or refurbished to suit their own tastes. So, Independent India's story is the story of the success of a British blueprint. But that blueprint was drawn up by people who had turned the sub-continent into a cohesive enough power to project force as far as Europe and Japan. This had never happened before and will never happen again. The simple truth is that 'the idea' of a country does not matter. What matters is what worked there before because, chances are, that's what's making it work now. Khilnani, a cretin by profession, pretends otherwise with absurd results-
For all its magnificent antiquity and historical depth, contemporary India is unequivocally a creation of the modern world.
No it isn't. The 'modern world' didn't create language or ethnicity or religion or any other type of oikeiosis. Contemporary India is only modern in the sense that modernity is contemporary. But this could be said of anything at all.
The fundamental agencies and ideas of modernity – European colonial expansion,
which pre-dates the modern age
which existed in India before recorded History
which was old in the time of Amos
a word which pre-dates Christ
which occurred in the Indus Valley five thousand years ago
– all have shaped it. The possibility that India could be united into a single political community was
fully realized under the Brits. Then the Burmese went their own way as did the Muslim majority Provinces.
the wager of India’s modern, educated, urban élite,
was lost in 1922 because they had chosen to follow a shithead. India could not go down the road of Ireland or Egypt. Instead, the Brits decided the pace and scope of the transfer of power while ensuring their geopolitical interests and historic investments were protected.
The Brits needed willing partners for the deal to go through. In the case of Congress, failed mass agitations and long spells of porridge were a necessary precondition. Exhausted volcanoes, like Nehru would keep Britain solvent out of sheer stupidity or laziness. There is nothing like sharing a jail cell with a bunch of old farts to get you to narrow your intellectual horizons and compromise with reality.
whose intellectual horizons were extended by these modern ideas and whose sphere of action was expanded by these modern agencies.
India was as poor as shit. Its 'modern agencies' were inefficient because of politicized management and (in common with the private sector) low productivity and lack of innovation. Fiscal 'headroom' tended to decrease decade after decade. Begging bowl diplomacy turned out to be counterproductive.
It was a wager on an idea: the idea of India.
No. There was an idea of what had been British India being run by Indians without regard to ancient sectarian divisions. That idea turned out to be shit. There was another idea about a Socialist India which also turned out to be shit. Then there was the notion of a Tiger Economy presided over by technocrats appointed by the Dynasty. That too turned out to be shit. What remains? The reality. There is a Hindu Nation which needs to use Religion and Patriotism to dissolve casteism and do smart things. That's it. That's the whole story.
This nationalist elite
failed. It wagered on a mass boycott of British institutions and lost in 1922 itself. In the end, there was a much larger 'loyalist' elite which took over the top jobs in the Army and the Bureaucracy and the Academy. Interestingly, these guys would often have one or two 'freedom fighters' in the family. But they had no 'ideas' whatsoever. One or two of their more cretinous progeny, who couldn't get into Med School or IIT, ended up as Khilnani type pedagogues.
itself had no single, clear definition of this idea,
Nonsense! Congress thought it could take over the Raj as a going concern. What they'd do with it did not concern them greatly. After all, what had the Brits done with it? Something indescribably boring. At least, the Brits got to go back to blighty once they hit retirement age. Having been a Viceroy or a Governor General could get you a tasty gig as Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland or something similarly rad.
and one of the remarkable facts about the nationalist movement
was that it convinced nationalists, like Jinnah, that Hindus are fucking awful. Muslims need a separate country to get away from those cretins.
that brought India to independence was its capacity to entertain diverse, often contending visions of India.
which were as boring and stupid as they were absurd. India would be run pretty much the way it had been run though the color of the bureaucrats at the top may have changed.
‘One way of defining diversity for India,’
is by turning to some wittier nation and ripping off their definition
the poet and critic A. K. Ramanujan once wrote, ‘is to say what the Irishman is said to have said about trousers. When asked whether trousers were singular or plural, he said, “Singular at the top and plural at the bottom”.’ But Indian nationalism before Independence was plural even at the top, a dhoti with endless folds.
Many Muslims don't wear dhotis. Nor do women. Apparently, Indian Nationalism was based on dehati Hindu misogyny.
Its diversity was
non-existent. All those fuckers looked and dressed like rustic retards.
emblematically incarnated in the gallery of characters who constituted the nationalist pantheon, a pantheon whose unageing, cherub-like faces are still on display, painted with garish affection on calendars and posters or moulded into just recognizable statues and figures, in tea-shops and at crossroads across the country.
Very true. Visiting Indologists often mistook representations of Hanuman for some stalwart of the freedom struggle or vice versa. On the other hand, it isn't racist when I do it- coz I iz bleck.
Khilnani's ignorance of history is stunning.
In pre-colonial India, power was not embodied in the concept of a state, whether republican or absolutist.
The fact is India had Kingdoms of a more or less absolutist type. So did most other countries- though, I suppose, you could argue that Religion and Mercantile communities had some countervailing power and thus, in practice, 'limited Monarchies' prevailed.
Khilnani, cretin that he is, says 'Politics was thus consigned to the realm of spectacle and ceremony.
Only by the Brits, and only in peacetime. 'Ornamentalism', however, was merely cosmetic.
No concept of a state,
Then what the fuck does 'Rashtra' mean? Foreigners found powerful, cohesive, States in India from before the time of Christ.
an impersonal public authority with a continuous identity,
Such as those which made land grants or created Temple and other Trusts which exist to this very day. If Indian Law recognizes that 'impersonal public authority with continuous identity' existed long before Colonialism, why can't Khilnani do so?
emerged: kings represented only themselves, never enduring states. The truth is that kings represented dynasties and those dynasties represented specific territories. Indeed, much to everybody's surprise, democratic politics in South Asia has a significant dynastic component. Some ex-Princes have re-established themselves through the ballot box. The CM of Punjab is the heir to the throne of Patiala. Sooner or later some scion of Scindias will reoccupy the CM's office in Rajasthan. Even the Gandhi dynasty may be revived.
This is not to say that every part of India was monarchical. There were also some tribal areas with 'republican' features. The magic of the ballot box is that Paretian 'residues and derivations' get conserved. Still, sometimes bullets fly.
The Brits introduced elections on a restricted franchise and that practice took root. Ceylon got universal suffrage at the beginning of the Thirties. India could have done so at the same time, had the minorities not objected. Interestingly, Indian women got the vote before French women.
Khilnani thinks India had greater political instability than Europe. The reverse was the case precisely because of economic 'fixity' and 'cultural consistency'.
It was this arrangement of power that explains the most peculiar characteristic of India’s pre-colonial history: the perpetual instability of political rule, the constant rise and fall of dynasties and empires, combined with the society’s unusual fixity and cultural consistency.'
Britain has seen the rise and fall of dynasties and would still see it- if dynasties still mattered.
Across the subcontinent, varied economies and cultures were matched by an assortment of political arrangements.
Like Germany or Italy at the same period.
They were nothing like the static ‘oriental despotism’ conjured up by colonial and Marxist historians:
Yes there was. Eastern Rulers were shit. That's how come the Orient got conquered.
deliberative and consultative forms of politics did exist, but there was no protracted historical struggle to install institutions of representative government, nor (despite a hardly passive rural or urban poor) did large-scale popular movements act to curb the powers of rulers.
But 'large scale popular movements' did not 'curb the powers of' British rulers or Indian rulers or Pakistani rulers or any other type of ruler. Losing a war or getting killed or running out of money is what curbs a ruler's power. Khilnani should know this. He is old enough to remember the Seventies- a time when 'popular movements' caused rulers to fuck over the populace so thoroughly that it shat its pants.
Most importantly, before the gradual British acquisition of most of India’s territory no single imperium had ever ruled the whole, immense subcontinental triangle.
But three or four had come pretty darn close. The Brits took over the existing Revenue administration and exercised authority and enforced laws pretty much on the same basis as had obtained before.
India’s social order successfully curbed and blunted the ambitions of political power,
No it didn't. Guys with spears and guns did so but only by securing the reality of political power at every level of society.
and made it extraordinarily resistant to political moulding.
Fuck off! Every time a Turkish Prince got chased out of his Princedom, he'd head for India hoping to set up an Empire there. This is because Indians didn't give a shit about 'political moulding'. In the end, its rulers got the message and sank into lethargy.
The basis of this resistance lay in the village, and its distinct form of community: the jati.
OMG! Khilnani doesn't get that a village has to have people of different jatis, to provide different services, though one may predominate. But villages did no fucking resistance whatsoever. Unlike China or Europe, no great conscript armies were levied on most of Indian soil. Lack of military training meant 'resistance' was shit.
These groups, numbering in the thousands, were governed by strict rules of endogamy and by taboos about purity, and arranged a social hierarchy: varna.
So what? There had been plenty of absolutist Monarchies over large portions of Indian territory. Jatis had little countervailing power. At best, they could emigrate. By contrast, 'social brigandage' cut across Jati and Varna lines. But such 'rebellions' could themselves create new Dynastic 'Stationary Bandits'.
Why is Khilnani pretending that Indians had some magical power to resist Turkish or British or other Imperiums? The plain fact is that it did not. True, Hindu majority areas wanted to be ruled by Hindus speaking a Sanskritized language. But they also wanted rulers who were not utterly shit. This is why they preferred smart Turkish or British rulers to shite Indian rulers. The question was, could Hindu India produce less shite leaders? The answer was, Hindus, who have spent a lot of time in jail smelling each other's farts, could, in old age, indeed be persuaded to sign off on Ministerial files without talking too much bollocks. But, it turned out, penniless RSS pravachaks could do an even better job because their brains had not been buggered to buggery by exposure to Khilnani & Co's crap pedagogy. Rahul baba, on the other hand, may actually have read Khilnani's crap. That's how come the cretin has a 'vichardhara'.
Saturday, 21 November 2020
The Aeolian processes of the heart
Thursday, 19 November 2020
Socrates' second best
Pratap Bhanu Mehta shitting on the Bench
Can Pratap Bhanu Mehta write a single sentence which does not contain a stupid lie? Sure. Why not? The thing is easily done. Still, when writing for the Indian Express, it appears he takes special care to ensure that moronic mendacity distinguishes his every line.
Consider his latest rant against the Supreme Court-
In political science literature there is a familiar term — democratic barbarism.
Google 'democratic barbarism'. You find nothing. This is not a 'familiar term' in 'Political Science literature.' PBM's lie is stupid because his readers can easily check the internet and discover the truth.
Democratic barbarism is often sustained by a judicial barbarism.
The term 'judicial barbarism' refers to cruel and unusual punishments or the survival of archaic decision processes- e.g. trial by combat, dunking a witch and burning her if she doesn't drown, etc. etc.
Barbarians may be egalitarian. They are not democratic because their polities have not acquired the necessary sophistication. Barbarians may speak of doing justice. But they do not have protocol bound juristic processes involving a specialized class of lawyers and an independent Judiciary.
The term “barbarism” has several components.
No it doesn't. It is not a 'term of art' in any discipline. It may have different connotations- but that is equally true of the mot juste applicable to PBM which is 'libtard' .
The first is the overwhelming appearance of arbitrariness in judicial decision-making.
Nonsense! Barbarism has no 'judicial decision-making' whatsoever. Stupid shitheads will complain of 'the overwhelming appearance of arbitrariness' if judicial decision-making is purely stare decisis and not arbitrary at all. This is because ultracrepidarian cunts- like PBM who isn't a lawyer but has views on what the Bench should do- are unable to distinguish the projections of their own prejudiced minds from the intersubjective appearance of things.
The application of law becomes so dependent on the arbitrary whims of individual judges
in the opinion of a cretin
that the rule of law or constitutional terms
in the considered opinion of a fucking cretin
no longer have any meaning. The law becomes an instrument of oppression;
says PNB, a notorious shithead
or, at the very least, it aids and abets oppression.
and is also responsible for PNB's skull being full of shit.
An arbitrary action is one which is not protocol bound. It can not be the case that Judges act arbitrarily if those protocols are observed. No doubt, an existing protocol may be considered deficient in some way and may, in the course of time, be replaced. But that process of judicial and legal reform must itself be protocol bound. The ultracrepidarian rantings of a 'political scientist' who tells stupid lies about 'democratic barbarism' have no probative value.
This usually means weak protection for civil liberties and dissenters and an unusual degree of deference to state power, especially in constitutional matters.
Nonsense! If Judges can act arbitrarily, they are likely to protect civil liberty and roll back the power of the State so as to gain obligatory passage point status and extract a rent- perhaps of a reputational sort.
It is only if Judges can't do anything- their hands being tied by various protocols- that the Executive can act arbitrarily. PBM is a fucking cretin.
The court also becomes excessively concerned with its version of lese majesty: Like a scared monarch, the court cannot be seriously criticised or mocked.
But lese majeste is a well defined legal offense. It is not arbitrary. Similarly, contempt of court is a self-regarding, protocol bound, judicial power. The British bench- under attack by Right Wing tabloids and Tory Home Ministers- surrendered this power. Who can fight Rupert Murdochl? The Indian Bench, too, may surrender this power in which case it will not be able to enforce its decisions. This means it will have to embrace a much broader 'doctrine of political question'. Indeed, this may be the direction in which- facing relentless criticism- it feels obliged to move. This is probably a good thing.
Its majesty is secured not by its credibility but by its power of contempt.
PBM has no credibility because he has never said anything useful or true. He is welcome to show his contempt for the Bench. But this does not alter the fact that he is a fucking cretin. It may be that the Indian Bench will come, or has come, to be seen as useless and stupid. But, it is because it has lost credibility that its 'power of contempt' has eroded- as in the case of Prashant Bhushan. But then, the Bench only gained salience when the Executive was weak and shitheads like PBM thought PIL was a panacea. But, the thing is a double edged sword.
And, finally, there is barbarism in a much deeper sense.
There is no 'deeper sense' to barbarism precisely because the term only applies to an unsophisticated polity lacking deep structure.
It occurs when the state treats a section of its own citizenry as enemies of the people.
Every State, which is not barbaric, locks up or kills 'enemies of the people'- e.g. homicidal maniacs, serial rapists, traitors and insurrectionaries.
The purpose of politics is no longer equal justice for all:
The purpose of politics is not 'equal justice for all'. This may be claimed to be an instrument for a particular political ideology or platform. But it is not its purpose. How is it that I can't set up a Court and demand that the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister appear before me? Surely everybody should have an equal right to deploy the powers of the Bench or the Executive?
It is to convert politics into a game of victims and oppressors and ensure that your side comes up the winner.
This is best done by reducing the availability and effectiveness of judicial remedies. PBM, cretin that he is, is arguing for the disintermediation of the Judiciary just when an Administration he disapproves of is going from strength to strength. Truly, this man will cut off his own nose to spite his face.
The Indian Supreme Court was never perfect. It has had its dark periods before. But the signs are that it is slipping into judicial barbarism in the senses described above.
Judicial barbarism means reliance on cruel and unusual punishments or trial by combat etc. There are no signs that any such thing is happening. The fact that PBM does not like some Supreme Court Judgments does not mean the Court is barbaric. It means PBM has shit inside his brain.
This phenomenon is not just a matter of individual judges or individual cases.
It it is indeed a 'phenomenon' it must be evidenced by the behaviour of individual judges in individual cases. PBM would have to supply a superior legal analysis of those cases in order to prove his point. He can't do it because his brains are full of shit.
It is now a systematic phenomenon with deep institutional roots.
PBM is saying that judicial arbitrariness is 'systematic' and arises out of 'institutional' arrangements. But, that requires major Constitutional change of a type India has not seen since the Seventies. In Europe, by contrast, Brussels did insist on far reaching constitutional change- e.g. the setting up of a Supreme Court in the UK- though there has been push back against this in Visegrad countries. There is speculation that post Brexit Britain will substantially curb the powers of the Bench- perhaps to its great relief. Had the Democrats swept the polls, Biden would have been under pressure to change the law so as to 'pack the Bench'. The fact is, increased judicial independence is a double edged sword. The libtards, being as stupid as shit, cheered for what they had previously booed in the belief that Judges would be on their side. Now, having been disillusioned, they babble paranoid nonsense. PBM is merely part of a global trend amongst Professors of shite subjects.
It is also part of a global trend, of a piece with developments in Turkey, Poland and Hungary, where the judiciary aids this kind of democratic barbarism.
And the Liberal Academy aids Paranoid babbling of a wholly useless kind. Of course, from time to time, not all Professors of shite subjects will babble equally paranoid nonsense. Some, or all, from time to time, will preserve the decencies merely by way of camouflage.
To be sure, not all judges succumb to this; there are still pockets of resistance in the system. There will also be instances of grand pronouncement of principles on behalf of liberty, an occasional relief granted to a deserving plaintiff, to preserve a thin veneer of respectability for the institution, while its daily practice continues to abet the rot.
Non-STEM subject instruction at the post-grad level is rotten to the core. Doctorates of the type PBM possesses are but Cretinism Credentialized.
So what are the symptoms of judicial barbarism?
Cruel and unusual punishment, trial by combat- stuff of that sort.
The court has refused to do timely hearings of cases that go to the heart of the institutional integrity of a democracy:
Advocates have failed to make the case that such hearings are necessary.
The electoral bonds case, for example.
Read the petitions in this respect and marvel at their illiteracy
It is no secret that the rules for the grant or denial of bail by the Supreme Court, and, correspondingly, by several high courts, have reached new levels of arbitrariness.
The Arnab Goswami case is scandalous.
But it is important to underscore a point here.
It is important to shit upon PBM on a regular basis.
As any undertrial knows, encountering justice in the Indian legal system has always had an element of luck to it.
No. It has had an element of money and political power to it.
But we should not mistake the distinctiveness of the current moment. Patriots like Sudha Bharadwaj or thinkers like Anand Teltumbde are being denied bail.
While patriots like Sadhvi Pragya were locked up on absurd charges.
Umar Khalid was given a minor relief in being allowed to step outside his cell but the fate of so many young student anti-CAA protestors remains uncertain. An 80-year-old social activist who is suffering from Parkinson’s was denied a straw, and the court will do a hearing in its own time. One can’t think of a more visible manifestation of sheer cruelty. Hundreds of Kashmiris were detained without habeas corpus redress.
So, PBM is aggrieved that people he likes, like Umar Khalid, are suffering to some small extent that which people from a religion he disapproves of (PBM's background is Jain) previously suffered under Sonia's regime.
All of these are not isolated instances of justice slipping because of the usual institutional inefficiencies.
True. There is a pattern here. The question is whether anti-national elements get to run amok or whether they will be locked up in accordance with the law.
These are directly a product of a politics that sees protest, dissent, and freedom of expression all through the prism of potential enemies of the state.
By reason of being enemies of the territorial integrity of the Nation.
They are not equal citizens before the law.
Citizenship is irrelevant. The law must treat all those subject to it on an equal basis.
They are treated, without justification in many cases, as subversives, the only construct that democratic barbarism can put on disagreement.
Barbarians have disagreements all the time. Sometimes this leads to a fight. But barbarians don't say 'OMG. That guy is a subversive.' Why? They don't know what the word 'subversive' means.
This construct is now directly aided by judicial power. And, it has to be said, the same phenomenon can be replicated at the level of states in service of a different political dispensation.
India had strong sedition laws long before there was Democracy. It continued to have them after Independence - which is why Democracy survived. PBM is unhappy that Umar Khalid, not Sadhvi Pragya, is in jail. But Indians don't believe Pragya is subversive. Khalid might be- which is why his good buddy Kanhaiya Kumar has deserted him.
What starts as a selectivity on civil liberties will slowly creep into the ideological foundations of the state.
Nonsense! The ideological foundations of a state must precede its notion of 'civil liberties'. It can't be the case that the selective application of the law alters ideology because the latter is a priori by nature.
As state after state is now contemplating legislation on “love jihad”, a communally insidious and infantilising construct, watch how the judiciary abets in legitimising this newest assault on liberty.
Legislation itself legitimizes a legal procedure which the Judiciary is obliged to uphold. This paranoid cretin thinks that Judges legitimize the law by enforcing it. Fuck is wrong with the cunt?
We have gone past the stage where the highest court’s infirmities can be captured in the policy wonk-ish language of institutional reform.
PBM has got to the stage where he is shitting himself incessantly while running around like a headless chicken.
What is happening is more like giving judicial form to the language of democratic barbarism.
No. What is happening is that PBM is showing that his expensive education was wholly useless. The man is as stupid as shit.
The Supreme Court was right to grant Arnab Goswami bail.
In which case the Bombay High Court was wrong to reject his bail plea.
It has finally issued a notice to the UP government over its arrest of journalists.
That is no big deal. The question is how will the Bench deal with the State Government's response.
But Justice SA Bobde’s reported intervention, that the Supreme Court was trying to discourage the use of Article 32, unwittingly let the cat out of the bag.
No it didn't. It is fucking obvious that not everybody in every case can run to the Supreme Court so as to defeat prosecution in a lower court.
Article 32 is one of the glories of the Indian Constitution that protects fundamental rights.
It is a worthless glory.
It can be suspended only in a state of emergency. In some ways, discouraging the use of this article is a perfect metaphor for our times: We don’t want to formally declare a state of emergency but we might as well act as if there is one, as and when the need arises. Discourage, rather than suspend, the use of Article 32.
PBM's shitting himself incessantly and babbling paranoid nonsense is a perfect metaphor for the worthlessness of the shite he was taught and which he taught in turn. 'Political Science' is a barbarism of the intellect which quickly turns
The fight against this is not going to be easy. The democratic barbarism, where every issue is now thought of through the prism of partisan combat, not public reason, has now infected assessment of the judiciary partly as a result of its own inability to project that it is above the fray.
PBM is describing himself. His ignorance of the Law and his inability to reason have forced him down the path of a puerile type of paranoia.
So much of the public discussion is about my favourite judicial victim versus yours that it is going to be hard to get a consensus on the rule of law.
Nonsense! This is something smart people who know the law can easily get to a consensus about.
Ironically, the tradition of legal activism that is heavily invested in making the judiciary the arbiter of everything legitimises judicial intoxication. The trend still continues.
Legal activism, like Judicial activism, was no substitute for proper mechanism design by the Executive. Still, a few people got some money and fame out of it.
We may have our own views on the Central Vista project, for instance, but this is not the sort of issue the courts need to weigh in on.
We have our own views on PBM. I hope the Courts won't weigh in on our expressing those views by shitting on his head.
In seeking our minor policy victories from the court, we in some senses end up legitimising its major infractions on constitutional principles.
No we don't. The two things are wholly unconnected.
Third, there is a culture in the Bar.
Fuck off! There is stupidity, ignorance and philistinism in the Indian Bar. That is why it is shit. Indian Companies pay a lot of money to get out from under Indian jurisdiction.
There are a few voices like Dushyant Dave,
a good thing surely. The fucker sounds like hasn't quite gotten through puberty
who has an impressive track-record of being wrong about the Law
who is not a cretin, but is wildly partisan
willing to call out the rot for what it is; but this has still not translated into a serious professional pushback.
as opposed to frivolous amateurs talking PBM type paranoid bollocks.
The complex of senior lawyers and judges still willing to defer to lese majesty of the courts, and comfortable with judicial barbarism, is still way too high.
In the opinion of a cretin.
This may seem like a little graceless exaggeration, but when you see creeping hues of a Weimar judiciary, grace is no option for ordinary citizens.
The SDP- i.e. libtards like PBM- decided that the 'judiciary is a relic of the authoritarian state and a foreign body' at the beginning of the Twenties. Not unnaturally, by the mid-Twenties, the Judiciary was using its power of review against the Left. In India, it is likely that the Bench will go back to the English model- i.e. retreat from 'political questions'. That is a good thing. The law does not matter very much in a very poor country. Mechanism design to permit more rapid economic growth is the first stage to putting the Law- which is merely a service industry- on a proper footing with respect to the ordinary citizen. Everything else is mere hysteria or histrionics. PBM, it must be acknowledged, is not an ordinary citizen. He is an extraordinarily incontinent cretin. Shit on his head if you get the chance, but don't listen to that shithead save to mock him and the shite subject he teaches.
Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Romila Thapar 32 years on
In 1988, Romila Thapar gave a lecture in which she said-
The collective means that everyone that constitutes the nation should be included as equal citizens.
This has never been true. The Queen is not 'an equal citizen'. However, her Nationalism may be as great, or greater, than any of her subjects. It is false to say that Nationalism only exists where there is no hierarchy. A slave may be a Nationalist. A King may be a traitor.
But when nationalism is defined by a single identity,
All Nationalism is defined univocally as giving rise to a legal identity such that membership can be made subject to a juristic process. I may cheer for the Armenians (apparently the Kardashians are of Armenian ancestry) in their war with the Azeris. But this does not mean I am an Armenian national or even that I necessarily think Armenian Nationalism is a good thing.
which can either be language or religion or even ethnicity,
Nonsense! There is not a single country in the world where 'language', 'religion' or ethnicity' is the sole determinant of Nationality.
then nationalism gets derailed into majoritarianism.
So, according to Thapar's logic, no presently existing nationalism can be 'majoritarian'. Even under Hitler, it was not enough to be ethnically German to qualify as a German National.
And majoritarianism is not nationalism.”
It may be, if the Nation is democratic.
Thapar said the struggle for Independence had an “all-inclusive nationalism of Indians opposed to British rule”.
Indians who 'opposed British rule' were a tiny minority. The majority, like Thapar's Dad and Grandad, supported British rule either by working for them or paying taxes to them or simply ignoring Gandhi & Co.
However, the insistence on two nations by the British
The Brits did not insist on two nations. The Muslim League did.
led to a nationalism defined by religion that found acceptance among some Indians.
Which Indians? Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Pundit Nehru. It was they who agreed to Partition. It seems 'opposing the British' came at a price.
“The two-nation idea surfaced in the creation of what happened in Partition, in the creation of Pakistan as an Islamic nation.
What about the creation of Bharat, that is India, which has a Directive Principle in its Constitution re. cow protection?
And in current India, it can be argued that it is teetering on the edge of creating its Hindu equivalent.”
Nationality and Religion are important enough to have legal definitions or to be otherwise justiciable. Anyone can talk bollocks about imaginary edges on which some shite or the other teeters or topples over. But, if someone says 'x does not belong to Nation Y or Religion Z' then it may be worthwhile to go to Court. Indira Gandhi did so to prove her son was a Hindu not a Zoroastrian. Sonia Gandhi might have had to do so to prove she was Indian not Italian. Since Nations and Religions are real things, they have sharp, 'bright line', not amorphous, definitions. Thapar remains as ignorant of this fact now as 32 years ago, when she wrote-
Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Obama, Manmohan & 'divisive nationalism'
“What I couldn’t tell was whether [Manmohan] Singh’s rise to power represented the future of India’s democracy or merely an aberration...
Given that Manmohan Singh was a bureaucrat who had never been elected to any office and that he had been made the Prime Minister by the foreign widow of a dynast purely so as to keep the seat warm for her son, the question arises as to whether Obama understood the meaning of the word 'Democracy'.
The odd thing is that Obama had noticed that Rahul was a cretin. Thus, what he is really saying is 'the future of Democracy is to have some nice bureaucrat run things on behalf of a Dynasty whose current scion is a gibbering imbecile.'
George W Bush- who had a remarkable bromance with Manmohan Singh- implemented a visa ban on Modi because Congress was running scared of a meritocratic Chief Minister who was delivering balanced growth without corruption or communal riots.
Congress made a mistake by taking this highly divisive step. The Prime Minister of a Nation State should not say 'My country's Justice System can't punish a Chief Minister of one of our better run States. So, it is up to you to ban him from entering your country.' To act in this manner is the opposite of Nationalistic. It is to admit that one's country is 'terra nullis'. It isn't united. It isn't cohesive. It isn't under the rule of law.
Manmohan, of course, can't be blamed too much. He was merely a loyal retainer of the dynasty serving a lady of Italian origin whose ideas about Indian Nationalism were derived from people like Romila Thapar.
Obama's next remark shows a remarkable ignorance of Economics-
Although India had fared better than many other countries in the wake of the financial crisis, the global slowdown would inevitably make it harder to generate jobs for India’s young and rapidly growing population..A global slowdown means cheap labor gets a competitive advantage. But 'generating jobs' requires business confidence- which is where Obama fell down. Money-pit 'Green New Deal' schemes are foolish. Fracking, on the other hand- at least from the foreign policy point of view- turned out to be a swell idea.
Singh had resisted calls to retaliate against Pakistan
because America's attitude to Pakistan was- 'shelter Osama by all means. We will give you kisses and cuddles.' India can't retaliate against a country protected by both China and America. Well, it can- but not on the Dynasty's watch.
after the attacks, but his restraint had cost him politically.
All of Obama's allies paid a political price for his infectious pusillanimity.
He feared that rising anti-Muslim sentiment had strengthened the influence of India’s main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Which had previously held power. Congress got back in because there was hope that Rahul might not be a cretin, or that- at the very least- he would step aside for Priyanka. Anti-Muslim sentiment, in India, began when Muslims started ethnically cleansing Hindus where they had the upper hand. It decreased when it seemed that Atal and Nawaz Sharif could do a deal. But Sharif was toppled by the Pakistani Army. Then 9/11 happened which caused the attack on the Indian Parliament and, it was believed, the Godhra atrocity and so, in common with the rest of the world, India turned anti-Muslim. This didn't mean the President, a Muslim who had been in charge of India's Missile program, was unpopular. But, clearly, there was a new, more militant, type of Pan-Islamism which was on the prowl for recruits. Congress lost public support when it decided that 'Secularism' involved inventing an equal and opposite 'Hindu terror' threat. But, by then Congress was sinking under the weight of its own corruption and incompetence. In 2014, there was only one candidate for the top job- it was Narendra Modi. Six years later, this remains true.
Obama appears blissfully ignorant of these developments. He thinks Manmohan- a grey bureaucrat with one foot in the grave- as Prime Minister, had the sort of power he himself did. Sad.
“In uncertain times, Mr. President,” the prime minister said, “the call of religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not so hard for politicians to exploit that, in India or anywhere else.”
The Dynasty had an enemy- Modi. But it was ineffective in going after him at home and its successes in this matter abroad were counter-productive. Still, Congress had been a Nationalist Party, appealing to religious and ethnic solidarity, under both Indira and Rajiv. By failing to project Rahul as Hindu, till too late, Congress kept that cretin out of power but at the price of turning itself into an anti-national rump.
Manmohan, of course, was Sikh- but one who could not get elected from Punjab. Sonia was Catholic but only got elected as the widow of Rajiv and the daughter-in-law of Indira who had taught the Sikhs a lesson.
Obama's next remark suggests a mind curiously indifferent to reality.
“If globalization and a historic economic crisis were fueling these trends in relatively wealthy nations—if I was seeing it even in the United States with the Tea Party—how could India be immune?”
What gave the Tea Party traction? The perception that Obama & Co had arranged a bailout for Wall Street- people like Trump getting millions of dollars from the IRS just for being very rich- while bailiffs were knocking down the doors of ordinary folk. Obama himself, being a superb orator and being visibly African American, could combat this perception- but only with respect to himself. His was a Camelot with but a Fisher King.
In India, the big issue was Corruption. For obvious reasons, Manmohan did not explain this to his good buddy.Still, Obama displays remarkable stupidity by asking-
Would the baton be successfully passed to Rahul,
whom he himself described as lacking 'aptitude and passion' for his Daddy's job
fulfilling the destiny laid out by his mother and preserving the Congress Party’s dominance over the divisive nationalism touted by the BJP? Somehow, I was doubtful.It is interesting that Obama sees himself as being like Manmohan- i.e. an outsider put in to look after the interests of dynastic elites- rather than an agent of democratic change. He believes he could have done a better job if 'divisive' nationalism hadn't stopped him in his tracks. The truth is he and Manmohan could have done a better job by actually doing their job better. But, had they done so, their Cabinet colleagues would have grown in stature. But, in Obama's case, nothing grew in his shade. Manmohan, on the other hand, hadn't enough substance to throw a shadow. He rose and sank without a ripple.
“It wasn’t Singh’s fault. He had done his part, following the playbook of liberal democracies across the post–Cold War world: upholding the constitutional order;
Does Obama think condoning massive corruption in one's Cabinet is mandated by the Constitution? Perhaps. It would explain much about his administration.
attending to the quotidian, often technical work of boosting the GDP; and expanding the social safety net.
But that isn't the Prime Minister's job. The reason Manmohan was made P.M not Finance Minister was because he had zero personality and could not get elected rat-catcher in his native Punjab. Thus he was no threat to the Heir apparent. But it turned out the Clown Prince didn't want the top-job. He wanted to lead the Congress Party into oblivion.
Like me, he had come to believe
Why the fuck is Obama- a two term President who is still wildly popular, comparing himself to a grey bureaucrat who loyally served a dynasty?
that this was all any of us could expect from democracy, especially in big, multiethnic, multireligious societies like India and the United States....
So, Obama gave up on the USA. Very patriotic of him.
Except now I found myself asking whether those impulses—of violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance, the all-too-human desire to beat back our own uncertainty and mortality and sense of insignificance by subordinating others—were too strong for any democracy to permanently contain.
Obama was right to ask himself this question. It let him off the hook. The alternative would have been to acknowledge what he had got wrong- a type of analysis which might have been useful to his Party and the causes his supporters held dear.
For they seemed to lie in wait everywhere, ready to resurface whenever growth rates stalled or demographics changed or a charismatic leader chose to ride the wave of people’s fears and resentments. And as much as I might have wished otherwise, there was no Mahatma Gandhi around to tell me what I might do to hold such impulses back.
This is extraordinary. We know what Gandhi would have told Obama to do. Surrender. Find the nearest Neo-Nazi and ask him politely to just beat you to death already.
Whatever we might think of Biden- whether we acclaim him as the first person with female genitalia to be elected POTUS or whether we descry him for the same reason- the fact is he can only be an improvement over Obama the wannabe devotee of Mahatma Gandhi. Lincoln, not Gandhi, should be his role model. The proper way to beat back divisiveness of a poisonous type is by beating it with vim and vigor.
It is clear, from Obama's book that he did not like Modi. Yet he lost no time in getting chummy with him once elected. Clearly, America does not have an ethical foreign policy. It is selective in how it applies its laws. Whether the President is Obama or Trump or Biden- this lack of ethics will remain a constant. This latest book by Obama- though making him a lot of money- has contributed to the reduction of America's 'soft power' or moral standing.
Monday, 16 November 2020
Kairos gilds what Kronos gelds
Sunday, 15 November 2020
Knightian Uncertainty in the Talmud?
Zalman Rothschild, reviewing 'The Birth of Doubt' by Moshe Halbertal, writes in Marginalia
One of Halbertal’s case-studies is of doubt surrounding the legal status of meat. The Babylonian Talmud – redacted in the late rabbinic period (seventh century CE) – records the following rule: if one forgets from which store he purchased a piece of meat, then despite the fact that nine out of ten neighborhood stores are owned and operated by Jews, if even one is owned and operated by a non-Jew, the piece of meat is deemed not kosher.
This sounds reasonable. When buying meat one should remember which shop one bought it from so as to kvetch about what a rogue the owner is.
However, if one chances upon a piece of abandoned meat in the street, then even if only a slight majority of neighborhood stores are owned and operated by Jewish butchers, the slightly greater probability that the meat originated from a kosher butchery renders it kosher.
Coz guys scouring the streets for discarded pieces of meat really oughtn't to be held to too strict a halachic standard. Say ess gezunterheit- eat in good health- and leave it at that.
The puzzling disparate treatment of two hypothetical pieces of meat in the same neighborhood is grounded by the Talmud in the formalistic legal distinction between that which is “fixed in its place” and that which is “uprooted from its source” – a justification Halbertal rightly finds unsatisfactory.
Why? What is 'fixed in place' is a sample drawn from an homogenous population. What is 'uprooted from its source' belongs to an heterogenous population. Thus, if there are two things it can be- kosher or non kosher- the probability is equal unless we know something about the original population.
Obviously, having homogenous populations with a known probability distributions is better because this reduces uncertainty.
Halbertal helpfully locates an earlier parallel source which offers a different type of distinction: this time not between purchased meat and found meat, but between two types of purchases, one from a store and the other from a booth at the market. With respect to a store, any degree of doubt regarding the meat renders it unkosher.
This makes sense. A store run by a reputable businessman will acquire kosher certification or, at least, show concern to maintain standards and thus a good reputation. Shops in Golders Green are likely to prominently display Kosher certification unless they aren't in fact kosher. But, equally, booths selling 'Granny Cohen's meat pies' at a Charity event should be deemed to be kosher even though they have no certification because it would not be practical to inquire as to the reputation of the bubbe in question.
But in the case of the market, only doubt involving a fifty or higher percent probability that the meat is unkosher renders it unfit for consumption. In other words, even if a slim majority of the butchers selling meat in the market are Jewish, that slight probability tilts the scale such that one may assume the meat is kosher. Although the fifty-one percent probability is the same if the meat was purchased from a shop or a booth in a market, Jewish law treats them differently. Why? Here, Halbertal offers a compelling explanation.
The only 'compelling explanation' is Statistical. It seems that the Rabbis had adopted the correct decision rule. This is no great surprise given that Robert Aumann has found far more sophisticated game theoretic solution concepts in the Talmud.
Halbertal makes sense of these disparate and seemingly arbitrary standards for determining permissible consumption by drawing attention to the early rabbis’ sensitivity to the chaotic nature of the public marketplace and human frailty.
Back then, everything was equally 'chaotic'; human frailty was greater and obtained within private dwelling places just as much as in the public market place.
Early rabbinic authorities appreciated that a purchaser of meat in a busy market is more prone to forgetting from whom he made his purchases.
I forget where I bought my bread. But if it hadn't been from a local shop or supermarket, I'd remember that. All we need is a habit of shopping responsible rather than dealing with shady vendors operating out of the back of a van.
The anxiety surrounding doubt as to the source of the meat and a responsive draconian rule requiring one to assume the worst when in doubt would disincentivize merchants from participating in public markets.
No it wouldn't. It would incentivize 'certification' which creates a 'separating equilibrium' which in turn incentivizes reputable vendors with scale and scope economies to enter the market in a big way. Before there was writing, there were seals which certified quality and quantity across a vast trading networks.
The earliest stratum of rabbinic law,
appears two or three thousand years after sophisticated trading networks and regulated markets had established themselves in the region
with great foresight and sensitivity, established a rule according to which the Jewish merchant can enter the marketplace armed with confidence that an entire system of laws would be implicated in any situation of legal doubt, and that this system of laws does not stringently require him to dispose of anything he purchased for which he does not have near certainty that it is kosher.
The problem with this view is that Jewish law developed later than norms of commercial activity. The distinction between 'booths' and 'stores' argues for a sophisticated economic life with specialist retail enterprises as well as the more traditional 'market day' stalls.
On its face, Halbertal is merely doing the work of a diligent philologist. He is tracing parallel sources, noting their discrepancies, and parsing their differences – a service of undoubtable value to scholars of early rabbinics. In fact, he is doing more than just making a philological scholarly contribution. He is also subtly demonstrating how a rule from Judaism’s foundational era has significant implications for early rabbinic values and priorities even as it was passed over by later Jewish legal authorities.
Philologists aren't required to be commercially savvy. Yet commerce predates written language by thousands of years. It is merely a legal fiction that first there is a principle and then there are cases where that principle applies. The truth is that the arrow of causality flies in the opposite direction.
Conducting a textual archeological dig of sorts, he unearths an early stratum of Jewish law that has been obscured by eighteen centuries of Jewish legal discourse. In doing so, he foregrounds a forgotten value that can rightly be called a founding principle of Jewish law. That value can be described as recognizing the power of doubt and destabilizing it in the face of religious-legal anxiety.
It appears that standardization and certification of tradable goods was a feature of very ancient civilizations like that of the Indus Valley which were in fact linked up to each other through international trade. As the Jews developed into a mercantile people, they, quite naturally, adopted the commercial law of other, more ancient nations and Empires. What was distinctive about Jewish legal reasoning was its 'game theoretic' embrace of 'defeasibility'. This meant that they were less reliant on exogenous rulings and had a 'principle of harmonious construction' such that 'in-group' transactions could burgeon without reliance on external enforcement mechanisms- i.e. appeal to non-Jewish judicial authorities. This is also a feature of other successful mercantile sects. What made Judaism exceptional was the quality of the intellect expended on such matters. As a result, we now have Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann- himself, no doubt, descended from Rabbinic scholars- finding Game Theory in the Talmud.
Halbertal provides another example of rabbinic sensitivity to the phenomenon of doubt, this time from the laws of purity and impurity. These laws, discussed extensively in the Hebrew Bible, have as their design the aim of segregation. If one is deemed impure because one has touched a corpse, for example, one is instructed to separate from society until the impurity is lifted. One’s own impurity is contagious and causes those with whom one comes into contact to become impure as well.
All ancient cultures had similar rules.
Thus, Biblical law created a stringent set of rules surrounding impurity, which early Jewish law further developed. But, as Halbertal deftly shows, it developed these laws with an unexpected twist.
One way of resolving doubts is by having a 'buck stopped' juristic process- i.e. a local court. It may be that centers of the Jewish diaspora competed with each other by making such juristic processes protocol bound and ratiocinative in a compelling and attractive manner. The extraordinary efflorescence of mathematical and scientific discovery among the Law Minded Ashkenazi may have some connection with their previous over-cultivation of Rabbinic reasoning. But that connection was negative for people like Solomon Maimon. Legalism needed to be dialled down so laws in nature could be discovered.
Early rabbinic law provided a system of rules for when one is in a state of doubt over whether one had touched an impure object.
So did Hinduism. The higher the pathogen load the more elaborate (and useless) such ritual rules are.
Because impurity was taken very seriously in the Hebrew Bible, early rabbinic law took great care to treat it with comparable seriousness (even as much of it was irrelevant in the era in which these laws were codified). Thus, when one is not sure whether one touched a corpse, early Jewish law mandates that one assume the worst; absent surety to the contrary, one who has doubt whether one came into contact with something impure must segregate from society.
This makes sense from the pathogen avoidance point of view. We must segregate returning astronauts coz everybody knows they are infested with alien viruses and will probably turn into shape shifting lizard people.
But, strangely, early rabbinic law inserted a wildly different rule for doubts regarding whether one came into contact with impurity in the public domain.
So as not to be reduced to a laughing stock.
There, the rule is flipped; one can assume the best and is deemed pure absent surety that one in fact did come into contact with impurity.
Coz everybody else is okay. What do you think is going to happen to me if I go to the shops? Will I turn into a werewolf?
Early Jewish law’s opposite rules for the private and public domain resulted in a peculiar outcome: if an elderly person on her death bed about whom there is uncertainty whether she is alive or dead is moved from her home to the public domain, she is considered alive and pure and anyone who touches her is deemed pure, too. But the moment she is moved back to her home, upon crossing the threshold she is considered dead and impure, and anyone who touches her is in turn deemed impure, as well.
Makes sense. If she's being moved out of her house for medical attention, or something similar, chances are she is alive. In any case, if she is dead, the fact will soon be apparent.
Halebrtal explains the disparate treatment of the private and public domain similarly to how he explains its divergent rules regarding the status of meat. The rationale governing these purity rules is that uncertainty should not trigger paralyzing religious dread such that one can no longer enter public spheres and interact with society.
The Jewish Religion, like other Religions, needed to instill 'overpowering religious dread' of entering the Holy Sanctuary when drunk or on a dare. But pathogen stress, too, militated for a common rule-set.
The rules pertaining to uncertainty with respect to the status of meat and impurity were thus designed, in Halbertal’s view, precisely to enable entering spaces that invite uncertainty – the market in the case of forbidden foods, and the public domain with respect to impurity.
The opposite is more likely. The necessity of entering public spaces, which were likely to be under foreign authority, would militate for Rabbis interpreting ritual law in a permissive manner
By bringing attention to the very first encounters with uncertainty in early rabbinic literature (the Mishna and Tosefta), Halbertal insightfully demonstrates the ways in which early Jewish legal authorities were keenly interested in “demarcate[ing] and limit[ing] the destabilizing power of doubt and fear of uncertainty.” The heaps of laws surrounding states of uncertainty – which Halbertal correctly describes as some of the most complex areas of Jewish law – were not designed, by virtue of their sheer volume and complexity, to increase anxiety but to quell it. Early rabbinic engagement with doubt was thus an expression of liberation, not legal bondage.
Or was driven by the simple desire for survival or not being disintermediated entirely.
Its intent was not to compound hair-splitting laws on top of likely never-to-be-experienced hypotheticals for the sake of burdening Jews with laws where none previously existed,
Yet, Solomon Maimon says this is exactly what was happening in Eighteenth Century Poland.
thereby adding to their already extensive repertoire of rules. Rather, this complex system was intended to free up the Jewish practitioner.
But just rejecting the thing and joining a Reform Synagogue was more effective.
The alternative to a system of norms surrounding legal doubts is not license to do as one pleases when confronted with doubt, but paralyzing religious anxiety.
Or ignoring the orthodox and doing well in life.
The default, according to Halbertal, is to assume the worst in any situation involving doubt. Thus, a merchant who frequents the public market and forgets from whom he purchased meat would err on the side of stringency – as did Jewish sectarians, in Halbertal’s estimation – and assume the meat is not kosher. The rabbinic rule that so long as fifty-one percent of the butchers at the market are Jewish, meat about which there is doubt is deemed kosher encourages societal engagement. With laws of doubt in place, one could enter the market confident that Jewish law allows for human error and provides a ready system of detailed and forgiving laws to which one could resort when needed.
Ultimately, the Law is a service industry. At the margin, jurisdiction shopping occurs. But tipping points may be reached where the thing simply disappears or is confined to a lunatic fringe.
Those concerned with Jewish law’s foundational period and the values on which it is premised will find in The Birth of Doubt not only an erudite scholarly study of some of the most complicated laws in rabbinic literature, but also a timely reflection on several important values – one of which is the early rabbinic agenda of advancing engagement with society.
The best way to engage with Society is to accept mainstream endoxa and mores. Surely that is not what Rabbinical Judaism proposes? Instead, it is a rational, protocol bound, juristic process which, under Diaspora conditions, had a competitive element. It is competition- which may appear as 'blind' and 'wasteful' as Evolution itself- which conquers Knightian Uncertainty through the burgeoning of co-evolved processes or mechanisms. However, as Robert Aumann pointed out, Rabbinical Judaism rejects unanimity- i.e. valorizes diversity as a source of robustness. I may add that it rejects the 'bat kol', the voice from Heaven which gives Certainty, preferring protocol bound ratiocinative mechanisms founded in Doubt. It also has a notion of 'halachah vein morin kein'- the law, which if known, forbids its own application. Nevertheless, as Solomon Maimon pointed out, Judaism has at times faced a problem of hypertrophying laws and regulations. Doubt itself, it seems, can have a paralyzing or fossilizing effect.
In The Birth of Doubt, Halbertal not only unearths a particular phenomenon regarding a few specific laws, but brings awareness to a gestalt that, if taken seriously, compels one to see early Jewish law in a different light.
Surely, it is preferable to see it in the same light as its current operation? Mussar ethics is itself a suave economia which finds equitable workarounds for a rigid akriebia.
It pushes one to reckon with its deep humanity and see it not as a draconian and exacting system of norms concerned only with obedience and perfection, but also as a deeply humanistic enterprise that took into serious consideration other human needs.
And, as such, is a reflection of God's care for Creation. The reason Judaism has survived is not because it is humanistic or rational or ethical. It is because God created the World and will populate the Hereafter according to His Lawful Will.
Saturday, 14 November 2020
Michael Wood on William Empson
Some 4 years ago, Prof Michael Wood, of Princeton wrote an article on 'Empson's intentions' in the LRB.
It is deflationary- not with any malign intention but in a judicious and reparative manner which is mindful of our ever mounting disdain for 'Theory' and the Academy's mindless enthusiasm for woke histrionics.
Wood's article begins with a quotation-
‘What is a hesitation, if one removes it altogether from the psychological dimension?’
Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem
The answer, cosmologically speaking, is that either there is a 'katechon', an impeder at work- like Shani, Saturn, in Indian astrology- or, for secular philosophy, there is a concurrency deadlock or livelock. Djikstra's philosophers starve to death before their discipline can arrive at a rule for sharing cutlery. But this has nothing to do with Poetry though in poetastering there may be a hesitation between, not 'sense and sound', but sonorousness and sententiousness to the degree that the thing is crap.
Unlike Philosophy, which loses itself in even a one dimensional maze, Psychology is an infinite dimensional configuration space with no Pauli Exclusion Principle. This is the unthought known which allows one to binge watch Netflix serials about time travelling werewolves while eating pizza and checking one's email.
Agamben, poor fellow, was a victim of his education. The cretin did not get that poetry predated theology. Or that Heidegger had shit for brains- German pedagogues, and all philosophers, generally do. To be fair, Agamben had little Maths background. But Empson did. That's why, his precocious, but meretricious, shite appeared authoritative to dimwits.
Empson, when young, seems to have taken the Buddhist route of rejecting pratibha- imaginative genius of a harmonious type- for kshanikavada chetana- staccato intentionality only compossible with a momentary Universe. Thus, though teaching in China, he didn't get 'shenyun' (dhvani) whose ineluctable modality is Time- which can be Buddhist as in kshana sampatti- because the only unambiguous 'ganying' inter-subjective, Muth Rational, field-theory is objectively Kairotic- i.e. solves a concurrency & a coordination problem in a timely manner.
Empson started off bright. He is a game-theoretic hermeneut avant la lettre. But his notion of intentionality- and therefore 'ambiguity'- is 'comparative statics'. Yet, Literature is a repeated game. Prof Wood should know. He has been playing it for longer than I have been alive. He writes-
There is a moment in William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity when he decides to linger in Macbeth’s mind. The future killer is trying to convince himself that murder might be not so bad a crime (for the criminal) if he could just get it over with.
Fuck off! This is a Cockney satire on the- canny-too-canny, and therefore so unspared by the uncanny as to become almost lovable for child-like- valorous, vainglorious, singular and unequivocal Scot!
This is about as unreal as a thought could be,
Nonsense! It is as real, for arising out of an objective perturbation- a 'ganying' of the mimetic field- as any self-fulfilling prediction could be.
coming from a man who seems to have been plotting murder even before he allowed himself consciously to think of it,
Coz of dem witches, dude!
and whose whole frame of mind is haunted by what he calls consequence, the very effect he imagines it would be so nice to do without.
But the same shit goes down when you contemplate finishing off the bottle of Single Malt or ordering a phal curry. Why make such heavy weather of it?
The speech begins
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly:
this is the canting element to the canny Scotsman who, precisely because he is Scottish, has a conscience as funny, but functional, as his kilt
if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success ...
and this the declasse aspect to Scottish Paideia, the porridge of whose scandalously cheap Universities, would poison the long Eighteenth Century, which only ended, in the South, when Oxbridge started doling out degrees in Eng Lit.
Empson takes us through the passage with great spirit,
but with the spirit of a Wykehamist gone to the bad
commenting on every line and its spinning, hissing meanings, and then alights on a single word:
And catch, the single little flat word among these monsters,
Fuck off! That's Ketch. The Devil. Sixty years later a hangman named Richard Jacquet was given the sobriquet Jack Ketch coz...Devil dun ketch u rite? Ah! but what if the fletch of your arrow repel that ketch? Won' Devil be vex?
China, or Princeton, are bad places to philologize the work of a Grammar School Oik or an immigrant Curry & Chips Cockney poet like wot I iz.
'Catch' was associated with both Legalistic fraud and the 'Wild Hunt' of the chase. It does not 'name an action' here. Rather it asks if, with Duncan's death, Devilry would cease to direct things. Could Ketch be caught out by a catch?
Empson, shithead that he was, says 'catch
names an action;
coz Macbeth was the Goalie of the Celtic Rangers right? Shakespeare was writing about a Soccer Match.
it is a mark of human inadequacy to deal with these matters of statecraft,
fuck that's supposed to mean? Humans do statecraft. They may be inadequate in this respect, at least when compared to Unicorns or Dragons but- most of the time- they aint as fucking stupid as this Empson Salts of a diarrhoeac academic availability cascade.
Statecraft gets done by adult humans. Empson thought it had something to do with
a child snatching at the moon as she rides thunderclouds.
How fucking stupid was that cunt? Why is Prof. Wood quoting this shite? Is it coz studying Eng Lit rots your brain?
The meanings cannot all be remembered at once, however often you read them; it remains the incantation of a murderer, dishevelled and fumbling among the powers of darkness.
Nonsense! The meanings are remembered all at once by any fucking Londoner wot puts on a Scottish accent to recite these lines for the price of a pint.
It is an act of alert critical reading
to fuck up so completely.
to spot the action word
which is 'quickly'. Catching aint important. Stabbing the old geezer in an expeditious manner is what is of the essence.
among the proliferating concepts;
there are no 'proliferating concepts'. There is a macho Scots guy fucking up in a stereotypical manner- at least as far as us Cockneys are concerned.
and generous to suggest that Macbeth, crazed and ambitious as he is, even as he contemplates the killing of his king, can still represent a more ordinary human disarray among matters that are too large, too consequential for us.
Even in Shakespeare's time, there were neighbourhoods where every 'playa' was thinking, like Macbeth, about whether this was the right moment to stab the Boss. Does Prof. Wood not have HBO? Did he not, at least, when my age, watch the Godfather Movies? Empson may have been a Wykehamist shithead. But he lived in Warlord era China.
Alert too to see that Shakespeare represents this case not only dramatically but also through his character’s choice of an individual word. But then to call the other words ‘monsters’, to identify the small verb as a ‘child’, and to introduce the moon and the thunderclouds, is to create a whole separate piece of verbal theatre, and to create something scarcely recognisable as criticism. And when at the end of the passage Empson widens his frame, returns to Macbeth’s full, anxious meditation, he continues the same double practice. He sees our failure to grasp all the meanings as an achieved Shakespearean effect and not a readerly shortcoming; and he finds a figure of speech for the character and the situation. The word becomes a whole passage, the child becomes a fumbling and dishevelled magician, and the moon and thunderclouds become the powers of darkness.
So, Wood agrees that Empson wrote shite. But that was the nature of his discipline.
What is happening here? Empson would say, too modestly, that this is descriptive criticism – as distinct from the analytic kind. But he is not describing anything.
But he is writing something which looks like the sort of shite you should put down to get a First in a joke of a subject.
It is not impressionistic criticism either, an attempt to evoke the feelings the work arouses in the reader, although this is closer to the mark.
Because it is shite.
Empson is tracing a pattern of thought, and finding metaphors for the behaviour of a piece of language.
Thoughts may have a pattern. But thought does not. 'A piece of language' is a metaphor. Finding another metaphor for the same thing won't make it any more or less real.
Empson’s writing reminds us (we do forget such things) that characters in plays are made of words, they are what they say,
Nonsense! Even in Radio dramas, characters aren't what they say. They are what they are depicted as doing.
or more precisely they are what we make of what they say,
This may be true of an orator, not an actor
and his metaphors bring the life of these words incredibly close to us.
only in a manner of speaking. One could, with equal truth or greater impressiveness, say 'his metaphors bite like a zombie rendering homely words, humbly going about their business in neighborhood streets, into Hamlet's hordes of the dead from whom the English fled. '
The child snatches and Macbeth fumbles; but the child is herself a verb; and Macbeth is a man using words to keep his mind away from a deed.
Or a verb is itself a child which snatches. A Noun is itself a Man who fumbles to keep his mind away from a deed. Why drag Macbeth into a parade of pseudo-profundity of this sort? The fact is, Macbeth is gripping. It is good theater. There are Japanese and Bollywood adaptations of it. Why? Because it is psychological, not philosophical at all.
William Empson was born in Yorkshire in 1906 and died in London in 1984. He studied mathematics then English at Cambridge, wrote poems and plays, acted, reviewed films and books. After leaving Cambridge he worked as a freelance writer in London for two years before going to Japan, in 1931, to teach at Tokyo University, where he stayed until 1934. He spent three years back in England before joining the exiled universities in China. During the war he worked in London for the BBC Overseas Service, returning to China for a few years after the war. In 1953, he became an English professor at the University of Sheffield, where he worked until his retirement in 1971.
He published a collection of verse simply called Poems in 1935; another called The Gathering Storm in 1940; and his Collected Poems in 1949. He also published several works of criticism: Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930); Some Versions of Pastoral (1935); The Structure of Complex Words (1951); and Milton’s God (1961). In both poetry and prose Empson has the attractive ability to make paradoxes sound as if they are not paradoxes at all, just bits of moderately complicated thinking of the sort anyone needs to do now and again.
But type theory can resolve any paradox. Kids learn this almost immediately. Parents say 'you're a kid. I'm an adult. Rules that apply to you don't apply to me. We belong to different types.'
There was a minor vogue in the 1970s and early 1980s for associating Empson with French theory, with deconstruction specifically, but Empson himself would have none of it.
Few Englishmen of the period would give Heidegger the time of day.
When Christopher Norris sent him some writings by Derrida and others, Empson said he thought ‘those horrible Frenchmen’ were ‘so very disgusting, in a simple moral or social way, that I cannot stomach them’. He also managed, perhaps unintentionally, to invent a new Frenchman: Jacques Nerrida. What Empson found disgusting was the quest, as he saw it, for complexity for complexity’s sake, a project that was ‘always pretending to be plumbing the very depths’ but in reality was only congratulating itself on its cleverness. Above all he took it – this was in 1971 – as just one more instance of what he saw as happening to the study of language and literature everywhere: the human stakes were being removed, words were playing among themselves, no agents or intentions were to be seen.
And yet it is the foul intentions of the fetid French which has dug the entrenchments of this no man's land where artillery shells mis-mate in flight.
And yet Empson’s work, for all his denials, connects him strongly to most major 20th-century movements of criticism and theory in English and other languages – not because of his influence on them or their influence on him, but because his preoccupations are central to any sort of ongoing thought about literature.
Or because this is a worthless subject adversely selective of cretinous pseuds.
We can’t tie him securely to any style or approach, but we can’t get around him either: he will always be in the way.
Only if we study this shite or teach it for a living.
Empson is often thought of, correctly, as one of the founders of the New Criticism, as it came to be called in the United States, and he is certainly the most brilliant close reader the movement produced.
But, as Wood has noted, still shit.
But as close reading, a fabulous classroom device, became more and more of an established method, it turned less historical and less speculative, until finally it seemed unable to refer to anything other than the words on the page, or to allow the belief that anything existed beyond the page.
The exam existed beyond the page and beyond the exam a dissertation and beyond that a lifetime of writing and reading worthless shite.
In 1946 W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley wrote an important essay called ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, claiming among other things that ‘the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.’
True enough. The design and intention of my novels is fucking awesome. Sadly, I'm a terrible riter and can't spell gud. Also, I don't actually know anything about India. I just make all that Gunga Din stuff up.
The piece was and remains enormously useful for the ways in which it helps us to resist lazy critical confusions of life and art, and reductive notions of causality.
But everybody else already does that!
It also reminds us of an easily buried fact: the road to terrible work in literature or any other art is paved with excellent intentions. Intention may be where things begin – although accident too is a promising start – but the result includes quite a few other ingredients. But then the phrase ‘neither available nor desirable’, dogmatic as good polemical announcements need to be, doesn’t stand up to any sort of nuanced consideration. An author’s design or intention is sometimes completely known and quite enlightening; sometimes far too blunt and entirely distracting. In some cases we shall never know it but desperately wish we could. In others we are delighted that we don’t. Many authors are articulate but distinctly evasive about intention, and unconscious intentions lurk all over the place. There is no general rule here, one simply has to do the work of reading and thinking.
Intentions aren't knowable if we are speaking of Art as opposed to the literary equivalent of getting down on all fours and barking or purring. Why? Evolution has a good reason to deny us a 'Momus window' into the heart. To evade a predator or parasite we must be 'unhackable'.
For Empson, though, the doctrine of the intentional fallacy, which he liked to call the Wimsatt Law, was a rule. It said we were not to think of authors at all, literature was to be cleanly separated from the messy world of appetite and argument and intended meaning. He thought the rule was the bane of literary studies in the second half of the 20th century, and he was almost as obsessed with its noxious effects as he was with what he saw as the invasion of English and American universities by hordes of Christian critics.
Invasion? The ancient Universities were set up to train Christian clerics.
The Wimsatt Law, according to Empson, ‘lays down that no reader can grasp the intention of any author’, or with a slight variation, ‘says that no reader can ever grasp the intention of an author’. Since he thinks this proposition is both nonsensical and harmful, Empson is inclined to parody it as well as simplify it, as in ‘a reader must never understand the intention of an author’ or his sarcastic suggestion that a 17th-century audience ‘could not foresee that Mr Wimsatt was going to make a law forbidding them to grasp the intention of an author’.
But 17th century audiences were aware that a good Christian, intent on clarifying dogma, might be discovered, to his great chagrin, to have strayed into heresy. Indeed, this fear was ancient. To write things down in a book is not just to put a sword into the hands of a child, it is to put one's soul in jeopardy of the Sin against the Holy Ghost.
‘We must consider the experiences and convictions of the poet,’ Empson insists; follow ‘the main lines of interest of the author’; and to tell students of literature that they ‘cannot even partially succeed’ in doing this is ‘about the most harmful thing you could do’.
If you were doing something utterly useless.
Going out on a rather strange limb, Empson is willing to say that faking biographical evidence is ‘more humane than the refusal to admit help from biography, or any intention in the author’. This parti pris allows Empson to indulge in the guessing logic of so many bad biographers. Marvell ‘would have remembered a similar occasion’, ‘would feel ashamed of what he had done’. Yeats ‘must have loved such a toy when he was about ten years old’. ‘It seems clear that [T.S. Eliot’s] mother had refused to sleep under the same roof as the wife.’ But the passion that tilts these arguments is interesting, and we need to look at a wider range of Empson’s views to understand its force.
Very true! The passion depicted by Mia Khalifa is interesting and we need to view more of her work on Pornhub to understand its force. Spoiler alert. She always keeps her glasses on- a sensible thing to do if your job involves getting jizzed upon incessantly. Interestingly, many Professors of Eng Lit wear glasses.
The most blatant example of Empson’s breaking the Wimsatt Law is also the funniest and the most illuminating. To understand Hamlet, he thinks, we must go back to ‘the moment of discovery by Shakespeare’. This would have happened when Shakespeare’s company took on a Hamlet play by Thomas Kyd (or someone else), and didn’t know what to do with it because they were aware that this creaking old revenge stuff was desperately out of fashion. Shakespeare would have thought of the rewrite as ‘a pretty specialised assignment, a matter, indeed, of trying to satisfy audiences who demanded a Revenge play and then laughed when it was provided’. Still, he carried on.
I think he did not see how to resolve this problem at the committee meeting, when the agile Bard was voted to carry the weight, but already did see how when walking home ... He thought: ‘The only way to shut this hole is to make it big. I shall make Hamlet walk up to the audience and tell them, again and again, “I don’t know why I’m delaying any more than you do; the motivation of this play is just as blank to me as it is to you; but I can’t help it.” What is more, I shall make it impossible for them to blame him. And then they daren’t laugh.’ It turned out, of course, that this method, instead of reducing the old play to farce, made it thrillingly life-like and profound.
Empson’s idea of Shakespeare’s ‘method’ makes the film Shakespeare in Love look like a documentary, and the touch about walking home is marvellous. But is he serious? Yes and no, but I find it impossible to measure the respective doses. He is serious about considering the ‘moment of discovery’, and about the reading of the play involved in the fiction he creates. Hamlet does talk as if he knew he was caught up in a terrible old play. The rest, the committee meeting, the ventriloquised author’s soliloquy, is bravura filling-in of comic detail: critical theatre. I don’t know – our subject is guessed-at intention after all – how comic Empson meant the detail to be.
Empson was telling a story. It wasn't as good as Stephen Daedalus's story but Empson was no Joyce. Still, for a pedagogue, it was passable.
In other moods, Empson was willing to admit that Wimsatt and Beardsley’s argument had ‘a kind of flat good sense about it, because it is hard to know how we do learn each other’s intentions’. But then he was adamant that this difficulty was no excuse for not trying to get into an author’s head. On the contrary, it means we have to try harder. ‘There is no metaphysical reason ... for treating the intentions of an author as inherently unknowable.’
Sure. The problem is that some people have the sort of theory of mind which means they can tell really good stories about storytellers and how they got the idea for the stories they told.
The most important thing in these arguments is an element that is present everywhere in Empson but only occasionally stressed. Understanding literature is not different from understanding anything else: ‘We do it all the time.’
We turn on the tap all the time but when the water isn't flowing we have to call a plumber. Understanding plumbing is different from just turning a tap. Similarly, for any given level of linguistic competence, there is always someone who can help us plumb further depths in a text.
Norris puts this very well when he says that ‘Empson’s books all seek, in different ways, to make terms between poetry and the normal conditions of language and commonsense discourse,’ and that ambiguity, for example, ‘belongs to a normal, not a uniquely poetic order of thought and language’. Making terms usually means making sense, and one of Empson’s rather tangled claims engages the Wimsatt Law in a truly intriguing way.
Any speaker, when a baby, wanted to understand what people meant, why mum was cross for example, and had enough partial success to go on trying; the effort is usually carried on into adult life, though not always into old age. Success, it may be argued, is never complete. But it is nearer completeness in a successful piece of literature than in any other use of language.
What people mean has to do with the means by which they stop wanting to mean that thing. Thus, the beautiful lady who pours me a pint means 'pay me five pounds when she says 'that will be five smackers luv'. I am completely successful in understanding what she means when I hand over a five pound note. She smiles and goes away. If I try planting five smackers on her luscious lips she beats me viciously. I have failed completely in understanding her.
Literature, on the other hand, isn't meant to be understood with complete success. Indeed, it is at its best when, like love, it isn't understood at all but you like how it makes you feel. There are songs in a foreign language which enchant you. Then you learn the words and discover the thing is tawdry. The good news is it needn't be. There is poetry in that language which could have the same effect. What is surprising is that learning the aesthetic philosophy that informs that language may turn what once appeared tawdry into the thing which first you heard.
‘Partial’ and ‘usually’ make clear the practice is common but not universal, and the remark about old age is a mildly mischievous joke. But the conclusion is startling. In the very region where we might think, from our own experience, from the long, conflictive history of literary criticism, and indeed from Empson’s own work, that it has always been hardest to ‘understand what people meant’, success is less partial than anywhere else. The author’s intention is closer than anyone else’s to being fully available.
Harry Frankfurt defined 'bullshit' as speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. In England we use the milder term 'waffle' for what is happening here. You could with equal impressiveness say Literature is where intention is most transparent or where it is most occluded. Literature has no intentionality. It has nothing else. It is pure design. It is wholly aleatory. It is the prayer of the agnostic, the doubt that redeems Faith. It is my neighbor's cat. It is my cat's neighbor. Literary criticism is in the neighborhood of cattiness. Texts are the neighborliness of the cat, sunning itself on the roof of the garden shed across from your study window, which, for some reason, is always looking straight at you as, with increasing inebriation, you ring the changes on Saqi and Nadim, Li Po and the Moon.
The reason for literature’s success in this respect is everywhere in Empson’s writing, often lost in the noise he is making about what he doesn’t like in current literary study, but finally not at all far from Wimsatt and Beardsley’s claim, or that of most good criticism, new or old. The completed work is the test of intention, or as Empson says, ‘you must rely on each particular poem to show you the way in which it is trying to be good.’ If we combine this statement with his remark that ‘the judgment of the author may be wrong,’ it is hard to see what the quarrel is about. Hard, but not impossible. For the same reason that he would rather have a faked biography than no biography, Empson would rather guess at the contents of an author’s mind than leave the author out of the story. This is what he says in his quieter moments: ‘I would not mind agreeing, as a verbal formula, that the intention of an author can always only be guessed at, so long as it is also agreed that the guess ... should always be made.’ And rather more loudly: ‘If critics are not to put up some pretence of understanding the feelings of the author in hand they must condemn themselves to contempt.’
Or despise themselves the more for not being so condemned. The alternative is getting woke. One must seethe with indignation that texts exist at all and that pedagogues are chained to them like galley slaves. The literary canon is part and parcel of the Biblical katechon which restrains the lawless nature of Capitalist life from revealing itself in all its naked obscenity.
If we borrow the figure of the death of the author, we could imagine Barthes and Empson staring at each other as if in a mirror, without either of them knowing who the mirrored figure is.
because people looking in a mirror seldom have any clue as to who it is they are seeing. I suppose a short sighted guy with books on his brain may think he is looking at some famous author. But if authors are dead, this can't be the case. So, contra Wood, we can't imagine Barthes and Empson looking at each other as if in a mirror rather than a bath-house.
Barthes thought the author had to be seen as dead so that writing could be rescued from the tyranny of gossip and academic pedantry,
Coz nobody gossips about the dead- right?
and be properly read for its own sake – Calvino wanted to see writing as a machine for much the same reasons.
So he too did not know that people gossip a lot about the dead. Incidentally, writing may be done by a machine, it isn't itself a machine.
But then Barthes later came to see he couldn’t do without the author, that he ‘desired’ this figure, as he said, that he had to construct or imagine an author in order to trace out certain meanings – ironies, for example.
But one can also do this looking at clouds and the patterns they form and the stories they encode as light leaches from the sky.
This was a way of discreetly letting intention back into criticism – as an invited guest rather than a police presence.
So Literary Criticism is the same thing as seeing patterns in the clouds. Intentions are invited to suffuse the sky-scape. Then Night falls. Netflix beckons.
Conversely, Empson never thought of intention as a police presence, only as the fallible but indispensable human source of any writing that matters.
Sadly, writing qua writing, whatever its intentions, does not matter at all. The machine grinds down its ghost. In the vast and echoing inedia of the Spirit, writing inscribes itself as a cheeky fart of which, invoking hauntology, only a Spivak would say 'Daramburam bhyam naasthi. Nishabdam prana sankatam'.