Monday, July 11, 2011


An aspect of Bipolar Disorder I find slightly annoying these days is simple movement. Everything immediately points beyond itself thus making reflection, in the old fashioned sense of the word, a tad difficult.

Granted, it has its virtues. As long as there is puzzle, it proves captivating. It helps with word play, languages, and pattern recognition—variations on themes, if you will. I guess the major complaint here comes down to having become fed up with loose associations. In the sense that shapes of plants, animals, clouds, and often faces lead to one another-- each reminding me of some other, and occasionally meshing in. As do texts.

So, I picked up a book a while back that was billed as “a contribution to the critical debate on the current state of world politics,” Democracy in What State?

A few of the more cerebral thinkers of the left have put forth theses worth pondering leisurely. So I have been preoccupied with Alain Badiou’s free rendition of a passage in Plato that is highly entertaining:

Democratic man lives only for the pure present, transient desire is his only law. Today he regales himself with a four-course dinner and vintage wine; tomorrow he is all about Buddha, ascetic fasting, streams of crystal-clear water, and sustainable development. Monday he tries to get back in shape by pedaling for hours on a stationary bicycle; Tuesday he sleeps all day, then smokes and gorges again in the evening. Wednesday he declares that he is going to read some philosophy, but prefers doing nothing in the end. At Thursday’s dinner party he crackles with zeal for politics, fumes indignantly at the next person’s opinion. And heatedly denounces the society of consumption and spectacle. That evening he goes to see a Ridley Scott blockbuster about medieval warriors. Back home, he falls to sleep and dreams of liberating oppressed peoples by force of arms. Next morning he goes to work, feeling distinctly seedy, and tries without success to seduce the secretary from the office next door. […] There you have a life, or lifestyle, or lifeworld, or whatever you want to call it: no order, no ideas, but nothing too disagreeable or distressing either. It is as free as it is unsignifying, and insignificance isn’t too high a price to pay for freedom.

The original passage, as Mr. Badiou reminds us, is in Book VIII of the Republic:

And he does not accept or admit into the guard-house the words of truth when anyone tells him [561c] that some pleasures arise from honorable and good desires, and others from those that are base, and that we ought to practice and esteem the one and control and subdue the others; but he shakes his head at all such admonitions and avers that they are all alike and to be equally esteemed.” “Such is indeed his state of mind and his conduct.” “And does he not,” said I, “also live out his life in this fashion, day by day indulging the appetite of the day, now wine-bibbing and abandoning himself to the lascivious pleasing of the flute and again drinking only water and dieting; [561d] and at one time exercising his body, and sometimes idling and neglecting all things, and at another time seeming to occupy himself with philosophy. And frequently he goes in for politics and bounces up and says and does whatever enters his head. And if military men excite his emulation, thither he rushes, and if moneyed men, to that he turns, and there is no order or compulsion in his existence, but he calls this life of his the life of pleasure and freedom and happiness and [561e] cleaves to it to the end.” “That is a perfect description,” he said, “of a devotee of equality.” “I certainly think,” said I, “that he is a manifold man stuffed with most excellent differences, and that like that city he is the fair and many-colored one whom many a man and woman would count fortunate in his life, as containing within himself the greatest number of patterns of constitutions and qualities.” “Yes, that is so,” he said

Then the flutes reminded me of another interesting passage in Lucian of Samosata’s Timon the Misanthrop:

Whom have we now? is this Thrasycles the philosopher? sure enough it is. A halo of beard, eyebrows an inch above their place, superiority in his air, a look that might storm heaven, locks waving to the wind--’tis a very Boreas or Triton from Zeuxis' pencil. This hero of the careful get-up, the solemn gait, the plain attire--in the morning he will utter a thousand maxims, expounding Virtue, arraigning self-indulgence, lauding simplicity; and then, when he gets to dinner after his bath, his servant fills him a bumper (he prefers it neat), and draining this Lethe-draught he proceeds to turn his morning maxima inside out; he swoops like a hawk on dainty dishes, elbows his neighbour aside, fouls his beard with trickling sauce, laps like a dog, with his nose in his plate, as if he expected to find Virtue there, and runs his finger all round the bowl, not to lose a drop of the gravy.
Let him monopolize pastry or joint, he will still criticize the carving--that is all the satisfaction his ravenous greed brings him--; when the wine is in, singing and dancing are delights not fierce enough; he must brawl and rave. He has plenty to say in his cups--he is then at his best in that kind--upon temperance and decorum; he is full of these when his potations have reduced him to ridiculous stuttering. Next the wine disagrees with him, and at last he is carried out of the room, holding on with all his might to the flute-girl. Take him sober, for that matter, and you will hardly find his match at lying, effrontery or avarice. He is facile princeps of flatterers, perjury sits on his tongue-tip, imposture goes before him, and shamelessness is his good comrade; oh, he is a most ingenious piece of work, finished at all points, a multum in parvo. I am afraid his kind heart will be grieved presently. Why, how is this, Thrasycles?

So, with both the Democratic man and Philosopher as the bud of jokes and the music, wine, banter and such, I was reminded of one of Karl Marx’s famous passages. Only I could have sworn there was a violin there somewhere as well. Or perhaps it was some other passage I was thinking of entirely.

There is no violin in this one. Neither is there a secretary nor a flautist; but hey, at least there is cleavage of sorts.

What can I say, it has been years:

And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

See what I mean. It just feels as if I am perpetually drifting.