The letter of Lord Chandos

Morning mystery

Morning mystery

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The Letter of Lord Chandos

This is the letter Philip, Lord Chandos, younger son of the Earl of Bath, wrote to Francis Bacon, later Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, apologising for his complete abandonment of literary ac­tivity.

…To sum up: In those days I, in a state of continuous in­toxication, conceived the whole of existence as one great unit: the spiritual and physical worlds seemed to form no contrast, as little as did courtly and bestial conduct, art and barbarism, solitude and society; in everything I felt the pres­ence of Nature, in the aberrations of insanity as much as in the utmost refinement of the Spanish ceremonial; in the boorishness of young peasants no less than in the most deli­cate of allegories; and in all expressions of Nature I felt myself. …

Abundance

Abundance

…For what had it to do with pity, or with any comprehensible concatenation of human thought when, on another evening, on finding beneath a nut-tree a half-filled pitcher which a gardener boy had left there, and the pitcher and the water in it, darkened by the shadow of the tree, and a beetle swimming on the surface from shore to shore, when this combination of trifles sent through me such a shudder at the presence of the Infinite, a shudder running from the roots of my hair to the marrow of my heels? What was it that made me want to break into words which, I know, were I to find them, would force to their knees those cherubim in whom I do not believe? What made me turn silently away from this place?

July quiet

July quiet

Even now, after weeks, catching sight of that nut-tree, I pass it by with a shy sidelong glance, for I am loath to dispel the memory of the miracle hovering there round the trunk, loath to drive away the unearthly tremors that still pulse around the nearby foliage. In these moments an insignificant creature – a dog, a rat, a beetle, a crippled apple tree, a lane winding over the hill, a moss-covered stone, mean more to me than the most beautiful, abandoned mistress of the happiest night.

Drenched

Drenched

These mute and, on occasion, inanimate creatures rise toward me with such an abundance, such a presence of love, that my enchanted eye can find nothing in sight void of life. Every­thing that exists, everything I can remember, everything touched upon by my confused thoughts, has a meaning. Even my own heaviness, the general torpor of my brain, seems to acquire a meaning; I experience in and around me a blissful, never-ending interplay, and among the objects playing against one another there is not one into which I cannot flow.

Falling

Falling

To me, then, it is as though my body consists of nought but ciphers which give me the key to everything; or as if we could enter into a new and hopeful relationship with the whole of exist­ence if only we begin to think with the heart. As soon, how­ever, as this strange enchantment falls from me, I find myself confused; wherein this harmony transcending me and the en­tire world consisted, and how it made itself known to me, I could present in sensible words as little as I could say any­thing precise about the inner movements of my intestines or a congestion of my blood. …

Busy as

Busy as

…For my unnamed blissful feeling is sooner brought about by a distant lonely shepherd’s fire than by the vision of a starry sky, sooner by the chirping of the last dying cricket when the autumn wind chases wintry clouds across the deserted fields than by the majestic booming of an organ. And in my mind I compare myself from time to time with the orator Crassus, of whom it is reported that he grew so excessively enamoured of a tame lamprey – a dumb, apathetic, red-eyed fish in his ornamental pond – that it became the talk of the town; and when one day in the Senate Domitius reproached him for having shed tears over the death of this fish, attempting thereby to make him appear a fool, Crassus answered, “Thus have I done over the death of my fish as you have over the death of neither your first nor your second wife.”

Luminescence

Luminescence

I know not how oft this Crassus with his lamprey enters my mind as a mirrored image of my Self, reflected across the abyss of centuries. But not on account of the answer he gave Domitius. The answer brought the laughs on his side, and the whole affair turned into a jest. I, however, am deeply affected by the affair, which would have remained the same even had Domitius shed bitter tears of sorrow over his wives. For there would still have been Crassus, shedding tears over his lam­prey. And about this figure, utterly ridiculous and contempti­ble in the midst of a world-governing senate discussing the most serious subjects, I feel compelled by a mysterious power to reflect in a manner which, the moment I attempt to express it in words, strikes me as supremely foolish.

Complicated

Complicated

Now and then at night the image of this Crassus is in my brain, like a splinter round which everything festers, throbs, and boils. It is then that I feel as though I myself were about to ferment, to effervesce, to foam and to sparkle. And the whole thing is a kind of feverish thinking, but thinking in a medium more immediate, more liquid, more glowing than words. It, too, forms whirlpools, but of a sort that do not seem to lead, as the whirlpools of language, into the abyss, but into myself and into the deepest womb of peace.

The price of gold

The price of gold

I have troubled you excessively, my dear friend, with this extended description of an inexplicable condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me.

You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, “to compensate for the loss of our relationship.” Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge.

Glow

Glow

Fain had I the power to compress in this, presumably my last, letter to Francis Bacon all the love and gratitude, all the unmeasured admiration, which I harbour in my heart for the greatest benefactor of my mind, for the foremost Englishman of my day, and which I shall harbour therein until death break it asunder.

This 22 August, A.D. 1603

PHI. CHANDOS

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Source

With many thanks to Steven Baird for his permission to use his images

Looking down the road

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Christina Zhou, ‘Chinese cities enforce their own versions of the Social Credit System to target issues in their area’, ABC News, 15.11.18

…In Jinan, a city in eastern Shandong province, authorities have rolled out a credit scoring system to enforce responsible dog ownership.

After enforcing the system in January last year, recently released figures show some 1430 owners have been penalised, with more than 120 temporarily surrendering their beloved pooch after losing all their points, according to a CCTV news article on Jinan’s SCS website.

Just like an Australian driver’s licence, the pet demerit system gives every registered dog owner a licence with 12 points, and penalises owners for every infraction.

First-time offenders who walked their dog without a leash or tag, or didn’t clean up after their pet, or were reported for a disturbance, were docked three points.

Second-time offenders were fined 200 to 500 yuan ($40 to $100) and penalised six points, and those offending for a third time would lose all 12 points and be forced to surrender their dog, the provincial SCS website states.

Meanwhile, pet owners who failed to renew their dog registration every year would also have their dog temporarily taken to a kennel until they passed an exam on dog-keeping regulations.

A China Daily report published this year said complaints about owners walking dogs without a leash dropped by 43 per cent as a result of the credit system, while state media Legal Daily commended the “effectiveness” of the system and argued for it to be rolled out across the country. …

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‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’

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Remembrance Day in a fearful, servile culture

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…The historian Peter Cochrane recently reminded us in his book Best We Forget that prime minister Billy Hughes spelled it out explicitly. “I bid you go and fight for White Australia in France,” he told Australians in 1916.

It underlined a complicated truth: one of Australia’s central reasons for entering World War I was not as simple as standing with the “mother country”. It was to seal in blood a relationship to ensure Britain would protect White Australia against the feared future expansionist ambitions of Japan, even though Japan was an ally in World War I.

White Australia remained an article of domestic faith and international condemnation until the policy was dismantled in the 1960s and replaced with multiculturalism in 1972.

Yet, a century on, echoes remain. Australians and their parliamentarians in 2018 are restive about immigration, express anxiety about the expansionist ambitions of Asians to our north – it’s China now – and recently, senators even tied themselves in knots over the question of whether it was “OK to be white”.

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The Mongolian Octopus: his grip on Australia 1886

White Australia began dealing with those it deemed “undesirable” or a threat at home during the Great War by detaining and deporting thousands of mainly German-Australians, including naturalised Australians.

More than 7000 were detained in what were called “concentration camps”, and more than 5000 were deported. Scores of German-sounding towns were renamed — 69 of them in South Australia alone under an Act of Parliament known as the Nomenclature Committee’s Report On Enemy Place Names.

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A century later, Australia still detains and deports those it doesn’t want on its shores. And today’s Australia – which long ago switched its hopes of protection to the United States, marching and sailing off to American-led wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – remains a constitutional monarchy, its head of state the Queen.

Your-king-and-country-want-you-cover-of-sheet-music

Old ties, sealed in blood, die hard. …

Tony Wright, ‘The long reach of old war ties, sealed in blood’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 09.11.18

***

It is proved in the pamphlet that the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.

Proof of what was the true social, or rather, the true class character of the war is naturally to be found, not in the diplomatic history of the war, but in an analysis of the objective position of the ruling classes in all the belligerent countries. In order to depict this objective position one must not take examples or isolated data (in view of the extreme complexity of the phenomena of social life it is always possible to select any number of examples or separate data to prove any proposition), but all the data on the basis of economic life in all the belligerent countries and the whole world.

It is precisely irrefutable summarised data of this kind that I quoted in describing the partition of the world in 1876 and 1914 (in Chapter VI) and the division of the world’s railways in 1890 and 1913 (in Chapter VII). Railways are a summation of the basic capitalist industries, coal, iron and steel; a summation and the most striking index of the development of world trade and bourgeois-democratic civilisation. How the railways are linked up with large-scale industry, with monopolies, syndicates, cartels, trusts, banks and the financial oligarchy is shown in the preceding chapters of the book. The uneven distribution of the railways, their uneven development—sums up, as it were, modern monopolist capitalism on a world-wide scale. And this summary proves that imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under such an economic system, as long as private property in the means of production exists.

The building of railways seems to be a simple, natural, democratic, cultural and civilising enterprise; that is what it is in the opinion of the bourgeois professors who are paid to depict capitalist slavery in bright colours, and in the opinion of petty-bourgeois philistines. But as a matter of fact the capitalist threads, which in thousands of different intercrossings bind these enterprises with private property in the means of production in general, have converted this railway construction into an instrument for oppressing a thousand million people (in the colonies and semicolonies), that is, more than half the population of the globe that inhabits the dependent countries, as well as the wage-slaves of capital in the “civilised” countries.

Private property based on the labour of the small proprietor, free competition, democracy, all the catchwords with which the capitalists and their press deceive the workers and the peasants are things of the distant past. Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty. …

indigenous-soldier-WWI

Private Alfred Jackson Coombs was one of at least 1000 Indigenous Australians who fought in WWI (and who were pushed aside on their return).

…The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk dictated by monarchist Germany, and the subsequent much more brutal and despicable Treaty of Versailles dictated by the “democratic” republics of America and France and also by “free” Britain, have rendered a most useful service to humanity by exposing both imperialism’s hired coolies of the pen and petty-bourgeois reactionaries who, although they call themselves pacifists and socialists, sang praises to “Wilsonism”, and insisted that peace and reforms were possible under imperialism.

before-after

This man was not named. The only information with this image: ‘Australian War Memorial PO6131.006, PO6131.004’

The tens of millions of dead and maimed left by the war—a war to decide whether the British or German group of financial plunderers is to receive the most booty—and those two “peace treaties”, are with unprecedented rapidity opening the eyes of the millions and tens of millions of people who are downtrodden, oppressed, deceived and duped by the bourgeoisie. Thus, out of the universal ruin caused by the war a world-wide revolutionary crisis is arising which, however prolonged and arduous its stages may be, cannot end otherwise than in a proletarian revolution and in its victory.

V.I.Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1917, Preface to the French and German Editions

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Images: 1,3,4,5,6; 2

The most powerful country of capital

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Trotsky in a 1922 ‘cubist’ portrait by Yuri Annenkov. A version of this appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine – November 21, 1927.

In the United States, the most powerful country of capital, the present crisis has laid bare frightful social contradictions with striking forcefulness. After an unprecedented period of prosperity which amazed the whole world with its fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly entered a period of unemployment for millions of people, of the most appalling physical destitution for the toilers. Such a gigantic social convulsion cannot fail to leave its traces on the political development of the country. Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from this distance, any measure of important radicalisation in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the catastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn. The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalisation of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the turn toward revival and upswing. In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc. With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable AFL bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.

In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterised by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal ‘equilibrium’, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions. On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old mélange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up—to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more be the former, easily extinguishable ‘straw fire’, but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.

Leon Trotsky, Germany 1931-1932, New Park Publications Ltd., London, 1970, 5-7

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Academic servants of the common good

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In the comment from today’s Herald republished below, Connor and Riemer express not simply their opposition to Howard’s being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney (not ‘Sydney’ as they grandiloquently call it) but their offence in the name of ‘those of us committed to the ideal of universities as servants of the common good’ at this award being given to a racist, bigot and militarist.

They condemn the university management’s ‘tawdry and shambolic Realpolitik’ and write that ‘universities should be institutions that provide ongoing challenge (sic) to the terms of institutional power.’ Powerful words indeed but, in true academic style, hollow and hypocritical.

Universities in class-based societies such as Australia’s first and foremost are institutions for the propagation of the ideology of the dominant (capitalist) class, not, according to the myth, centres of abstract intellectual excellence.

The challenge should not be to ‘institutional power,’ it should be to class power – to the domination of the capitalist class and their ideology – to exposing and confronting their ‘system of belief delimited by interests’.

Connor and Riemer make no mention of this in their ‘principled’ posturing.

The management of the university is one aspect of universities as centres of capitalist ideology, the academics employed in them are the other – those who attend to the form and those who attend to the content.

For more than thirty years I have been utterly committed to understanding and exposing the influence of mysticism on Western culture. During those years I have been enrolled at the universities of NSW and Sydney.

I was told over and again by time-serving academics that I was wrong, that I didn’t know what I was doing. At the University of Sydney I was threatened going into my honours year. At the College of Fine Arts, the University of NSW I was refused supervision for three years even though I had been accepted into a research program.

Now that those stages of bourgeois ideology known as modernism and post-modernism have run out of steam, some of the ideologues of the bourgeoisie, on the lookout for the next ‘new flavour’ listened to me, refused to assist me and then took and began teaching those aspects they consider now safe of what they never dared to go near before.

On 21.04.15 I sent an email to the Chair of Philosophy at the university of Sydney about my dedication and experience over more than thirty years, involving both universities. I copied it to the vice-chancellor Michael Spence and to Kate McClymont (‘Australia’s most-awarded journalist’) on the Senate. The only reply I have received was one to acknowledge receipt, on behalf of the vice-chancellor.

The matter concerns not only myself – the treachery, hypocrisy and deliberate ignorance I have experienced at both universities from academics – but, particularly, the greatest failure in social and intellectual responsibility by generations of ideology-serving academics on this matter. The very things Connor and Riemer claim to uphold.

I have experienced the ruthless efficiency with which the same ideology Howard was such an unrelenting advocate for and the control of it is maintained by academic ‘servants of the common good’ – again, just as Howard claimed he was one.

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Linda Connor and Nick Riemer, ‘Why “racist” John Howard doesn’t deserve an honorary doctorate,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 29.09.16

Sydney University’s choice to award an honorary doctorate to John Howard is a decision to celebrate racism, bigotry and militarism. The award is unjustifiable in an institution claiming to serve the public good that says it is committed to rigorous standards of analysis and deliberation.

Along with many of our colleagues, we are appalled by the actions of the University Senate in making this award. That is why we are boycotting the graduation ceremony on Friday at which the doctorate will be conferred, and joining staff and students outside the University’s Great Hall in protest.

The university administration’s justification of the award does not withstand even the most rudimentary scrutiny. Along with contributions to economic management and Australian relations with China and Indonesia, the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, has cited Howard’s gun law reform and leadership in East Timor as the reasons for the doctorate.

If arms and international relations are the question, Howard’s principal “achievements” lie elsewhere entirely.

What Howard will be remembered for in these fields is hardly his gun control measures or Australia’s role in East Timor. The latter, in any case, arguably had more to do with Timor’s gas reserves than it did with peacekeeping. Far more significant, both internationally and at home, was Howard’s crucial support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This illegal and unjustified war cost the lives of almost 25.000 civilians in its first two years alone. The recent Chilcot report puts the number of Iraqi deaths at 150,000 by 2009. Awarding Howard for his contribution to international relations is like awarding BP for its contributions to green energy. In honouring him, the University of Sydney does its bit to dampen the pressure for a Chilcot-style enquiry in Australia.

What will Howard say in his address at the graduation to the audience of students and researchers? That instinct is a better guide than science to public policy, or that politicians must not be “browbeaten by the alleged views” of climate scientists, as he told a London conference in 2013? That professional historians have got it wrong about the past and that he, without specialist training, is better placed to decide what should be taught? It is a singular irony that a politician contemptuous of science, whose government regularly attacked academics and researchers, should be accepting an honorary doctorate. It says even more that he is being offered one.

Sydney’s administrators have tried to deflect criticism by pointing to the frequency with which honorary degrees are conferred on former prime ministers. Exactly. It is the very regularity of the practice that is objectionable. The customary granting of honorary degrees to former politicians degrades academic distinction for political purposes. It says that political power, not an outstanding contribution to the advancement of society, is the determinant of the university’s recognition. Universities should be institutions that provide ongoing challenge to the terms of institutional power. Through the routine award of honorary degrees to prime ministers no matter what their record in office, they end up courting it.

Granting doctorates to ex-PMs sends a clear message: no matter what you have done in office, you can expect, as a former PM, to be feted by the academy. Follow the US to war on confected and untested evidence, plunging Iraq and the wider Middle East into chaos: honorary doctorate. Militarise social policy in the Northern Territory: honorary doctorate. Obstruct the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, refuse to apologise to the Stolen Generation and exacerbate racial tensions: honorary doctorate. Ban same-sex marriage: honorary doctorate. Wage class-warfare against the union movement: honorary doctorate.

Universities’ responsibility to provide a source of rigorous independent analysis and expertise can only be discharged if they stand above the horse-trading of political influence and favour. This was exactly the principle at stake when La Trobe University tried to appease politicians by suspending Roz Ward, the Safe Schools program co-founder, earlier this year. In normalising honorary degrees for former PMs, universities signal they have no interest in maintaining a critical independence from political power.

It doesn’t take much wit or acuity to confront university managements’ rhetoric with their actual practices – which are often no more than a tawdry and shambolic Realpolitik. Nevertheless, doing so is essential. Words have meanings; we should hold university managers to the values they say they respect. Sydney management’s decision makes a travesty of the ideals it claims to uphold. These include critical thinking and problem solving, cultural competence, and ethics. In their foreword to the university’s current “strategic plan”, Michael Spence, Sydney’s VC, and the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson have listed “a deeply held commitment to challenging ordinary thinking, and a genuine desire to do good in the world” as two “extraordinary strengths” of the university.

The emptiness of these declarations is demonstrated by Howard’s award. Howard’s record in office expressed the opposite ideals. The Middle East and Indigenous social policy are two domains that call for the most delicate and reasoned consideration. Instead, Howard just sent the army in. In both cases, his rationales for doing so turned out to be spurious. This is the model our university is holding up to students and society.

Vocally opposing Howard’s doctorate is the only possible course of action for those of us committed to the ideal of universities as servants of the common good.

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What?! Academic honesty at the University of Sydney?!

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Jordan Baker, ‘English academics reject a Ramsay-funded great books program’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 01.11.18

Sydney University is divided over the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s offer to fund a three-year, great books-style program. Supporters argue it is a good opportunity for students, while opponents say it is an ideological Trojan horse for right wing critics of universities.

The latest letter, which was sent on Thursday and is believed to have received unanimous approval during a department meeting, said no rationale had been given for the proposed program.

“This leads us to suspect that the unspoken rationale is a disregard on the part of the Ramsay Centre for the values that inform our teaching and a desire to pursue a political agenda under the guise of, and with the legitimacy given by, an academic program,” it said.

If the centre’s interest in the critical consideration of canonical western texts was genuine, it said, “it could give immediate effect to it by offering financial support to those areas of the humanities and social sciences … that already study those texts in depth.”

Five other departments, including government, political economy and sociology, have also written open letters rejecting any partnership with Ramsay.

But not everyone in those departments is opposed. Salvatore Babones, an associate professor in sociology, would like to see a Ramsay-funded course proceed.

“The Ramsay Centre proposal is clearly ideological, but everything we teach is ideological,” he said.

“Professors’ claims to the contrary are absurd.”…

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