Scholars of foreign nations teach
that Pigeons will fly forty miles
for a breakfast. So be quiet
for a while and let’s go see what
int’rest the Trouts will pay us. Nor
let us get snagged upon the lost
credit of the poor despised Chub,
the fluid watery humour
with which all such do abound, or
the gravid drag of the jighead.
Grandpa preferred motorless troll,
bobbers, silence, sensitive pole,
recycled guts in crawdad traps,
and secret lakes unmarked on maps.
PG&E ex nihilo
created waters, built up dams:
modern constructions, grandiose,
unknown to mortal fisherman.
Venerable Bede says there’s an
island of England called Ely
for the innumerable Eels
born there. Other lands give Roughy,
Crappie, struck dumb by the lures of
blessed (happy) piscatores,
rich in fish, death-bound without a
Herberti Hooverii Somnium
My nightcap’s inside out a-
gain, a sign, of what-a-scene:
of basalt, bismuth, fluorspar
burnt out from earthen sunken
seams unseen by men above,
which our Agricola laid
bare in his Metallica.
Or Lou-Lou did he speak, de
re, of one Metallic thing?
Lou Henry grammar swirls
in this generative matrix
as the flowing allantois
fuses to firm chorion.
Lou Henry, Lou Henry, my
love, there are veins, too, beneath
the earth. Down there is no dark
nescio quod but a world,
a counter-world bearing wealth
beyond all surface scuttlers’
Our worshipful company of grocers
swears by the restorative effects of
common gum, Bubble Yum, pyrotechnic
powder of gun. Phenylketonurics
(this is vocative): your tonic contains
phenylalanine. Yea, this theriac
wants saxifrage. Palatine sortilege
foretells saccharine electuary
going down like eggs of estuary
birds preserved in Mithridatic honey.
And damaged brains. And mountains of money.
Steve Bannon has spoken highly, in public speeches, of the 'Eurasianist' ideologist Aleksandr Dugin. In the spirit of 'know thine enemy', a principle I wish more of us were willing to adopt, I've been reading Dugin, and translating parts of his work, for the past few years. His basic argument is that political power may be classified as either thalassocratic, which is to say sea-based, or tellurocratic, land-based. Anglo-American power, as consolidated in NATO, is the world's great thalassocracy, while the Russian Empire, whether Soviet or not, is the world's great tellurocracy. Germany and France, Dugin says, have elements of both, and can be swung either way. You might see where this is leading: Russia's historical destiny is to draw Germany and France into its own orbit by drawing out their own innate tellurocratic character.
I've also been reading Stormfront, V-Dare, and similar propaganda sites since long before Trumpism was on the radar, and I started noticing some years ago a clear surge in Russophilia, which was in part based on enthusiasm for Putin's new assertions of machismo, but also on a lot of arcane discussion among white-supremacists of the need to move beyond the now-outdated 'Nordicist' theory that made Germanic peoples into the paradigm of whiteness, while holding Slavs to be somehow second-tier whites. A friend of mine has alerted me that many usernames on white-nationalist message boards now make reference to the Yamnaya Culture, a Bronze Age settlement that, among other things, seems to root Indo-European civilization in the Pontic Steppe of Southern Russia: the appropriation here, one might speculate, is something like the adoption of the Cro-Magnon, with its supposedly robust skull, as a sort of mascot for 20th-century French racialists who wanted all Europeans to be descended from such a fine specimen of man.
A clear shift occurred in white supremacist ideology, which corresponded, presumably, to the rise of post-Soviet Russia in the first decade of the present century as a powerful illiberal nation, and to the simultaneous post-war accommodation of all of Germany, reunited in the early 1990s, within the Atlantic order. And now we have the alt-right ideologue Richard Spencer declaring that Russia is "the most powerful white power there is." And we have Steve Bannon, presumably, communicating similar thoughts to Donald Trump.
The American left is still complaining that any expression of concern about Russia's role in this election is just pro-Hillary 'red-baiting’. I have seen no shortage of memes in the left-wing social media showing, for example, a tinfoil hat photoshopped onto Paul Krugman's head for his supposedly outlandish belief that Russia has actively intervened in the 2016 US presidential elections. These low-information critics seem not to be decided on whether they think it is not true that Russia has intervened, or whether they think it is true, but are glad, thus trading on a crucial ambiguity we know very well from the Holocaust deniers.
Suppose for the sake of argument that they do think Russia intervened, and are glad of it. Is there anything left-wing about this stance? Dugin does regret that the Bolsheviks did not manage to trigger a comparable revolution in Germany circa 1918, not because Dugin has any sympathy for Leninism, but because he doesn’t think what imperial leaders say or think about their empires matters at all. In fact however the perplexing question of Russia's new role in American politics is closely connected with the domestic issue of the resurgence of white nationalism. The best hope for the growth of the tellurocracy to its maximum extent, which would involve Western Europe falling into the orbit of Russia by force or by persuasion (at this very moment, Bannon is publicly offering help to the campaigns of the National Front in France, a party that has recently also taken a generous loan from Russia), is to reduce the US to a white nationalist vassal state, happy to gaze admiringly and passively from afar at "the most powerful white power there is." These are the ideas that are currently filtering, though of course indirectly and in garbled form, into the lizard brain of the president-elect of our country.
This is perhaps a useful talking point when you are calling your local representatives to pressure them to somehow pressure Trump to scrap Bannon. Whatever you think of this notion, it presumably still means something to elected officials: Steve Bannon is a traitor.
I went on the international cable news channel France 24 last night, and gave interviews to both the French and English services of the network in my capacity as a founder of the After Trump movement. I was nervous about having to speak French, and trying to get the talking points just right in my head as I sat down in the guest's seat in front of the cameras. The host greeted me kindly, and asked me if I'd heard the latest, that Trump had just announced Mike Pence would be in charge of the transition, that Chris Christie was out, and that, it now appeared, certain elements of Obamacare were not so bad after all. He asked me if I thought it would be a good idea to discuss these things on air. Oh fuck, I thought, it's happening already. He's conscripting me in the inevitable process of normalisation. I began to nod weakly in the affirmative, but caught myself in time, and recommitted to what I was there for. "I don't think I have much to say about these aspects of the story," I told him sincerely.
Then we went on air, and I told him, precisely, what it was I was there for. I told him that this or that bit of good news about Trump not being so bad as we expected is not of interest to us, and in fact to approach Trump's rise to power in a policy-by-policy way is to aid and abet the process of normalisation that will, eventually, if successful, enable him to impose whatever policies he wants with no surviving democratic or institutional constraints to stop him and his boyars. The problem is not that he believes this or that particular thing, but that, to the extent that he articulates views in coherent language at all, he shows no commitment to the truth of these views, and no interest in holding to them. The only thing he shows, consistently, is contempt for and ignorance of American political institutions and the Constitution, notably freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. It is not that he is a bad president, but that he is a petulant child thrust into the role of president, and with nothing more than a faint buzz of ill will to those who oppose him guiding his political decisions. He is dangerous, and he represents a radical rupture with all American political traditions, liberal, conservative, socialist, and libertarian alike. That is the problem, I said, and that is what I am here to talk about.
Obviously, he needs to be watched by millions of hawks, and thankfully there are many who are committed to watching him on particular issues: backtracking on climate-change accords, chipping away at women's reproductive rights, and so on. But by far the greatest threat he poses is to the survival of the institutions through which decisions, any decisions at all, can be made about matters like the environment, energy policy, health care, and so on. By far the greatest danger is the permanent destruction of the American political system to suit the temporary whims of an elderly caudillo. This is what the chattering classes must never lose sight of. To the extent that they fail to do this, they are abdicating their responsibility, and do not deserve the platform they are given. Many who were fierce critics have already capitulated, and said that it's time to 'give him a chance', even that it's our duty as American citizens to give him a chance. Meanwhile Masha Gessen, who has long been Putin's most lucid and courageous critic, also understands what the US now faces. She is entirely right: we must allow no normalisation, and must oppose everyone who facilitates it. The list of normalisers is growing fast, and already includes, unsurprisingly, Obama and Clinton. Arguably, Obama's position was the only one he could take, and I admit I was moved by his grace and firmness during his press conference at the White House next to that confused and addled old duffer. But we are not statesmen, and we are bound by no such need to project reassurance. Trump is an enemy to be defeated, and that is what he will be until he is defeated. Americans need to be prepared to confront a political reality that Anna Politkovskaja, Nadia Tolokonnikova, Masha herself, and so many other courageous Russians have looked in the face and defied, for which they have paid with death, imprisonment, and exile.
Much of the normalisation began even before Trump's victory, as with that craven worm on late-night TV, whose name I don't recall, who was allowed to muss up Trump's hair. Whoever he was (some Jimmy, I think), his capitulation was really only one step further from the tepid shit that has been served up under the banner of 'criticism' on 'liberal' comedy-news shows for several years now, not by the Jimmys but by the Jo(h)ns. Typically, their 'takedowns' have been followed soon after by viral online videos declaring that Trump has been 'destroyed' on last night's episode of the Stewart, Colbert, or Oliver Program. Yet this word has been gutted of all sense, as, patently, Trump kept reappearing the following day. What are we now to make of this? Why were they assuring us of Trump's destruction? By destroying him without destroying him, they paved the way to the current process of normalisation. We can't let this continue. It is time to destroy him for real.
Part of the path towards this end is to refuse the terms the mass media will try to impose, even when we ourselves join the media as commentators or op-ed writers. If they don't like the terms we impose, then we will not work with them, but instead will use alternative paths. But we will also do our best to slip through, even using bait and switch tactics to get into the studio ('Sure, I'll talk about Chris Christie's prospects as a cabinet pick...'). The hosts of these shows are empty vessels, channellers of whatever is out there. So it's up to us to change what's out there. You might get yourself disinvited, or you might find, as I did last night, that your host appreciates 'a little energy'. But always remember: Trump is not a bad politician, but a bomb thrown into the political system. Everything he does that kind of looks like the work of a politician is a parody of politics, and must never, ever be graded on a curve.
California is drawn deep blue, when conceived as a whole, but drawn at the county level it is as multifarious and fractured as the country itself. I spent a good portion of the late summer in the heart of California’s own Trump territory, in the high desert town of Barstow. I was there to attend to my father in the weeks leading up to his death at the local veterans’ hospital. Nor was this my first stay in a part of the state that supports Trump. I grew up in the town of Rio Linda, the butt of one of Rush Limbaugh’s most long-running jokes— an early lesson to me, when I first heard it around 1990, of the strange relationship between right-wing elitism and right-wing populism. Rio Linda was a hotbed of Klan recruitment, and I personally knew some of its initiates, though my friends were mostly Mexican-American punks and goths. Those were formative years for me, in Trumpland, and I feel they give me sufficient credibility to speak with authority on that dispersed part of America, even as I write from Paris.
I’ve been thinking incessantly over the past few days about what to do: declare that I’ll never return to America, or rush back to do what I can to change it; declare my enmity to everyone who voted for Trump, or declare that them’s my folks and y’all are misunderstanding us. One just reels too much at moments of such historical turmoil to be able to produce anything like a coherent plan.
I am struck, right now, by how much my effort to comprehend the rise of Trump is coloured by my memories of Barstow this summer, by what I see now as a presentiment I felt then of what was to come. My father’s last words to me, or very nearly, were a quotation from a certain Douglas Adams novel: ‘So long’, he said, ‘and thanks for all the fish’. At the time I took it as a funny, if basically empty, reference to our shared popular-cultural reference points. A friend reminded me, when I told him about this later, that in the novel the dolphins express their gratitude for all the fish as they are departing from the earth, and they are leaving because the earth is nearing its cataclysmic end. And I can’t help but think, now, that this is what lay at the heart of the presentiment: that I knew my father was ducking out, now, out of America and out of the world, because the time was right, because his own biology was attuned to the demise of his historical epoch, and all those left alive were tumbling headlong into a great historical void.
My father was definitely no Trumpist. He was a stubbornly independent-minded man who thought most people were full of shit, and who valued nothing more than good, honest, ‘authentic’ folk. He knew which of the two groups Trump belonged to, while his paragon of authenticity and goodness toward the end of his life were the Mexican people who surrounded him in his expat community of Lake Chapala, in Jalisco state. He was also extremely disappointed by American culture, and by the elite political class that, he felt, had left him and his kind with so little. He listened to media that spoke of dark forces behind the scenes, keeping all the power and the wealth. He had his picture taken with the dirty, toxic, shameful Alex Jones at some conference in San Antonio, but assured us that ‘that guy has some ideas that are really out there’. Move a few steps closer to the source of the sort of things my father echoed about the people who are controlling things behind the scenes, and you will find overt and evil anti-Semitic propaganda. I sincerely do not believe that he was aware of this connection.
He was surrounded in Lake Chapala by a number of fairly hardened American men, some of whom I got to know during my handful of visits there: Vietnam vets with eye-patches and missing limbs, who spoke of the need to stock up on gold and on canned food, who hated political correctness. The air was just as thick down Mexico way as in Barstow and in Rio Linda with the sort of sentiments that would propel Trump to power. And this is where things get complicated, for me and in reality. Many of those men love Mexico too, not as entitled white retirees love paradisiac resorts, but as men who think of themselves as lowly and alienated, as on the receiving end of a life of blows coming from the well-connected and wealthy, and who melt into a culture that they feel has room for them, who start families and love their Mexican children, who love Spanish and who love in Spanish. Educated liberals will demonise them for targeting subaltern women in stereotyped and stereotyping ways, yet from their point of view, I am certain, it is not objectification at all, but love. One of the most hardened and politically reactionary of all of them had a disabled child, whom he struggled to send to the United States for medical care. This child was, one might suppose, the very embodiment of everything the Trumpists despise as subhuman, yet there she was: generated and raised up and loved by a man who himself surely believes that Hillary Clinton is a puppet of Alan Greenspan, who is a pawn of George Soros, who is... well, you know.
So, it’s complicated, far more complicated than it appears from within the enclaves of blue America. I have recently said that everyone who helped to bring Trump to power is my ‘enemy’, while everything I am saying here might seem to be an attempt to mitigate that. But I mean what I say. Wars turn brother against brother. True historical crises tear us apart, whether we love each other or not. Those who propelled Trump to power are bursting with love, just like you are, just like the kids sobbing right now, so I’m told, on Harvard Yard. Many of them had no idea what evil they were helping to unleash. They love, and are worthy of love, and they must be defeated.
In the best-case scenario, the one that enables us to avoid total war, Russia will soon be the world’s only superpower, and the United States its venal underling. Why on earth American ‘conservatives’ wanted this is something I will never, ever understand. Putin is the only world leader at present who is getting what he wants, who is riding the historical wave in the direction of his own goals. Trump might think he is doing this too, right now, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks, to the extent he thinks.
Americans are, right now, understandably, terrified about state repression and the destruction of civil society within the country’s borders, and this fear has tended so far to hide from their view the global shockwaves of Trump’s election. Undocumented workers in California are terrified, as are Muslim students who have to go to school wearing headscarves in Texas (two reports I’ve received over the last two days, from people who, I know, do not cry wolf); the citizens of Estonia, Georgia, even Finland, are terrified too. What Trump’s election likely means, within the next few years, is a full restoration of the Russian Empire at its maximum historical reach, with no check on its treatment of the nations it engulfs. Is it still ‘red-baiting’ to bring up this scenario? Is it ‘red-baiting’ even if we consider Russia from the perspective of the longue durée as a single continuous entity from the Tsarist era to today?
Europe will, likely, continue to disaggregate, with minor nations producing minor authoritarian leaders, as has already happened, or appears ready to happen, in Poland, Hungary, France, and elsewhere. Whether these leaders will be vassals of Russia, or whether they will become fixated --the more implausibly the more insignificant the nation-- on their own exceptional historical destiny, is uncertain. But what is certain, now, with the collapse of the Atlantic order (which is practically the same thing as to say the collapse of the United States), is that European states will not see themselves as part of a transnational community bound together by ideals like liberty and equality, or by anything more noble than fear.
I can already hear the criticism: Europe was always maintained by fear, and this was because of the brinksmanship and aggression of NATO. A Clinton regime would have prolonged this miserable arrangement, so good riddance. But here is where we need to consider other scenarios than the one I’ve identified as the ‘best case’ under a Trump presidency. Even if you don’t care about things like the sovereignty of Latvia, or about sovereignty in general, you still must take seriously the scenario in which Putin does not continue to get everything he wants, but is foiled by the fact that one of his vassal states, across the ocean, for all it has done to self-destruct, still finds itself with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons and with an unstable and petulant child-president who thinks they are his to use.
Just like Putin consolidated his leadership through a long war in Chechnya, an eventual and inevitable expansion into Ukraine, and, finally, a bold return to the world stage with his massacre of Aleppo, so, too, Trump is going to need some wars. This is how authoritarian leaders maintain their legitimacy, by definition and without exception: they start wars. Whether Trump’s wars will be carried out in subordination to Russia’s interests, or in opposition to them, remains to be seen. Again, the best-case scenario is subordination, because the only alternative is total war between the previous century’s two superpowers. Respectful, cautious détente of the sort we might have had under Clinton is unthinkable.
We’ve spent the last 25 years acting as if nuclear disarmament is no longer an issue, and even now Americans against Trump still seem to place it way down on a list of worries that includes, at its top, Supreme Court replacements, women’s reproductive rights, and climate change. Is this because it’s just too horrifying, while all the other evils Trump’s presidency might bring still enable us to imagine ourselves trudging stoically along? All the weapons amassed during the Cold War are still there, with this one great difference, that one of the parties to that war is experiencing a rapid rise in its global power and ambition, while the other is, effectively, a failed state.
We have repeatedly heard over the past few days the call for at least a full suspension of Godwin’s Law: it is now a perfectly legitimate and meaningful communicative move, rather than a comments-section conversation stopper, to note that the present moment has something in common with 1933. We also are now familiar with the truism, that history does not repeat, but only rhymes. While the year of Hitler’s rise to power gives us a strong rhyme, I’ve been detecting at least a rhymoid in the coupling of 2016 with 1989. The current transformation in the United States, I mean, is fruitfully comparable to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This event was called by Putin the worst disaster of the 20th century, while Reagan and some of his Republican successors considered it their own greatest accomplishment.
The Russian empire contracted, and the US gloated. Now we are seeing the reverse. The collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by some years of chaos, which I witnessed first-hand, before a strong-fisted leader imposed order. That person’s American homologue, on this reading, is not Trump, but, perhaps, someone for whom Trump is now opening up the way. Trump is, rather, the American Yeltsin, a ridiculous muzhik who happened to show up at the right historical moment, who didn’t stand on a tank, exactly, but at least stalked menacingly behind Hillary Clinton at a town-hall meeting in a way that parodies courage, and who, we may expect, will soon, on some ’state’ visit to his boss, be picked up by the secret police while trying to catch a taxi in his underwear on Red Square at two in the morning, sleepless and in need of pizza. Obama is Gorbachev, the decent man who couldn’t hold the empire together. Putin is Reagan, on top of the world.
It’s not so much a rhyme as a palindrome really. Everything is unfolding enantiamorphically, as in a mirror. The empire is collapsing though. Something will emerge out of whatever’s left over. But any American Republicans who helped to bring this on, and who claim to have any sort of loyalty to the legacy of Reagan, simply do not understand what is happening, they lack any shred of historical consciousness, either of the recent past, or of the present. They find themselves, at present, not continuing Reagan’s legacy, but assuming the position of the people Reagan defeated. That they brought this on themselves, and still don’t have a clue about what has happened, may turn out to be the greatest tragedy of the 21st century.
What is the Depth of the Sea in several places,
And what the Order of its Increase and Decrements.
What the Figuration of the Seas from North to South,
And in the several Hemispheres and Climates.
What communication of Seas by Straights,
And Subterranean Conveyances.
What of the Motion of the Sea by Winds,
And how far do Storms reach down toward the Bottom.
What of the grand Motions of the Bulk of the Sea
(Especially the Tides).
What power has the Sea to hasten Putrefaction,
As of Wood, Cables, and others Things sunk in it.
What of the Power ascribed to the Sea
To eject Dead Bodies, Succinum, Ambergris.
What of the shining of the Sea in the Night,
And what of the Fish there whose Heart giveth Light.
Adapted from "Directions for Sea-Men, Bound for Far Voyages," in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1 (1665): 140-143.
Photograph: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Seascapes: Sea of Japan, 1997.
(This is a recent guest post from Daily Nous).
In this post I would like to develop one of the central questions of my recent book, The Philosopher: A History in Six Types: Who is to count as a philosopher, and why?
In his 1762 Émile, ou De l'éducation, Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticises those philosophers who “will love the Tartars in order to avoid loving their neighbour.” The ethnic group in question would be more correctly called the ‘Tatars’, a wide family of Turkic groups living throughout the broader Black Sea region, and often invoked by Western Europeans in the Enlightenment as a stock example of savage peoples. (In what follows I will include the superfluous 'r' when it is Rousseau's point of view that is at issue.)
Rousseau’s critique is directed at those cosmopolitan thinkers who turn their attention away from the concrete human reality that surrounds them, and towards what he sees as abstractions and fantasies of what human beings are like, or could be like, in far-away settings that we, here in 18th-century Geneva, will never encounter.
Though Rousseau could have relied on another example to make his point, I take this particular one to heart because I do in fact love the Tatars. I am a novice student of the grammar of the Volga Tatar language, an occasional defender of the rights of the Crimean Tatars who precede both the Ukrainians and the Russians in that disputed peninsula, and in general someone who comes to attention whenever that ethnonym appears in my newsfeed. So I am sensitive to Rousseau’s accusation that this attention of mine comes at the expense of concern for my neighbours here in 21st-century Paris, some of whom could indeed use some more neighbourly care than they are currently getting.
The realities of my place and time have also got me thinking recently about certain possibilities, two in particular, that may have escaped Rousseau’s attention. These are, namely, that the neighbours are themselves Tartars, and that the Tartars are themselves philosophers. According to the stereotype that makes Rousseau's example work, Tartars are by definition far away, and by definition unphilosophical. But why suppose as much?
I have known at least two academic philosophers of Tatar ethnic background; both I can think of at the moment were formal logicians. But there is another sense in which a Tatar might be a philosopher, though, and this is the one taken seriously by Johann Jakob Brucker in his Historia critica philosophiae of 1744. Here Brucker, in his survey of the history of philosophy, speaks not only of the philosophy of the Greeks and the Romans, but also that of the ancient Celts, and indeed of the Scythians, who in the Enlightenment were often taken as the ancient ancestors of the modern world’s Tartars.
For Brucker, Scythian philosophy is nothing other than the sum total of expressions of Scythian culture: religious rites, rules of interaction, popular sayings, decorative motifs. Such a conception of philosophy as embedded in culture, in the way a pure element might be embedded in an ore, will in turn inform many of the attempts to articulate new understandings of philosophy in the context of the movement for decolonialisation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thus at the Second Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Rome in 1959, a special commission on philosophy would urge that “the African philosopher should learn from the traditions, tales, myths, and proverbs of his people, so as to draw from them the laws of a true African wisdom complementary to the other forms of human wisdom to bring out the specific categories of African thought.”
Influenced by this decree, a number of innovative works would appear over the next decades which sought to study diverse cultures and natural languages of Africa as the vehicles of an implicit philosophy. Notable among these is Alexis Kagame’s La philosophie bantoue (1976), which itself credits Louis Hjelmslev’s dictum that ‘there is no philosophy without linguistics’. Kagame took this to mean that because we can engage in a formal study of the semantics of the Bantu languages, we are thereby given access to the Bantu philosophy that has been there all along, without ever being called by that name.
One might worry that Kagame’s approach creates a double standard: if cultural expressions such as proverbs are to count as philosophy in Africa, then we will need a good argument as to what it is that makes these proverbs substantially different from the ones passed down in the extra-institutional oral traditions of Europe, such as those associated with agriculture, and as to why an African should be said to be participating in philosophy simply to the extent that he or she is a transmitter of a culture’s proverbs, while by contrast a European, in order to be a philosopher, has to leave the farm, go to the city, master Latin and the forms of the syllogism, and in general learn to stop being so folksy.
And yet the expansion of philosophy to include the study of culture, as urged at the 1959 congress, has obvious benefits, even if it stopped short in supposing that European thought somehow constitutes an exception, that it is somehow independent of culture, and that the study of European philosophy is not, in the end, a branch of anthropology. For one thing, it enables us to see how Rousseau’s stark contrast between the ‘philosopher’ and the ‘Tartar’ might not match up with reality, even if the Tartar in question is not lecturing on polyvalent logic at the Academy of Sciences, but is simply excelling at whatever tasks it might be expedient or laudable to pursue within the context of traditional Tartar culture: war-making, metallurgy, the recitation of oral epic.
Beyond any concern we might have about double standards, there is good reason to suspect that these things should not be entirely neglected by philosophers (in the narrower sense in which Rousseau understands the term). They offer points of entry to the variety of expressions of human ingenuity, which taken together surely may be expected to reveal something of what being human is all about. And if that’s not a philosophical matter, it would be difficult to say what is.
So, pace Rousseau, the categories of ‘Tartar’ and of ‘philosopher’ are not opposed. But what about ‘neighbour’? As in the 18th century, one recurring criticism of cosmopolitanism today is that it exchanges real, affective commitment to a real community of shared interests and values in favour of an abstract commitment to a mostly fictional global community of all human beings. It is mostly fictional, critics suppose, because what we are doing when we speak of ‘humanity’ is simply projecting our own very local sliver of values and tastes out into the world, and avoiding contact with members of other cultures who might complicate matters for us by failing to share these values and tastes.
But that’s the thing about neighbours: unless you live in some gated community or selective co-op or village full of like-minded bigots, the chances are quite high that you have very little in common with the person living next to you. I don’t know whether any of my neighbours in Paris are Tatars, but I am certain that many of them are different from me in precisely the way Rousseau imagined that Tartars are different from him, and therefore, so he imagined, from ‘Europeans’. This presumption was dubious in 1762, and in the era of mass immigration it is all the more so.
Rousseau is in a certain sense right: you should of course take an interest in the well-being of your neighbour, and try to understand what it is that gives meaning to their life. The fact that you are yourself a philosopher shouldn’t make doing so any less urgent. But nor should you presume that the categories of ‘philosopher’, ‘neighbour’, and ‘Tartar’ are distinct. Their overlap with one another, in fact, constitutes both a powerful response to Rousseau, as well as an argument in itself for cosmopolitanism. Philosophy is everywhere, and so are neighbours, and interest in what the Tartars are doing is as neighbourly as it is philosophical.
The dolphin fish (Coryphaena hippurus) has no inner life, so its death can only play out on the surface of its body, in a spectacular display of multicoloured flashes. But where there is cognition, memory, emotion, where there is a man, the light show sometimes happens on the inside, a fireworks display of the soul's contents, transformed and expressed in a way that the nursing staff will dismiss as hallucination, but which is in fact no less true than the life itself.
In the week leading up to Friday, September 2, 2016, I accompanied my father in his transition to death. I came back and he did not. I am not yet old, and was only there to help him across. But I am not yet fully back. I know things now that I did not know before, about him, about us, about the living and the dead, and about the category of being or of mental phantasm (what is the difference, really?) that the country folk call 'ghosts'.
I always knew I would write about him. Though it may seem too soon, too raw, against protocol, to do so is the closest thing to filial piety I have in me. To do so is to honour him, who long ago vested his own dream of writerliness in me. He set up this very website over a decade ago; his final post to Facebook, in mid-August, was a review of my most recent book in The Nation. The hard drive of his laptop, which I have taken into my possession, is filled with fragments of creative writing projects, not least a folder with hundreds of files (including a home-made cover) contributory to a novel, entitled Bananaman, that would have been about the CIA and the United Fruit Company's involvement in various Central American coups d'état, and about the creation of a certain popular peelable monoculture that my father somehow saw as key to understanding his American century. Bananaman will never see the light of day, but I think that at some point my father stopped expecting it would, and that, after some years of intergenerational competition, he could now just kick back, let me do all the work, and beam with paternal pride. So this is a coda to that, a necessary culmination of who each of us was for the other.
I arrived in Barstow, California, on Friday, August 26, and found him in the emergency room of the Barstow Community Hospital. I live in Paris, and so going to Barstow is supposed to be some kind of joke or supplice, but the truth is I love that isolated desert town, that dusty station of the 'Mormon Corridor'. And this is not some affected European romance for the American West either. Route 66 is not a made-up place of songs and movies. It is the sort of place where my kin live and die.
I arrived there and found him dreaming, grabbing and handling the ridge of his blanket, as I would see him do repeatedly over the next week, talking in his sleep about used cars, odometers, leases, good and bad deals. He had been sent to the hospital from the veterans' home, where he had lived since the early spring, due to his extremely low blood oxygen level. This was a sign of possible clotting, they said, but no clots could be found. So he drifted in and out of sleep, and we chatted. At one point he awoke, and called for a nurse, and asked for a spoon. What did he want the spoon for? For the ice cream. 'What ice cream?' I asked. He looked around, and said that perhaps he was still dreaming. Then the nurse came with the spoon, and he said: 'At least the spoon's real'.
This was the first gust of what would over the next days grow into a fierce storm of impressions of things that were not strictly speaking there. This was not, as I've said, a break with reality, but an intensification of it. We enjoyed talking about the ontological status of his visions. When birds and lizards were swarming around his room, and I asked him whether he really believed they were there, he insisted, 'Well, I do think I am better than most people at noticing things'. He told me that during the night the hospital staff had sent six people into his room, 'dressed as Japanese clocks'. He told me there was one of them out in the hallway right now. I looked at it, and told him I thought it was just a piece of medical equipment. He said, 'I guess you're right'. Later he looked at the light switch near his bed, and declared happily: 'Look, they're showing me 50 years ago in the navy!' I nodded, still uncertain what he meant. Some minutes later he looked at the switch again: 'Now it's you kids when you were little!' 'Do you mean you can see these things in the light switch?' I asked, and he said yes. 'How do you think they're doing that?' 'I gave them my e-mail address when I checked in', he said, 'so they must have gone into my hard drive and pulled out my whole life story'.
I recount these things because they are what we lived through together that week, in the liminal space between life and death, and because they were not, as might be supposed from a distance, horrifying or pathological. They were part of the natural calm and grace that, I learned, can make the state of dying into something truly distinct from both life and death.
But life comes first. Kenneth Von Smith was born on October 2, 1940, in Los Angeles, and grew up east of that city in West Covina. His father, Von Smith, was born into a Mormon community in Sugar, Idaho, and his mother, Bertie Mae Cruce, was born in Monticello, Arkansas. He told me that 'Von' had been a misspelling of 'Vaughan', and that while living in Nice (which he always called 'Nice, France') his middle name was, to his great amusement, often mistaken for a nobiliary particle. I was never close to Grandpa Von, and was always somewhat frightened by him. I recall numerous exclamations one might expect from a reactionary grump, as for example when an ad for the NAACP came on TV, and he muttered, 'How about a National Association for the Advancement of White People?' I would not bring this up right now, were it not for the way it fits with my own story of my father and his death. Ken once told me that Von's very last words to him, as he lay in his Kaiser hospice-care room in Sacramento in 1991, with the TV blaring as usual, were none other than these: 'You know, that Arsenio, he's alright'. Grandpa was perhaps wrong in the particulars, but right in the broader gesture towards racial reconciliation he was, in his own way, attempting.
Much of my father's identity was wrapped up in affirming that Arsenio is indeed alright, where by 'Arsenio' we understand not Mr. Hall of long-forgotten American talk-show fame, of the New Jack moment that will mean nothing to the present generation, but rather all the affable goodhearted men of all races who, like him, just wish to live and be free and trade tall tales and relish small pleasures. My father was white, but he wanted no association that would represent him in this. He belonged to an imagined universal brotherhood, masculine, no doubt, but resolutely cosmopolitan. He often passed blanket judgments to the effect that this or that marginalized minority group consists of 'good people'. He spent time in the South of France and reported that the Maghrebins there are honest, hard working, and friendly; he retired to Mexico and repeated the same stock phrases of praise for the Indios at each conversation. Arsenio, for all possible Arsenios, is alright.
My uncle for his part, my father's younger brother, seems to have drifted off in the other direction, toward the ideology of white supremacy. I have no contact with him, and will not speak of him here. I will not speak of him, except to say that in recent years it has come to seem to me that each of us, in our own way, is a spark from the same flint. We have the same bug of race running through our American blood, back to Grandpa Von and no doubt back before him still, to I can only imagine what sort of eccentric firebrand men named Orville or Cletus with great moustaches, with the preacherman's current running through them and quickening them, who believed and declaimed, variously, that blacks and whites should be sent to live on separate continents, or should be forced to marry and generate a future crop of raceless babes. We have each dealt with this legacy in very different ways, but in truth I take it we are all just articulating, with varying degrees of articulacy, our own versions of the Arsenio confession. To the very end, we chatter about, obsess over, and live and breathe the American matter of race.
It would be difficult to say what my father's last words to me were; in a sense everything he said during that week was 'last'. But one moment stands out in particular that I may as well designate as equivalent to Von's Arsenio confession, though as it happens it had nothing to do with race. Looking at me from his hospital bed, Ken said: "Thanks for coming all this way. It's good to have someone to turn to and to say, 'So long, and thanks for all the fish'." This was, most readers will know, not a hallucination, but an oblique reference to the fourth instalment in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, which my father had lying about the house circa 1984, and which is one of the first books, nominally for adults, that I read. Other titles around at that time include Peter S. Beagle's I See By My Outfit and Tom Robbins's Still Life with Woodpecker, both of which I left untouched.
The allusion was hardly appropriate, as I'd done nothing remotely comparable, even by loose metaphor, to the bringing of fish. It really just showed how a simple phrase, like 'So long', can become fixed to a shared cultural reference, and how that reference can in turn flicker out, to the shared contemplative joy of the both of us, from the memory embers of his dying. The phrase 'So long', by itself, uttered on Thursday, September 1, showed, for the first and only time that week, that he knew what sort of embers these were, that he understood what was happening.
The rest of the week was spent completing small tasks, as if these held the key to immortality. On Friday evening, August 26, when at the emergency room they could find no clots, he was released to me, to be taken back to his private living unit at the VA home. This was the beginning of a weekend together that still seems like it could not have really happened. He could barely straighten his legs, yet somehow we took a trip to the Barstow Wal-Mart together. I drove right up to the entrance, and left him in the car while I went to find one of those reduced-mobility carts that come in so handy at that establishment ('Maximum One Passenger, or 550 lbs.', read a sign attached to it). He drove it around that Wal-Mart with such purpose! His main objective was to find a 'grabber', that is, an extensible 3-foot-long bar, with a trigger on one end, and a sort of artificial hand on the other. This would be good, he explained, for picking up things around his room. It would solve the problem of his ever-shrinking range of motion. We also bought a box of Special K and a gallon of milk, both of which would go unopened, and we would have bought some cans of Dennison's chile con carne, if they had not run out. At the check-out counter a small girl sitting in the seat of her mother's shopping cart found herself facing my father in his reduced-mobility cart. He made a clownish face, and she began to cry. He shrugged. I could tell what it was she was seeing.
I don't know much about the West Covina years, other than that a neighbour boy's mother used to coerce him into imitating Woody Woodpecker, circa 1953, for her dullard son, and that around the same time Bertie bought him a white leather jacket that was in style and that he very much coveted-- except that she could not afford the real thing, and so bought him a version in imitation leather that he, so as not to hurt her feelings, would put on on his way out the door, only to hide it in a secret spot in the garage each morning before heading to school.
My father joined the navy in, I think, 1959, a move that seems to have been the primary cause of his subsequent class mobility. He was deemed intelligent by the relevant officials with their tests, and he was taught some Russian and a bit more Mandarin Chinese. At the Barstow hospital, with chapped lips and weakened lungs, he continued to attempt to speak Chinese with every employee who might possibly understand it. 'What dialect do you speak?' he asked Doctor Ellen Chao. 'I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying', she replied in slightly accented English. 'He's asking you what dialect of Chinese you speak', I interposed. 'Oh', she said, unimpressed. 'Mandarin'. I learned very quickly that nurses and orderlies are much more willing than doctors to indulge an old white man's interest in their cultural backgrounds.
In basic training the drill sergeant once barked: 'You've been wearing the same underwear for a week now, it's time to change. Smith, you change with Jackson; Jackson, you change with Sanchez...' On another occasion, I have it from a reliable source, a fellow enlisted man defecated something that took the shape of a question mark.
After basic Ken did something involving the transcription of Communist Chinese radio transmissions, stationed, I believe, somewhere in the Yellow Sea. Later he was made a journalist, and edited the South China Sea Daily News, a military newspaper. He learned some Tagalog and was sent to the Philippines. He claims to have once been shot at in a bar there by a band of paramilitaries he identified as moros, which, he says, or said, was the name used to refer to jihadists there long before they were in the international news. The Asia-Pacific region was his first opening to the world beyond the Mormon Corridor of the American West (he did not grow up a Mormon, as Von wanted nothing to do with religion, but as a cultural-geographical designation, this term has more salience than most Americans know). After his discharge, in the late-1960s in San Francisco, he would frequent the Beijing-sponsored bookstore and buy pamphlets with titles like The Chinese Writing Reform. He hoped to be the first Western journalist allowed to enter Mao's China.
He was, by vocation, a journalist, and a photojournalist, with work published, by the end of the 1960s, in Time and Newsweek. He interviewed Jimmy Stewart and Hubert Humphrey for the Guam Daily News. But I am getting ahead of myself (and how could one not get ahead of oneself, attempting to recount all the worthwhile tales, told over 44 years, from a life of 75 years?). In the early years of that decade, just out of the navy, Ken returned to California to his parents' home in Lancaster, a town not unlike Barstow in the high desert northeast of L.A. There he became a distant friend of Frank Zappa (1940-1993), and a roommate of Don Van Vliet, otherwise known as Captain Beefheart (1941-2010). Here is how my father relates the story of this friendship (this is from a Word file I found in his hard drive):
I first met Don when we were 15 years old. My family had moved to Lancaster, California and Don lived next door. Neither of us bothered to go to school much and we would spend the day just talking and listening to music. Frank Zappa was a good student and attended class every day, then would often drop by some afternoons.
I joined the Navy at 17. When discharged three years later, I returned to Lancaster. Alex St. Clare and I rented the house across the street from the home of Don’s parents — Granny Annie’s house. Fun times.
Even though neither Don nor I had much formal schooling, we had both independently been reading short stories by Aldous Huxley. A half-century later I still think it is extraordinary that two high school drop-outs with no predictable future would be discussing Huxley’s short story “The Gioconda Smile”.
Mentioning Huxley is reason enough to tell a story — rather, to correct a story.
After finishing my Navy tour, I got a job as a reporter, editor and all-around flunky at the small daily newspaper in Lancaster. One of my tasks was to skim the weekly real estate transactions looking for something, anything, of interest.
One week I noticed that Aldous Huxley had bought a home in the desert, about 20 miles from Lancaster. I mentioned this to Don, who was then selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door (he was a very good salesman). Don suggested we drive the following afternoon, a Saturday, to Huxley’s desert home. As good luck would have it, Huxley himself answered the knock on the door.
Don explained that he was a vacuum cleaner salesman, but what prompted our visit is that we both liked his writing. No sale was made, but Huxley was polite and we chatted for a couple of minutes.
So, decades later, Don was on the David Letterman Show and he was asked about the Huxley visit to pitch a vacuum cleaner. “I told him this thing sucks,” Don said to Letterman. Don had a genius manner of embellishing his stories. I was there and I did not hear that being said. Further, I don’t believe that slang sense of the word “suck” existed in the early 60s. But, it is still a good story.
I saw Don fairly often until we were about 30, then less often until our early 40s.
I don't know how much of this is true. I do know that my father was upset when Zappa died, and when Beefheart died, and on both occasions he mentioned how short life is and how you should not go too long without contacting old friends, lest they slip away for good. There is an ingenious TV commercial for Beefheart's 1970 album, Lick My Decals Off, Baby, which is avant-garde in a way that my father certainly was not, but which, in its simple and nonsensical recitation of Southern California toponyms evokes for me Ken's essence and history more fully than any other documentary source ever could.
This story also reveals something important about my father and his friends. He had a ton of them, but they did not so much constitute a stable as a parade. They passed through his life like water, some grew alienated due to debts or slights, perceived or real, some just moved on. Late in life his most enduring friendship, with the writer Joe Bageant, seems to have derived its staying power principally from the fact that Joe himself died in 2011. Ken devoted considerable energy over the past five years to keeping Joe's reputation, as a chronicler of working-class white American life, alive, both editing the 2012 collected-works volume, Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball, and maintaining the website www.joebageant.net. It is hard to say what will happen to Joe's memory now, or why Ken was so committed to preserving it. Judging from the contents of his hard drive, it seems to me that Ken would have liked to do what Joe Bageant did, to have found a voice similar to Joe's, but for reasons I will get to soon enough was prevented from doing so by a concern to avoid antagonism, a desire to get along with everybody, to the extent possible. He preferred, or a big part of him preferred, to work behind the scenes, to cultivate and encourage the voices of others, including not just Joe's, but also my own. In part this had to do with genuine interest in others, in their thriving, but also with a pessimism, emerging over the final third of his life, about the usefulness of political debate.
By the end of the 1960s Ken had taken advantage of the GI Bill and completed an MA in sociology at the University of San Francisco, where he was required to take more than one philosophy course taught by old Jesuits. He was never religious himself, he spoke mockingly if lovingly of his neighbour at the VA home who went to chapel every day. But he also averred to me a number of times that he was impressed by Thomas Aquinas's argument to the effect that there must by a Prime Mover if there is to be any motion at all. Other intellectual reference points included Orwell, Mencken, Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd. For years he sought to give his copies of these books to me, as an expression of his commitment to 'getting down to just two suitcases'. I never wanted them, and never recognised them as having anything to do with my own personal canon. I also resented any suggestion that my aspiration to the life of a writer had anything to do with him, or that I was in self-imposed exile in France for anything like the same reasons. I was doing things the right way, and not just dabbling. But now I can't, for the life of me, understand what was so important about this distinction.
Photographic evidence shows, as we move out of the 1960s, a transition from a lean, boyish, and clean-cut fellow into a fairly excellent exemplar of the wide-faced, corduroyed, 1970s moustache man. Some pictures show him overacting the part, like the one above, in which he seems to be posing as a bit-part player from All the President's Men. By the middle of that decade the home computers began to show up, with giant suction cups into which he stuck the phone receiver, and dialled up some sort of pre-Internet entity called 'the Source'. There was a Datsun 280zx, and there was an unbroken chain of Vantage cigarettes. There were some cassette tapes in a box: Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Fleetwood Mac; Jim Croce; Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. I don't recall anyone ever listening to them, but they had to have got there somehow.
My sister was born in 1970 and I was born two years later. A decade or so after that, a divorce, and my father moves from the defunct chicken farm in Rio Linda that my parents had acquired from my maternal grandparents, into a sleek divorce condo in downtown Sacramento. A Sony CD player arrives, and a few CD's: Flora Purim & Airto; Steely Dan; Pink Floyd's The Final Cut; the Talking Heads' Remain in Light. I listened to the last of these with his headphones on so thoroughly that I no longer need to hear it in order to hear it. Then a girlfriend arrived from the world of Sacramento political fundraiser dinners, a German ex-model, born post-war but with a name that would sooner place her in Grimm's fairy tales, a former Virginia Slims billboard girl from the 'You've Come a Long Way, Baby' era who had taken to running the most painfully '80s, most achingly local and small-time runway fashion events, with her mulleted son up on stage showcasing acid-washed denim to a Frankie Goes to Hollywood soundtrack. Out of this ridiculous world there emerged a ridiculous marriage, which lasted for a while, then ended without a trace.
The marriage did bring about an unexpected career development that would have some rather more lasting consequences. Ken recounts the story as follows (from an un-Googlable website he began to set up as an archive for students and journalists interested in this chapter of American state politics):
In 1986, I had leased a condo in downtown Sacramento. Two days after moving in, I learned that the unit directly above me was the home of Maureen Reagan and her husband Dennis Revell, and the unit next door to me was occupied by the Secret Service. My wife at the time had been a model, had owned a modeling school, and was then operating a casting agency and location scouting service. She and Maureen got along quite well, and the four of us occasionally socialized in Sacramento and in Los Angeles, where Maureen and Dennis had another home.
Both Maureen and Dennis were well aware that my political views were to the left of center on many issues. It was understood, but never discussed, that I did not vote for her father in his races for governor of California or for president of the United States.
One day, Maureen asked me to listen to a draft of a speech calling for the indictment of Oliver North and John Poindexter on charges of treason. I listened and offered some suggestions, but I also cautioned her that she would be hitting a hornet’s nest. She explained that North and Poindexter “had lied to the President” — her father. I asked what the lie was, but she would give no details, saying it would all be public some day. Some 25 years later, I can make a good guess, but it would only be a guess.
At the time, Maureen was talking to Republicans in Arizona about the expanding difficulties with Governor Evan Mecham. Maureen was then co-chair of the Republican National Committee and Dennis was involved in the promotion of Arizona for the Superconducting Super Collider. One day she called from Washington to say that she thought I should consider interviewing for the job of press secretary to Governor Mecham. The Doonesbury cartoons lampooning Mecham had just started running and I had read the news about Mecham’s troubles. I told Maureen that I did not think my politics would fit well in the Mecham administration. She disagreed, saying there needed to be more balance in the Arizona governor’s office...
I believed in supporting the ideal of fair and honest elections. I was greatly bothered by contrived political scandals and the subsequent coverage by sensationalist news media... [U]ntil age 50 I had idealistic, utopian expectations for the democratic process. I realize now that almost any political system, capitalist, socialist, whatever, would work if it were not for corruption and greed. But, expecting to find political bodies and governments free of corruption is foolish.
Now, I know that I can’t control political and diplomatic decisions so I don’t much care about them. I do follow some news about current events, but only to learn what might impact family and friends. However, I do care about history and I believe that attempts should be made to correct the facts.
Ken would later joke about his poor track record with US governors (from the hard drive):
In the past century only four governors have been indicted on felony charges while in office. I worked for three of them and the fourth was my uncle.
Here are the governors:
In 1965, I was an editor and reporter for a newspaper on Guam and one of the owners was Ricardo Bordallo. Ricky was later elected governor of Guam. It’s a sad story, but he was indicted and convicted on various charges, sentenced to federal prison, and committed suicide rather than being incarcerated.
In 1987, I went to work as Arizona Governor Evan Mecham’s press secretary. While in office, he was indicted on felony charges in what I regard as prosecutorial abuse. Mecham was later acquitted on all charges.
In 1989, J. Fife Symington was building a campaign staff in his campaign for governor of Arizona. I was invited to join the staff with the thought that I might pull in some of Mecham’s supporters. On my first day attending a staff meeting, Symington asked a half-dozen or so of us campaign workers if we had heard any negative rumors. I told him that the the local press was talking about Symington being “upside down to Dai-ichi Kangyo (a large Japanese bank) for a quarter billion dollars.” His face grew even redder than normal and he yelled, “You Mechamites are all alike” — and he fired me on the spot. Shortest job tenure I’ve ever had at just two hours. Symington was later convicted of financial fraud and thrown out of office.
The fourth is Lee Cruce, the second governor of Oklahoma. He was my great-grandfather’s half-brother. He was not charged with a crime, but there were threats of indictment and impeachment — mostly because he was married to a Cherokee chief’s daughter and that did not sit well with the power elite. Among other good deeds, Uncle Lee as governor commuted the sentences of all prisoners on death row.
After his term as governor, Lee Cruce continued his career as a lawyer and banker. In 1930, Cruce was defeated in the primary for the United States Senate losing out to Thomas Gore, the maternal grandfather of author Gore Vidal. So, if Uncle Lee had won the election, we would not have had to read and listen to Vidal’s oft-repeated stories of reading proposed legislation to his blind grandfather.
After Mecham's impeachment the annual Christmas ornaments from the White House stopped arriving. Maureen and Dennis grew more difficult of access, and Ken's future prospects in the GOP grew dim. Mecham, a Mormon and a former car salesman, died in a VA home in Phoenix in 2004 with advanced Alzheimer's, looking, I'd imagine, much like many of the old men I saw decorating the home in Barstow. Ken moved back to Sacramento and went into the information-management business, littering CD-ROM's everywhere throughout the early '90s. First he lived in a respectable home in Roseville with his wife and worked for Transamerica, then soon after he lived in a trailer park in North Highlands with his mother and described himself as self-employed. There he sat in front of his computer by the sliding-glass door of the 'mobile', now permanently connected to the Internet, from day to night, for about five years. He started up websites, sold them, and accepted payment in stock options. He specialised in real estate and travel news. He visited dating sites for research, as they were, he explained, the very vanguard of the World Wide Web.
In 2000 I had just taken my first job at some university in the middle of nowhere in Ohio. He declared that he was not going to spend his 60th birthday sitting in a trailer with his mother, and so he set out from California to drive across the country, ostensibly to see his nominal employer at the company headquarters in Connecticut. It was while stopped in Oxford, Ohio, in my apartment, that he received a call from Hartford telling him that his services would no longer be needed. So he hung around for a month, then another month, driving his old BMW around town, listening to Moby on his custom car speakers, and watching Genghis Blues at home over and over again. He loved Paul Pena, the blind American blues singer of Cabo Verdean origin who became a champion Tuvan throat singer. Pena represented an ideal of authenticity and self-creation for him that he sought everywhere and that he was disappointed to find, generally, only in imperfect expressions.
He moved on from there to Little Rock, and found a cousin with a furniture store, where he worked for a while. Then he entered into some sort of business arrangement with an American based in Nice (France), and eventually left to stay in his new boss's apartment there for what turned out to be five years or so. He never really learned French, but was very happy in his 'expat' world. He befriended two young women of Algerian origin, and until the end of his life recounted with pleasure the time they invited him to a family feast, where he met their conservative father, who signalled across linguistic boundaries his approval for this friendship on the grounds that, Ken supposed, he could see my father was an authentic and decent guy just like he was. Many fair-weather friends came and went. A high point was a party at the home of Sally Jessy Raphael.
The business relationship fizzled, Nice grew too expensive, and Ken took off for another expat community in Ajijic, near Lake Chapala in Mexico. Here there was some of the same crowd as in Nice, but also a harder edge: men with eye-patches, scarred Vietnam vets, and the ever-present spectre of drug violence. I visited him there twice, in 2009 and 2011. He complained that it was increasingly hard to find people to talk to, that all the old 'gringos' just sat around and drank until they died. No one was interested in anything important. But what about writing? He would have liked to write about important things, but was unsure of himself. He listened to podcasts from questionable people, the sort who tell you to stock up on gold, who speak ominously of 'The Fed', who don't like at all what's happening in Washington. Behind all of this suspicion there was also a humanism: he was anti-war, he hated the invasion of Iraq, and drone attacks on children.
He wanted to write about politics, but ever since Arizona, and perhaps before, he had had a sense that it is futile to even try, that everyone in the news, or in a position of influence, is a bullshitter, while everyone who speaks the truth is ipso facto on the margins. Gustave Le Bon already understood that crowds are mad, and if you have managed to drum up support for your own view, all you have really done is generated a crowd. ('You seek followers? Seek zeroes!' Nietzsche said.) Best to just stay quiet, and to try to be kind. Mexicans will smile back, if you smile at 'em. Mexican women will ask you to hold their babies for them when they go into the store. Good, honest, authentic Mexico!
In December, 2015, Ken's pain could no longer be written off as a pinched sciatic nerve. His doctor in Ajijic had long ago lost his license to practice in the United States. They were friends, of course, but friends can't detect each other's metastatic prostate cancer. So he came back to the US, to a veterans' hospital in San Bernardino County, not far from where he grew up. They figured out what was wrong, and soon he was moved out to a nursing care home in Redlands, and then to another one in Yucaipa. There was no one to talk to. An old lady drove around in a reduced-mobility cart adorned with plush-toy cats. She wouldn't allow you to greet her until you'd greeted each of the cats individually, and preferably by name.
He applied to move to the VA home in Barstow, where he arrived in April of this year. It was hard to find people to talk to, but that was no reason not to be kind. There was an old guy, again, in a reduced-mobility cart, who had had a stroke, who kept repeating the same two phrases in Tagalog, which, he then went on to explain, without fail, 'is the national language of the Philippines'. There was a man with long white hair who had worked as a Baha'i missionary in Venezuela (to whom I gave the books I had written that were left on Ken's shelf). There was a Trump supporter, whom Ken liked to greet, after which he would say to me with amusement: 'That's the Trump guy'. And there were the kitchen workers, to whom he would say, 'Hola! ¿Cómo estás?' And they would say: 'Your Spanish is so good!' And there was the roadrunner that would dart past the window of his residence unit every now and then, that he once saw swallowing up a lizard before disappearing into the desert. He said he saw it when we were driving back from Wal-Mart, just before sunset on Saturday, August 27, but I do not know if it was really there.
This is a trace of the lingering glow of my father. Incomprehensible, here, is the multitude of things worthy of being related, of things committed to memory, of things invented and recounted as true to those of us who weren't even born yet. Incomprehensible, the vividness of the life-show in the light-switch that played out at the boundary between life and death. Incomprehensible, now, the absence of the once-living, the way his memory lingers as if it were itself a being, as if it were itself alive.
Nausicaa Renner wrote a very thorough review, in The Nation, of my book, The Philosopher: A History in Six Types, along with a review of The Stone Reader, to which I am also a contributor. Excerpt below. To read the whole thing, go here.
Is philosophy practiced by a “specialized and privileged elite within a broader society”? Does everyone in society do it in some way? If philosophy were more like dance, it would be ubiquitous. But it isn’t a practice that we see in every culture—in fact, Smith asserts, it has only arisen organically as a defined practice twice in human history, once in Greece and once in medieval India. But if philosophy were more like ballet, we should be able to see it as part of something larger than itself.
Smith looks to answer these questions by surveying the role of the philosopher and the meaning of philosophy since ancient times in different cultures and across the world. Because he’s conducting a survey, his modus operandi is to take an expansive and prismatic view of the kinds of work a philosopher can do. While the survey includes practices that define themselves as philosophic, it also explores the philosophical aspects of things like ritual, myth, even astronomy.
The style and method of Smith’s book show him to be as good as his word. The text is divided into six chapters, corresponding with six “types” of philosopher: the Curiosa, the Sage, the Gadfly, the Ascetic, the Mandarin, and the Courtier. These categories are not mutually exclusive; they are more like archetypes or allegories, tools for exploring the changing relationship between philosophy and society. Each chapter flits about from East to West and from ancient times to modern; each teems with quotes, examples, personal anecdotes, and fictional monologues by its philosophical characters, offset as long block quotes. In writing this way, Smith has taken a huge aesthetic gamble—one that he never quite admits to. He writes, flippantly, that “A story needs characters,” making the conceit sound like a gimmick to sell books. He is selling himself short: His book is a laudable effort to straddle the many ways of thinking about philosophy, and to avoid promoting one particular perspective.
But the survey also has an agenda: Smith is vocal, in this book and elsewhere, about the problems that arise with a definition of philosophy that is exclusively Western. While I have no doubts about his appreciation for the philosophy of other cultures (he teaches classical Indian philosophy, for one), the point of his survey is less intellectual (or passionate) than tactical; he wants to convince academic philosophers that it’s a serious inconsistency, if not an actual logical fallacy, to define philosophy narrowly as a Western endeavor or, more constrained still, a Western academic one.
Putin is now plainly following the same tactic in US electoral politics that he has successfully promoted in Greece and elsewhere: supporting both far-right and left tendencies indiscriminately. He is happy with any new political order that disrupts the establishment, and would welcome either a Jill Stein or a Donald Trump presidency in the United States. He knows only one of these two has any real chance of winning, and also knows that a good way of bringing this about is to support them both.
Stein is a regular guest of the RT network. Formerly called Russia Today, this English-language TV channel has adopted the Kentucky Fried Chicken strategy, rebranding itself 'KFC' in order to conceal the negative connotations of at least one word lending a letter to its acronym. Now, to some extent every major media operation is a propaganda operation, and in agreeing to appear in the NY Times or on CNN, people of conscience and reason are making a serious compromise. But RT is a media outlet whose entire raison d'être is disinformation. It also regularly features the conspiracy theorist and Trump satellite Alex Jones, and the antisemite and homophobe Gearoid O Colmain, who has recently been upbraiding the Stalin Society of North America for abandoning the Stalin-era Soviet position on 'homosexualism' as a perversion to be corrected by scientific Marxist conversion therapy. It's all good, for the RT network, and for Putin: however dirty and creepy, however massive the contradictions from one guest to the next, it all disrupts the stranglehold of liberal establishment discourse as dominated by American, and most Western European, media.
And RT is the media environment in which Jill Stein finds it possible to thrive. Pictures are now circulating of her seated at the same table as Putin at an RT gala dinner in Moscow last December. Nearby we also find a Trump advisor, Michael Flynn. It would of course be Kremlin-baiting and slanderous to simply point out that Jill Stein has been to Moscow. I've been to Moscow too and I hope to go back soon. (I would emphatically decline any opportunity to meet Putin at a staged spectacle, just as I would Trump). This is something much more serious than that: she is a core member of the media family of the Putin regime's English-language propaganda arm.
There is, again, no sustained or clear message in the propaganda. Putin's regime, unlike the Soviet Union, has no real ideology. The only message is intentional disruption of other messages, by means of whatever toxic ideas craven ideologues and unprincipled fools, hungry for media exposure of any sort, feel like throwing out there: anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, birthers, hardline Stalinists, people who think Noam Chomsky is an Israeli agent, etc. It's dirty as hell, it is soaked through with ideas and values that all of my American progressive friends would find abhorrent if confronted by them directly. And it seriously threatens the outcome of the US presidential elections.
I know many, many people agree that the establishment does need to be brought down, and so are sympathetic to any force that seems to be working toward that. But it is extremely naive to think that it would be possible to achieve any progressive goals at all in a new political landscape that Putin has helped to bring about. The hope for accomplishing progressive goals would come to a screeching halt, as all political effort of those who resist collaborationism would turn to overthrowing the tyranny, and short of that to minimizing the suffering under it.
Putin wants Trump to be president of the United States. Putin also thinks Jill Stein is alright.
I will hold the Émile Francqui Chair at the Université Libre de Bruxelles next year. When I learned this my first thought was: Who's Émile Francqui? and my second thought was: I'm guessing I don't want to know. I'm guessing it has something to do with the history of the Belgian Congo.
And I was exactly right: in 1885 Francqui was appointed by King Leopold II to go to the Katanga Province as an army captain and a cartographer. Some sources, not least the Fondation Francqui, report that their namesake was active in combatting slavery, but what this seems to mean is that he was engaged in the Congo Arab war of 1892 against Zanzibari 'Arab' slave traders fighting for control of the Congo Free State.
Francqui's principal adversary was the Zanzibari ivory merchant, slavetrader, and memoirist known as Tippu Tip, a nom de guerre derived onomatopoeically from the sound of his gun. It is unlikely that Tippu Tip saw Francqui as any more enlightened than he was, but instead took the war as having to do only with control of territory. For his service there, Leopold would send him onward to China, to represent Belgian interests in the burgeoning mining industry.
As I was reading this part of Francqui's biography, I realised the name was vaguely familiar. A few months ago I was engaged in some minor research on the natural-philosophical and, shall we say, eudaimonistic writings of the 31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, beginning with his translation in 1910 of Georg Agricola's 1556 work De re metallica, and right up through his 1963 swan song, Fishing for Fun-- And to Wash Your Soul.
I had checked out through interlibrary loan from Bavaria the only physical copy of this latter book known to exist on the European continent, and had to give the ILL librarian a special pleading look as if to say, "What? This is research too."
The fruits of the Hoover research will be made public, in Cabinet Magazine, soon enough, but here what is noteworthy is the small detail of his own passage through China, in the first years of the 20th century, having even fought in the Boxer Rebellion in Tianjin in 1900, alongside his wife, Lou Henry. And who would become his great rival in the struggle for control of the Chinese mines? The Belgian industrialist and envoyé of the king, Émile Francqui.
Some years later still, after the outbreak of World War I, Francqui and Hoover would collaborate to direct and manage the Commission for Relief in Belgium, offering food supplies to refugees of the German occupation. One of the principal thoroughfares in Brussels today is the Boulevard Herbert Hoover, which I remember from the mid-1990s, when I briefly had a Belgian girlfriend and flew to Brussels from New York on a Pakistan International Airlines flight that made a brief stopover for refuelling in Europe before continuing on to Karachi. She, a Francophone, had disappointed me for her total lack of interest in the language of the Flems, and would not indulge for a second my attempts to translate the Dutch part of the bilingual cereal box.
I disappointed her for other perhaps more profound reasons, but anyhow I have been surprised, recently, to find these two men, Francqui and Hoover, meeting again, not just in Brussels during the Great War, after their period of enmity in China, but also, a century later, in my own curiosity, my own wandering from this topic to that.
Belgium has its Francqui Foundation, and the United States has, at Stanford, its Hoover Institute. If you accept an affiliation with the Hoover Institute you can expect to be unfriended by your cool friends, the ones who post links to new books from Verso and who rigorously practice the hermeneutics of suspicion, about pretty much everything: the New York Times, Disney cartoon princesses, Miley Cyrus twerking. Accepting to be associated with the name of Émile Francqui seems somewhat less charged, though in truth the men seem to have been very much alike.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I err through life, taking opportunities as they come, accepting invitations, without much suspicion, but also without the hopefulness young Herbert Hoover surely felt as he set out to impose order and progress in the world. As a topic for the lecture series I’ll give in connection with the year-long chair, I have proposed: "What Is a Plant? Philosophical Reflections from Aristotle to Goethe." The world is going up in flames, there is a coming global order of idiocy and barbarism, and, like Herbert Hoover with his history of metals, though without the optimism, I have chosen to focus on the history of plants. I want to wash my soul of the history of men.
Trump's suspected Russian connections have generated a small flurry of interest over the past few days, in the wake of the reports that Putin's agents may be behind the DNC e-mail hack. It is nearly certain that this mini-scandal will fade within the next few days as Americans, living in the eternal present, lurch on to the next shiny thing.
I would like very much for this story not to recede. Trump has today both announced that he has "nothing to do with Russia whatsoever," and then in a public speech a few hours later made a jaw-dropping request to Putin to help in finding Hillary Clinton's 30,000 missing e-mails. Commentators are wondering whether this constitutes treason, but we can anticipate that the evidently sarcastic tone of the request will provide plausible deniability. Haven't we learned by now, anyway, that Trump can say anything?
Prior to today's events, Masha Gessen, the English-speaking world's most lucid critic of Putin, published an article in the New York Review of Books denying exactly what I've spent the last two days trying to argue (e.g., here) --that Trump is, in a broad sense, an agent of Putin-- but I'd happily concede that point to someone who has "spent a good third of [her] professional life working to convince the readers... of both Russian and American publications that Vladimir Putin is a threat to the world as we know it." I think though that she creates a false dichotomy when she says that fixating on Trump as an agent of Putin is a "way to evade the fact that Trump is a thoroughly American creation that poses an existential threat to American democracy." I see it more as a way to make that same case, and to place it in a global context, which includes not only Putin but, only somewhat more distally, ethnonationalist autocrats like Erdogan and Modi. The point is to understand the genus that is casting forth all these new species in different national habitats, not to blame any one of them for the others.
Clearly, whatever your theory of the DNC hack, when Trump says that he has "nothing to do with Russia whatsoever," this can't be true. His multiple, publicly acknowledged ties with Russian business and with pro-Russian lobbies do not count as 'nothing'. So, once again, he's lying. Putin wants him urgently to be president of the US. Whether or not he is directly an agent of Putin, he is our national mutation of a rapidly speciating genus that includes Putin, indeed that includes him, I would say, as its type species. The fact that 'it can happen here', or that 'we have our own home-grown troubles to worry about', does not mean that there is not a global context for these local troubles that must also be understood. The fact that the global context of this particular trouble is one that reveals strong affinities, whether elective or not, between our home-grown politician and ethnonationalist autocrats in Russia, Turkey, India, and elsewhere, is one that it seems to me might be salient in conversation with friends and relatives who are operating under the illusion that there is something patriotic about voting for Trump. And yet so many people I have read or spoken with are downplaying or denying the Russian connection, even calling it red-baiting. As if there were anything red about the Putin regime: it is an ethnonationalist autocracy! Even if you think patriotism is vulgar, surely you can understand how, by making this Trump-Russia association stick (again, a real association, whether he is Putin's paid agent, useful idiot, or just a species of the same genus), we might hope to help reorient those people who believe patriotism is noble and believe they are acting on their patriotism by supporting Trump.
The recent talk of Trump's relations with Russia reminds me of Obama's attempt to roast the Republican candidate at the most recent press correspondents' dinner by observing that his experience in the domain of foreign relations consisted in bringing the Miss Universe contest to Moscow. Trump himself has boasted that this work indeed gives him special knowledge of Russia. What Obama's joke misses, and what our mockery of his boast misses, is that in the Russian mafia regime the event presided by Trump qualifies as a high-level affair of state. Ceremoniously judging women, and projecting one's power over them to the entire empire, while simultaneously torturing or threatening to torture the men, just is governance. Consider for example the activities of Ramzan Kadyrov, who is technically some kind of regional governor but in fact is a common warlord implanted in Chechnya in exchange for his promise of fealty to Putin. Kadyrov apparently serves on various committees (e.g., the Advisory Commission of the State Council of the Russian Federation), but the actions in virtue of which he maintains his power are things like shooting guns in the air, collecting sport cars, throwing money at women dancers during parties, showing off his own talents in dancing a lezginka, and maintaining active and plausible rumours of the existence of torture chambers in his realm. Notoriously, Gérard Depardieu sought to signal his je-m'en-fichisme towards the French Republic and toward Western high-mindedness in general by himself displaying fealty toward the Chechen warlord, even dancing a lezginka of his own.
Trump is one of these people. In his unhinged displays, in his flirtation with the Russian mafia state and all it symbolises, he is more like Depardieu than like any conservative politician the United States has ever known. It misses the point to call him a 'vulgarian'. Lyndon B. Johnson was a vulgarian, and he was also perfectly competent to serve as president of the United States (however awful his aggravation of the Vietnam War). Trump is, rather, someone who doesn't simply like wrestling and beauty contests, but who has no moral or intellectual ability to comprehend a vision of politics that is not fundamentally modelled on these base spectacles. He is an aspiring warlord, an aspiring mafioso, an aspiring vassal of Vladimir Putin, who for his part must at present be delighted and stunned to see the United States collapsing in just this way.
The evidence has been accumulating for a long time now --the connection to Yanukovych's former advisor Paul Manafort, the apparent Russian hacking of the DNC, the flippancy about NATO's responsibilities in the Baltics, the general conspiratorial tenor that sounds so much like a typical invited loon on the RT network, the mutual public praise-- that Trump is, at least unwittingly, an agent of Putin.
Whenever I try to bring this up as potentially damaging, Americans keep telling me that the Putin connection can't be made into a campaign issue, since "Trump's supporters don't really care about foreign policy." But that can't really be true. Surely they care about possible future foreign policies that diminish US sovereignty, or that shift the balance of geopolitical power in the world towards an autocratic Eurasia. It seems to me that the real problem is just poor information in the US: Americans seem to believe that Russia ceased to exist in 1991, that Gorbachev just gave up and closed up shop. This perception only strengthened after 2001, when US triumphalism over the fall of communism in the 1990s fused with racism and 'civilisational' bigotry to convince Americans that the Arab and Muslim world was the principal geopolitical hotspot in the world.
Tellingly, Slavic-studies departments in US universities downsized, and enrolment in Arabic courses skyrocketed (studying Russian in the early 1990s, we still got to use military-issue textbooks with helpful phrases about nuclear summits and fallout shelters). But this indifference only goes one way: Putinite ideology, while also working when expedient to cultivate small autocrats such as Le Pen fille or Viktor Orban, is monomaniacally focused on the US, all the nuclear weapons are still there, and of course Putin is interested in helping to install a leader in the US who has given up on the post-war Atlanticist liberal-democratic order. There are surely among Trump's supporters some horseshoed ideologists too paranoid and incoherent to be classified as either left or right. One such is Alex Jones of InfoWars fame, who would find a Putinite world amenable to them precisely because it rejects the liberal-democratic order that they see as a great hypocrisy and a lie. There are many of these people who may at first have had some progressive spirit about them, but who are too thick or too morally cretinous to allow their anger to be shaped by anything that resembles a principle: like a certain relative of mine whom I saw in 2002 wearing a t-shirt with a big tacky likeness of Yasser Arafat on it, and who by our next and last visit in 2006 was convinced that 'the Jews' are spraying us with chemtrails. I don't know what this kinsman of mine thinks about the current presidential elections, but I can say that it is his type that makes up Trump's base: those who are as far beyond placement on the ideological spectrum as we have understood it since the French Revolution as they are beyond rationality and decency.
But there must also be many, many Trump supporters for whom American anti-Soviet ideology of the 20th century remains a living memory and a still recoverable orientation in their understanding of what might actually constitute an existential threat to the country they claim to want to make great again. To try to convince these people of the extreme danger of a Trump presidency seems to me a worthwhile effort to make right now, and not to be shrugged off simply because Trump's supporters are supposedly too stupid to 'care about foreign policy'.
One often gets the impression that it is in fact the American left that finds it hard to think about foreign policy. I'm astounded, in particular, to see my friends on the left flatly denying that Russia could possibly be interfering in US electoral politics. Say you're glad Russia is interfering, or say you think there's no reason they should not interfere, given how much the US interferes around the world (yes, I'd even be happy to hear another invocation of the fallacy of relative privation, or 'А у нас негров линчуют', to adapt the Soviet slogan into the first-person plural, if the only alternative is flat-out denial of evidence). But why reject out of hand the possibility that Russia in fact seeks to play an active role in the electoral politics of other countries?
This role has been long and well established in Estonia, Hungary, France, and other European states, and there is no reason why, given the Internet-based nature of the interference, Russia should not expand its understanding of the ближнее зарубежье or 'near abroad' to include its principal 20th-century rival. Everywhere is 'near' when your preferred form of warfare is hacking. Americans seems surprised that Russia would engage in such low manoeuvres. My Bulgarian friends, meanwhile, are surprised to see that Americans think any of this is news. The only difference is that it is not some small former vassal state, but the superpower that supposedly became a hegemonic hyperpower a generation ago, that is now learning what Eastern Europe experiences all the time.
I used to find the most productive forums to be the ones, as Victor S. Navasky hoped for The Nation to be, in which liberals and leftists explore their differences, and find out what they have in common in order to help shape a better world together. Since the rise of Trump I've started to feel that the most productive conversations are those one might have with the 'decent right', all the Republicans who have stood up against Trump and really understand what an existential threat he poses to the United States.
Whatever the direct or indirect links, Trump is a Putinite. Putin, and all the other ethnonationalist and autocratic leaders throughout the world that I can think of, want to see Trump elected. Russia is not a joke, especially not for those of us in Europe who sort of remain attached to the post-war liberal-democratic order and don't want to see it overturned by people who don't just fail to live up to its aspirations --most importantly the aspiration to individual rights and freedoms--, but fundamentally reject those aspirations. Trump is not a Republican, or a conservative. He is an autocrat in the 'Eurasianist' mould elaborated by Aleksandr Dugin and tacitly supported by Putin. The Americans who seem to understand this most clearly are the commentators from the center right, those who rightly or wrongly continue to believe that there really is a way of failing to do one's part in American civil society that might be denounced as 'un-American', and one does not have to be a paranoid McCarthyite in order to see this. They correctly see Donald Trump as un-American.
Meanwhile the American left seems to think Russian cyberwarfare is not a real thing at all, either because they believe the myth forged in the 1990s that the US 'won' the Cold War and that Russia has been taken care of, or because they think it makes them look bad-ass in front of their friends to pretend they believe that anything at all, even the global triumph of Putinism, is preferable to the business-as-usual of American-led neoliberal oligarchy.
At the same time, all of those who posture in this way claim to be deeply concerned with the rights and freedoms of all people, particularly persecuted ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. But under a Hillary Clinton presidency, however crappy her brand of corporate elite rule may be, you or your loved ones will not end up in a labor camp in Oklahoma wearing a pink triangle. By contrast this is a real possibility under a Trump presidency, and there is no source of moral authority in the global order whose ascendancy Trump's election would clinch to which we might appeal to help you get out. Liberal-democratic rulers, for all their hypocrisy, still speak a language in which it makes sense to say things like, 'This is not right', 'This is unjust'. They understand what these expressions mean. Trump and Putin don't speak this language. They are on the same side. Putin knows this, Trump might know it. And Putin is in fact capable of acting on this knowledge to shape the world in his image.
July 15. How nice it would be to see neither facile whataboutism (‘What about Baghdad?!’, ‘What about Istanbul?!’) nor the futile sentimentalism of temporary tricolour profile photos and #jesuisnice hashtags. These displays are not the harmless sideshow of helpless bystanders; they are part of the causal mesh that keeps these attacks happening. There is by now a fully routinised social-media cycle that gives us first a raw explosion of sentiment, then scoldings about what we’re failing to be sentimental about; then a lull, a vacuum-like feeling that we could really use another spectacle to focus our sentiments on. This is the same feeling that makes us so ebullient when celebrities die, since their deaths give us an occasion to display how much we loved them, or maybe to tell of the time we met them and how much they helped shape our own work. We are not (yet) actively killing celebrities, but there are plenty of young men with nothing to lose who are happy to kill children watching fireworks on a beach promenade, or revellers at concert halls or nightclubs, to give us something to do with our sentiments for the next few days. The time-lag is getting shorter and shorter, and the Internet is getting hungrier. If the ‘What about x?!’ formula as it is usually employed picks out, in its inarticulate way, a real geopolitical bias, there is another bias, a chronological one, that the Internet in its perpetual present fails to detect: we might as well, already, be crying out, ‘What about Orlando?!’, ‘What about Paris last November, or last January?!’ Very soon, Nice will seem like it happened a long time ago too. It is a dishonour to the victims to repeat the ritual motions of public outrage and indignation and sanctimony about double-standards that together serve to pack the event up, tie it off, and despatch it into the irrelevant past. This is a political crisis and it needs analysis and political solutions. In particular, it needs us to fight against the rise of ethnonationalist politicians in Europe and America who are, whether they know it or not, collaborating with the attackers to bring civil society down in flames.
UPDATE, one day later: The Internet is now crying 'Istanbul!' though for reasons that could not have been anticipated yesterday when it was crying 'What about Istanbul?!' Nice has already retreated into the past, it is already unfashionable to offer a public display of sentiment about it. Today's cry of 'Istanbul!' will not be heard however as an answer to yesterday's 'What about Istanbul?!' No one ever really expects an answer to that question. The real question is always, 'What's next? Where can we lurch to next to show off our sentiments, like funeral cryers in plague time, delighted that business is so good?'
Some English-speakers have been hailing the recent mainstream campaign to eliminate gender-specific pronouns in Swedish. A few Anglophones, though far from the mainstream, have also been seeking for some years now to implement neologistic gender-neutral replacements for ‘he’ and ‘she’. The Swedish case in particular has been held to be a reflection of that society’s relative progressiveness in the politics of gender. What is missed here, out of ignorance or wilful avoidance, is that there are many languages in which gendered pronouns have either gone extinct or were never used in the first place, and which are spoken in societies that are hardly known for their gender egalitarianism: for example, Persian or Turkmen. Somehow, even without access to ‘she’ or ‘her’, but only an all-purpose ‘he/she/it’, Iranian courts manage to sentence women to death by stoning for ‘adultery’. We might just as well predict that Swedish society would take up lapidation and anti-adultery laws as a result of the elimination of gendered pronouns, as that it would thereby draw closer to full gender equality.
Both predictions are absurd. And yet, this interest in gendered personal pronouns does at least remind us of a way of thinking about grammatical gender that is generally underemphasised by linguists and language instructors: that the masculine and feminine genders of pronouns, and more interestingly of nouns, reflects a division of the cosmos into categories that radiate out from the sexual dimorphism of human bodies. In English there is only vestigial gender for substantive terms for non-biological entities: ships, sometimes countries, sometimes sportscars, are ‘she’. In French, every noun is masculine or feminine, sometimes in ways that seem arbitrary. What is it, for example, about abstractions, such as those words ending in -ité or -tion, that is inherently feminine? And why is the word for ‘vagina’ masculine, or the most common slang term for ‘penis’ feminine? Yet there are also some ways in which the non-arbitrary ideology of gender is reflected in grammatical gender: the words for ‘father’, ‘son’ ‘god’, etc., are all masculine, which seems obvious of course, but which would not be obvious if, as we are sometimes told, there were no connection between grammatical gender and the presumed biological (or in the case of God, spiritual) sex of the entity in question.
In modern French the masculine has absorbed the neuter, which was the third gender in Latin, the principal ancestor language of French, as well as in Greek, Sanskrit, and Proto-Indo-European, and which remains the third gender in living Indo-European languages such as German and Russian. What is the neuter, and what does it reveal about the cosmology of those language-users who divide the world not just into masculine and feminine entities, but also into entities that are neither/nor? It may be that this category is not simply for the leftover entities that are neither masculine nor feminine, but rather is the vestige of an archaic system of noun classes in which the masculine and the feminine were only two instances of a much richer and more diverse way of carving up the world.
When I studied Old Church Slavonic with Boris Gasparov in the 1990s, he was actively interested in the noun-class system of the Niger-Congo languages, which include up to 22 nominal classes based on semantic hyperonymy in which more specific categories of being are grouped in more general nominal classes. Place, animacy, number, and so on exist alongside gender as basic noun forms. If I recall correctly, Gasparov was drawing on the work of some earlier formalist from Prague or Tartu who argued that the distinct declensions for animate and inanimate nouns in Slavic languages (in the masculine accusative singular for example) reflects an earlier system akin to the Niger-Congo languages in which masculine and feminine in no way exhaust the possibilities for carving up the world of things named by nouns, as they do, say, in modern French. On this view, then, the neuter could be the residue of what were once several different gender-like noun categories that unlike the masculine and feminine genders have not even a putative grounding in biological sex. These all could have been folded into the neuter gender in the same way that the neuter was in more recent times folded into the masculine in French.
Recent desultory clicking brought me to the website nonbinary.org. This organisation, I think, offers the purest expression I have seen of contemporary transgender ideology. I will make no secret of my inability to accept, or understand, certain elements of this ideology, nor will I hide my horror at the quickness with which inability such as mine is denounced these days as ‘transphobia’. I take it rather that the inability results from real inconsistencies in the ideology. In particular it is not at all clear to me how human social reality can be carved up into ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ if we are in fact committed to non-binarity. You can argue that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are just the tip of the iceberg, that one can also be, to take an example from nonbinary.org, ‘frostgender’. But if this is your view, if you think there are countless ways individual human beings might discover within themselves an inward affinity to some entity, process, or phenomenon in nature or in abstraction, and that the acknowledgment of such affinity is the only adequate account of gender, then don’t you dare tell me I’m ‘cis’. How on earth would you know?
It seems to me very plausible that such affinities are indeed the expression of a richer system of placing human beings within a cosmos of classes of entities than the one that divides everything into masculine and feminine. If it seems too fine-grained to believe that a person might truly be ‘frostgender’, by hyperonymy we might still be able to imagine a system in which some people affiliate with the class of water-based entities, or the class of cold things. Acknowledging our affinity to the animal world in particular, and expressing this affinity through our social identities, seems a particularly natural and appropriate thing to do. I am confident in fact that there is just as much sense in a human being saying that, though they were born in human form, it is to the class of jaguars or crows that they truly belong, as it is for, say, a human being born biologically a male to say that it is nonetheless to the class of human females that he truly belongs. At present the latter statement is supposed to command our full and unquestioning respect, while the former would be received at best with curiosity and most likely with unsanctioned ridicule. This distinction is arbitrary and culturally specific in the extreme.
The only social outlet the person who identifies with an animal has in our society is in outward affiliation to shabby sexual subcultures like the ‘furries’ or the ‘pups’. The profound truth that these subcultures skim seems to go unnoticed either by their members or by their mockers: that we are, not just in our ‘fetishes’ or ‘kinks’, but in our deepest natures, the kin of other living beings. Our historical bond with them is older even than sexual dimorphism, and it is not at all surprising that it moves some people to commit themselves in their social comportment to not just kinship, but inward identity, with a given animal kind. They do not need to go out and buy some rubber costume in order for the claim of identity to be veracious, either, any more than someone who claims to be frostgender needs to dress up as a snowflake. And mistaking the trouble one is willing to go through to manifest themselves socially as a member of this or that trans identity with trans identity itself is to mistake the trivial appearances for the fascinating and important metaphysics at work in human identity. We are, none of us, ‘cis’.
But back to grammar. There are vestiges in many languages of a vision of the world in which gender is largely ungrounded in biological sex: the vast majority of gendered entities —stars, houses, rocks, and so on— plainly have no biological sex at all. In languages such as English, gender has mostly retreated to those entities that are thought to have a sex, and until recently it was supposed that the classification in terms of gender was grounded in that sex. This grounding has been called into question in the past few decades, but if grammatical gender for pronouns withers away or is abolished by decree, this will only be the completion of a process of de-gendering that has already occurred for the vast majority of entities in the world. There was a time when stars and rocks could be masculine or feminine, with no expectation that this classification be grounded in biological sex. And now we have arrived at a point where even biological sex is not enough to ground gender, but what is forgotten here is that for most of human history, if natural language is any indication, there was no expectation of such a grounding.
Now we might say good riddance to grammatical gender, we might say that English is ‘more evolved’ than French to the extent that it mostly lacks gender. But we might also look back to richer systems of noun classes in other more distant languages as holding out for us a more adequate expression of the non-binarity we now claim to be seeking in the social expression of gender. What if we could find, in natural language, the elements for a conception of gender-like classes that do not stop at masculine and feminine, that presume no grounding in biological sex, and that help us to make sense of the sort of affinities, for example to entities in the natural world, that the new non-binarity is asking us to recognise? What if the best hope for progress is in archaicism, finding those old ways of speaking in which my inward affinity to another being can be expressed as true, even if my outward form is nothing like that being? Une étoile is not really feminine, and no human being is really a jaguar; it is also likely that no human being is a ’man’ or a ‘woman’ in any clear and incontestable sense. But these are all ways of talking, of making meaning in our human lives.
Elon Musk, the billionaire inventor and amateur futurologue, has recently taken to the idea that we may all be living in a simulation akin to Second Life. He has been influenced in his thinking by the philosopher Nick Bostrom, though something of the latter's rigour has been lost as the argument is translated into a version suitable to capture the imagination of a global 'thought leader', who, in turn, is positioned to get the rest of us talking about it. Of course some of us can remember talking about it before either of these men forced it into the zeitgeist, perhaps in an informal setting where the exploratory mood was enhanced by a joint and we found ourselves starting our sentences with, "Whoah, what if, like..." But now the adventure of ideas, of which any stoner is capable, and indeed of which our ancestors millennia before the invention of video games were capable, has been given weight by the interest of an Oxford philosopher, and cachet by the derivative interest of a rich person. And now when people talk about it they will not say, "Whoah, what if, like..." and they will probably not have a joint in hand. They will soberly, straight-facedly say to their coworkers, "I read this one expert who..." or, more succinctly, "They say that..."
You do not need to be a Heideggerian to be wary of 'the they'.
It is certainly possible that we are living in a simulation, if by this we mean that things are not as they appear, that reality is not just brute stuff sitting there on its own. This is a possibility that has been contemplated in various ways by great minds for quite some time now, and that has provided fuel for the wild speculations of not-so-great minds for just as long. What is new is the way in which one manoeuvres into the appearance of expertise by doing nothing more than being very wealthy and deciding to take up the social role of a visionary. What Musk has done is to update an ancient possibility, to cause it to appear as something never-before-thought when in truth it is only a repackaging and a re-enchantment.
The particular form the new version takes offers a vivid case study in the consequences of historical and anthropological ignorance. How self-congratulatory and parochial does a member of a given culture, at a given moment, have to be, to suppose that reality itself takes the form of a particular technology developed within that very culture in the course of one's own lifetime? Consider the familiar claim that 'the brain is like a computer', or, switching the comparative 'like' for the stoner one, that 'the brain is, like, a computer'. Is this not effectively to say that this thing that has been around in nature for hundreds of millions of years turns out to in fact have been, all along, this other thing that we ourselves came up with in the past few decades?
Wouldn't it, I mean, be a remarkable coincidence to find ourselves alive at just the moment where technology finally shows itself to be adequate to reveal to us the true nature of reality? And how are we supposed to interpret the equally certain claims of people in other times and places, who believed that reality in fact reflected some device or artifice of central importance to their own culture (e.g., horologia, mirrors, puppets, tjurungas...)? Are we really to believe that it was not the light-and-shadow theatres of the ancients or the hydraulic automata of the early moderns that revealed the true nature of things, but that instead humanity would have to await the eventual advent of... Pong? And might the key cosmic-historical significance of this technological moment have something to do with the fact that it is simultaneous with the formative early experiences of the man-child Elon Musk?
If you are like Musk, or Bostrom, then you will probably consider these historical and culture-comparative considerations irrelevant to the question at hand. Fine, then. Let's talk about the argument. One notes, first, that it relies on a crucial but unexamined premise, that the simulated characters of video games, if they keep developing in the way they have been developing since the 1970s, will eventually become conscious. But there is just one small problem: we don't know what consciousness is yet. We don't know how it is grounded in brain activity, nor whether it is an emergent capacity of the evolution of organisms at all, so we can't possibly know whether it is bound to emerge from the evolution of other physical systems.
Some people are strongly committed to the view that consciousness is just the result of the way brains are structured, and there is nothing categorically special in the physical world about how brains are structured. But they cannot give an account, at least not yet, of how this works, how we get thoughts and feelings and memories from the firing of neurons, let alone positively establish that it works in the same way as our computers work. And if we do not know that brains are computers, then we definitely don't know that computer programs, or indeed the special parts of programs responsible for the production of simulations of characters that seem to bear some analogy to us (Ms. PacMan, the Sims, etc.), are on their way to becoming conscious.
But let's suppose for the sake of argument that our brains are computers, and that our consciousness is the result of the fact that we are 'running a program'. It does not follow from this that wherever in the universe there is natural computational activity, given enough time this activity will in turn result in the production of artificial systems that simulate what had already emerged naturally. In other words, there is no reason to think that wherever there are naturally evolving brains there are likely to be, given enough time, artificial ones too.
The presumption of the high probability of such an outcome is perhaps what is most new about the new repackaged version of the argument. It appears to be borrowed from some recent speculations in xenobiology, triggered by the recent recalculation, by several orders of magnitude, of the likely number of habitable planets in the universe. But this speculation is based on a misunderstanding of evolutionary biology, and pumped up on a fairly large dose of smuggled teleology. There is no reason why biological evolution should move from lower to higher, from dumb fish and worms to ingenious toolmaking and abstract-thought-using beings. This is for the simple reason that there can be no lower or higher at all in evolution. I am worse than a fish if we're having a contest in underwater breathing, but better if it is typing that interests us. And this is all evolution does: it yields up organisms that are fitted to their environments; it does not yield up absolutely ever-better organisms, nor is tool-making and abstract thinking any better, absolutely, than breathing through gills.
Even given the astoundingly large number of habitable planets in the universe and the likely passage on at least some of them from inorganic molecules to living systems, there is no compelling reason to think that a large number of these systems, or even more than one of them, must ever have resulted in a species such as ours that builds tools we would recognise as products of technology. There could for example be a species of electric eel-like creatures that develop a flourishing culture of abstract self-expression, in which some become legendary, like eel Mozarts, for their ability to control the currents coming out of them. Such a thing could evolve without giving off any technological traces. Such a thing, indeed, may even be going on right now among some terrestrial non-human species. But not only do we not detect it, we are not even interested in it, as we are certain, without argument, that intelligence is coextensive with making stuff.
If there is no necessity or high probability that the passage to what we would recognise as technology should have occurred more than once, then a fortiori there cannot be a high probability that one or many other living systems in the universe ever came up with a technology similar to Second Life (in which the little avatars eventually become conscious, mistake their simulation for reality, etc.).
There are two instances of one and the same error in the argument that we might be living in a video game simulation. It is supposed that given enough time any living system will become like us in that it will begin using abstract thought and building tools, which tools will eventually become the loci of abstract thought themselves. It is supposed, further, that these thought-tools will eventually take a form that looks recognisably like the thought-tools we have started to develop over the past half-century or so. The second inflection of the error only looks more absurd in view of its greater specificity. Both, again, are based on the ungrounded claim that thought-tools not only help us conscious beings to think, but also, as they become more complex, begin thinking themselves.
This speculation has become 'a thing' recently not because it has finally been grounded in a compelling argument, but because Elon Musk occupies a social role in which he need only dream out loud in order for his 'he' to become a 'they'. The argument is a matter of interest, like the horoscopes once so lucidly studied by Adorno, mostly because of what it says about the sociology of authority, not because of what it, well, says. And yet one fears that in the Internet era, though we are now offered infinite space to say things, there is somehow nonetheless vanishing space for critical analysis of the declarations of the powerful. The powerful maintain a pretence of reasonableness by speaking in terms of what is 'probable'. But speaking in this way translates just as easily into Google hits as does speaking of what is 'true'. And Google hits are more interesting than truth anyway, so why not just dream out loud?
I had a piece in Aeon Magazine on the relationship between literacy and philosophy. It was really a sort of summary of a recent line of reflection occasioned by my reading of Walter J. Ong, S. J. (1912-2003). His work in communications theory has been hailed by commentators over the past few years as providing a clear early articulation of many of the conceptual problems that the rise of the Internet has imposed on us. Having written this work from the 1960s to the 1980s, he's thus hailed as a 'visionary', 'before his time', etc. I tend to see him rather as perhaps the last in a long line of Jesuit polymathic weirdos, sharing in the same spirit as Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), and being, like Kircher, motivated to reflect on the natural of language and writing, and on the possibility of artificial languages or codes or programs, out of a fundamental theological commitment to the power of what they call 'the Word' to render all of nature into a rational order. In this respect for them the world is God's writing, and the eventual development of literacy in human history is thus a sort of moral progress to the extent that it aids humanity in achieving its divinely implanted potential to reflect the order of the world as God created it.
But these considerations do not enter into my own essay, nor for that matter into Ong's rigorous scholarly work. My full essay can be found here. Below is an excerpt.
A poet, somewhere in Siberia, or the Balkans, or West Africa, some time in the past 60,000 years, recites thousands of memorised lines in the course of an evening. The lines are packed with fixed epithets and clichés. The bard is not concerned with originality, but with intonation and delivery: he or she is perfectly attuned to the circumstances of the day, and to the mood and expectations of his or her listeners.
If this were happening 6,000-plus years ago, the poet’s words would in no way have been anchored in visible signs, in text. For the vast majority of the time that human beings have been on Earth, words have had no worldly reality other than the sound made when they are spoken.
As the theorist Walter J. Ong pointed out in Orality and Literacy: Technologizing the Word (1982), it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, now to imagine how differently language would have been experienced in a culture of ‘primary orality’. There would be nowhere to ‘look up a word’, no authoritative source telling us the shape the word ‘actually’ takes. There would be no way to affirm the word’s existence at all except by speaking it – and this necessary condition of survival is important for understanding the relatively repetitive nature of epic poetry. Say it over and over again, or it will slip away. In the absence of fixed, textual anchors for words, there would be a sharp sense that language is charged with power, almost magic: the idea that words, when spoken, can bring about new states of affairs in the world. They do not so much describe, as invoke...
For the past year or so I have been exercising what I have thought of as principled quietism regarding the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Until today I have not written his name in any public forum, or even mentioned him anywhere other than in the most personal conversations with friends and family. I reasoned that if this quietism had been widely practiced, most importantly by the mass media, we never would have arrived at this disgraceful point. The feigned shock acted out daily on TV and in newspapers at Trump's scandalizing statements has itself been a crucial part of the normalization process. The negative coverage has still been coverage, and Trump understood this, and rode on a wave of craven media complicity to where he is now. But I am not Rupert Murdoch or Les Moonves, and my quiet now has a different meaning than theirs could have had earlier on. Speaking seems futile, and a sort of caving to the idiocy and barbarism of the present moment; silence weighs heavier and heavier as the months go by, and starts to feel like cowardice. So eventually one gives in, and speaks, and joins the present, without omniscience about unintended effects, without any real wisdom, but with massive reserves, stored up during the silent months, of pure moral outrage.
It is too late for the media to rewind and to undue the damage of their profit-driven legitimation of the impostor. We are now left with the fact of Trump as someone who will not go away if we simply conduct our lives as if it were beneath our dignity to mention him, but might yet be driven away if we succeed in driving home to our fellow Americans how extremely dangerous he is. I do not want to find myself a member of the Free American Resistance in exile a few years from now, fighting to bring down a despotic regime that has supplanted American democracy. The emergence of such group is not such an unlikely scenario, should Trump become president. He presents, as Andrew Sullivan has rightly said, an extinction-level threat to American democracy.
He represents not the least prospect of making America great again, but rather the prospect of making America part of the same global order of post-democratic authoritarianism that already includes many of the United States' traditional geopolitical adversaries. The result of a power-grab in the United States by a Eurasian-style despot, with bodyguards playing the role of boyars, could be an ignominious peace forged with these regimes with which Trump's America would indeed have a fundamental kinship; or it could be total war, triggered by what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences: when two parties are so alike that they can't stand the existence of the other. But either way it is a capitulation, and a definitive end to the role that the United States has sought to play in the world.
I know many of my friends on the left will say: "Fine then, good riddance to that order that has brought so much pain to the world," and it is this sentiment that has many of them asking, at present, whether, once Sanders is out of the picture, Trump might in fact be preferable to Hillary Clinton. I am witnessing in real time, and finally understanding, the historical process by which, for example, the French National Front has won crossover voters from the Communist Party when the former makes a few promises about improved material well-being and also promises, like the latter, to make those at the center of power --the Establishment-- pay for their greed and indifference. In France, as earlier in Germany, and as in the United States now, what the crossovers from the left are leaving out, or preferring to overlook, is that when these promises of improved well-being are made by the far right they come at the expense of, and with the express intention of hurting, not only representatives of the Establishment, but also anyone who is not a member of our 'nation': a loose category that can be defined not only in terms of citizenship, but in terms of race, ethnicity, or religion. So overt fascism is not just a 'more honest' version of the neoliberal oligarchist politics of the Establishment. Hillary Clinton will not place Muslim-American in camps. She will not 'close the borders'. She will not dismantle the free press or seek to radically change the powers of the executive office. She will continue American foreign policy as usual, which includes the deaths of a lot of innocent people, but she will not needlessly provoke new wars simply as a consequence of a slighted ego or as a distraction from failed domestic policies. It is a profoundly flippant and en-bubbled gesture on the part of members of the American intellectual left to say that Trump could not be worse than Clinton. It is a betrayal of all of those people who, in addition to the innocent targets of American drones, would be directly made to suffer as a result of a Trump presidency, often simply in virtue of the contingencies of their birth.
I think two things must be done in the coming months. First, just like in the defeat of fascism seven decades ago, socialists, communists, and anarchists need to recognize in this case that they do have common cause with the Establishment, including with the Establishment right. I have been extremely impressed with the clarity of vision, and the understanding of the seriousness of the present moment, expressed by the editorial staff of the National Review. I find that I can appreciate these virtues, without falling into doubt and worry about the entirety of my political commitments, most of which do not overlap with theirs. What overlaps is the sheer horror at the thought of the rise to power of a fascist usurper in the United States. I think it is important for Americans, whatever their political commitments, to find this common ground and to stay on it and fight from it into November.
Second, I think it is crucial to engage with Trump supporters and with those who might cross over to Trump (some from among Sanders's disaffected followers) without condescension and by patiently highlighting the multiple respects in which Trump in fact does not represent their interests, the multiple respects in which he is a betrayer, and, if it helps, the multiple respects in which he is not, at all, what might be called a patriot. As to the last of these, I think it is important to emphasize --and I think Trump supporters are certainly intelligent enough to follow this line of reasoning-- that what Trump represents is not anything distinctly American, but rather is only the local variation on a political ideology that is currently recrudescing throughout the world, that this ideology is incompatible with American patriotism, and that it is now and in the past most closely associated with regimes that are hostile to the United States. Again, a Trump presidency would amount to a capitulation to these regimes.
We must fight Trump and everything he stands for. We will fight him until November, so that we do not have to fight him afterwards. He is already a blight on American history, and this is what he will be no matter what his legacy is from here on. But to minimize suffering, both in the US and beyond, he needs to be defeated early and decisively.
I will support Bernie Sanders' campaign for as long as it useful in pushing the Democratic party towards important progressive goals; and I will support Hillary Clinton when the time comes, faute de mieux, in order to prevent the rise of a fascist regime and the end not so much of democracy in America --for there is plenty of argument as to whether true democracy has ever been achieved-- but even of the ideal of democracy. However much we've failed to realize it, this ideal has at least helped us to prevent far worse forms of government from moving in. Anyone who does not see this, who thinks that the existing order is really the worst thing there is, simply does not know enough history, or does not take seriously enough the lives of Muslim and Latin American immigrants, to understand just how bad things can really get.
A History in Six Types
(Princeton University Press, 2016)
Justin E. H. Smith
The Leibniz-Stahl Controversy
(Yale University Press, 2016)
Translated, Edited, and with an Introduction by François Duchesneau and
Justin E. H. Smith
Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference:
Race in Early Modern Philosophy
(Princeton University Press, 2015)
Justin E. H. Smith
The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy
(Oxford University Press, 2014)
Edited by Ohad Nachtomy and Justin E. H. Smith
Philosophy and Its History:
Aims and Methods in the Study of Early Modern Philosophy
(Oxford University Press, 2013)
Edited by Mogens Laerke, Justin E. H. Smith
and Eric Schliesser
Justin E. H. Smith
Edited by Justin E. H. Smith and Ohad Nachtomy
Edited by Carlos Fraenkel, Dario Perinetti
and Justin E. H. Smith
Edited by Justin E. H. Smith