Servants of Death

Stéphane Mandelbaum

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
Miles Davis

“Throughout the animal kingdom we find the welfare of the individual subordinated to that of the species.”
Ernest Starling (Elements of Human Physiology)

“In the affluent society, the authorities are hardly forced to justify their domination. They deliver the goods; they satisfy the sexual and the aggressive energy of their subjects. Like the unconscious, the destructive power of which they so successfully represent, they are this side of good and evil, and the principle of contradiction has no place in their logic. “
Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization)

“I’m mad on technology.”
Adolf Hitler (Table Talk)

“…very smart of Israel to carry the war right into the heart of vocabulary, and annex the words holocaust and genocide… words are terrible and Israel is a terrifying manipulator of signs.”
Jean Genet (Prisoner of Love)

Funny how one ‘finds’ things. Things that provide what might be called ‘inspiration’, though that sounds inflated. Or conceited. Things that provide for or stimulate curiosity. I don’t believe I have thought much about Miles Davis for a decade at least. More like two decades, really. At different times in my life, though, I have thought very deeply about him. But I ran across Ben Ratliff’s article in the current NYRBs, Not Not Jazz. Ratliff is one of the few art critics today worth reading. So I read it. It’s very good. And I started to realize that Miles is a cultural signpost, a figure of such importance that he cannot help but be the background (at least in places) to one’s own life.

“In 1953, during a detour in Detroit, addicted to heroin, Davis may have narrowly avoided dying at twenty-seven. In 1959 he suffered head wounds from a police officer’s club outside Birdland for refusing to move out of the middle of the sidewalk. By 1961 he was experiencing a wasting of the hip due to sickle-cell anemia, which caused him tremendous pain. By the spring of 1965 he couldn’t walk, and underwent surgery on his left hip bone, wiping three months of gigs off his schedule; four months later he broke his left leg. In 1966 he was hospitalized for a liver infection. In October 1969, driving his girlfriend Marguerite Eskridge after a concert in Brooklyn, his car was shot at—by a mobster? A dealer? Nobody knows—and a bullet grazed his left hip. In October 1972 he broke both ankles in a car accident. By the time of the final sessions for Get Up With It, he’d recently had pneumonia and a heart attack.”
Ben Ratliff (Not Not Jazz, NYTBs 2024)

Luca Spano (photography, Sardinia)

Perhaps my own heart stopping a month or so back brings a certain sharpened focus to the topic of near death. But addiction, too, and the idea of self questioning, in terms of one’s art. Now, I have a complex relationship to ‘jazz’. And I don’t want to pontificate on that relationship here. I might, one day, but not here. Ratliff talks a lot about the electronic period of Davis’ oeuvre. And I remember when that happened. I remember when Bitches Brew was released. I wanted to go with it. But I couldn’t. I still cant. But I also know it’s not nothing (to paraphrase Ratliff). While I think Ratliff is pretty good on trying to illuminate the processes that led Miles to electrify, there remains an uncomfortable aspect to the rock influence, to the whiteness of much of the later Miles catalogue. My sense is that his recovery from severe illness(s) and Cicely Tyson’s role in guiding his career choices starting around 1980 was, lets say, insalubrious. I remember his appearances on late night talk shows. It pained me.

Teo Macero was, for the late Miles, what Gordon Lish was for Raymond Carver (or Pound for Eliot). Miles recorded a lot of bad music in the second half of his life. But maybe that doesn’t really apply to Miles. Beckett’s late very short video plays (done in Germany) are only relevant because it’s Beckett. But, it WAS Beckett. Last post I quoted Cyril Connelly on Hemingway and his inability to outrun his imitators. Or, take Peter Brook in his Bouffes du Nord period. Brook, when you go back over his work — and one is relying on filmed versions of (much of it anyway) theatre productions — one wonders exactly what one really thinks about a lot of it. I am not sure even now. Partly it was that Brook, for all his ‘of the people’ sensibility, was not of the people. He had access to the doyens of the ruling class of culture, and used that access near constantly. Brook never offended anyone with his work. Perhaps that is perfectly alright, as I say, I still don’t know how I feel.

I will say Herbert Blau elicits no such ambivalence.

But by the 70s, I don’t think Miles was the same man he had been in the 50s. or the 60s. Coltrane looms as the direction not taken (by Miles). Coltrane was the Old Testament, was the work of the Desert Fathers, or John Brown. Ratliff has a very interesting piece (for the Washington Post of all places) on Coltrane. And a record, (for Impulse) which was the product of a couple weeks performing with his (mostly) quintet, in NY in 1961. It was released as Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard.

R. Crumb

“A lot of eeriness, a lot of confused, threatened, concealed or failed aggression, a lot of what Frantz Fanon (in “The Wretched of the Earth,” published that year in France) called “that violence which is just under the skin.” The American commencement of secret operations against the Viet Cong, and the American Bay of Pigs invasion. The psychotic reprisals against the Freedom Riders in Alabama, somewhat shown on national television. The construction of the Berlin Wall, hopelessness in concrete. The quelling and murdering of several hundred Algerian demonstrators by Parisian police on one night in October, followed by denials and an underplaying in the press. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Congolese Republic, seven months after Congo’s independence from Belgium. The trial of the Nazi functionary Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, who — as Hannah Arendt would later describe — tended toward lighthearted cliches in speaking about the organized killing of millions. The thesis of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on American males from the area around New Haven, Conn., however flawed, suggesting that Eichmann’s brutality in the name of compliance may not be unusual.”
Ben Ratliff (Coltrane and the Essence of 1961)

Psycho was released that year, as was One Eyed Jacks. As was The Hustler. As were Yojimbo, Last Year at Marienbad, and Wilder’s remarkable One, Two, Three. Also A Taste of Honey, and Viridiana, as well as La Notte and The Misfits. It is one of the most remarkable years in the history of film. Beckett’s Happy Days opened in NY in 61, and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) published The System of Dante’s Hell. Genet’s last play, The Screens (about the Algerian revolution) was first staged, in Berlin, in 1961. I was ten years old.

Later when I studied music, I listened to that Coltrane record. Everyone did. Listening to it now it still feels remarkable. This was the anti-electrification in jazz, but it was also in its paradoxical way a stripping away of the unnecessary. Ornette recorded Free Jazz in 61, too. This also still feels remarkable. Both seem to possess an integrity lacking in the later Miles. Perhaps that is unfair. But its not without truth. Still, Miles is bigger than his personal history. He is uncanny, actually. More so than Trane.

Penny Siopis

The Algerian war of independence was in its final stages in 61. The OAS and FLN resumed talks at Evian in May 61. The FLN struggle illustrated the USSR and Maoist Chinese ideological distance from the US. Another aspect of the backdrop to 1961, as did the multiple African wars of independence in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and the DRC.

Ratliff describes the cultural space of 61 ..“First came major questioning. Very little that looked like “resolution,” but instead strong moves of resistance against the cliches. Suspicion around the idea of theory and authority, going along with the program, making things too obvious, too cut-and-dried. Unusual forms and lengths, destabilization of accepted formats.”
Ben Ratliff (Ibid)

If the sixties began somewhere around 63, then 61 looms as something more tied to an ‘other’ politics. For the sixties, even though profound in many respects, was also so quickly compromised (a process that began almost simultaneously) that the artistic and cultural landscape was subsumed by (in retrospect) an artificial opposition. The sixties almost can be seen to have manufactured ‘square america’.

One thing noticeable in narratives (both in novels and in film) from the decades before, say, the 70s…certainly the 80s, was the time characters had — the time to do the mundane, for reflection, for human activities, often alone. Patricia Highsmith, whose early novels, Talented Mr Ripley (1955), The Sweet Sickness (1960), Cry of the Owl (1962) Two Faces of January (1964).. as random exhibits, are narratives impossible to write today. Even true of the later Tremor of Forgery (1969) which is my favorite, unfold at a human pace and without any manufactured tension. Highsmith intuited anxiety without having to write it out synthetically.

M.C. Escher

Perhaps that is Coltrane. His album Ballads (released in 1963 but recorded in 61) suggests this idea of purity in form. In many ways it is my favorite Coltrane. Now, Stephane Mandelbaum — born in 1961, in Belgium, looms for me as a curious sort of corrective to the high end gallery art scene of Manhattan today. Mandelbaum was murdered at the age of 25. There is a cogent piece on the artist by the excellent Rebecca Schiffman (at Hyperallergic) { and another by Cody Delistraty at Paris Review in 2019}. Since I have been, and continue to be trying to reverse engineer, as it were, how fascism has returned — seemingly in an even more horrifying aspect — Mandelbaum is perhaps one of the clues. For Mandelbaum was an extraordinary artist. His drawings (and often part collages) were more scribbles on napkins, and that is, of course, their enormous power. He was a walking Freudian study. Married but sexually ambiguous — and many of his drawings were of attractive Nazis, both imagined and real. As well as his Jewish heritage.

“When Sigmund Freud announced his concept of the drive in 1905, he defined it as “the psychical representation of a continuously flowing, endosomatic source of stimulus (to be contrasted with simple individualized and externally produced stimuli).” Despite modifying psychoanalytic theory extensively, and detailing the sources, aims, and objects of the drives, Freud kept this basic definition in all essentials constant. { } Until 1919, the pleasure principle ruled the human psyche and the organism as a whole: “The activity of even the most highly developed mental apparatus is subject to the pleasure principle, i.e. is automatically regulated by feelings belonging to the pleasure- unpleasure series,” Freud declaimed in 1915. The revisions— to the drives, the pleasure principle, and the reality principle— bridged two tendencies, to see the drives either as motors of human motivation or as the leading techniques of engagement with the world. Freud gradually restricted the original “anaclitic” model of the drives, according to which the libido was propped up on self- preservative drives like hunger or thirst and emerged by way of a loss of their original object (for example, the breast), and replaced it with a “narcissistic” model that saw even the ego as filled with narcissistic libidinal energy. If these purposes can be discerned in Freud’s early work, then they are all the more present in the late theory of the drives that contended with wartime violence. In 1919, Freud famously turned to ask, is there a beyond to this equilibrating mechanism of the pleasure principle?”
Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (The Human Body in the Age of Catastrophe)

The answer to Freud’s question is ‘yes’. And it is that answer that has haunted psychoanalysis for six decades.

Kudzanai Violet Hwam

“The emergence of the death drive in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle invented a system of integration that brought into psychoanalytic theory the profound traumas and some of the epistemological pressures of World War I. This should come as no surprise, but, like the connection between psychoanalysis and integration, it has been largely ignored.”
Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (Ibid)

This is a very sharp observation (though some have ‘not’ ignored it). The evolution of Freud’s ideas about the death drive are fascinating (and Geroulanos chapter on this is excellent), but the real point centers on two issues. One is the repetition compulsion, and the other is the philosophical idea of what one means by ‘death’.

“To repeat the cardinal tension of the original text: whereas the challenge of trauma and the not- so- new war neuroses had ostensibly been met, something else remained. Freud posited repetition compulsion as the principal symptom of this other order, this new and larger structure— exhibited in play, in the transference, in post traumatic dreams. Repetition compulsion showed the psyche trying to master earlier, perhaps traumatic, events that had been bound only partially. It thus confirmed that the work of the drives was fundamentally conservative: by replaying, often ad infinitum, something that had occurred earlier in life, the drives invariably attempted to return to a status quo antecedent to that event. But the pain of the drive to master was inescapable and severe: it could not be covered by the pleasure principle. Repetition compulsion thus betrayed the organism’s urge to remove
these events from defining it.”

Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (Ibid)

So not a return to a pleasurable state, but to rather something like inanimacy. This has always been a difficult argument. And it suggests Freudian drive theory as the ultimate buzz kill.

Miles Davis and Teo Macero (during recording for Bitches Brew)

“This, Lacan surmised, was the position from which Freud had begun, and lacking the language of homeostasis, it had been merely “Fechnerist.” Repetition compulsion disturbed this picture: “This system has something disturbing about it. It is dissymmetrical. It doesn’t quite fit. Something in it eludes the system of equations and the evidence borrowed from the forms of thought of the register of energetics as they were introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century.” And shortly thereafter: “The principle of homeostasis obliges Freud to inscribe all his deductions in terms of investment, charge, discharge, energy relations between different systems. However, he realizes that something doesn’t work in all this.”
Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (Ibid) { Lacan, Ego in Freud’s Theory }

Geroulanos and Meyers added…“when he {Freud} claimed that the pleasure principle worked “to serve the death drives,” as opposed to the life drives.” Laplanche and Lacan meditated on this passage a good deal, as I understand it. The last chapter in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. And that is the thing, the ‘beyond’. That which exceeds the homeostasis, the equilibrium. And as unsettling as this idea might be, its also, I think anyway, intuitively sound.

The durability of mid century fascism is a question that haunts the contemporary world. And so yes, Operation Paperclip explains the mechanism employed by US government agents (in particular the CIA and pentagon) and corporate business leaders, both in Europe and in the US, that brought former Nazis to the West. Rehabilitated them. But those mechanisms do not explain many other things — perhaps the most important things — about the appeal of fascism, both in its leaders and in its followers. Now, what does this have to do with Miles and Trane, with 1961, and with Mandelbaum? Well, there is no clear answer, but I would posit that the radical creations of Miles and Coltrane were at their core anti-fascistic. An artist like Mandelbaum was an exemplar of the tortured psyche of western youth, and might be a poster boy for Reich and Lacan both.

Here is a paragraph on Ernst Bloch:

“This contradiction between non-synchronisms and synchronisms is the centerpiece of Bloch’s theory of fascism. Here his concern is not with a sociology of backwardness—which in Germany would be far from the case but rather the real lack of historical continuity within and among classes, the dissonance of specific “modes of being” (Seinsarten) and the consequences arising out of it. On the one side there is the authentic non-synchronism of the peasantry and rural life. For these strata a return to the romanticized image of the German Volk is not purely mythological; the concept of rootedness in nature is not simply a ‘depravation of history'(Marcuse) but corresponds to the actual conditions of life. But the utopia of völkisch community in nature is not only limited to those for whom these conditions still persist. The pathos of modern urban life has given these figures new meaning among those groups for whom they no longer directly correspond to actual experience. Consciousness does not directly flow from being, especially not for the employees and middle strata of the modern city who seek salvation in the past, but also not for the proletarianized peasantry for whom much older ideas have been reawakened and remythologized. Subjectively these express a “pent-up anger,” objectively a romantic anti-capitalism that seeks its future in a better image of the past. But on the other side is juxtaposed the synchronism of modern life: the “authentic” class consciousness of the proletariat and the technocratic consciousness of the capitalist elites. For the former the future is “objectively obstructed,” while for the latter it appears as the utopian evolution of technical rationality.”
Anson Rabinbach (Staging the Third Reich)

Sean Scully (1984)

Yesterday the Iowa Caucuses were won handily by Donald Trump. It wasn’t remotely close. This suggests a rematch of Biden vs Trump. Now the utter irrationality of this last four years, culminating in the U.S. military bombing Yemen, poorest country in the Arab World, because the Houthi rebels (Ansarullah) are successfully disrupting ships from reaching Israel via the Red Sea. To stop a genocide.

The other strand of psychological conditioning is found in the strange deformation of science. Glenn Diesen writing about think tanks : ” emerged with the explicit purpose of providing politicians with expert insights and analyses to specifically assist
policy-making, thus functioning as a bridge between academia and political decision-making. The think tanks also serve as a source of reliable (and noncontroversial) information and expert opinion for the media. As a result, they have an immense influence over the development of narratives, policies, and laws. “

Glenn Diesen (The Think Tank Racket)

Think tanks are sort of the love child of Academia and Corporations.

“Think tanks are mostly funded by powerful lobbying groups, ranging from the military-industrial complex to foreign governments and interests. These investors buy the source credibility of “independent experts” that can marginalize academics and journalists to infiltrate and shape public opinion and policy. Insofar as they are reliant on their funders, think tanks have become a symptom of hyper-capitalism in which all aspects of society have become an appendage to the market.”
Glenn Diesen (Ibid)

But why does anyone accept the word or opinion of anyone or group who they know to be corrupt? Nobody can possibly believe think tanks are not corrupt. From RAND to the Brookings Institute to PNAC and a half dozen others, the think tank phenomenon is probably more significant than most realize. The point here though is that mid century fascism was rescued by U.S. intelligence and military. And by very big transnational banks.

“Under Operation Paperclip, which began in May of 1945, the scientists who helped the Third Reich wage war continued their weapons-related work for the U.S. government, developing rockets, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine (for enhancing military pilot and astronaut performance), and many other armaments at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War. { } “ The men profiled in this book were not nominal Nazis. Eight of the twenty-one—Otto Ambros, Theodor Benzinger, Kurt Blome, Walter Dornberger, Siegfried Knemeyer, Walter Schreiber, and Wernher von Braun—each at some point worked side by side with Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, or Hermann Göring during the war. Fifteen of the twenty-one were dedicated members of the Nazi Party; ten of them also joined the ultra-violent, ultra-nationalistic Nazi Party paramilitary squads, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troopers) and the SS (Schutzstaffel, or Protection Squadron); two wore the Golden Party Badge, indicating favor bestowed by the Führer; one was given an award of one million reichsmarks for scientific achievement. Six of the twenty-one stood trial at Nuremberg, a seventh was released without trial under mysterious circumstances, and an eighth stood trial in Dachau for regional war crimes. One was convicted of mass murder and slavery, served some time in prison, was granted clemency, and then was hired by the U.S. Department of Energy. They came to America at the behest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some officials believed that by endorsing the Paperclip program they were accepting the lesser of two “ evils—that if America didn’t recruit these scientists, the Soviet Communists surely would. Other generals and colonels respected and admired these men and said so.”
Annie Jacobsen (Operation Paperclip)

Stéphane Mandelbaum (graphite, gouache, marker, & color pencil on paper)

These were men very high in the Nazi hierarchy. And it should be noted that this program was run out of the infamous E-Ring of the Pentagon (JIOC). There was resistance in some quarters, but most at the Pentagon, and everyone at the CIA, liked Nazis. And admired them for the most part. Now I have already written several times about the origins and rise of the Third Reich, and the nazi mythos, and the psychoanalytic underpinnings of fascism. At least German fascism. And I have touched on the aesthetics of the Nazi party. For this was a notable factor in their appeal. And as today, where we seen tens of millions of people on the street protesting FOR Palestine, the ruling class and its representatives in government, are entirely supportive and protective of the Zionist fascists. There is a strange aspect to this support, however. Many in the US establishment have dual citizenship. They ARE Zionists. Literally. But many who actively propagandize for Israel are secular and non-Jewish. And one has to say, the aesthetics of the ruling coalition in Tel-Aviv leaves one short of starstruck. The leather jackboots, the black crisply starched Uniforms of the SS and SA, the symbols and even the haircuts of the Nazi Party were striking. And clearly there was a sublimated masochism at work (see Pasolini’s Salo). Today there is no such attraction. Quite the opposite. Itamar Ben Gvir (from the Otzma Yehudit party) is a perfect example. Slovenly, disheveled and unkempt — and overweight — the settler fanatic is probably the most powerful man in Israel today. The appeal lies in his influence (there is literally nothing else it could be) and that makes some sense. I mean Hitler, Himmler and Goering were not movie stars.

Mirroring the madness of the settlers is the unhinged narcissism of Mohammed Bin Salman, the erstwhile ruler of Saudi Arabia. His fantasy project NEOM, a straight line city in the desert…

“The team leading the project has now released the design concept for the centrepiece of Neom – two gigantic, interlinked, mirrored buildings, each 500 metres high, that stretch across the desert, in parallel, for 100 miles.”
Simon Foster (Neom Megacity, Moneyweek 2023)

“This is reminiscent of Mad King Ludwig more than anything.

As Foster added….“The Saudi concept for Neom is “dystopia portrayed as Utopia”: a city “defined as a wall, driven through an uninhabitable desert, hermetically sealed and reliant solely on technology to make it liveable. { } Work has started, yes. Indeed, tens of thousands of white-collar expatriates – engineers, architects, executives and urban planners – have gone to work in Saudi Arabia on multibillion-dollar initiatives launched by MbS to create new cities and industries. These include five so-called “giga-projects”, like Neom, and dozens of smaller developments. But many are now fleeing, says Rory Jones in The Wall Street Journal – turned off by a brutal management culture, led by Neom chief executive Nadhmi Al-Nasr, that they claim “belittles expatriates, makes unrealistic demands and turns a blind eye to discrimination”.
Simon Foster (Ibid)

Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, standing with son, near Thaj, Saudi Arabia, 1911

But in a sense the Saudi royal family is the perfect allegory for the failure of this contemporary futurism. The Saudi aristocracy have all attended expensive universities, been granted the best of everything, really, and yet most are dysfunctional infantilized man-children. MBS being the perfect example. These self involved narcissistic leaders of the oil kingdom might do well to remember they were lucky England needed oil, and between 1935 and 1937 granted concessions to British interests in the region (most significantly to the Saudi family). Hitler loomed as a threat. The US entered the war at least in part to protect Rockefeller and Aramco (via Standard Oil of California). The US treasury gave Ibn Saud something like $30,000,000 to maintain Standard Oil (and build infrastructure). From the Caspian to the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf and Red Sea is one huge oil basin. And such was the good fortune of the Saud family.

But I digress. The Bin Salman folly is simply another version of the dictator’s quest for immortality, and it resembles, for that matter, *Generalplan Ost* (the Nazi dream of clearing out eastern Europe, meaning ethnic cleansing of Slavs and Roma and anyone else not Aryan. ). And this is mirrored in Israel’s *Greater Israel* fantasy today. These are the necessary psychological dreams of fascism, for fascism, among other things needs this future promise. There is a side bar note required here. The western philistine will chortle about Pyonyang’s giant (empty) skyscraper hotel, or make fun of East European communist projects, mostly Brutalist, but never notice the absurdity of British royal residences (or British royal anything.). The truth is Mussolini (amid a lot of bad architecture) also built the impressive Il Sacrario di Monte Grappa. For that matter, the Templehof Airport was rather majestic in its way. Better than anything Hadid ever designed. Having taste matters. And nobody in the history of the planet has such bad taste as the average white American.

Now, Geroulanos and Meyers end their book with this paragraph:

“…the antihumanism that in the 1960s would decry illusions of progress and humanist redemption, the integrated, fragile body was not a self- sovereign agent, or even a force, but merely an enchanted, hopeful, menaced, compromised perseverance. The vulnerable human being was suspended from the broader theories that promised only a small patch of a place within society, communication, and the universe of symbols. Easily subsumed into the broader systems proposed in economic theory, cybernetic control of information, and structural anthropology, and as easily dominated by their constitution as by internal systems, individuals lost the capacity to be the pilots of their lives while remaining perishable right to the end.”
Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (Ibid)

Hildegard Joos (1990)

Notice the date: the 1960s. This was the fulcrum for changes that have carried forward much of what we all experience as problematic. The internet interceded and accelerated the disappearing of the individual — while simultaneously constantly propagandizing and advertising individuality. And the economizing of thought found psychoanalytic exrpessions as early as the 80s. And more, there was in the 60s an impulse in the various student movements to unpack the fascist unconscious.

“The West German student movement, at least in the 1960s, was probably the most intellectual of all the European (and American) New Lefts. Influenced by Adorno and Horkheimer, who had returned to Germany to reestablish the Institut für Sozialforschung in the early 1950s, the German New Left took seriously Adorno’s warning that in Germany fascism was not merely a momentary reversion to barbarism, but a present threat. “
Anson Rabinbach and Jessica Benjamin (The Emotional Core of Fascism, 1986)

The specific repressions that began to accumulate, aggregate, after the first World War, served as a magnet to the unbearable anxieties of European men (in particular). Women expressed much of this, too, but rarely in such an acute or concentrated form. The Nazi penchant for sado/masochistic symbolism and style tends to overshadow the other qualities in the Reich’s sense of aesthetics. The self loathing severity of male terror of the feminine was tracked best by Klaus Thewelheit in Male Fantasies. This inner terror was connected to a fear of castration but also of collectivity, of communal structures of life. Of living. The nazi hair cut (a legacy of Prussian militarism) was a masturbatory razor to the throat.

Templehof airport. (Ernst Sagebiel architect) 1937

“Fascism is not a mask but the creation of a culture by and for its adherents. As early as 1934, the German Utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that the German fascists colonized a powerful “opposing landscape” of myth, which they and their followers inhabited. Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille also recognized in fascism a kind of original political dramaturgy, which was for Benjamin an illusory aesthetics of expression and for Bataille a metaphysics of sovereignty and transgression that falsely promised “heterogeneity,” the repudiation of the quotidian world.{ } The crucial element of fascism is its explicit sexual language, what Theweleit calls “the conscious coding” or the “over-explicitness of the fascist language of symbol.” This fascist symbolization creates a particular kind of psychic economy which places sexuality in the service of destruction. Despite its sexually charged politics, fascism is an anti-eros, “the core of all fascist propaganda is a battle against everything that constitutes enjoyment and pleasure.”
Anson Rabinbach & Jessica Benjamin (Ibid)

The misogyny of the Freikorps was its most intensely felt characteristic. There was also anti-democratic feelings, anti Jewish (and black and asian) and anti liberal and anti Marxist sentiments. None of this is uniquely German. Any of the Colonial powers exhibited very similar emotional outlines. But the fear and loathing of the feminine was the most significant. One can see the post WW2 landscape in the West carrying on this sensibility, with modification, and with more distance. Real life was now the 50s. Was mobile homes and tract homes, was sunlit Noir, not real noir. It was also consumerism. But behind the Mad Men facade lurked the Third Reich. Literally.

It is also not hard to see the Incel culture in the U.S. today as the legatees of this Freikorps sensibility. The unbearable attraction to violence, to specifically the gun. The explosion, the release of tension.

“Theweleit’s work is not an attempt to trace the evolution of the Freikorps ideology into Nazism. Rather it is an effort to describe the political culture out of which Nazism eventually developed in vitro. His purpose is to survey the language, narrative structure, and metaphors of the Freikorps to reconstruct the mythical content of the fascist imagination.”
Anson Rabinbach & Jessica Benjamin (Ibid)

R. Crumb

For the fascist (in Theweleit’s discourse) the masculine ideal is hard, rigid, phallic, but empty of viscera and/or organs and fluids. Fluids are feminine. The masculine is dry, and hollow. Man as machine. Now, Theweleit is very good, but also, at the end of his train of logic, oddly confused regards Freudian theory. I’m not sure Rabinbach understands this or not. Take this paragraph…

“The conflicts and fantasies experienced by these men lie, in Theweleit’s view, outside the oedipal orbit. It is not unconscious rage at the father, whose absence is hardly noted, nor the missing paternal authority that explains this violent obsession with the female body. Infantile terrors are far more central to this dread of, and at the same time, desire for fusion.”
Anson Rabinbach and Jessica Benjamin (Ibid)

From whence come infantile terrors after all anyway?

“What is striking about our male writers is that the particles of reality taken up in their language lose any life of their own. They are de-animated and turned into dying matter. They are forced to relinquish their life to a parasitic, linguistic onslaught, which seems to find “pleasure” in the annihilation of reality. Reality is invaded and “occupied” in that onslaught. The language of occupation: it acts imperialistically against any form of independently moving life.”
Klaus Theweleit (Male Fantasies, Vol 1.)

This is interesting. The choice of language. The de-animated and parasitic is AI, it is chatbox, and it is the foreclosing of Nature. The Incel cannot accept love. The annihilation of reality is what you see with deep fakes, with all CGI, and with transgenderism. It is the trajectory of all marketing. Reality is occupied. The 21st century fascist, in the current moment, Zionist Israel, is one who cannot distinguish the truth from the lie. They traffic in both. The Zionist (the settlers anyway) demand inferiors kiss their feet. That Africans are only good as servants or slaves. That Arabs are Untermensch. But they insist they are the most moral army in the world. They insist they are taking every precaution to preserve civilian life. They said it the same moment they bomb a hospital. A nursery school. A mosque. An ambulance.

Augustin Victor Casasola, photography. (Mexico City, apprx. 1905)

“Can we find an explicit theorization of genocide in the annals of history? In 1883, the year Marx died, Gumplowicz counter-posed the reality of the ‘race struggle’ to Marx’s thesis of the ‘class struggle’, which was adjudged ideological. So implacable was this reality that it sometimes permitted of no escape. In specific conditions, it became ‘naturally necessary’ for members of a different ethnic group to be de-humanized and destroyed. This had happened to the ‘natives of America’, the Hottentots of South Africa, and the ‘natives of Australia’, swept away by a ‘war of annihilation’. Across the Atlantic, Theodore Roosevelt remarked that ‘the hard, energetic practical men’ charged with terminating barbarism and extending civilization must not allow themselves to be ‘prone to false sentimentality’. For his part, the American statesman was utterly immune to any such attitude. On the contrary, he seemed almost amused by the spectacle of the ‘redskins’ being wiped off the face of the earth: were there really any ‘good Indians’ apart from ‘dead ones’ (or slaughtered ones)? ”
Domenico Losurdo (War and Revolution)

The colonial mindset, the belief in ‘white supremacy’ coloured nearly all European and North American policy for two hundred years. Really, closer to three hundred.

“In the case of the USA, the campaign against the Native Americans afforded a model. And it was explicitly invoked and flaunted, as well as ruthlessly applied, when it came to restoring order (and colonial rule) in the Philippines.
This was a model constantly borne in mind by Hitler, who sought his Far West in the East and identified the ‘natives’ of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as ‘Indians’ to be stripped of their land, decimated and, in the name of the march of civilization, pushed ever farther back beyond the Urals. { } As we know, their acts of rebellion against white supremacy even led to temptations of a ‘war of extermination’ (to adopt Theodore Roosevelt’s terminology). It was here that a watchword emerged which was to enjoy tragic success in the twentieth century. An ‘ultimate solution of the American negro question’ was required, in the context of a ‘final and complete solution’ of the problem posed by peoples who resisted being subjugated and enslaved by white, Western colonizers.”

Domenico Losurdo (Ibid)

There is no little irony in Zionist rhetoric today. The same exterminationist language is employed by the settlers and even by Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant. But this is also exactly the mindset of U.S. politicians. There is no difference.

Julio Galan

“Let us take stock. The terminology that began to emerge and become established between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is symptomatic. The main categories and keywords of Nazi ideology – those giving radical expression to its destructive charge against the universal concept of man and its genocidal drive, or which in any event afford a glimpse of the horror of the Third Reich – all go back, directly or indirectly, to the colonial tradition. Konzentratsionlager is a calque of ‘concentration camps’; Untermensch is the literal translation of ‘Under Man’; the Endlösung of the Jewish question recalls the ‘ultimate solution’ of the black question, or the ‘final and complete solution’ of the problem of colonial peoples; the Blutschande (against which Nazism endlessly warned) brings to mind ‘miscegenation’ (a cause for horror in the USA of the white supremacy); behind Rassenhygiene is clearly ‘eugenics”.
Domenico Losurdo (Ibid)

Following the Bolshevik revolution, for the American public, Russians became ‘Asiatic’. The lynchings and subjugation of black Americans continued for another sixty years. Worth noting that American communists were regularly attacked as ‘nigger lovers’ for objecting to this, and accused of being part of the Judeo/Bolshevik infestation. Losurdo is worth quoting one more time since the conflation of communism and fascism today is so common.

“It makes no sense to seek to place Communism on a par with Nazism – the force that most consistently and brutally opposed overcoming racial discrimination and hence the advent of democracy. Whereas the Third Reich represented an attempt in conditions of total war to realize a planetary regime of white supremacy under German hegemony, the Communist movement made a decisive contribution to overcoming racial discrimination and colonialism, whose legacy Nazism sought to inherit and radicalize. To seek to liquidate the epoch that began with the October Revolution as a period of crisis for democracy entails reverting to regarding colonial peoples (as well as other victims of the liberal tradition’s exclusion clauses) as a quantité négligeable; it means re-colonizing history.”
Domenico Losurdo (Ibid)

So the question is really two fold (or threefold I suppose). First, why the extraordinary durability of anti-communist sentiment and why the tolerance exhibited by the white bourgeoisie toward the ever more arrogant and nakedly corrupt ruling class? (See Davos, happening this week. Hundreds of private jets have flown in to a ruling class bunga bunga party where elite Nazi progeny like Klaus Schwab and billionaires like Gates will hector and scold people for not eating bugs). The escort services in Davos are fully booked by the way, in spite of raising their prices 1000%. The constant anti-Soviet rhetoric and revisionist histories of the West always forget that the USSR, from 1917 onward, was in a state of emergency. Beyond that, the West will never forgive the Russians for defeating the Nazis.

Anja Salonen

“The objective conditions for the acceleration of invention were intimately connected with the Second World War and the subsequent post-war rearmament. Since the phase 1914-39 was one of decelerated economic growth — a ‘long wave with an undertone of stagnation’—the inter-war period was characterized by a slowing down of technological innovation coincident with an incipient acceleration of discovery and invention as a result of the second scientific revolution. The result was to create a reserve of unapplied technical discoveries or potential technological innovations. The arms build-up then began to absorb a substantial part of these inventions or even create their precondition.”
Ernest Mandel (Late Capitalism)

“Likewise, today’s affluent society faces the same conflict: though for some of us, sex may not be the issue (certainly, today, Don Juan is a kind of paradigm for the late capitalist subject), we are compelled by advertisements, commercials, and other aspects of culture to Consume! – and to Enjoy! Today, even something seemingly as innocent as knowledge has been commodified. Guy Debord (1995), in his seminal text The Society of the Spectacle (another text influential to May ’68), recognized how in late capitalism – his term is, of course, ‘the society of the spectacle’ – knowledge has become a commodity… { } The pursuit of greater, more innovative amounts of knowledge can, in late capitalism, become a tireless pursuit of enjoyment – this is, of course, apparent in how the academic must commodify him or herself by etching out a niche, thereby turning oneself into a rare commodity. Thus, today, objects are not bearers of enjoyment but mere bumps on the road to enjoyment (a necessary evil if you will), which, in the end, enables enjoyment to become the Master that demands that we accumulate a never-ending list of objects.”
Daniel Cho (Thanatos and Civilization: Lacan, Marcuse, and the death drive)

The institutional commodification of knowledge is also mediated by the loss of critical thought. The role of propaganda is so profound and invasive. But remembering, too, the colonial white supremacist belief system, one that demands violence as the ultimate enjoyment, is going to also be one in which this erotizing of violence will quickly become unsatisfactory. The death merchants of the defense industry spend inordinate amounts of money to build useless already obsolete and redundant weapons systems — knowing that most of what they produce was already developed forty or fifty years ago. And as can be seen in Gaza and with the Houthi rebels, the lessons of guerrilla warfare have largely been ignored in Imperialist West.

John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane

“The period after World War II in West Germany was marked by historical amnesia about the era that preceded it. Perhaps no phrase was more indicative of the atmosphere surrounding the entire complex of social and political problems arising out of the Nazi experience than the common expression “coming to terms with the past” (Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit). This commonplace masked a widespread refusal to take seriously its implications. In the early 1960s Adorno posed the question, “what does coming to terms with the past really mean?” and pointed to the historical persistence of the “causes of the past in the present” as evidence that the term served only to remove and dismiss history from consciousness. His question exploded the cliché and revealed the ideological in everyday usage.”
Anson Rabinbach (Toward a Marxist Theory of Fascism and National Socialism)

This use of mystifying cliche is rife in the U.S. today. It is also what children, do. The new infantile leadership in France suggests perfectly the trend in political circles. Even seventy years after the defeat of Nazism, it is clear the defeat was only military. The cultural defeat of fascism never took place. The societal structures employed or even invented by National Socialism are intact even today.

“With the all-pervasive intervention of the state in every social sphere, the autonomous economic sphere is abolished and the economy as such ceases to exist. The market, with its irregular laws, is eliminated in favor of an administered society. State capitalism, however, did not totally do away with all the old aspects of capitalism. In Pollock’s view it exhibited four fundamental characteristics: (1) in all essential areas it superseded private capitalism; (2) the state assumed the important functions of the private capitalist; (3) certain capitalist institutions such as the sale of labor and the pursuit of profit continued to play an important role; (4) it was not socialism. Thus, Pollock looked upon National Socialism as anticipating the demise of the era of private capitalism. In National Socialism the “primacy of politics over economics,” the disregard of the market, and the rationalization of all spheres of social life were “clearly established.” Although Pollock and Max Horkheimer saw state capitalism most firmly established in the Nazi state, both saw the trend growing in the “non-totalitarian” countries as well. For Horkheimer the epoch of state capitalism completed the domination inherent in capitalism’s early forms. { } In the entire spectrum that comprises the public sphere, the administration of consciousness has become an indispensable aspect of modern forms of social domination.”
Anson Rabinbach (Ibid)

Marc Quinn

Today, state capitalism has morphed into what one might call ‘NGO Capitalism’. And the administration of consciousness has become dramatically more efficient. And hence the pressing need for radical pedagogy — for a people’s educational system. The decline in western Universities is hard to argue against. Scandals like that of the Harvard president and the accusation of wholesale plagiarism is increasingly common (multiple students have been found guilty of this, and a number of best selling fiction authors, Dan Brown, JK Rowling, and Doris Kearns Goodwin). But since so few people read the likelihood of many getting away with this is pretty high. And this leads to my final couple thoughts. Cultural criticism is, today, at an all time low. Part of it is the overall state of education, another part is the smart phone and screen addiction, and yet another part are the larger questions related to ethical and moral issues. The loss of honour and courage. Look at the IDF in Gaza–makers of Tiktok videos, or Instagram pics showing them abusing prisoners or mocking the dead. This is a marked change from the armies of mid century. Even the cynicism of the Vietnam soldier (for the west) never so debased himself or his enemy. Or rarely. And often with repurcussions. ‘Charlie don’t surf’ is now Zionist soldiers kicking old women, or dragging elderly men down the street by their hair. Look at the videos unearthed by Snowden. The video game wars has inculcated a deadened sense of empathy. Emotional flatlining. Incel culture, again. The Theweleit man of steel, hard and dry. The moist is weakness. And even porn, gay or straight, seems to reflect this. Hyper fetishized, expressionless (or with obvious caricatured passion) and dead eyed. The school shooter. The anti-depressant generation. One suspects that sexual partners ask for feigned passion and dont want real passion. Act like a hooker honey. Yeah, a crack head street whore would be perfect.

I read almost daily some example of poor English. Sometimes its on prestige legacy media sites. Sometimes its people I know on social media. I often wonder if some examples are Chatbox authored. And here is the thing. Art is more tied at the hip to bourgeois society then ever before. White people, dilettantes, art hobbyists, who often, usually in fact, wax over enthusiastic about EVERYONE. It’s the getting a ribbon for competing syndrome. But such fulsome praise for junk is a very serious problem. The society is robbed of genuine praise. And it occurs to me this is why Miles remains so important. His last interview for SPIN (conducted by Richard Pryor’s ex wife) ends like this:

Davis: Will you call me when you get home?

SPIN: Probably not. [At the door:] Miles, that remark—

Davis: What remark?

SPIN: That I was being “white”—that was out of line, don’t you think?

Davis: [Yelling] Bitch! You are acting “white”!

Genet, Palestinian refugee camp, Jordan.

Genet wrote Prisoner of Love (Un captif amoureux) in 1986. Genet began writing it in 1970. It is a sort of diary of his time with the Black Panthers, and then with Palestinians, at refugee camps in Jordan. He was one of the first westerners to visit Shatilla camp after the Zionist (subcontracted, or some of it, to the Phalange) massacre in 1982.

“The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them. The Iliad counts for more than Agamemnon’s war; the steeles of the Chaldes for more than the armies of Nineveh. Trajan’s Column, La Chanson de Roland, the murals depicting the Armada, the Vendome column – all the images of war have been created after the battles themselves thanks to looting or the energy of artists, and left standing on the part of oversight on the part of rain or rebellion.”
Jean Genet (Prisoner of Love)

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  1. I was thinking about Miles Davis too, recently, and especially Bitches Brew, which I was obsessed with when I was about 13, and found it in a supermarket (already it was old). Well, I was 13. Later I discovered his earlier stuff, and then, like you, drifted away from jazz altogether. And back and forth.
    You got me thinking about domestication, as Hiroyuki puts it. Of art, especially, and especially performing arts and music, which really took hold in the 80s/90s (although as you say, the tendency was already there, in the 60s)–and went into overdrive with the end of the Soviet Union. A lot of domesticated stuff that pushed itself as “transgressive”. In the dance/theater world, Pina Bausch was a good example–her dances seemed to present a dark, profound view of the world but really didn’t–they were more about beautiful dancers and expensive sets than anything else. And narcissism, actually. Bauch’s “Rite of Spring” for example, seems to aim to be more “elemental” (if that’s the right word), than Vaslav Njinsky’s very stylized version but is not at all. I also found Bausch’s misogynistic, although she was touted as very feminist.
    There’s was a desperation behind this effort to be transgressive in the 80s, but now even that effort is gone and the goal seems to be to be anodyne if anything. To not offend anyone, while pretending to. Since the only audience these days is the haut bourgeoisie, it’s pretty easy to please them. Either excessively expensive “spectacles”. or the attempt to shoehorn fat/queer/trans into everything–as long as it’s sunday school boring and makes people feel virtuous.
    Russell Jacoby wrote about RD Laing–with respect to Laing’s therapeutic insights kind of erasing his theoretical bases, or muddling them into confusion. I tend to think Jacoby was a little hard on Laing but the tendency is easy to fall into, especially as an artist. I don’t think that’s what Bitches Brew did, although maybe the tendency was there.
    It’s funny with respect to “whiteness” and BB, the album cover has, on one side, a drawing of a black woman in profile, her face in profile, and there are beads of sweat on her face. On the back, it’s the same profile, but bleached white, and the beads are blood. Maybe fake profound, but certainly interesting.

  2. John Steppling says:

    Great notes, Lorie. First, I agree Jacoby was overly hard on Laing. I don’t know why but I felt that from the first reading of that book. Its not that he’s wrong exactly but he’s missing the spirit of Laing somehow. Anyway, your notes on Bauch are spot on. And you know, I went through an obsessive period with Nijinsky. (you see paul cox’s film?). We still havent caught up with Nijinsky. Part of the domestication problem is the shrinking audience, of course. I mean there is no audience, actually. Bauch is one of that group of international brie & Chablis circuit art commodities — some of whom are good even….peter sellers is one…..but they have suffocated access to funding. They provide a veneer of radical chic whatever and somewhere in all this you try to situate Miles. I mean he was on Miami Vice at one point. And he knew. Im jumping all over but the other thing with performing arts…well, mostly music and mostly popular music….is the point at which singers stopped singing. The shrieking ego style of song performance became an almost ontological issue. And miles stopped playing trumpet. I want to say more on this but its 2 am here……so perhaps i will come back ….and finish these thoughts.

  3. I haven’t seen the Paul Cox film on Nijinsky! I think it’s on youtube so I’ll watch it. It’s funny (or not so funny) that he’d been sort of erased by the time my generation of dancers was coming up. I think “modern” dance took a very puritan turn in the US in the 60s probably.
    Re: music, New Zealand Doc had this article on digital pitch correction– “The Unsung Digital Annihilation of the Human Soul”:
    and I remember in the early 90s, a friend of mine, who was a sound engineer, told me it didn’t really matter any more what a person’s voice sounded like because they could make it sound “good”. What mattered was the Look. But I think the shrieking ego thing started way before that. But digital certainly did a number on music, which I think is so ubiquitous now it’s almost impossible to process. But it’s interesting that Dylan also went through a thing with electrifying–his purist folk fans apparently took issue with that. But Dylan was sort of contrarian, Miles was a different issue. Also I think “Rock” became a big machine, even by like 1964, which wound up flattening and engulfing everything–from country to jazz to folk. Well, again money.

  4. John Steppling says:

    The Cox film is beautiful. Remarkable. But Nijinsky was a singular genius. There is not that much footage of him but enough to get a sense. Thats an interesting observation on dance in the West, in the 60s. Id say for sure by the 70s it is unmistakable. I lived with a dancer for a number of years and I think she would concur. As for music. Well, yes, look….digital destroyed how we listen to music. And then pop music became this machine. And it swallowed everything. Hip hop and rap were white inventions largely. Or soon were coopted. Dylan is such an enigma, really. I had a project with him years ago. It lasted all of three months and then he disappeared. But it was fun. And he’d phone me at 2 in the morning with *ideas*. But I did love talking american folk music with him. We had hours of talks on the phone about the grand ol Opry and hank and willie mctell et al. I think he liked me because i knew and loved McTell. ANYWAY…. I will read this new zealand doc.

  5. Meretricious says:

    John, there’s a mistake in your copy:

    “Teo Macero was, for the late Miles, what Gordon Lish was for Raymond Carver (or Eliot for Pound)”

    Should be Pound for Eliot

  6. John Steppling says:

    thank you, yes. Will correct it.

  7. Regino Robainas28 says:

    A most dread inspiring revelation, for me, was
    your “Servants of Death”.

    Bringing burning memories of January 1968’s
    “The Seventh Seal”, the night before expected
    induction into the U.S. armed forces & expected
    deployment to the Vietnam Hell. Topping the
    chilling inner horror was my viewing of the “Will”
    last night where I wondered if I could withstand
    being boiled alive without betraying my friends.

    No literary or other abstractions. Just who am I
    to be? But, then, perhaps the paradox of seeing ourselves
    as ever innocent & perpetual victims is to see
    others as human animals or disposable rats.

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