Monthly Archives: October 2011

Frye on “Pastoral Anarchism”

News report on Marine sergeant and Iraq war veteran Shamar Thomas facing down NYPD officers for assaulting and arresting peaceful demonstrators.

Frye in Notebook 19, c. 1967:

There were always two sides to anarchism: one a pastoral quietism, communal (Anabaptist, Brook Farm) or individual (Chaplinism). Its perfect expression, in an individual form, is Walden, in a communal form, News from Nowhere. The beats & hippies with their be-ins and love-ins, the “Dharma bums,” are the faint beginnings of a new pastoralism. The hysterical panic about organization, full employment, keeping the machines running, & the like, is now waning as it becomes possible to do other things than work. (CW 9, 99)

Occupy Police Violence

Video showing police taking close aim and directly firing upon protesters coming to the aid of someone wounded in the head by a tear gas canister. This is a very dangerous thing to do. It can kill.

After the violent assault on Occupy Oakland — tear gas, rubber bullets, high impact bean bags, percussion grenades, sonic cannons — that left a Marine veteran, Scott Olsen, representing Veterans for Peace in critical condition in hospital — it’s clear that excessive force is now in play. Since Oakland, Occupy protests in other cities and in other countries are receiving ultimatums.

Because the use of overwhelming force to clear public spaces of peacefully assembled citizens has become an option for the authorities, I will now post video of it.

The reason the footage above and below is raw is that police ordered a local television film crew to shut off their cameras before moving in.

Video depicting heavy tear gas attack and injury

“V for Vendetta” and “Demonic Modulation”


V for Vendetta: “Words will always retain their power”

“First they came for the rich, and I said nothing. Because, you know, fuck the rich.” — Oral graffiti currently making the rounds.

The clip above is V’s pirate-radio speech to the people of London in V for Vendetta. V’s sardonic Guy Fawkes mask is now a favored icon among the disaffected, hacktivists especially. This movie is a hopeful relic from the Bush years, which, at the time of the film’s release, seemed they would never end.

Regarding V and his Guy Fawkes mask — as well as the repeated refrain of “Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” the day of the failed Gunpowder plot of 1605 — the literary principle involved is what Frye called “demonic modulation.” With demonic modulation Frye makes a much needed distinction between “the moral” and “the desirable”:

The moral and the desirable have many important and significant connections, but still morality, which comes to terms with experience and necessity, is one thing, and desire, which tries to escape from necessity, is quite another. Thus literature is as a rule less inflexible than morality, and it owes much of its status as a liberal art to that fact. The qualities that religion and morality call ribald, obscene, subversive, lewd and blasphemous have an essential place in literature but often they can achieve expression only through ingenious techniques of displacement. (AC 156)

Demonic modulation manages this by way of “the deliberate reversal of the customary moral associations of archetypes.” For example, in literature, whatever the current status of received moral standards,

a free and equal society may be symbolized by a band of robbers, pirates, or gypsies; or true love may be symbolized by the triumph of an adulterous liaison over marriage, as in most triangle comedy; [or] by a homosexual passion. . . . (AC 156-7)

In other words, exactly the sorts of things that oppressively “moral” forces in society get most nuts about, usually with a commensurate rise in rhetorical violence, sometimes outright threats of it, and occasionally tragic instances of it.

The traditional Catholic villain Guy Fawkes of seventeenth century England becomes in this film by way of demonic modulation the dark force of wrathful resistance in a somnolent dystopian Britain of the near-future. The movie does seem to possess the power of at least some short-term prophecy; it had picked up on something that was roiling just below the surface of the daily nightmare that was the Bush administration. The silent, simultaneous uprising of the people of London nicely prefigures what seems to have been the spontaneous generation of the Occupy movement; and, more ominously, the death of the tyrant High Chancellor Sutler doesn’t look all that different from the recent death of Muammar Quadafi. To cite another instance of oral graffiti that pops up here and there, “When people on the inside of their glass palaces are mocking the people on the outside, it never ends well for them.”

Video of the Day: Amy Winehouse

The autopsy results today reveal alcohol poisoning.

I thought I’d give a pass on any comment on Winehouse because her life and career were so tragic. Whatever might be said could only be trite. She had an immense talent and behaved as though possessed by demons.

But I discovered this performance at Austin’s SXSW festival in 2007. Everybody should know about it. Hear it once, you won’t forget it. When you see the expressions on the faces of the audience members, you’ll realize that’s probably how you look too.

“As the World Turns”


Wallace on humor, irony, advertising, entertainment and Infinite Jest

Frye in Anatomy: “The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, but the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect, as a kind of maddened pedantry” (CW 22, 290)

This seems to be evolving into the go-to excerpt from David Foster Wallace‘s last unfinished novel, The Pale King, but let’s slip it in before it becomes overly familiar. Here’s Wallace’s rendering of the spiritual awakening of college student Chris Fogel:

I was by myself, wearing nylon warm-up pants and a black Pink Floyd tee shirt, trying to spin a soccer ball on my finger and watching the CBS soap opera “As The World Turns” on the room’s little black-and-white Zenith. . . . There was certainly always reading and studying for finals I could do, but I was being a wastoid. . . . Anyhow, I was sitting there trying to spin the ball on my finger and watching the soap opera . . . and at the end of every commercial break, the show’s trademark shot of planet earth as seen from space, turning, would appear, and the CBS daytime network announcer’s voice would say, “You’re watching ‘As the World Turns,’ ” which he seemed, on this particular day, to say more and more pointedly each time—“You’re watching ‘As the World Turns’ ” until the tone began to seem almost incredulous—“You’re watching ‘As the World Turns’ ”—until I was suddenly struck by the bare reality of the statement. . . . It was as if the CBS announcer were speaking directly to me, shaking my shoulder or leg as though trying to arouse someone from sleep—“You’re watching ‘As the World Turns.’ ” . . . I didn’t stand for anything. If I wanted to matter—even just to myself—I would have to be less free, by deciding to choose in some kind of definite way.

Quote of the Day: OWS and Wall Street Corruption

“These guys on Wall Street are not winning – they’re cheating.” — Matt Taibbi in a scalding post reacts to the proliferating meme that the OWS protesters are “sore losers,” and provides a dizzying account of the double standard at work in the banking industry: “too big to fail” effectively means that banks have no market value and are completely dependent upon handouts and bailouts, while also stripping “sore losers” to the bone.

Frye Alert: “Things I Wanna Show My Girlfriend”

One of the things the blogger at thingsiwannashowmygirlfriend is the Frye-Kemp correspondence. This paragraph from one of the letters from Frye to Helen in 1932 caught his attention:

Denied the supreme satisfaction of the bed-sheets, he sublimates himself in letter-sheets. I carried on this literary flirtation with you some years ago, in the first summer I was home and we corresponded. But since I have grown to love you so immeasurably more than I did then, or could then, the ideal lady at the other end of the postal service has become a part of myself, and when I write I am painfully conscious only of your absence. Hence these awkward, stammering, whining, almost illiterate letters.

NYRB: “In Zuccotti Park”


Zuccotti Park yesterday. This is well-assembled footage and provides a real sense of what is happening on the ground. I hope you’ll check out a minute or two of it.

Michael Greenberg in the New York Review of Books has an in-depth report on Occupy Wall Street from the scene. There is no on-the-ground report like this anywhere else. A sample:

At 7:30 PM, near the People’s Library, the General Assembly convened. There were about five hundred of us and, as far as I could tell, we were all members for as long as we hung around. From their perch atop the wall on the northeast section of the park, two young women moderated the meeting. “Mike check!” one of the women cried, and with a unison roar the crowd repeated her words. This was “the people’s mike,” used in lieu of bullhorns, megaphones, or other amplification devices that were prohibited because the protesters had no permit. When the crowd has to repeat every word, it shows; for example, during a speech by the Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, things slowed down. But in the large crowd the repetition created a kind of euphoria of camaraderie. It also put you in the oddly disturbing position at times of shouting at full voice something you neither agreed with nor would ever have thought on your own.

On the agenda was the march to Foley Square the next day, but first the moderators wanted to know “if there are any concerns about our process.” For newcomers, the process was patiently explained, each phrase shouted back at the speaker as if to cheer her on. Anyone can submit a proposal to the General Assembly. To pass it must have 90 percent support judged by a show of hands, at which point it may be published online or in The Occupied Wall Street Journal. We were coached in the hand gestures that are the silent coded language of the protest. If you raised your hands over your head and wiggled your fingers like a partygoer in a group dance, it meant you agreed with what had just been said. Other gestures conveyed ambivalence, disagreement, and finally the blocking signal—a severe locking of forearms that, we were instructed, should be used only if you had “serious ethical concerns” with what was being proposed.


Anne-Marie Slaughter, the well-known Princeton professor of international affairs, writing in The New York Times, points out that from the first days of Occupy Wall Street news outlets in the Middle East paid close attention. Referring to the Tunisian vendor whose self-immolation set off the Arab Spring, she writes:

Go to the Web site “We Are the 99 percent” and you will see the Mohamed Bouazizs of the United States, page after page of testimonials from members of the middle class who took out mortgages to pay for education, took out mortgages to buy their houses…worked hard at the jobs they could find, and ended up…on the precipice of financial and social ruin.

The protesters in Zuccotti Park seem to have heralded the membership of a significant portion of our population in a new form of Third World, a development that our media and government appear to have been the last to absorb.