Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Freud by Elisabeth Roudinesco

The adjective “anti-Semitic” had appeared for the first time in Germany in 1860, used by an eminent Orientalist Jew from Bohemia to characterize a prejudice against those who were referred to at the time no longer as Jews but by the learned word “Semites.” In the face of this new form of hatred, the great emancipation movement of Haskalah*, born of the Enlightenment, risked appearing henceforth as a sort of interlude. Denounced up to that point for belonging to a religion, the Jews were now denounced as belonging to a “race”: that of the Semites. In 1879, the word left the sphere of scholarly debates among philologists  to constitute, in the vocabulary of the undistinguished publicist Wilhelm Marr, the kernel of a new world view, that of anti-Semitism.

Advocated by recently formed leagues, this vision ended up embodied in a movement that aimed to expel German Jews and send them to Palestine, and to stigmatize them as a class that was “dangerous” for the purity of the Germanic, or “Aryan,” race. In a few short years, during the period leading up to the First World War, anti-Semitism spread throughout Europe in many different variants: biological, hygienist, racialist, and nationalist.

Confronted during his university years with this mutation of anti- Judaism into anti-Semitism, Freud increasingly identified with the hero of his youth: the Semitic general Hannibal. During the entire period of his studies, Freud scorned those who labeled him a ‘dirty Jew” or who expected him to recognize his ‘racial inferiority”: on several occasions he did not hesitate to raise his walking stick to drive off the rabble that had peppered him with insults. In counterpoint, he cultivated the idea that by being excluded, as a Jew, from the “compact majority,” he would be capable of preserving an independence of judgment that would enable him to defend himself more effectively against prejudices. Freud had very little taste for the “liturgies of the social body, the protesting choirs, the anonymous slogans chanted blindly.”

 Aware, as Spinoza had been, of his status as heir to a people that had soldered its historical unity not so much by the sacred doctrine of election as by the hatred it aroused on the part of other nations, he thus made his pride in being Jewish an intensely powerful ferment for resistance to all conformism.

His  encounter with Charcot** was also decisive. Not only because the latter’s conception of hysteria had opened up new perspectives on psychic life and the reality of human sexuality, but because the master belonged to a line of scientists whose influence extended well beyond the confines of the academy. Known throughout the world, Charcot was first and above all a ‘seer’ endowed with an imaginative power in perfect harmony with Freud’s most extravagant dreams. Had he not gone so far, even as he was severing hysterias from any reference to an anatomical substratum, as to whisper in the ear of the young Freud, in love and convinced of his own talent, that even the most pertinent theory remains powerless in the face of a reality that contradicted it? “Theory is good; but it doesn’t prevent things from existing”: Freud would always remember this categorical imperative.

For all the scientists of the period, in Europe and North America, the study of sexuality was the great question of the century to come, and hysteria seemed to be its key element, a focus of interest far beyond the debates among specialists. And it is undeniable that Charcot was not only a master for Freud: he was the master through whom an entire continent had been conquered, the continent of sexuality.

Even if every new discipline owes its pronouncements to a ‘founding father’, this father instituted a discursivity that cannot belong to him alone, since, if it is rational, it engenders an infinite possibility of discourses capable of being reinterpreted in their turn. Freud himself was uncertain what his own legacy would be: “ No critic can see more clearly than I  the disproportion there is between the problems and my answers to them, and it will be a fitting punishment for me that none of the unexplored regions of the mind  in which I have been the first mortal to set foot will ever bear my name or submit to my laws.”

[This fate I pictured to myself as follows: I should probably succeed in sustaining myself through the therapeutic successes of the new procedure (psycho-analysis), but science would take no notice of me during my lifetime. Some decades later, some would surely stumble upon the same, now untimely things, compel their recognition and thus, bring me to honor as a forerunner, whose misfortune was inevitable. Meanwhile, I arrayed myself as comfortably as possible like Robinson Crusoe on my lonely island. When I look back on those lonely years, from the perplexities and pressure of the present, it seems to me like a beautiful and heroic era. The ‘splendid isolation” was not lacking in advantages and in charms, I did not have to read any of the medical literature or listen to any of my ill-informed opponents. I was subject to no influences, and no pressure was brought to bear on me. I learned to restrain speculative tendencies and, following the unforgotten advice of my master, Charcot, I looked at the same things again and again until they, themselves, began to talk to me.. My publications, for which I found shelter despite some difficulty, could safely remain far behind my state of knowledge. They could be postponed as long as I pleased.

I was saved from becoming embittered by a circumstance that does not come to the assistance of all lonely discoverers. Such a person usually torments himself with a need to discover the cause of the lack of sympathy or of the rejection from his contemporaries, and perceives them as a painful contradiction against the certainty of his own conviction. That did not trouble me, for the psycho-analytic principles enabled me to understand this environment as a necessary consequence of fundamental analytic theories. If it was true that the connections I had discovered were kept from the knowledge of the patients by inner affective resistances, then these resistances would be sure to manifest themselves also in normal persons as soon as the repressed material is conveyed to them from the outside. It was not strange that they should know how to motivate their affective rejections of my ideas on intellectual grounds. This happened just as often in the patients, and the arguments advanced – arguments are as common as blackberries, as Falstaff’s speech puts it – were just the same and not exactly brilliant. The only difference was that with the patients, one had the means of bringing pressure to bear in order to induce them to recognize and overcome their resistances, but in the case of those seemingly normal, such help had to be omitted.

Concerned with hygienics, nosography, and the description of “aberrations,” the major sexologists of the late nineteenth century – Krafft-Ebing, Albert Moll, and Havelock Ellis- were less preoccupied with therapeutics than with erudite research into the various forms of sexual practices and identities: homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, pedophilia, zoophilia, and so on. In short, they were interested first and foremost in the question of sexual perversions and their origins in childhood. If the paradigm of the hysteric woman had invaded the entire field of the study of neurosis, the two major figures of “non-procreative sex” – the homosexual and the masturbating child – were the preserve of sexologists, hygienists, and pediatricians, who left to  psychiatrists, heirs of the alienists, the task of dealing with insanity, that is, with psychosis

By giving up the idea that the bourgeois family order could be based on the alliance between a perverse parent and an abused child, Freud shifted the question of  the sexual causation of neurosis onto a terrain that no longer belonged to sexology, nor did it belong moreover to psychiatry or psychology. He was leaving the realm of describing behaviors for that of interpreting discourse, considering that the famous sexual scenes described by patients could stem from fantasies, that is, from subjective or imaginary representations. And he added that even when an instance of seduction had actually occurred, it was not necessarily the source of neurosis. Thus he accepted simultaneously the existence of fantasy and that of trauma. And he emphasized that, thanks to psychoanalytic method (exploration of the unconscious and treatment by way of talking), the therapy should henceforth be able to discern several orders of reality that are often confused: real sexual abuse, psychic seduction, fantasy, and transference.

Freud was exploring an  unprecedented way of conceptualizing human sexuality. He extended the notion of sexuality, making it a universal psychic disposition and the very essence of human activity. It is thus less sexuality in itself that became primordial in his doctrine than a conceptual cluster that made it possible to represent sexuality: the drive, the source of unconscious psychic functioning; the libido, a generic term designating sexual energy; anaclisis (physical and emotional dependence on another for protection and gratification), or relational process; bisexuality, a disposition proper to any form of human sexuality; and finally desire; a tendency, an accomplishment, an infinite quest, an ambivalent relation to others.

So, a masturbating child, for example, was envisaged from this new perspective, not as a savage creature whose evil instincts had to be tamed, but as a prototypical human being in progress. Freud normalized “sexual aberrations” by freeing them from all the approaches couched in terms of pathology or in terms of innate dispositions comparable to ‘defects’ or signs of “degeneracy.”

While the term ‘unconscious’ had been in use for centuries and had been theorized for the first time in 1752, Freud made it the major concept of a doctrine that broke radically with the old definitions: the term no longer referred to a super-consciousness, a subconscious, or a reservoir of derangement, but a place to be instituted by repression, that is, by a process aiming to maintain  apart from any form of consciousness, like a ‘defect in translation,’ all drive-related representations capable of becoming sources of displeasure, and thus capable of troubling the equilibrium of subjective consciousness.

Freud’s conception of the subject no longer had anything to do with any sort of medical psychology. As for psycho-analysis, it was an act of transgression, a way of surreptitiously listening to words, taking them in without seeming to hear them or define them. A bizarre discipline, a fragile combination uniting soul and body, affect and reason, politics and animality: I am a zoon politikon, a political animal, said Freud, citing Aristotle.

Fascinated by death and love, by sex and desire, but concerned with offering intelligible explanations of the cruelest and most ambivalent aspects of the human mind, Freud confronted human subjects with their destiny: an unconscious that, without depriving them of their freedom, determined their fate without their knowledge. And Freud had a powerful urge to see psycho-analysis as a symbolic revolution whose primary vocation was to change human beings by showing that “the ego is not master of its own house.” By this gesture, as we have seen, he had set himself apart from the psychologists and the sexologists of his day by using myths and dreams to make humanity’s nocturnal life visible, quite apart from the so-called sciences of human behavior. Thus he gave an existential content to this domain rather than claiming to describe it with scientific instruments. What he borrowed from Darwin, moreover, was nothing other than what he was also taking from Sophocles: the tragic story of a man who, after seeing himself as a god, realizes he is something other than what he believed himself to be – he is a murderer, or a descendant of animals.

Freud thus invented a “discipline”, one impossible to integrate not only into the field of physical or natural science but into that of the human science, an area that has been steadily expanding since the late nineteenth century. For scientists, psychoanalysis belonged to literature; for anthropologists and sociologists, it attested to a resurgence of the ancient mythologies; in the philosophers’ eyes it resembled a strange psychology that had sprung up both from Romanticism and from Darwinism, while psychologists saw it as putting the very principle of psychology in danger. Thus psychoanalysis was rejected by all the academic disciplines, so decisively that it appeared to be the property of a master whose goal was to restore the Socratic banquet rather than to foster the growth of modern knowledge. And indeed the committee, with its sacred rings, its protocols and its oaths, seemed to legitimize such a view. As for the therapeutic aim of psychoanalysis, it fell neither into the field of medicine nor into that of psychology, even if some believed that psychoanalysis, as medicine for the mind, might “influence” psychiatry even though it had grown out of magnetism.

In reality, the Freudian clinic consisted in an art of interpretation apt to obtain from the patient the confirmation of a construction that emerged through transference and the work of treatment. In this sense, it nullified therapeutic nihilism, which consisted of categorizing psychic illnesses without ever listening to the patient.

Contrary to what has often been said, Freud never maintained that anatomy was the only possible destiny for the human condition. He actually borrowed a formula from Napoleon who had sought to inscribe the histories of peoples to come in politics rather than in reference to ancient myths. In other words, even though he had a very high regard for the ancient tragedies, Freud conceived of the great issue of the difference between the sexes in terms of a modern and more or less political dramaturgy. If for Freud anatomy was part of human destiny, in no case did it represent, for every human being, an un-crossable horizon. Such is indeed the theory of freedom that stems from and is inherent in psychoanalysis: one must recognize the existence of destiny (anatomy) the better to free oneself from it. Anatomy never suffices to determine what is feminine or masculine. The partisan of the English school of psychoanalysis were more ‘naturalist” than Freud: they believed one is born a woman once and for all, whereas Freud said, rather, that womanliness is constructed with the help of representations.

By 1937- and in response to what he felt were the erroneous paths being taken by some of his disciples – Otto Rank and Sandor Ferenczi- Freud emphasized that in psychoanalysis there could be no substitute for transference (@friendship)- neither the hypothesis of birth trauma nor hypnosis. And he added that the practice of psychoanalysis was the exercise of an ‘impossible task” and one that could never be sure, in advance, of the result. The therapeutic effort, he said, oscillates between a bit of analysis of the id and a bit of analysis of the ego: in one case, one is trying to bring to consciousness something of the id, and in the other one is trying to correct the ego. Without this oscillation, according to him, there can be no therapeutic success. Consequently, the analyst is no more normal than his patient, and as an “active” partner he is subjected more than the patient to the dangers of analysis.  This is why, periodically, for example every five years, the practitioner “should submit himself to analysis once more, without feeling ashamed to take this step. This would mean, then, that not only the therapeutic analysis of patients but his own analysis would change from a terminable into an interminable task.”

Even seventy-five years after his death, Freud is still disturbing Western consciousness, with his myths, his princely dynasties, his traversal of dreams, his stories of savage hordes, of Gradiva on the march, of the vulture found in Leonardo, of the murder of the father, and of Moses losing the tablets of law. I imagine him brandishing his cane against the anti-Semites: putting on his finest shirt to visit the Acropolis; discovering Rome like a lover overcome with joy; lashing out at imbeciles; speaking without notes  before Americans; reigning in his timeless dwelling amid his objects, his red chow chows, his disciples, his women, and his mad patients; waiting attentively for Hitler without managing to speak his name; and I tell myself that, for a long time yet, he will remain the great thinker of his time and ours.

See also:

** ‘The Napoleon of the neurosis’

***History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Answering the Mail by Daniel Boyarin

Throughout this book I have been arguing that Paul’s writing poses a significant challenge to the Jewish notion of identity. I have suggested that Paul was impelled by a vision of human unity that was born of two parents: Hebrew monotheism and Greek longing for universals. As I have argued, however, and will pursue further, Paul’s universalism seems to conduce to coercive politico-cultural systems that engage in more or less violent of absorption of cultural specificities into the dominant one. Yet Jews cannot ignore the force of Paul’s critique just because of its negative effects, for the uncritical devotion to ethnic particularity has equally negative effects. Thus, while Jewish discourse both limits its claims of hegemony to what is, after all, a tiny piece of land (in contrast to the whole world staked out by “Christendom”) and, moreover, does not consider conversion of others a desideratum or a requirement for their “salvation”, modern Jewish statist nationalism has nevertheless been very violent and exclusionary in its practices vis-a-vis its others, and traditional Judaism was often offensively contemptuous towards them.

On the political or ethical level, then. Paul presented (and presents) Jews with a set of powerful questions that cannot be ignored. Echoing Alan F. Segal*, I claim that Paul’s letters are addressed to us – to me, as a (post) modern Jew. I conclude this book, then, with a highly personal and engaged, perhaps not always completely satisfactory, attempt to answer Paul’s letter to me. How can I ethically construct a particular identity which is extremely precious to me without falling into ethnocentricity or racism of one kind or the other? This is particularly poignant since, the latter are protean and can disguise themselves in many forms. In this chapter, this book will significantly change its tone and its focus. The effort of this final chapter is to articulate one individual notion of Jewishness – and by analogy, other forms of particular identity – that will attempt to answer the challenge of Paul’s letters to enroll in a commit to a universal solidarity as well . . .


The Diaspora can teach us that it is possible for a people to maintain its distinctive culture, its difference, without controlling land, a fortiori without controlling other people or developing a need to dispossess them of their lands. Thus the response of Rabbinic Judaism to the challenge of universalism, which Paul, among others, raised against what was becoming at the end of the millennium and the beginning of the next, an increasingly inappropriate doctrine of specialness in an already interdependent world, may provide some, by no means all, of the pieces to the solution to the puzzle of how humanity might continue to survive. Renunciation of sovereignty, autochthony, indigeneity (as embodied politically in the notion of self-determination), on the one hand, combined with a fierce tenacity in holding onto identity, on the other, might yet have something to offer. For we live in a world in which the combination of these two kills thousands daily, yet where the renunciation of difference seems both an impoverishment of human life and an inevitable harbinger of oppression.

For those of us who are equally committed to social justice and collective Jewish existence some other formation must be constituted. I suggest than an Israel which rimports diasporic consciousness, a consciousness of a Jewish collective as one sharing space with others, devoid of exclusivist and dominating power, is the only Israel which could answer Paul’s and Lyotard and Nancy’s call for species-wide care, without eradicating cultural difference. I would propose an Israel in which individual and collective cultural rights would become an essential part of its structure, no longer coded as a Jewish State but as a bi-national, secular, and multicultural one. For historical models, one might look to the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and to that multiculturalism now struggling to be born in the United States on the other. The point would be precisely to avoid the coercive universalism of France, the Pauline option, on the other hand, and the violence of a joining of ethnic particularism and state power, contemporary Israel, on the other.

Reversing A.B. Yehoshua’s famous pronouncement that only in a condition of political hegemony is moral responsibility mobilized, I would argue that the only moral path would be the renunciation of near exclusive Jewish hegemony. This would involve, first of all, complete separation of religion from the state, but even more than that the revocation of the Law of Return and such cultural, discursive practices that code the state as a Jewish State and not a multinational and multicultural one. The dream of a place that is ours founders on the rock of realization that there are Others there, just as ther are  Others in Poland, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Any notion, then, of Redemption through Land must be infinitely deferred or become a moral monster. Either Israel must entirely divest itself of the language of race and become truly a state which is equally for all of its citizens and collectives, or the Jews must divest themselves of their claim to space. Race and space, or genealogy and territorialism, have been the problematic and necessary (if not essential) terms around which Jewish identity has revolved. In Jewish history, however, these terms are more obviously in dissonance with each other than synergy. This allows a formulation of Jewish identity not as a proud resting place, indeed not as a “boast”, but as a perpetual, creative, diasporic tension.

* Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee,  Yale Univ. Press, 1991
Universalism in Judaism and Christianity”. Unpublished paper, 1992.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Doctor Melchior by J. Maynard Keynes

In October 1919, after I had returned to Cambridge, some Dutch financiers invited me to visit Amsterdam to discuss the situation with them; and on the 12th of October I arrived in Holland. Melchior had resigned from his position sooner than be party to the Peace Treaty. Since that time he had twice refused to become Minister of Finance in the new German State, and had quietly gone back to his banking business at Hamburg. I longed to see him again; and this was an opportunity. So from Amsterdam I caused a telegram to be sent to him saying that I should be there for a few days and would like to see him. Three days later he had arrived.

Amsterdam swarms with spies and busybodies, and it was thought better that we should not meet in a hotel. Accordingly my friend Dr. Vissering, the Governor of the Bank of the Netherlands, placed his study at our disposal. He lived in the Keizersgracht, one of those canals which, situated in concentric circles, give to Amsterdam its peculiarity. Before his house was one canal and behind his garden another. The house, one of the merchant mansions of Dutch glory, had a narrow front, but immense depth, and was so place that, bales being drawn up into the attics from barges, it could be residence and warehouse in one.  

Earlier in his career Dr. Vissering had been  Governor of the Bank of Java, and in his long study, running back from the window over the canal into darkness, Chino-Javanese lamps and images and cabinets, and all the ungainly bric-a-brac of a middle-class merchant from the East, overlaid the comfortable dignity of seventeenth-century Holland. No one was there; it was drizzling heavily; and I looked out over the canal. I began to wonder at the impulse which had caused me to send for Melchior, for no such idea had entered my head before I left England, and what possible purpose this interview could serve. All the same I wanted to see him immediately. At last the door opened and he came in.

It was extraordinary to meet without barriers, we two who had faced one another so often in opposition and etiquette and constraint. Those Paris negotiations seemed to be absurd and to belong to a dream; and after a moment’s emotional embarrassment we settled down to a long rambling gossip as two ordinary people. He told me of the last days of Weimar, and the struggle over the signature of the Treaty, his own resignation, how these days had been the most dreadful of all, how Erzberger had deliberately betrayed to an agent of the English Government the decision of a secret Cabinet Meeting between Noske, David and himself, in which it had been decided that in any event they must sign, and how he, Melchior, believed that it was out of a knowledge of this decision that Lloyd George finally decided to abandon his efforts towards moderation.

Melchior’s emotions were towards Germany and the falsehood and humiliation which his own people had brought on themselves, rather than towards us. I also understood most clearly, then for the first time, how dwellers in East Germany look to the East and not Westwards. The war for him had been a war against Russia; and it was the thought of the dark forces which might now issue from the Eastwards, which most obsessed him.. I also understood better than before, what a precisian he was, a strict and upright moralist, a worshipper of the Tablets of the Law, a Rabbi. The breach of promise, the breach of discipline, the decay of honorable behavior, the betrayal of undertakings by the one party and the insincere acceptance by the other of impossible conditions which it was not intended to carry out, Germany almost as guilty to accept what she could not fulfill as the Allies to impose what they were not entitled to exact – it was these offenses against The Word, which so much wounded him.

As we talked on, the morning passed and it began to seem ridiculous to me that we should not lunch together openly, like any other couple. So asked him to my hotel, where a German American Jew, Paul Warburg, brother of Melchior’s Hamburg partner, but one of the leading financiers of the United States and formerly the chief spirit of the Federal Reserve Board, was also to be my guest. We strolled out through Amsterdam, and Melchior, who know it well, took me on our way to see the courtyards of ancient almshouses, which conveyed to him, he said, most perfectly the intimate atmosphere of the town. It was a charming spot, indicative of order and retirement.

My book was not then out, and I had with me the manuscript of my chapter on the President. After lunch I read it to them. We went upstairs for privacy, this time to my bedroom not Melchior’s. I noted its effect on the two Jews. Warburg, for personal reasons, hated the President and felt a chuckling delight at his discomfiture; he laughed and giggled and thought it an  awfully  good hit. But Melchior, as I read, grew ever more solemn, until at the end he appeared almost to be in tears. This, then, was the other side of the curtain,; neither profound causes, nor inevitable fate, nor magnificent wickedness. The Tablets of the Law, it was Melchior’s thought at that moment, had perished meanly.

*To Keynes's dismay, Lloyd George and Clemenceau were able to pressure Wilson to agree to include pensions in the reparations bill. Towards the end of the conference, Keynes came up with a plan that he argued would not only help Germany and other impoverished central European powers but also be good for the world economy as a whole. It involved the radical writing down of war debts, which would have had the possible effect of increasing international trade all round, but at the same time thrown the entire cost of European reconstruction on the United States. Lloyd George agreed it might be acceptable to the British electorate. However, America was against the plan; the US was then the largest creditor, and by this time Wilson had started to believe in the merits of a harsh peace and thought that his country had already made excessive sacrifices. Hence despite his best efforts, the end result of the conference was a treaty which disgusted Keynes both on moral and economic grounds, and led to his resignation from the Treasury.

Two Memoirs; Dr. Melchior: A Defeated Enemy & My Early Beliefs by John Maynard Keynes; Augustus M. Kelley, New York; Rubert Hart-Davis, London 1949

Saturday, December 17, 2016

End of a Beautiful Friendship by Alex Beam

How did we travel from “Dear Bunny” (Edmund Wilson) and “Dear Volodya” (Vladimir Nabokov) to Please Lose My Address and By the Way I’m Removing Your Blurbs from All My Books?

“A black cat came between us – Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago,’” is how Nabokov explained the rift  in his “death interview” with Alden Whitman, the obituary writer for The New York Times.

Lolita dominated the American best-seller lists well into the fall of 1958, until Doctor Zhivago displaced it at the number-one spot in the fiction list. Both books lingered near the top of the list for more than a year, creating yet another curious battleground for Nabokov the novelist and Wilson the critic [they both enjoyed vigorous repartee].

Nabokov and Pasternak knew about each other. Russian literature was too small a playing field, and their talents were too large, for them to be strangers. Nabakov often hailed Pasternak as a great poet, “a kind of masculine Emily Dickinson,” albeit one whose style had some rough edges. When the first manuscripts of Doctor Zhivago surfaced in the West, a friend suggested the ideal translator to Pasternak: “a poet, who is completely bilingual: Vladimir Nabokov.” “That won’t work,” Pasternak replied. “He’s too jealous of my wretched position in this country to do it properly.”

This is a hard comment to parse, because Pasternak has been suffering from censorship and torment through the decades of Joseph Stalin’s rule. He may have had an insight that almost no one shared: that Nabokov would have traded places with him, just to replant his roots in Russian soil.

Nabokov’s conduct vis-à-vis Pasternak and Zhivago was erratic and disgraceful. Aesthetically, he didn’t like the book. One could argue that it was a big, sprawling mess, chronicling the stories of storm-tossed characters pin-balling around the canvas of early-twentieth-century Russia and Soviet history. Dr. Yuri Zhivago is a poet hiding from history; his mistress, Lara, is the ineffable soul of Russia; Strelnikov is the self-invented servant of the dialectic; Victor Komarovsky, memorably played by Rod Steiger in the David Lean movie, is a Dostoyevskian titan of evil and manipulation –or is he?

 It’s a wonderful melodrama about events that Nabokov couldn’t stand to see distorted and stylized. He thought the book was a saccharine, jerry-built overview of a period of Soviet history best remembered for mass terror and government induced famines. “Dreary conventional stuff . . .trashy, melodramatic, false and inept” were opinions he tried to keep to himself for much of 1958, not only because it was unseemly to sully a competitor, but also because he knew Pasternak was going through hell in Moscow. The Soviet cultural authorities denounced him as a “pig” and worse.

Nabokov, over time, became unhinged on the this subject. Whether he saw himself as a more deserving Nobel candidate (probably). Whether he resented sharing literary stage center with a fellow Russian whom he regarded as a lesser talent (possibly), or whether he simply thought Zhivago was a bad book (definitely), he began suggesting that Zhivago – far from being a courageous assertion of literary freedom in a prison society – was a piece of Soviet propaganda artfully transplanted to the West.

“Any intelligent Russian would see . . . that the book is pro-Bolshevist and historically false, if only because it ignores the Liberal Revolution of spring 1917, wrote Nabokov’s wife Vera to her friend Elena Levin. Nabokov went so far as to suggest that Pasternak’s mistress, Olga Ivinshaya, had written the manuscript. She was an accomplished editor and translator but she would have been generally unavailable to help with Zhivago because in 1950 she began a five-year sentence in the gulag. It was Nabokov and the vestigial Stalinist stooges inside the USSR who pushed the ugly Ivinskaya theory. Nabokov likewise suspected Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a KGB cat’s-paw, until the USSR expelled him in 1974.

Did Nabokov have a mean streak? Definitely, and it became more pronounced as he aged. Where did it come from? His first biographer, Andrew field, who felt the razor’s edge of Nabokov’s scorn, thought Nabokov was deeply influenced by his literature teacher at the Tenishev school, the Symbolist poet and cynic V.V. Gippius. Gippius was the only schoolteacher whom Nabokov mentioned in his memoirs. Another Tenishev student, the famous poet Osip Mandelstam, recalled that Gippius taught “literary malice, “ a literary posture,” Field writes, “which to a certain extent [Nabokov] has never abandoned.” “There is something bestial about the portrait of Gippius,” the scholar Clarence Brown wrote in his biography of Mandelstam: “Paradoxically the love of literature was nurtured in his students by a man who hated literature, who say in the length and breadth of its history an ample field for the spitefulness of his nature.”

By contrast, Wilson embraced Zhivago fervently. His lengthy laudatory review in The New Yorker, “Dr. Life and is Guardian Angel,”: placed Zhivago solidly in the firmament of great works of literature. After some lengthy throat-clearing in which he berated Zhivago’s translators for multiple errors and misconceptions of the Russian language, ( not for the last time he seized the wrong end of the language stick),  Wilson finally arrived at his point of departure. Zhivago “is one of the great books of our time,”: he declared. “It is not really a book about Russia,” he continued. “It’s main theme is death and resurrection . . . the author never departed from his Christian ideal of taking every individual seriously as a soul which must be respected.” Wilson jauntily compared Pasternak with Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, and James Joyce, and finished his piece with a peroration seldom seen in book reviews then or since:.

Zhivago will, I believe, come to stand as one of the great events in man’s literary and moral history. Nobody could have written it in a totalitarian state and turned it loose on the world who did not have the courage of a genius. May his guardian angel be with him! His book is a great act of faith and art and in the human spirit.

Wilson waxed full-tilt mystical on Zhivago, doubling down on his questionable premise that the novel was a profoundly Christian work, pregnant with religious symbolism, for example, ‘the five barless windows in the house in Siberia are the five wounds of Jesus.” He went even further in Encounter magazine, alleging that “the more one studies Doctor Zhivago, the more one comes to realize that it is studded with symbols and significant puns, that there is something in it of Finnegan’s Wake, and something of the cabalistic Zohar, which discovers a whole system of hidden meaning in the text of the Hebrew Bible”

Pasternak, who was born Jewish and attended Russian Orthodox services, just shrugged when he read Wilson’s Encounter article. “Whoever has seen such symbols in Doctor Zhivago,” he wrote to Max Hayward, “has not read my novel.”

The Zhivago contretempts cast a chill over the Nabokov-Wilson relationship.  The bad relations were exacerbated when Nabokov published and annotated English version of Pushkin’s ‘Eugene Onegin,” which Wilson pilloried in the New York Review. . .*

It became clear over time that the two men were very different writers. Wilson took literature seriously, sometimes too seriously. In his fiction his seriousness of purpose betrayed him. One would have welcomed some Nabokovian levity in Hecate County, for instance, but there was none. Yet Nabokov’s “deep-lying inhumanity, or, more precisely, unhumanity” – the eminent critic George Steiner’s phrase- must have worn Wilson down. He always believed that writing had a purpose, and many of his purposes testified to his sense of justice and his ever-inquiring mind. He publicized the downtrodden Harlan County coal miners in 1931 and campaigned for Native American rights at least a decade before their plight gained national attention. Patriotic Gore reassessed the blithely accepted foundation myths of the Civil War. The Scrolls from the Dead Sea, his groundbreaking popularization of the Old and New Testament apocrypha, anticipated the vast, proto-academic Jesus industry of the final quarter of the twentieth century.

Contrast these outings with Nabokov’s declaration: “My books are blessed by a total lack of social significance.”

Where Nabokov was concerned, Wilson appreciated the prose but not the poetry, figuratively speaking. He enjoyed Speak, Memory and portions of Nabokov’s early work, such as Sebastian Knight. But he tired quickly of the gaming, the frippery, the language tricks, the difficult allusions. He seems not to have read the finished version of Bend Sinister, and he abandoned Lolita half-way through. He dismissed Pale Fire and Ada with a snap of his fingers. I find it hard to believe that he read those book, either. [ exactly my experience with Nabokov- J.S.]  As for Eugene Onegin, Wilson simply recognized that it was not a good translation.

Wilson was in excellent company. This is V.S. Naipaul speaking, but it could just as well be Wilson: “What is [Nabokov’s] style? It’s bogus, calling attention to itself. Americans do that. All those beautiful sentences. What are they for?”. . .

After Wilson died, Vera Nabokov wrote a letter to his widow, Elena, “I would like to tell you how find Vladimir has always been of Edmund despite the unfortunate turn in their relations. We always think of Edmund in terms of past friendships and affection; not of the so unnecessary hostilities in recent years. Two years later, when Elena was assembling the men’s letters for publication, Vladimir wrote her: “I need not tell you what agony it was rereading the exchanges belonging to the early radiant era of our correspondence.”

* Alex Beam's characterization of Edmund Wilson's review of Vladimir Nabovok's annotated translation of Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin' (in the New York Review, 7/65):
"A classic of its genre, the genre being overlong, spiteful, stochastically accurate, generally useless, but unfailingly amusing hatchet job, the yawning, massive load of boiling pitch that inevitably ends up scalding the grinning fiend pouring the hot oil over the battlement as much as it harms the intended victim."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ranciere on Populism

Writing in LibérationJacques Rancière talks about populism and French politics today.

The People Are Not a Brutal and Ignorant Mass

Not a day goes by without the risks of populism being denounced on all sides. But it is not so easy to grasp what the word denotes. What is a populist? Despite various fluctuations of meaning, the dominant discourse seems to characterize it in terms of three essential features: a style of speech addressed directly to the people, bypassing representatives and dignitaries; the assertion that governments and ruling elites are more concerned with feathering their own nest than with the public interest; a rhetoric of identity that expresses fear and rejection of foreigners.

It is clear however that there is no necessary connection between these features. The republican and socialist spokesmen of former days were certainly convinced that there was an entity known as 'the people' that was the course of power and the prime interlocutor of political discourse. This does not involve any kind of racist or xenophobic sentiment. No demagogue is needed to announce that our politicians think more of their career than of the future of their fellow citizens, or that those who govern us live in symbiosis with the representatives of big financial interests. The same press that denounces 'populist' tendencies provides us day after day with the most detailed evidence of this. On their part, heads of state or government who are called 'populist', such as Silvio Berlusconi or Nicolas Sarkozy, steer well clear of propagating the 'populist' idea that elites are corrupt. The term is not used to characterize any well-defined political force. It denotes neither an ideology nor even a coherent political style. It serves simply to draw the image of a certain people.

For 'the people' as such does not exist. What exists are diverse and even antagonistic images of the people, figures constructed by privileging certain modes of assembly, certain distinctive features, certain capacities or incapacities. The notion of populism constructs a people characterized by the fearsome combination of a certain capacity – the raw power of a large number – and a certain incapacity – the ignorance ascribed to the same large number. For this purpose, racism, the third feature, is essential. It is a matter of showing those democrats always suspect of 'idealism' who the underlying people truly are: a mob inspired by a primary drive of rejection, which targets at the same time those in power, whom it denounces as traitors out of a failure to understand the complexity of political mechanisms, and the foreigners that it fears from an atavistic attachment to a context of life threatened by demographic, economic and social development. The notion of populism presents an image of the people elaborated in the late nineteenth century by thinkers such as Hippolyte Taine and Gustave Le Bon, frightened by the Paris Commune and the rise of the workers' movement: that of ignorant crowds impressed by the sonorous words of 'agitators' and led to extreme violence by the circulation of unchecked rumours and contagious fears.

Is this epidemic unleashing of blind crowds led by charismatic leaders really a contemporary phenomenon in countries such as ours? Whatever the complaints voiced daily about immigrants, and particularly 'young people from the estates', they do not find expression in mass popular demonstrations. What is called racism today in our country is essentially the conjunction of two things. On the one hand, forms of discrimination in employment and housing that are practiced to perfection in aseptic offices. On the other, government policies that are in no case the consequence of a mass movement: restrictions on immigration, refusal to provide residence papers to people who have worked and paid taxes in France for years, undermining of nationality by birth, double penalty, laws against the Islamic scarf and the burka, official targets for expulsions from the country and the dismantling of travellers' camps. The aim of these measures is essentially to render the rights of a section of the population precarious in terms of both work and citizenship, to constitute a population of workers who can at any time be sent back where they came from, and of French nationals who are not assured of keeping their status.

These measures are supported by an ideological campaign that justifies this restriction of rights by the evidence of failure to exhibit certain features that characterize national identity. But it is not the 'populists' of the Front National who have sparked off this campaign. It is rather certain intellectuals, supposedly on the left, who have found the unanswerable argument that 'these people are not truly French because they are not secular'.
Marine Le Pen's recent outburst is instructive in this respect. All it does, in fact, is condense into a single image a sequence of discourse: Muslim = Islamist = Nazi, which lurks almost everywhere in supposedly republican writing. The 'populist' far right does not express any specific xenophobic passion emanating from the depths of the popular body; it is a satellite that turns to its profit the strategies of the government and the campaigns of distinguished intellectuals. The state maintains the permanent sense of insecurity that blends together the risks of crisis and unemployment with those of ice on the roads and formamide, to culminate in the supreme threat of the Islamic terrorist. The far right gives flesh and blood to the standard portrait found in ministerial decrees and the prose of ideologists.

And so neither the 'populists' nor the people as presented by ritual denunciations of populism actually match their definition. But this is no worry for those who wave this phantom about. The essential thing for them is to amalgamate the very idea of a democratic people with the image of the dangerous crowd. And to draw the conclusion that we must all place our trust in those who govern us, any challenge to their legitimacy and integrity opening the door to totalitarianism. 'Better a banana republic than a fascist France' was one of the more sinister anti-Le Pen slogans in April 2002. The present harping on about the mortal dangers of populism aims to give a theoretical foundation to the idea that we have no other choice.

Translated from French by David Fernbach. Visit Libération to read the original article.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Translator's Note by Valerie Miles

Edmundo had begun outlining the novel when we met during our respective sojourns in Madrid; I was the associate director of Alfaguara, the imprint where he was publishing his work, and he was on sabbatical from Cornell. Anyone who has spent time in Madrid can attest to the vibrant social and cultural scene there, which makes it famously difficult for a visiting writer to  get any work done. But Edmundo’s enviable discipline prevailed, and I had the chance to read an early version of Norte in 2009

By then I had moved back to Barcelona, and he and Liliana Colanzi came to stay with us for a few scorching days in August. Poet Forrest Gander was also in Barcelona at the time, and with Aurelio Major we had a long, memorable Spanish lunch at the iconic Flash Flash and deliberated on some of the issues Edmundo was setting out in the novel, particularly the way in which the United States absorbs and domesticates the splendidly variegated Spanish-speaking cultures under blanket terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino”. In the process, it invests a cliché on the undocumented worker, since society is often incapable of appreciating the singular in human experience, lumping personalities into sweeping typecasts for easy classification. The novel as form, luckily, being a work of the imagination, and by virtue a subversive one, counteracts this trend by exploring the space of individual experience, celebrating particularity and disputing the kind of intellectual indolence that turns a language spoken by people from over twenty-one different countries and their respective traditions into a shibboleth. As Azar Nafisi wrote in The Republic of the Imagination, literature “enables us to tolerate complexity and nuance and to empathize with people whose lives and conditions are utterly different from our own.” So as I translated Norte, one of my first concerns was finding way to capture the diversity of their voices, to differentiate the characters clearly and not to domesticate them or their language into an easy typecast. They hail from different countries despite the fact that they have the Spanish language in common, and the two who are Mexican, Jesus and Martin, are from very different backgrounds, social circumstances, and generations.

Edmundo is a Bolivian expat, A Spanish speaker in an English-speaking country; I’m an American expat, an English speaker in a Spanish-speaking country. We share an appreciation for how easy it is to get lost in a foreign environment, for the things you forfeit and the things you gain. But what happens to immigrants who ae emotionally or mentally crippled? What happens to those who are forced to struggle against economic hardship and denigrating prejudices, especially when civic and governmental institutions, police forces and prisons, universities and health care systems all fail?

Edmundo was interested in mapping the lives of migrants who have gotten lost both physically and spiritually in the vast “North” as they scramble to find a better life for themselves. We kept the title of the novel in the original Spanish so as not to lose all the inherent cultural references that are immediately associated with the Spanish word. As it goes, if I tell you not to picture an elephant, you inevitably see a pewter-haunched pachyderm; the image of the word “North” conjures in an American reader’s mind is not the same one as if you read the word “Norte”. Meaning, it’s not about Canada, no. North is a cardinal location on a compass, but it’s also a space in the imagination.

In Spanish there’s an expression, “perder el norte”, which means to lose one’s way, to lose sight of a goal, to lose control, to lose the  sense where is up and where is down on a compass. A few of the characters in the novel are based on real people who were uprooted, rendered anchorless, who lost their communities and their way in the vast, hostile territory that is the United States. Just as the border can be porous both physically and as a metaphor, identity to can be fluid; there is always a linguistic and cultural bleeding out in both directions, nothing is fixed, everything is in flux  . . .

We met again at the Bogota Book Fair and a few more times in Madrid and Barcelona. Edmundo wanted to approach the translation as if working on a manuscript. Many writers find it excruciatingly tedious to go back over a novel that has already been published, but Edmundo chose to use this as an opportunity for another revision of the original, to continue polishing the ideas, sharpening the dialogue, tightening structure and some of the psychology that moves the characters along. So the American translation is not always a direct translation; it evolved as a result of this ongoing exchange into a new version of the original novel.

Our conversations began tangentially at first, not directly on formal considerations such as  the placement of dialogue but on the characters themselves, their emotional make-up, motivations, and how to strike the right tone for each voice. Ae they based on real characters or not? If so, who and how closely? What materials did I have to work with that would help me gather a sense of their inner worlds, their outer surroundings? We talked about the American writers Edmundo reads while preparing the novel: Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis. We discussed how to balance the tenor in the episodes of extreme violence, emphasize the suspense leading up to these scenes, and keep a smooth, tightly measures timbre when describing the action, as he does in the Spanish.

I wanted to capture the slight linguistic estrangement of a Bolivian writer using Mexicanisms, Americanisms, and Argentinisms. He never falls into parody but is quite guarded against overplaying linguistic tics or pitches, though he sprinkles them in certain bits of dialogue to great effect. He writes in understatement, allowing the action to move the narrative forward, prioritizing drive and sense of pace, following a style predicated by Borges and Bioy Casares when writing as Bustos Domecq: the invisible narrator. The prose is largely free of adjectives, straightforward, close to the semantic tightness of the noir novel but sans winks to the genre’s parlance.

In Norte, Edumndo Paz Soldan uses a sort of backdrop storytelling technique that, like bas-relief, allows the voices of the characters to rise up in contrast when he moves in and out of their consciousness in free indirect speech. I’ve tried to maintain the effect when possible, but in order to keep the fluidity, and because it’s difficult to render accents without falling into caricature, some of the dialogue that was inside the body of the text has been restructures into direct discourse inside quotation marks. . .

The novel represents a foreigner’s view of the US. It’s the case with Fabian’s disgruntled opinion of American academia and with both Jesus and Martin’s third-person stor-lines: Martin’s story opens in the 1930S and largely takes place in California, Jesus’s in the 1980S in the north of Mexico, in Juarez, El Paso and other cities along the US border and Florida. Jesus speaks a lower-caste, urban, coarser type of Mexican Spanish, while Martin’s speech is more naïve and peasant-like, but in both cases their language is quick and flowing. Martin’s sentences are particularly melodic, the result of a sensitive if disturbed mind. The tension between these stories is that they represent two different ways of being; Jesus all motion and exploit, where Martin’s is stasis and introspection.

The third story-line that braids through the novel is that of the young, very talented Michelle and her profligate professor and lover Fabian. It’s the only story told in the first person. Here the conflict, the narrative tension, is found in the counterpoint between the creative act and destruction, authenticity and mendacity, truth and pure fiction versus imitation. It can be read as an analogy of the creative process, and it was important to clinch her voice  as a renegade academic and budding artist and not just some star-struck ingénue. She is infatuated with strung-out professor Fabian, and though she seems to passively allow herself to be sucked into the vortex of his self-destruction, in fact she exerts a subtle resistance the whole time. She’s observing something that fascinates her as a cat would observe a scorpion . . .

Friday, December 2, 2016

Platformitis by Edward Luttwak

  • The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of Darpa, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency by Annie Jacobsen
    Little, Brown, 560 pp, £12.99, September 2015, ISBN 978 0 316 34947 5
The development of a nuclear explosive device and two air-deliverable fission bombs by the Manhattan Engineering District of the US Army Corps of Engineers cost $1.845 billion, equivalent to the cost of a mere nine days of war. A much happier, and infinitely cheaper piece of research that also turned out to have world-historical impact was the development of a digital network between computers with TCP/IP communications protocols, better known as the internet. When the student-programmer Charley Kline sent the first instantaneous message (you had to print it out to keep it) on 29 October 1969, he inaugurated a new era; some months later Ray Tomlinson invented the first email program, using an @ address where such messages could linger.
That first computer network was funded by Arpa, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense. The same outfit, now known as Darpa, with ‘Defense’ tacked onto the start of the acronym, has achieved many other startling things over the years, from its support for the development of America’s first plastic and aluminium rifle in the early 1960s – actually a heroic struggle against the US army’s obdurate use of heavy steel and wooden stocks – to the development of Transit, the direct predecessor of the GPS satellite system that allows pilots and car drivers to find their destinations automatically, and enables the existence of the new self-driving cars, in addition to its many military uses. Another Darpa project was the Aspen Movie Map, a virtual tour of Aspen provided by the first hypermedia system (four cameras rigged on the top of a car taking pictures every ten feet). This technology was used to develop large-scale combat simulators which familiarise entire battalions with the place where they’re about to be deployed, and is now in everyday use. Other Darpa creations were more straightforwardly military, from penetration aid decoys that help ballistic missiles defeat interception attempts, to all manner of remotely piloted and robotic vehicles, including reconnaissance aircraft small enough to resemble large mosquitoes.

You might think there’s nothing surprising in all this: all sorts of scientific advances should be possible given the ample funds provided to this programme by the Department of Defense. But that’s the problem: the funds available are not ample, they are very modest by Pentagon standards. In 2015 $2.87 billion were allocated to Darpa, 0.0047 per cent of the year’s total defence spending, and its staff of 220 are a tiny band among the 700,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense. How can technology-crazy America allow such a miserly allocation of funds and people?
The short explanation is that most of the money is reserved for the pseudo-innovations pursued by the uniformed services: the navy’s supposedly ultra-new aircraft carrier that retains an unchanged 1960s configuration; the F-35 jet fighter that offers thirty-year-old ‘stealth’ as its cutting-edge novelty; the new army tank that still looks very much like the 1944 German Tiger. The dominance of this sort of pseudo-innovation is a direct result of the composition of the US armed forces as an alliance of proudly separate services, each with its own traditions, institutional culture, career paths and – most important – iconic weapons.
The Pentagon’s RDT&E (research, development, test and evaluation) money is not allotted to Darpa, or some other defence-wide organisation that might develop new weapons, systems or platforms capable of delivering really major advantages, such as remotely piloted vehicles (drones). Instead, the money is parcelled out to the separate services, each of which spends almost all of its share on enhancing its own military role, and its own identity, by expensively updating the weapons traditionally associated with it. The US army spends most of its RDT&E funds ($6.5 billion in 2015) on armoured vehicles, as well as the armed helicopters that it has been using for decades. The navy’s RDT&E funds ($16 billion in 2015) are spent on aircraft carriers and submarines, except for the portion controlled by the Marines, whose favourites are the landing ships and beach-crossing vehicles associated with its amphibian vocation – even though there has not been one opposed amphibious landing in all the wars Americans have fought in the 65 years since the Inchon landing in Korea. Most of the Marines’ money goes on aviation: their separate identity requires them to use vertical take-off and landing jet fighters, which are unwanted by the US air force or navy and are exceptionally expensive. (The travails of the F-35 joint-strike fighter are caused largely by its vertical take-off version, which distorts the entire design.) As for the air force’s $23 billion, they are spent primarily on the quest for a new manned strategic bomber, whose crew must be recovered safely even after a nuclear strike, and on the F-35, whose unit costs are as phenomenal as its shortcomings.

That’s how $45.5 billion are being spent this year but it takes a huge amount of research and development money to make just a little progress when all the parameters are set from the start. It’s for this reason that car manufacturers spend more than a billion dollars on turning out a new model only marginally superior to its predecessor: laws, regulations, tax regimes, the shape of the human body, the convention that cars have four wheels – all of this constrains innovation, just as the classic military platforms do. It’s only the advent of hybrid, electrical and fuel-cell propulsion that has allowed any innovation at all after decades of stasis. The US air force recently allocated $21.4 billion of its RDT&E funds, nine times this year’s total Darpa budget, to developing a manned bomber. Unsurprisingly, Northrop won the contract to replace the Northrop B-2 flying-wing stealth bomber designed in the 1970s (its only precursor was the 1946 Northrop XB-35 flying-wing bomber) with yet another manned flying-wing stealth design, as if all the intervening innovations starting with unmanned aircraft had never happened, and as if stealth-defeating radar techniques didn’t exist.
The US air force has never funded any innovative research: not ballistic missiles, since Wernher von Braun, who aimed at the moon but hit London, was employed by the US army after the war; not air-to-air tactical missiles, another German idea developed by the US navy; and not remotely piloted aircraft, at least not until the US navy successfully used some imported from Israel, which was also the proximate source of the only truly major innovation in jet-fighter design in decades: the helmet-mounted display, whereby all the critical data – airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings – along with real-time imagery from infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft, are projected onto the visor of the helmet, allowing pilots to look through their own airframe with 360 degree vision.

Platformitis – the fixation on retaining existing configurations – is very costly and generates increasing vulnerabilities. Cars are still useful even if their basic layout has not changed in decades, but car drivers don’t have to fight their way past enemies armed with anti-car weapons developed to exploit car-specific vulnerabilities. The continued reliance on the cherished platforms of each service has resulted in the development of more and more lethal platform-killers, often missiles that are much cheaper than the platforms they can destroy. Ask the US navy how vulnerable its aircraft carriers are and you’ll be told not at all, because carrier task-forces have anti-submarine weapons against submarine attacks, anti-air weapons against air attack, and of course anti-ship weapons against ship attacks; but if Darpa were given the task of sinking aircraft carriers, it wouldn’t bother with any of those, but would instead use ballistic missiles to launch warheads that would plunge down at Mach 5 or 6 to cut right through the carriers, from flight deck to keel. That, by the way, is what the Chinese would do too. 
Annie Jacobsen’s book sets the stage by reviewing the major pre-Arpa innovations, notably nuclear weapons, computers and ballistic missiles, before telling Arpa’s story from its 1957 foundation. Early on she gets one episode wrong – and it’s an interesting mistake. She dates the Mutual Assured Destruction concept of the 1960s to the 1950s, and then gives credit to the once celebrated and now deservedly forgotten Albert Wohlstetter for the ‘second-strike’ concept: the insight that what deters isn’t a country’s inventory of ballistic missiles but the portion of it that can reliably survive a surprise attack. Actually, Wohlstetter worked on the basing of bombers, not missiles, and the essential insight wasn’t his but his wife Roberta’s: she re-examined the Pearl Harbor attack (her book Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision has been in print since 1962) and came up with two findings of enduring importance. The first is that surprise attacks succeed not because of impenetrable secrecy, but because the ‘signals’ generated by their preparation are obscured by the ‘noise’ of outdated, irrelevant and misleading information, amplified by wishful thinking. The remedy isn’t the mirage of ‘better analysis’, but deploying would-be deterrent forces in ways that are inherently resilient to surprise attack, even if they’re less cost-effective. The second finding followed directly from this: in Washington it was thought that keeping the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, halfway across the Pacific, would deter the Japanese from attacking US, British and Dutch possessions in South-East Asia, whereas the Japanese viewed the fleet’s relative proximity as an opportunity to destroy US naval strength with one blow. In other words, to deter Japan the fleet should have been kept in San Diego, well beyond Japanese reach. Not coincidentally, Albert Wohlstetter became famous for his 1954 Rand study, which taught the US air force that its nuclear bombers should be moved back to the US to deter the USSR, instead of being forward-based in Europe.

Arpa itself was the creation of Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy, who had sold soap door to door before rising ever higher at Procter & Gamble: his innovations there ranged from brand management via the competition of rival in-house brands to the now global phenomenon of soap operas. On 20 November 1957, only five weeks into his tenure, and only six weeks after the shock of the Soviet leap into space with Sputnik, he came up with the idea of creating Arpa to carry out ‘advanced research’ into space exploration among other things. He carefully avoided saying that the purpose was to circumvent the deficiencies of the services: the army, navy and air force all had their own space programmes, none sufficiently central to their concerns to warrant much money or attention, which is one reason the USSR won the space race. McElroy’s tact didn’t prevent the top brass – in rare unity – from trying hard to choke Arpa at birth. They failed only because the toppest brass of them all, Eisenhower, happened to be president.

Eisenhower denounced petty ‘jurisdictional’ concerns, successfully asked Congress for funds, and Arpa was in business. McElroy’s choice as its head was Roy Johnson of General Electric, who left his $160,000 job there for $18,000 at Arpa. The chief scientist was Herb York, part-Mohawk, son of a railway baggage man, a Manhattan Project nuclear physicist with a practical bent, utterly unpretentious and fun to be with. Space exploration was soon taken away by the creation of Nasa, so Johnson and York focused on what was known as Project Vela. This had three parts: Vela Hotel concentrated on the development of high-altitude satellites that would be able to detect nuclear explosions from space; Vela Uniform on seismic sensors to detect underground nuclear explosions; and Vela Sierra on detecting nuclear explosions in space. These were truly sinister programmes from the viewpoint of York’s erstwhile mentors in the nuclear weapons business, among them Edward Teller, because they indicated the nefarious purpose of negotiating the prohibition of nuclear tests with Khrushchev – which was exactly Eisenhower’s aim.
By the summer of 1958, Johnson and York were ready to take a much broader look at possible projects. A gathering of 22 defence scientists was charged with identifying promising opportunities. One was the Christofilos effect: if a nuclear warhead was detonated in the upper atmosphere, charged particles would create a radiation belt, which could in theory be used to destroy incoming ballistic warheads by frying their fuses. True, thousands of nuclear explosions would be needed each year to renew the shield, but the idea itself was brilliant, as was the inventor, a Greek lift mechanic called Nicholas Christofilos who taught himself physics under German occupation. After the war, Christofilos started sending letters to US nuclear laboratories describing high-energy accelerators of his own design. The letters were eventually read, and he was hired by York to help build a really big accelerator.

The hypothesis that the Earth’s magnetic field would trap charged particles was tested in the Argus detonations of August and September 1958, which were set up with a rapidity unimaginable today, especially given that the test involved assembling in the far South Atlantic an aircraft carrier, a seaplane tender, a fleet oiler, three destroyers, eight helicopters, 21 fixed-wing aircraft, a dozen missiles, three nuclear warheads and thousands of servicemen, technicians and scientists. Argus was a partial failure (the missiles malfunctioned; the detonations weren’t high enough), but the tests confirmed Christofilos’s hypothesis. Similar tests carried out the same year demonstrated the damaging effects of the electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) caused by a nuclear explosion above the atmosphere on the communications and electrical infrastructure below. These were also shown inadvertently by a Soviet high-altitude nuclear test on 22 October 1962, which set fire to the Karaganda electrical generating plant 180 miles below, and overloaded lead-and-steel-shielded trunk power lines almost a metre below ground. EMP, in other words, has a much larger reach than blast, heat or radiation, which was a matter of great importance to weaponeers, until the post-nuclear age came along to kill off battle-planning with nukes. Christofilos soon got bored with his own ‘effect’ and diverted himself by trying to solve the riddle of communicating with ballistic-missile submarines without forcing them to compromise their security by floating antennae to the surface. He came up with the conceptual answer – extremely low frequency radio – and worked out all the engineering in full detail. It was thanks to him that the US navy was able to communicate with its Polaris submarines and their successors. 
Annie Jacobsen’s book doesn’t tell that story in much detail but she surveys many more stories on her way to the present-day Darpa. Natural scientists and engineers were joined by social scientists who tried to help the fight against the Viet Cong by way of psychological operations, success metrics and such. The engineers came up with a lot of things that worked in Vietnam, including almost silent scout aircraft, swamp boats, and the laser-guided bombs that made a large-scale impact in the Gulf War in 1991 – but the social scientists could only fail, because they had no way of contending with ideology. Computer engineers eventually empowered the social scientists, albeit in the guise of intelligence analysts, not to predict the behaviour of the members of al-Qaida, Islamic State, Boko Haram and so on, but to monitor networks of people. Their capability is impressive, but as one who works in this business professionally, I can testify that the loss-of-privacy/terrorist-finding trade-off is roughly a million to one: good enough at a specific time/place, but not everywhere all the time. So while I would be happy for the US services to hand over 90 per cent of their RDT&E money to Darpa, I would also shut down its social science stuff altogether.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Yes, and that on this, the most important night of his whole life, he should be disturbed by such a vile and discordant noise – this realization suddenly filled him with rage. He felt that his life was simply being trifled with; and when the groaning ceased for a moment, he began to beat on the wall. But the guards, like those who in Gethsemane slept in utter indifference to the torment of that man, did not get up. Again he began to beat wildly on the wall. Then there came the noise of the door being opened, and from the distance the sound of feet hastening rapidly towards the place that he was.

‘Father, what is wrong? What is wrong?’ It was the interpreter who spoke; and his voice was that of a cat play with its prey. ‘It’s terrible, terrible! Isn’t it better for you not to be so stubborn? If you simply say, “I apostatize,” all will be well. Then you will be able to let your strained mind relax and be at ease.’

‘It’s only that snoring,’ answered the priest through the darkness.

Suddenly the interpreter became silent as if in astonishment. ‘You think that is snoring.  .  . that is.  .  . Sawano, did you hear what he said? He thought that sound was snoring!’

The priest had not known that Ferreiras standing beside the interpreter. ‘Sawano, tell him what it is!’

The priest heard the voice of Ferreira, that voice he had heard every day long ago – it was low and pitiful. ‘That’s not snoring. That is the moaning of Christians hanging in the pit’. . .

Inside  the cell there came not the faintest sound. Only the pitch darkness where the priest now lay huddle up and through which it seemed impossible to penetrate.
‘I was here just like you.’ Ferreira uttered the words distinctly, separating the syllable from one another. ‘I was imprisoned here, and that night was darker and colder than any night in my life.’

The priest leaned his head heavily against the wooden wall and listened vaguely to the old man’s words. Even without the old man’s saying so, he knew that that night had been blacker than any before. The problem was not this; the problem was that he must not be defeated by Ferreira’s temptings – the tempting of Ferreira who had been shut up in the darkness just like himself and was now enticing him to follow the same path.

‘I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men handing in the pit.’ And even as Ferreira finished speaking, the voices like snoring, now high, now low, were carried to their ears. But now the priest was aware of the truth. I was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit.

While he had been squatting here in the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this, he had uttered no prayer; he had laughed. The very thought bewildered him completely. He had thought the sound of that voice ludicrous, and he had laughed aloud. He had believed in his pride that he alone in this night was sharing in the suffering of that man [Jesus]. But here just beside him were people who were sharing in that suffering much more than he. Why this craziness, murmured a voice not his own. And you call yourself a priest! A priest who takes upon himself the sufferings of others! ‘Lord, until this moment have you been mocking me?, he cried aloud.

“Laudate Eum [Praise Him]! I engraved those letters on the wall,’ Ferreira repeated. ‘Can’t you find them? Look again!’
“I know!’ The priest, carried away by anger, shouted lauder than ever before. ‘Keep quiet!’ he said. “You have no right to speak to me like this.’

‘I have no right? That is certain. I have no right. Listening to those groans all night I was no longer able to give praise to the Lord. I did not apostatize because I was suspended in the pit. For three days, I who stand before you was hung in a pit of foul excrement, but I did not say a single word that might betray my God.’ Ferreira raised a voice that was like a growl as he shouted: ‘The reason I apostatized . . .are you ready? Listen! I was out in here and heard the voices of those people for who God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength; but God did nothing.’
‘Be quiet!’
‘Alright. Pray! But those Christians are partaking of a terrible suffering such as you cannot even understand. From yesterday – in the future –now at this very moment. Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them. And God, he does nothing either.’

The priest shook his head wildly, putting both fingers into his ears. But the voice of Ferreira together with the groaning of the Christians broke mercilessly in Stop! Stop! Lord, it is now that you should break the silence. You must not remain silent. Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.

A great shadow passed over his soul like that of the great wings of a bird flying over the mast of a ship. The wings of the bird now brought to his mind the memory of the various ways in which the Christians had died. At that time, to, God had been silent. When the misty rain floated over the sea, he was silent. When the one-eyed man had been killed beneath the blazing rays of the sun, he had said nothing. But at that time  the Priest had been able to stand it; or, rather than stand it, he had been able to thrust the terrible doubt far from the threshold of his mind. But no it was different. Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?

‘Now they are in that courtyard’ (it was the sorrowful voice of Ferreira that whispered to him.) ‘There unfortunate Christians are hanging. They have been hanging there since you came here.’

The old man was telling no lie. As he strained his ears the groaning that had seemed to be that of a single voice suddenly revealed itself as a double one- groaning was high (it never became low): the high voice and the low voice were mingled with one another, coming from different persons.

‘When I spent that night here five people were suspended in the pit. Five voices were carried to my ears on the wind. The official said: “If you apostatize, those people will immediately be taken out of the pit, their bonds will be loosed, and we will put medicine on their wounds.” I answered: “why do not these people not apostatize?” And the official laughs as he answered me: “They have already apostatized many times. But as long as you don’t apostatize these peasants cannot be saved.”’

‘And you .  .  .’ The priest spoke through his tears. ‘You should have prayed .  .  . .’

‘I did pray. I kept on praying. But prayer did nothing to alleviate their suffering. Behind their ears a small incision was made; the blood drips slowly through the incision and through the nose and mouth. I know it well, because I experienced the same suffering in my own body. Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering.’

The priest remembered how at Saishoji when he first met Ferreira he had noticed a scar like a burn on his temples. He remembered the brown color of the wound and now the whole scene rose p behind huis eyelids. To chase away the imagination he kept banging his head against the wall. ‘In return for these earthly sufferings, those people will receive a reward of eternal joy,’ he said.

‘Don’t deceive yourself!’ said Ferreira. ‘Don’t disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words.’

’ My weakness? The priest shook his head; yet he had no self-confidence. ‘What do you mean? It’s because I believe in the salvation of these people . . .?’

‘You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refused to do so. It’s because you dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.’ Until now Ferreira’s words out as a single breath of anger, but now his voice gradually weakened as he aid: “Yet I am the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest out to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here .  .  .’

For a moment Ferreira remained silent; then he suddenly broke out in a strong voice: ‘Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.’

Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light.
‘Christ would have certainly have apostatized to help men.’

‘No, no!’ said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. ‘No, no!”
‘ For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.’
‘Stop tormenting me! Go away, away’ shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened – and the white light of morning flooded into the room.

‘You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,’ said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.

Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains – and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentler light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls. . .