Brilliant Savagery

In his Traces Ernst Bloch provides the following little story:

Shaker of Strawberries

The rich get the best of everything and everyone.  At the curb of an elegant street in Paris, quite out of place, stood a poor devil of an invalid.  Both hands trembled, his arms flapped back and forth: that’s what he’d taken home from the war, a so called shaker.  Brillat-Savarin passed by, watched, gave not the usual alms but, in departing, his address. The shaker should apply to his chef, pour sucrer les fraises. Better that than standing on the unpleasant street! Certainly Brillat-Savarin was an inventive gourmet, providing joy to his peers. But the unquestionably exquisite gentleman obviously had this in common with the merely rich: that he could derive a particular use for misery, even earn its gratitude.  Instead of the many poor blowing him up, they merely shake his strawberries, operate larger machines just as mechanically. Indeed if the boredom of unemployment or the perpetual chill of their condition increases their unrest, even this can now be used to divert them, train them to sacrifice their peers, betray them doubly, fascistically. This is new; up to now the better ranks had only the Lumpenproletariat, or of course mercenaries. No bitterness, let alone revolt, could thus ever become a danger from the left instead of the right. So the pauper becomes a particularly good cook for those who’ve made him a pauper of worse. Then it’s not only the fist in the pocket that won’t get dangerous ideas.

The utter brutality of the bourgeoisie is to their own taste.  It is something that their habitus forms in them as they go about building the field of that very habitus. Brillat-Savarin should be remembered for his inherited wealth, promotion of capital punishment, and lazy consumption but because of the bourgeois identification with taste he is a form of cultural hero.



“pleasure easily became business”

“Business is pleasure for some, but pleasure easily became business again. So exactly is even play subject to the forms in which the earnestness of life flows away; one cannot flee it, not even in flight. Even the most resistant are taken on capitalism’s wings; to some this actually seems an elevation.”
Ernst Bloch, ‘The Useful Member’, Traces, p14


The Flattening Gaze: Dante, Botticelli, God.


This is one of Botticelli’s illustrations for the Paradiso of Dante.  Here Justinian (as the wise, just & holy figure that Medieval understanding of the emperor required) is instructing Dante on the role of The Sphere of Mercury in the heavens.

What is intreguiing for me is the absence of perspective.  All of Botticelli’s illustrations of the Paradiso are essentially flat.  The perspective that was the means of visual ordering of Botticelli’s time is absent.  This absence is due to the pressence of god.  The gaze of that god was eternal, all-seeing, & omni-perspectival and thus rendered everything before it atemporal, without depth, & utterly flat.  This is a “flat ontology” of the most radical kind. 



Venantius Fortunatus as Culture: Marx, Benjamin, Douglas & the temporal gap between culture & society.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language."

Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In The Origins of German Tragic Drama Benjamin shows that the writers of the Baroque were calling forth 'the spirits of the past' (quite literally) "in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language".  That Venantius Fortunatus should be amongst those spirits is really quite remarkable.  That the writers of the german baroque turned to Venantius, and the other allegorical writers of christian late antiquity, (Benjamin suggests because the Renaissance has reintroduced classical antiquity) is a testament to the astonishing role of culture in society.  Mary Douglas so clearly saw that culture was located in the past but was also available to the present (to any given 'now') to meet the 'interpretative needs' of that present & we should be most careful to focus on this temporal gap between culture & society.  For in this gap there may be a way of better understanding both.