Thursday, August 19, 2010


By now I rarely read a book or watch a movie without also Googling to read about the author, the circumstances, the reaction and so on. In fact, this goes back to Alvina Krause’s demand that we develop a character for acting by ransacking their circumstances and gripping their place in history. It’s the way I survived Div School courses like “Modern Thinkers” (which we nicked “modern stinkers”) because one cannot understand Paul Tillich without seeing the times (Hitler) that pushed him centrifugally towards the edges of Christianity while his heart held him centripetally bound to the center. One cannot understand Freud without understanding the Vienna of his times, which he took to be reality. (Well, hardly, my dear!)

So in wading through these Stieg Larsson Millennium mysteries (I’ve read all three now, though I only heard the first one read aloud), I find that he is in fact explaining his real-life opposition to the forces of Evil -- specifically stigmatization and persecution that erode democracy -- through inquiry journalism. Tying this into the reading I’m doing about Deleuzeguattarian system thought, I see that what he specifically said in “The Girl Who Played with Fire” was that criminal enterprise is not always (or perhaps anymore) a matter of a big overarching crime syndicate. (Even the Pope is admitting he’s not running a monolith. And there’s a fascinating article in this month’s Vanity Fair about the hundred-ring-circus the US presidency has become. Tim speaks of “all the little mafias.”) It wasn’t until I began to read the reviews and watch the YouTube interviews that I realized how much Larsson was also trying to redeem small individual (rhizomatic) struggles against injustice through the paradigm of a lone journalist and the small resistant figure of Lisbeth Salander. They are not lovers: they are co-warriors.

Our society has become more than ever a free-for-all in which crime, like many other phenomena, follows the rhizome structure: many small spontaneous nodes only loosely connected. What Larsson adds is that these little criminal enterprises are not run by brilliant or exceptionally evil minds, as the movies would suggest, but are more often just clusters of the human weeds of society growing in empty lots on broken ground. Stupid, ugly, malformed and uneducated, they are criminal simply because they can’t think of anything else. It’s there and it’s easy. He was not guessing: he had investigated.

I keep a close eye on Adam Curtis’ blog. His most recent post included a link to a video made in 1973 about Hell’s Angels in England. That’s not really what it was about: it addressed young, uneducated, unsocialized, unmotivated men hanging around getting into trouble. . It is not an accident that most of them are from stigmatized minorities with no education or marketable skills. The American solution has been to put them in jail at enormous cost. The criminal culture finds them useful. Our prisons are seminaries (seedbeds) for crime.

Turning over a small notepad, intending to write a shopping list on it, I discover this list of five things on the cardboard back:

1. Absolute truth claims.
2. Blind obedience.
3. Effort to establish an ideal time.
4. End justifies the means.
5. Declaring a “holy” war.

I don’t remember when I copied this down or from what. Might be the characteristics of Fascism, or Fundamentalism, or simply Dictatorship. They’re not all that different. And they certainly describe the self-righteous and finally Evil nature of the little renegade group within the Swedish secret service that tried to crush Salander.

The characteristics on this list do not account for the kind of Evil that comes from the “left,” the forces sometimes labeled “liberal” that are intent on doing what they think is Good, through regulation and control. Or do they? In fact, the missionary zeal for improving everything often pulls them into this same list. (They are the origin of “penitentiaries,” meant to be places to become penitent.) The problem is that the enormous body of complex rules and regulations that do-gooders are constantly legislating are all based on the assumption that they know what the world should be like -- like THEM. I read in the NYTimes today that Facebook has a new feature: you press a button and can see the exact location of all your friends so you can hail the nearby ones for a cup of coffee. They describe this as “nice” and “social.” Lisbeth Salander might define it as stalking.

The rhizome idea is that many small centers of thought and action are superior because they are more likely to be organic and related to the real local ecology. Looking for the “head” to kill (which has not succeeded in the case of Al-Quaeda) is less effective that improving the environment that encouraged the formation of terrorists in the first place -- usually through poverty, stigma and exclusion. The ground surge of this idea -- which organic gardeners and holistic health advisors have known for a long time -- has now begun in military circles. Hopefully the great consolidating ideas that have afflicted schools and ag systems lately will be abandoned in favor of of “local” rhizome networks in healthy environments that do not depend upon endless regulations and inspectors who never get around to inspecting, if indeed there are enough of them funded, properly trained, and immune to corruption.

Here are quotes from an article in the Atlantic that is supposed to be about the World Wide Web now dwindling in the face of “apps” (which I don’t understand at all). The quotes might also apply to the current struggle over economic theory and other social developments like gay marriage.

Too much scholarship has shown that technologies and systems are (messily) shaped by social movements and events and governments, political ideas and freak accidents.”

On the contrary, I think there still has not been enough scholarship (or maybe journalism) to convince people this is true. There’s very little awareness of how UNcontrollable spontaneous grassroots movements can be and how they can transform the world. I watched the 6-part YouTube video about Jack Kerouac last night and am still thinking about Bill Burroughs’ assertion that the “Beat” movement changed the planet, even penetrating the “hermetic” society of the Muslim world. Like Bin Laden. I consider this good, by the way.

From the Atlantic again: “We have made [technology] an all-purpose agent of change. As compared with other means of reaching our social goals, the technological has come to seem the most feasible, practical, and economically viable. It relieves the citizenry of onerous decision-making obligations and intensifies their gathering sense of political impotence. The popular belief in technology as a--if not the--primary force shaping the future is matched by our increasing reliance on instrumental standards of judgment, and a corresponding neglect of moral and political standards, in making judgments about the direction of society.”

Alexis Madrigal, the romantically named author of this article, has my attention. As much as Stieg Larsson did in his novels. So much to read -- so little time.

No comments: