Pure signal.

Dear Jake DeSantis,

Dear Jake DeSantis,

Thanks for your self-pity. I am thrilled you have sufficient income to make a political statement by donating $700,000 to anyone. I personally have never had that much income to throw away on petulance, I can only imagine. Your net worth must be amazing.

I heard a radio interview with a man last week who’s wife died from pneumonia after they decided to not heat their home because they had to cut costs somewhere. Your tone is so much more aggrieved than his — why is that? You feel somehow that you deserve a six figure income — you describe your life of selfish pursuit of wealth as pursuing your patriotic duty — your counterpart on the radio just wanted his family to remain living.

I have no sympathy for you. Your claim to the moral high ground is a joke. You are right that the outrage at AIG is symbolic — it is symbolic of rage at people like you everywhere who feel that $700,000 could be a reasonable payment for a year behind a desk.

Your life and privilege are a gift from people who are better than you, and who, the vast majority anyway, have less than you.

If you are so graceless as to actually feel resentment for it, please, for the sake of the motivation of the rest of us, keep it to yourself.

James D. Newman


DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

You and I have never met or spoken to each other, so I’d like to tell you about myself. I was raised by schoolteachers working multiple jobs in a world of closing steel mills. My hard work earned me acceptance to M.I.T., and the institute’s generous financial aid enabled me to attend. I had fulfilled my American dream.

I started at this company in 1998 as an equity trader, became the head of equity and commodity trading and, a couple of years before A.I.G.’s meltdown last September, was named the head of business development for commodities. Over this period the equity and commodity units were consistently profitable — in most years generating net profits of well over $100 million. Most recently, during the dismantling of A.I.G.-F.P., I was an integral player in the pending sale of its well-regarded commodity index business to UBS. As you know, business unit sales like this are crucial to A.I.G.’s effort to repay the American taxpayer.

The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers.

I have the utmost respect for the civic duty that you are now performing at A.I.G. You are as blameless for these credit default swap losses as I am. You answered your country’s call and you are taking a tremendous beating for it.

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.

That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It’s now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds.

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.

As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

The only real motivation that anyone at A.I.G.-F.P. now has is fear. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to “name and shame,” and his counterpart in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, has made similar threats — even though attorneys general are supposed to stand for due process, to conduct trials in courts and not the press.

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes. In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

This choice is right for me. I wish others at A.I.G.-F.P. luck finding peace with their difficult decision, and only hope their judgment is not clouded by fear.

Mr. Liddy, I wish you success in your commitment to return the money extended by the American government, and luck with the continued unwinding of the company’s diverse businesses — especially those remaining credit default swaps. I’ll continue over the short term to help make sure no balls are dropped, but after what’s happened this past week I can’t remain much longer — there is too much bad blood. I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Jake DeSantis

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Angels and Demons

Pop psychology studies and
rosy cheeked optimists who always
turn the conversation away from unpleasant topics
and seem to be afraid of the depths
and seem to be afraid of digging.
Yes easy to pick on sometimes even
transparently stupid but
they have a point.

Thinking about negative things affects your performance.
It affects your ability to do
anyone who has ever played darts knows this
to say nothing of more complex pursuits.

And it goes beyond that
those little whorls of chaos
whether they are drug addicts
or perpetual victims
or just helpless fools
the people who can’t get chaos outside of their life
who regale you with their medical problems
who are always tired
or who are always angry always
fighting with the bus driver or the waitress
throwing things breaking things.

Have you ever known someone
who broke things consistently
without ever displaying anger?
Just kind of a blanket insensitivity to how things work?

They kill things by “accident” as well.

The superstitions about vampires and the evil eye
phenomenologically sum up generations of experience
even if the causality is fucked — the basic idea–

That negative, disorganized, sickness obsessed people
will make you physically weaker, dumber, less creative
more prone to accident and disease is
strictly speaking

The dark has much to recommend it
Dark Eros, Thanatos, the facticity of your own death
the car wreck charisma of disaster
the vicarious enjoyment of suffering
that you do not have to work out
the fascination with the facial expressions of agony
these are real and valid subjects of art and meditation
and find places of honor in every spiritual tradition
of age and depth.

But they can also unground, and weaken and poison.

The magician needs to stay in the center of the circle
surrounded by the names of the positive forces
armed with weapons of power and craft
and the demons need to stay in the triangle
where they can be vivisected and interrogated and understood.

If you make a habit of letting the demons
run roughshod over your life
(or if you traffic much with the people who do)
you will find yourself working a lot harder
then you really have to.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Poems | Leave a comment

I am over Barak Obama

I am over the Democrats.
The Democrats were at best a default choice for me — I am not a racial or religious bigot, so Republicanism is out. I know that not every Republican is a bigot, but the party has a history of embracing them, and everyone who accepts the party name has made their peace with that, either by deciding that they agree, or deciding that the question is not important. Both of those positions are moral failures, so the GOP is out for me. That leaves me with the Democratic party, not because no third party stands a chance of getting elected, but because no third party exists that isn’t bat-shit crazy. Some of them have some good ideas some of the time, but from my college days I have noticed that the best definition of the fringe is that part of the garment that accumulates fluff. I wouldn’t want Ralph Nader or Ron Paul in charge of the military or the economy — they might make interesting conversation partners, but I don’t believe that either of them could get shit done.
However, the total intellectual and moral failure of the Obama team in aligning itself with Rick Warren has highlighted a tremendously uncomfortable fact for me — I can not make my peace with the Democrats either. Rick Warren is a fraud — I’ve read the man’s books — he is a traditional American huckster, straight out of the P.T. Barnum tent revival circuit — he is a smiling Amway salesman and he is selling you salvation. There are many Christians in this country who don’t go in for this kind of obvious transparent fraud, and there are many atheists who would sit googly eyed at a slot machine in Vegas and pour all their money into it while the B-girl flirts and the music plays. It has nothing to do with religion — it has to do with the con. It has to do with giving up on your intellectual integrity, because the good part of too-good-to-be-true is something you want so bad, and anyway thinking is so hard, that you will sign up to buy swamp land and snake oil, jewelry for $9.95 and you think every waitress really wants to be your friend.
I get it – but I don’t want it from my leaders. I don’t want a president who is selling that shit to himself, or to me. And in America that means I don’t want a president.
I signed on to the Barak Obama juggernaut because I wanted to believe. And that is a bad reason to believe anything. Ultimately, what is important to me is truth — and while I know that I can’t always get that, I also know that I don’t have to insult it. And if you are an ambitious enough person that you want to be president, then you are going to insult it.
Barak Obama has taken some important stances that are simply wrong — factually and morally wrong. I acceded to them because I had signed on because I wanted to believe. I am not saying that the Republicans have the right answer for any of these issues, and I’m not saying that the progressives have the answer, I’m saying that the current administration, the incoming administration, does not have the answer.
Issue 1: Gay marriage. The bottom line is that marriage in the United States is not defined by the Church, it is a legal contract that exists within the vast and complex structure of national and state law. Separation of Church and State insures that what the Bible has to say about it is irrelevant. It may have come from the Bible originally, but that is of no matter other than historical interest, even if it were true (which of course it isn’t — but I don’t want to diverge into a historical argument). Legally, the biblical opinion of homosexuality is irrelevant. Homosexuality is a biologically determined trait, like sex and race — and it is clear that under the spirit of equal protection under law, that homosexuals are to be allowed the same rights under law as heterosexuals. Ergo, the marriage contract that heterosexuals get at the courthouse is the same one that homosexuals need to get. We might have to change the wording on the contract, but the state needs to provide one contract, and it needs to be the same contract for everybody.
Issue 2: Global Warming. Is not our number one energy priority. We have been shanghaied into a national acceptance of a phenomenon which no two people can even agree to a name for. The science at the root of it is one thing, but the science that the public understands about it is mostly bad. The people at the center of the debate have made a decision as a group that it is more important to motivate action than to be honest about the complexity of the issues at hand. As a result they lie, and people repeat the lies. Weather it exists or not, no one understands it. I have read a lot about it (thousands of pages) over the last three years, there are some interesting conversations to be had, but they are not the conversations that are being had. The topic needs to be cleared up before we go spending money, it is pursued with a religious fervor right now, which means people want to act before they understand. That is always a bad idea. Global Warming is our national Lamarckism and in time if we even remember it and aren’t off on some other trip, we will have to pretend that we aren’t embarrassed to have been a part of it.
Issue 3: Energy. I despise John McCain, but he was right about Nuclear. Energy density demands that wind and Earth based solar will never be the principal energy sources for an industrial civilization. Wind is a massive sinkhole for cash, and 30 years from now the junkyards are going to be full of giant abstract sculptures which your tax money will pay for, because wind cannot pay for itself at this time. We need something to reduce our demand on foreign oil, for sure, but wind is not going to do it. Nuclear plants, electric cars, and smart exploitation of tar sands and shale are a good place to start.
Issue 4: UAW. It’s time is done. We don’t allow monopolies to distort the market for product, why should we allow it for labor? Like the Democrats, the UAW doesn’t care about the worker, they care about themselves.
Issue 5: Corporate taxes. Corporate taxes do not come out of corporations pockets — corporations don’t have pockets — they have resource flows. A corporation may be a legal person, but it is a mistake to personalize them. When you raise the cost of doing business, the shareholders don’t just choose to take money out of their bank accounts, they raise prices — and that comes out of your pocket. A tax on a corporation is a tax on you. For that reason, we need to switch, slowly and over time, to a single payer plan. The only reason to tax corporations partly, and individuals partly is to mask the actual cost of government. Right now, you are paying taxes three ways — you are taxed through manipulation of the dollars value, you are taxed by direct taxes, and you are taxed by indirect taxes (licencing fees, business taxes etc) that raise the cost of the products that you purchase. That means you are paying multiply compounded tax, because after you pay 20% tax to the tax man, you pay an inflated price for an orange (how much you do not know) — so every penny of  inflated cost of the orange is a penny you have been taxed on twice or three times, or four times.
Your real tax rate right now is probably close to 50%, you can figure out exactly how much by comparing the GNP to the actual cost of government, but your real rate depends on how much money you spend and on what — so you can’t know for yourself, just for a fictitious average person. That ambiguity is why it is kept that way — you would not tolerate your real tax rate if you knew what it was, and you would demand greater efficiency and cut programs. I’m not saying this is a deliberate conspiracy, just a conspiracy of interest. It can be eliminated by having a single tax, and that tax should be progressive and on income, and the rules for reporting income need to be made more transparent.
Issue 6: Warrantless search and seizure. Obama was part of a major Democratic failure to protect your constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure. The Bush Administration asked the major telecommunications companies to spy on your communications illegally. Some of the companies refused, and some agreed. The companies that agreed should be penalized so that in the future, when the government asks companies to break the law, they have an incentive not to do so. “We were just following orders.” is not an acceptable excuse in America.
I have purged, but I am ashamed of my collusion. I am not a liberal, and I am certainly not a Democrat. And the Democrats do not care about me any more than the Republicans do. The party cares about winning, and the indivudals care about their own ambition. I had no business lying to myself or the world about it.
So who do I vote for? I don’t vote. Voting is a con to normalize dissidence. It is a trick to get you to invest in the debate as it is framed by the power-players at the time. Voting does not exist to give you a voice, it exists to make society stable. When a salesman comes to your door, sometimes they will give you a worthless trinket of some kind, a pamphlet or a flier. It doesn’t matter what. As an animal, by accepting the trinket, you make a subtle emotional investment in what the salesman is saying. That is all a vote is.
I don’t care so much what you as an individual think, but you need to start thinking. You need to stop following the party, whatever party. You need to learn how to evaluate claims of truth and value, how to reason, how to weigh evidence. This is hard work, but as long as you are following the bandwagon, you will never do it, because the B-girl is flirting with you and the music is playing and you are being sold something that is too good to be true: which is that you can have value without thought and effort. Resist.
Think for yourself.

December 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Obama and Rick Warren: Malfeasance or Cowardice?

And so the journey that began with Rosa Parks ends with throwing the faggots under the bus.

Not the outcome I expected, but hell, you gotta throw somebody under the bus — white men still have the nuclear codes, there are a lot of women in America, the president-elect is black, the ADL is strong and Hispanics will soon dominate the lead economic state in America — so it’s gotta be the faggots.

I mean, you could pay more than lip service to the idea that all human beings deserve equal protection under the law — but lets not go crazy here. None other than Rick Warren — that font of human intelligence and dignity has asserted that such a radical step would lead to legalizing pedophilia and bestiality.

Pedophilia and bestiality. Because being a faggot is such a disgusting thing that it’s stored in Rick Warren’s brain next to raping children and fucking pigs.

BUT if you have raped a child or fucked a pig, and gotten caught and prosecuted — you still get to get married. If you are a faggot and you get married you are threatening the sanctity of the institution.

You can kill your wife, get convicted, serve your time and still get married again. You can rape your daughter, and the sanctity of marriage stands — no one has ever tried to deny the marriage rights of murderers or pedophiles. But try to marry someone of the same sex, and somehow your decision casts an evil and disgusting pall over all of the heterosexual couples in the world. In fact, Pastor Fred Phelps believes that the pall cast is so severe that it is the reason that American troops are dying in Iraq. He protests their funerals with the sign “God hates fags.”

I admire Fred Phelps in a way that I do not admire Rick Warren — he is honest about his insanity and his hate. The moral argument is exactly the same — homosexuality is a contamination that erodes the moral structure of the nation. Homosexuals are either morally insane individuals who needed to have been disciplined more severely as children (please don’t accuse me of exaggerating — I have known homosexual men who were beaten by fathers they no longer speak to because of this very common argument.) Or they are diseased — they are mentally ill and can be reformed by therapy.

Of course, if you have read any of the history of racial stereotyping you will be familiar with all of these arguments. They are all the arguments of the segregationists, who also had the sanction of American churches at one time. Black men were morally insane — they were subject to uncontrollable urges towards rape and violence — in fact there are a lot of people who believe a watered down version of this today. Not 10 years ago a popular radio disk jockey made the claim that aborting all black babies would lead to a decrease in crime.

 Do you find that argument disgusting? I do.

If a preacher made that argument, or made the argument that black men should not be allowed to marry outside of their race because of their contaminating influence, would you find it acceptable for the president of the United States to receive his inaugural benediction from that preacher?

It’s not just something that Rick Warren has said, and reiterated, and clarified, and preached about. He has been politically active in the cause of denying homosexual women and men the right to marry in California. It’s not a subtle thing that he has done — its not like Obama didn’t know, and that he didn’t see the protests following the passage of Prop. 8. So you have to ask yourself a question about Obama — does he not believe that homosexuals deserve the same rights that he has, does he not believe that rhetoric which he would recognize as vile when applied to himself is equally vile when applied to other people, or is he just drawing a line in the sand to tell Americans how far he will go, and too bad for the faggots — they are just too far over that line?

Because it’s one or the other. It wasn’t an oversight — Obama knows Rick Warren, he knows his beliefs, his political stances and he knows how the gay community feels about that.

So does he believe that homosexuality is a contamination so pernicious and virulent that simply allowing homosexuals to marry other homosexuals will damage our society, or does he not believe that homosexuals are worth defending? Does he believe that Rosa Parks deserves to sit at the back of the bus, or is he afraid of what the other passengers will say if he defends her? Which one is it?

Which one is it?

December 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Open Letter to Obama on Rick Warren

Dear President-Elect Obama,
I decided early in your campaign to support you. I caucused for you in Washington State, and voted and advocated others to vote for you. I sent out emails with your promotional materials and discussed your ideas.
I have argued against other progressives who have been upset by your cabinet choices, I am a staunch centrist Democrat.
Your selection of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer is beyond unacceptable to me.
It is less a matter that he be given a greater pulpit to bully homosexuals from — he will have that — he is media savvy and will continue to demean and disparage people from it for as long as he lives.
I am astonished, however, that in the wake of the passing of Proposition 8, you could be so insensitive to a constituency which supported you, and whose claims, based as they are on the separation of church and state and equal protection under the law, are so just.
Rick Warren has every right to define what marriage is for him, and anyone who agrees with him is free to support his church. He does not have any right to define marriage for anyone else.
You have said that you want to heal the rifts in America — would that include inviting a preacher who believed in non-violent racial segregation? Would you feel comfortable being prayed over by a segregationist? Because a few short years ago it would have been easy to find one to do the honors.
If you do not understand that democracy means equal protection under the law, and that hate in any form is unacceptable then I cannot in good conscience continue to support you. I voted for you once, and I even understood your distancing yourself from the issue of homosexual rights during the election, because it is so divisive and you needed to get elected.
But you have chosen to put yourself in the middle of the debate in the national spotlight, and chosen to share your moment of triumph over bigotry with a bigot.
How many times has this been said? “But I thought you were different.”
I thought you were. But the central issue in politics for me is human equality. If politics is to populist, to dirty, to ugly a place for that vision to find a home and the courage to support it, then I see clearly that I was wrong about you, I was wrong to support you and vote for you — I will stand humiliated in my naivete and I will not vote for you or any Democrat again.
I am stunned that you ever even considered this,
James D. Newman

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I have a strange problem that I have been, so far, unable to solve myself — so I am putting it out into my freindspace to see if anyone can give me a hand with it.

I love doing math problems. I realize you probably think that is the problem right there, it isn’t. I also love writing poetry. I find, in either case, that the experience of sitting down to work is profoundly satisfying, that it stops time, that it leads to feelings of self worth. Both activities are inherently pleasurable to me, and both result in my growth as a person.

So far so good.

The problem isn’t choosing between them. Thankfully, I don’t have to. What a lucky lover who has to choose between equally beautiful and attentive partners, how much more lucky they that do not have to choose!

My problem is that setting down to work, besides producing all of the positive things I have described, produces an intolerable anxiety in me. Sometimes it prevents me from being able to sit down at all. Other times it builds slowly over the course of a week or two, until I am not able to sit still and I experience such intense symptoms of physical distress that I would do anything to get away — I watch TV, I go out, I drive around. But the break always turns into an abandonment of the project — the break is not a respite, it is an avoidance of a terrible anxiety produced by the thing that I love.

Then once I am lost in whatever self indulgent escape I turned to, I experience a sense of worthlessness and disappointment. Please do not misunderstand me — I am not doing either of these things (the math or the poetry) for anyone else. I am not ambitious at all — I am not looking for reward or external gratification. I am experiencing a genuine approach avoidance, where I feel a genuine love for a thing, and a nauseating anxiety produced by the very thing that I love.

Besides the obvious observation that I am just stone fucking neurotic — what on earth is going on with me?

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lady Gaga Just Dancing

Lady Gaga illuminated inside California’s burning.

The heat waves of her sex shimmer the coastal sage into nothingness.

A firefighter army wetting down her canyons with stiff hoses.

She comforts the weeping, who have lost all, with Shiva’s wisdom: “Just dance!”


November 22, 2008 Posted by | People who fucking Rock, Poems | 1 Comment

Hermann Hesse: Life and Art by Joseph Mileck

Jospeh Mileck is a fine biographer, but he has no sensitivity whatsoever to poetry. His scholarship is excellent — cataloging variants of manuscripts, listing biographical details, collating primary documents — and he provides a fantastic list of sources and notes for the deeply curious to pursue on their own terms. The biography is worth reading for all of these things — but it would have been much better had he not tried to interpret Hesse’s writing. He would be a good interpreter for Eliot or Pound, who consciously use symbols almost as words — to indicate specific thoughts — but Hesse is someone who writes primarily from feelings and Mileck seems unable to resist the temptation to turn symbolic relationships into allegorical ones. His abuse of Hesse’s written works is tolerable until he get’s to Damian, which he mauls and makes ugly. I have read the book perhaps 100 times, and to claim, for instance, that  Damian is nothing more than a pure allegorical substitution for the Socratic Damian is pure heavy handed abuse. Damian is powerful because it is a fable, certainly, but like a fable (and in a manner which Hesse gives us the key to in his description of the art of sculpture in Narcissus and Goldmund) it draws it’s life from ambiguous characters who are first of all — characters. In this Mileck reminds me of 19th century mythologists who protest that the actions in fairy tales are unlikely, or impossible. As if that was saying anything new or significant.

Where he fails with Damien, he triumphs in his explication of Klein und Wagner which is passionate, immediate and brilliant. His closeness to the facts of Hesse’s biography unlock a tale which is very close to psychological realism — and this raises an interesting question: Does spiritualization obfuscate understanding? Because Hesse is asking the same question that Milek is asking (Who is Hesse?) and while Damien is one very beautiful and coherent answer to that question, it is a fable. As a fable does it obscure precious detail which might in fact contain the answer to the question Hesse is asking? I want to be delicate with this question — because it contains an indictment of art and poetry the consequences of which I am not sure I am comfortable with. Which doesn’t prevent the question from being there.

Where Milick’s diligence truly pays off is is explication of Steppenwolf. He fails miserably with Siddhartha, which he seems to hold himself above and experience as a treatise on religious or philosophical ideas and (as with Damien) completely misses the significance of the work, but then turns around and skillfully exposes all of the magicians tricks in creating Harry Hallar — right down to the factual existence of the mirrored ball of the costume ball at the climax, and the identity of Hermine (Julia Laubi-Honegger). He also makes a significant point about drug use, which seems to be suggested in Stepenwolf — that hallucinogenic drugs were around at the time, but that Hesse describes hallucinogenic experiences far earlier than this — in short that drugs were available, but that he wouldn’t have needed them.

The inability of Milick to follow Hesse into his magic theater when he goes (the world inhabited by Damien and Siddhartha) illustrates an interesting fact about Hesse — that he is writing about his experiences — he is not a philosopher discussing ideas — he is living his subject matter. His world weariness is not an intellectual affect, it is felt, as is his passion. This is what gives Hesse his depth — one cannot just think one’s way to the bottom of his works — he is calling us on a journey. The journey can be thought about for sure, and this may even deepen it, but ultimately it is an experiential journey, and it must be experienced as an experiment, as a risk. If you do not posses courage, then Hesse will have very little to offer you.

Mikick’s complete otherness to Hesse is shown in a single sentence: “He realizes that the woman whom he has imagined to be his kindred soul and more is nothing other than a common harlot.” — it is impossible to imagine Hesse making this statement or judgment. Milick belongs almost completely to the bourgeois world rejected by every one of Hesse’s characters. It is astonishing that this sentence would have survived the editing process, it is so utterly tone deaf to everything in Hesse’s work. It is almost simpering — pathetic.

When we get to the Glass Bead Game I think the basic flaw in Milick’s approach becomes clear — he sees Hesse on his return leg of the hero’s journey and mistakenly thinks that the point was that the journey was never worth taking. There is a reason that the Glass Bead Game is the central symbol of the book — but Milick wants to see in it only a sterile diversion. Like many English majors I have known look at math — some kind of formal virtuosity which can only attract deviant obsession — but Hesse clearly sees more in the game — just as he clearly (as Milick correctly and clearly shows) also experiences an ethical awakening and a recognition of the importance of life as life. While Milick does get so much of Hesse so right — he does not understand the real significance of Hesse’s inward world. He does not understand the personal and completely asocial component of enlightenment — he only sees the part that points back to the world, and that is because he himself has never left the world — he stands at the edge of the town and looks into the forest in disapproval of irresponsibility and selfishness and sex and visions. He is the good citizen who as Hesse warns us, in his heart hates the vagabond.

Where I am critical of Mileck’s poetical understanding of Hesse let there be no doubt that the biography itself, where it does not try to interpret Hesse’s work, is extraordinary. Mileck is a careful scholar who collates, fact checks and draws connections and confirms them. But if your soul has been touched by Hesse — trust that and not Mileck’s observations as to questions of meaning.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse

God what a relief after drudging through that awful Heidegger crap.

Hesse writes in two voices. One is the almost medieval voice of Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, and Peter Camenzind — and the other is the more contemporary voice of Steppenwolf, Magister Ludi and Rosshalde. Rosshalde is not really a novel so much as a gesture — it should almost be a painting, and in it a painter contemplates a single fact — which is his inability to have a normal life. I say normal, but I should say mundane — the gesture is that of recognition of the state of being an artist. An ordinary man is allowed certain things, and certain things are expected of him. An artist, or saint — more to the point — a philosopher in the sense in which Nietzsche uses the word when he does not use it with scorn, is not capable of those things.

At the beginning of Rosshalde we have a manor house novel, where the lord of the manor has become estranged from his family who neither understand nor appreciate him. We see him first as desperate and scorned, and later as strong and distant — but what he is not is a capable husband and father. And what his wife and children are not are significant friends. Through the intervention of his friend, and fate, he recognizes the futility of his situation and leaves it. It is a single gesture — there is no struggle, which is why it is really a painting and not a novel. It must be a confusing book to read for someone who does not already understand it, because it makes no argument.

I have heard it said that ‘just because something has happened does not make it a fit subject for art’ — but this novel feels as if this is exactly what happened — I suspect that Hesse lived through the truth of these emotions (if not the actual events) and wrote this down as a way of explaining it to himself. You could see either Siddhartha or Harry Haller writing this in their notebook as a way of dealing with the pain of losing their earthly attachments before coming to their different philosophical positions on it. This book would make a good companion piece to “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin — as it deals with the inadequate environment of social convention to satisfy an awakening human soul.

This is not a book which should be meaningful to an ordinary man who wishes to remain ordinary and find meaning in his family and profession. This is a book about the ruthlessness required of those who are called on to a different kind of life.

While I deeply love it, I don’t know that I would recommend it as easily as I would recommend Demian, or Steppenwolf — even though it speaks to that same transformation. I think that if someone has read Demian and Steppanwolf, and has been moved by them — if the character of Harry Haller particularly moves you — if you can see why he is the way he is, then Rosshalde is a further meaningful meditation on the subject which you might find to be bracing — something to give you courage.

November 15, 2008 Posted by | 40th Birthday Project | Leave a comment

Nietzsche Volume One by Martin Heidegger

This book has a bad smell. I am 30 pages in and I see much Heidegger and little Nietzsche. Heidegger’s main thesis so far seems to be that we must not be confused by previous readers of Nietzsche — so far so good — but then the reason for that is that Nietzsche seems to have stumbled upon Heidegger’s main idea. To justify this we will look at a work which Nietzsche did not complete — didn’t even edit. And by the way have you heard of the book Being and Time (product placement on like the 10th page.) This is all the worse as Heidegger seems to be a philosophy teacher. He speaks as if he has tenure — as if you need to count on him for a grade. I would never finish 4 pages of him if he didn’t have a reputation. I think he’s blowing smoke. Nietzsche, on the other hand is so lucid, so clear. One would read him even if his name was not attached. His words speak for themselves — and here Heidegger seems to want to use the occasion of Nietzsche’s name to talk about his own bullshit.

I cruised along for a couple more chapters thinking I had been unfair while crafty Heidegger recycled material from his Aristotle lectures, engaged in shallow etymological observations (providing a number of rich loci for multiple choice and fill in the blank questions in undergraduate philosophy quizzes) referenced Aquinas and Hegel and passionately defended German Idealism — which I suspect Nietzsche would loathe — and finally I came upon this statement:

“That is what Nietzsche’s thought wants to achieve: it wants to give things weight and importance again.” Could you imagine a more ludicrous passage to be written about Nietzsche? This was true of Kant, certainly, and likely of Heidegger himself — it is nostalgic and sentimental — even effeminate. Only someone who is unsure of himself requires “things” to posses weight and importance. If Nietzsche was concerned about “things” at all it was their lightness. Heidegger is the misty eyed closet-romantic nationalist reactionary — not Nietzsche.

He very strongly reminds me of Kant, particularly in that he tells us over and over again what he is going to do, but he never actually does it. He gives us a structure where he says he is going to unveil Nietzsche’s thought, that we must listen to Nietzsche, that we must be sensitive to what he is saying — and then he goes off on long unrelated tangents projecting and misreading fragments and creating arguments on the fly. Like Kant — his fans accept it when he says “We will do thus and so.” — perhaps because these are the only clear thoughts in the soup. So we read him and walk away saying “Well whatever else I know he said he did thus-and-so.” — so that is what goes in the essay. He reads like someone free-associating, and remembering every once in a while what it is that he is writing about and putting down a couple words about it. His proclamations are homilies — we cannot disagree with them, they are too vague. But after asserting them he does not live up to their demands.

I cannot imagine that the book would be worth reading even for a fan of Heidegger. It has nothing to offer on the subject of Nietzsche — Heidegger never understood Nietzsche because Nietzsche undertook a practice of honesty with himself, and Heidegger lived constrained contentedly within the bounds of a comfortable conceit which wants nothing more than to convince others of it’s good grounding. To read Heidegger on the subject of Nietzsche is as absurd as reading an apology of Socrates written by Gorgias. I am not going to read the remaining volumes.

I am suddenly suspicious of Derrida — who I have always liked. He refers so much and so often to this buffoon — was I reading him naively?

November 14, 2008 Posted by | 40th Birthday Project | 2 Comments