Monthly Archives: December 2015

Burnt Offerings to the God of Talk

858599_10152620535600570_1778003578_oIf we’re going to philosophize, it’s going to involve walking or wine—fresh air, sunlight, and sky—laughter, gossip, and small talk. Sure, we’ll talk about God, Death, and the Human Condition, but also that outfit she wore last night to the Oscars. Sure, we’ll talk about Injustice, Impermanence, and Imperialism, but also blue butterflies from Baie-d’Urfé, purple tomatoes from Santropol Roulant, and red boots from Fluevog. Sure, we’ll talk about Plato, Nietzsche, and that new one by Naomi Klein, but also TV shows like Game of ThronesThe Good Wife, & Orange is the New Black. Sure, we’ll talk about Climate Change, Trump, and Aleppo, but we’re also gonna talk about the kids, Meredith’s new place on Rue Chambord and the vicissitudes of rooftop gardening in a hipster homestead. Truth be told, there’s nothing we won’t throw on the campfire of our conversation, nothing we won’t sacrifice on the altar, nothing that won’t be offered up as a burnt offering to the God of Talk, a deity who delights in frivolity and fanfare, a deity whose Holy of Holies can be found wherever people gather to tweet like parakeets, and groom each other like chimpanzees, a deity who can see the beauty in the pointless privileged prattle of a Jane Austen novel.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Musing on the Middle Class

The middle class is an inherently unstable construct, it seems to me. It is easier to be poor or wealthy than to leverage oneself safely into an awkward place between the two (a place that is awkward because it requires the suppression of natural volatility: the nature of success is to be volatile, to overturn systems, to reward populations asymmetrically). The middle class in the US was built most recently on a widespread need for relatively cheap labor that has evaporated (as the market has naturally evolved to include more players, driving prices up and down to destroy the conditions that made the 20th century so nice in hindsight).

Today we have more people than ever, and we need fewer (to perform the old tasks that used to make a large number of our parents and grandparents members of the middle class). Our immediate economic future is not going to be a repeat of the immediate past. Nobody is going to invent a policy that magically allows us to keep living in the 1950s on an endless recursive loop (pretending that things don’t change, that we can build a system that will be immortal and non-volatile). The message of the market is historically consistent over the long term: evolve or die, and every system dies eventually. The question is not how to become immune to death, but how to die best (with the least amount of painful blowback: there will always be blowback, and it will always be painful, especially for that delicate flower that is the middle class).

—Joseph Gresham Miller

The Erotics of Christian Mysticism

Thus speaks God the Lover:
Blessèd are they which do hunger and thirst
after not righteousness, but me.
Blessèd are they who know that my springtime heart desires
not holiness and contrition, but goosebumps on the skin
and butterflies in the belly.

The mystics all knew, those beautiful mossy flowers,
that God the Father is a woman in a tight black dress:
a coquettish deity, who flirts shamelessly with the young:
making lovers of the impetuous who lack prudence
and are not frugal with regards to joy.

To these it is given to enter the Holy of Holies,
to bathe in the sweet candlelit waters of eternal life,
to touch the warm face of God in the secret of Her presence,
to be swallowed up and enveloped by a sacred Yes and Amen.

But alas, like Fortuna, God the Lover is a capricious deity
who forsakes all of her lovers sooner or later:
slipping out suddenly, inexplicably, quietly,
like a thief in the night.
She dashes her lover’s soul upon the rocks
like the delicate head of an unwanted baby,
exposed on a hillside, in some terrible bygone era.

Oh, Paul, how bitter you became!
Oh, Jesus, how heartbroken you must have been,
when you uttered those chilling words from The Cross:
“Lover, lover, why have you abandoned me?”

What is The Bible, if not the annals
of the scorned lovers of God?

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

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Duccio di Buoninsegna, Maesta, particolare della Crocifissione, 1308-1311

Quand un nuage avale une montagne

Ce matin, j’ai corrigé les devoirs de mes étudiants, perché dans un nuage au sommet du Mont-Royal. Loin au-dessus de la ville que j’aime, disparue en contrebas, je me suis senti comme un dieu olympien — mais un dieu retraité, qui en aurait eu assez de se prendre pour le nombril de l’Histoire et le roi de la montagne. Fini pour lui toute la comédie de mâle alpha et oméga. Fini le courroux, la foudre et l’éclair. Fini le grand bureau, le costume viril et les avantages corporatifs. Il aurait échangé tout ça contre un cours de cuisine, un abonnement à Netflix et un amour des papillons. Puis se serait fait professeur de théâtre au secondaire, front dégarni, soulier fatigué et haleine de café.

C’est le genre de truc, voyez-vous, qui peut arriver aux professeurs et aux dieux, quand un nuage avale une montagne.

—John Faithful Hamer, Montréalais de souche, 2017
(traduit de l’anglais par Jean-Benoît Rainville)

When a Cloud Swallows a Mountain

IMG_6087I graded in the clouds this morning, far above the city I love, feeling like an Olympian God: a retired Olympian God, who grew tired, one day, of his own world-historical significance. He just wasn’t feeling it anymore. Just wasn’t for him: the whole Alpha-Male, King-of-the-Mountain thing. So he traded in the corner-office, the power-suit and the perks, for a cooking class, some Netflix, and a love of butterflies. He gave up the whole thunder-and-lightning, Angry-Sky-God thing, to become a high-school drama teacher, with a receding hairline, coffee breath, and brown leather shoes. This is what happens, you see, when a cloud swallows a mountain.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Herding Fanatics

“Political Islam is not anti-imperialist, even if its militants think otherwise. It is an invaluable imperialist ally … Political Islam has always counted in its ranks the ruling classes of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan … Political Islam is not the spontaneous result of authentic religious convictions … Political Islam was constructed systematically by imperialism, supported of course, by obscurantist reactionary forces and subservient comprador classes.”  Samir Amin.

Religious fanatics are easy to manipulate, so people with agendas in problematic areas (like Afghanistan) turn to them when they need naive dupes. Islam (like Christianity, Judaism, Marxism, etc.) is not a religion of stupidity any more than it is a religion of war. But it can become a tool for manipulating stupid people, especially when those people are desperate (which makes us all stupider: put us in dire straits, and we start trying stunts we would never pull ordinarily). The fundamental problem is that every single historical civilization creates and relies upon hordes of stupid people (some naive, some desperate, the most dangerous both).  Society is always creating people with naive expectations, and then shoving them towards leaders who promise to deliver.

I think of the funeral speech of Pericles as remembered by Thucydides. “I want you to fall in love with Athens,” the demagogue says. Later fanatics will have a similar message (desiring us to love society, the nation, the people, and so forth). The simple fact of the matter is that love makes people stupid, especially when it is directed toward incoherent abstractions whose most coherent shape in human history is the process known as war (a mass of folk get together to attack or resist other masses of folk: all of them kiss flags, salute the emperor, shed tears for the fatherland / motherland, invoke the gods, babble about abstractions like liberty or tyranny, etc.).

A more honest Pericles: “I want you all to get really, really drunk, and then bet your life that I know what the fuck I am doing.” Sounds like Trump.

—Joseph Gresham Miller

 

The Great Ice Storm of 1998

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During the prolonged power outage caused by The Great Ice Storm of 1998, we huddled together by candle light with our friends and family, playing Scrabble, Asshole, and Hearts.

Though he’s normally an obnoxious loudmouth who dominates the household conversation, and refuses to let anyone else get a word in edgewise, Mr. T.V. was deliciously silent during the Ice Storm. Same is true of F.M. & A.M. & P.C.

Sailors who succumb to the sweet soporific song sung by the sexy Siren sisters rarely live to tell the tale—and yet here we all were: wide awake, asleep no longer, strangely sober for a spell.

Looking back at the foreign country of our pre-Ice Storm lives, we all wondered (sometimes aloud): What were we thinking? My God! What the fuck were we thinking? When did we decide that sleepwalking through midlife—at breakneck speed—was better than this: this warmly-lit world filled with friendly faces and quiet spaces?

If I ever wake up, I’ll tell you.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Richie Riches in Self-Made Drag

Should we be defined by what we’ve done in the world or by what the world has done to us?

765425Choosing the terrain on which you meet your enemy is of paramount importance. The three truly great treatises on the art of war—Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Art of War (1521), Carl von Clausewitz’s On War (1832), and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War—are in agreement on this: battles are won before the fighting even starts by wise leaders who know which terrain plays to their strengths and which terrain plays to their weaknesses. I witnessed this often on the battlefield of the graduate school seminar.

Though we all paid lip-service to the Hydra-Headed God of Intersectionality, when it really came down to it, the working-class white guys who grew up poor (like me) would invariably (and, in retrospect, rather predictably) try to steer the seminar discussion towards a CLASS analysis of whatever we were talking about (even when it really didn’t fit); the middle-class white women tried to steer the seminar discussion towards a GENDER analysis of whatever we were talking about; and the visible minority students tried (often, alas, in vain) to get us to remember RACE.

Sometimes it felt like we were trapped in a perverse academic version of The Olympic Games, wherein we were all being forced to compete for a gold medal in BEING A VICTIM. At other times it felt like we were trapped in a dystopian intellectual version of The Hunger Games, wherein we were all being forced to tear each other apart to survive. Alas, it’s easy to see all of this as horribly cynical. But, truth be told, I doubt any of us were consciously trying to be manipulative. Privilege is, after all, for the most part invisible to those who possess it. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find a wealthy white woman who only seems to see sexism. Nor should we be surprised to find a middle-class African-American man who only seems to see racism. Be that as it may, a military man like Machiavelli might suggest that me and my fellow graduate students were all, albeit unwittingly, fighting for the higher ground.

On an actual battlefield, the high ground is usually the most desirable position. Sun Tzu stresses this, time and again: the fighting force that fails to identify and seize control of the high ground is almost always forced into a reactive, defensive position. Opportunities for offensive action are highly circumscribed. By contrast, the fighting force that occupies the high ground gets to set the terms of the engagement.

On the battlefield of the graduate school seminar, the moral high ground is the most desirable position. A graduate student who fails to identify and seize control of the moral high ground is forced into a reactive, defensive position (e.g., trying to prove that she’s really not a racist, that he’s really not a sexist pig, etc.). By contrast, the students that successfully come to occupy the moral high ground in the graduate seminar get to set the terms of the engagement. It’s a powerful position. No doubt about that. But I wonder if it’s really worth fighting for. Should we be defined, first and foremost, by what we’ve done in the world OR by what the world has done to us?

Highborn patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher unwittingly inaugurated a pernicious political tradition when he reinvented himself as Joe Average to get elected in 59 BCE. Our upper class is filled with Richie Riches masquerading as self-made men. In fact, my guess is that the number of rich people who conceal their privileged origins in 21st-century America is roughly equivalent to the number of noblemen who hid their humble origins in ancien-régime France. My friend Clayton Bailey refers to this process as “privilege laundering”. Ambitious social climbers used to invent aristocratic ancestors; these days, they fabricate histories of oppression and talk incessantly about their underprivileged ancestors. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)