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Web Letter

This is an incisive piece. But I would suggest an alternative view on one little point made by Doctorow: "So that history, as we look to that part of the world [the Middle East], seems to be running backward, as if civilization is in reverse, as if time is a loop."

It seems to me that civilization is running perfectly, or rather, is perfecting the processes it has manifested since its beginnings 5,000 years ago: amplifications of centralized power, personified in "divine king" figures who aggrandize their power through appeals to religious backing and techno-bureaucratic instruments. Just ask the ancient Assyrians. Or contemporary Bushies. Or Melville's Ishmael.

Bush's assigned destiny was to help link American violence with Middle East violence, all of which is the secret sibling of the perfection of the rational machine that is civilization. Bush has succeeded in this marvelously, helping to open the doors to the next level of the abyss. And Melville already foresaw that fated abyss, the culmination of five thousand years of civilizing, in the American whaling ship the Pequod, whose mad quest for oil and "the phantom of life," Moby-Dick, led to its own splintering by the phantom of life, swirling down and under for good:

For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The ship? Great God, where is the ship?"…And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.

[…]A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

Eugene Halton

South Bend, IN

Jul 2 2008 - 4:04pm

Web Letter

While I'm a Doctorow fan, I suggest that this piece is seriously flawed. We are inundated with fake data, questionable "studies" and outright fraudulent assertions from all the usual suspects. Just to confine myself to the Global Warming scenario, consider this: how can any study for worldwide warming use data from 1908, a time when even thermometers were primitive? Are we supposed to believe that anybody had any money to study anything during the Great Depression? Did the Nazis and Japanese keep temperature data from around the world during WWII? When in the hell did counting penguins become something everyone did? It seems to me that all data collection serves only the political view of the gatherer and not cold hard facts, keeping in mind that leaving some data out is also fraud. It seems to me that no matter who we are or what point of view we hold, all of us are subject to deliberately manipulated "facts." Another way of saying that I believe nothing of what I read. And to compare global warming with the Holocaust in any context is in itself manipulative, if one is so dense as to be affected by such a juxtaposition.

Howard Veit

Los Angeles, CA

Jul 1 2008 - 12:07pm

Web Letter

The intellectual miasma of Messrs. Doctorow and McClelland is interesting, but the issue is rather simple. In fact, Doctorow puts it correctly, in saying that the Bush Administration is involved in "incremental fascism."

It has become fashionable to claim that fascism is a phenomenon restricted to the post-WWI upheaval in Europe. But actually fascism arose earlier in opposition to Marxism and liberalism; its roots go back to the reactionary and conservative opposition to the French Revolution. It religious basis goes back to the integral Catholicism of the Papacy as it opposed the Enlightenment, having earlier opposed Christian reform and earlier even than that the religious dissidence represented by the non-disappearance of the Jews and the rise of Islam.

Ultra-nationalism, misguided militaristic patriotism, and corporatism masquerading as capitalism are all leading to fascism in the United States. Unfortunately, the target we need to focus on is misunderstood and even denied as reality.

Would that our intellectuals could see things more clearly.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Jun 29 2008 - 12:16pm

Web Letter

I am happy to be a member of any choir to which Mr. Doctorow preaches.

And I wish he'd declared us, those who demand the primacy of reason, to be the cult we are: Reason is the most extreme of Fundamentalisms, denying as it does its own implausibility, the vastness of the accumulated evidence against it, the miniscule fragments of our bodies devoted to it.

Only when we accept ourselves as chiliasts, with an impossible mission, can we apply ruthelessly our determination to haul our mewling, puking species into a life of the heart and the mind.

Barry Blitstein

New York, NY

Jun 29 2008 - 4:25am

Web Letter

E.L. Doctorow, as a spokesman for the enlightened American literatus (we cannot call him an American intellectual, because that has been proved to be an oxymoron), eloquently states the "weirdness" that has crept over this land during the Bush years. He writes, "It will take more than revelations of an inveterately corrupt Administration to dissolve the miasma of otherworldly weirdness hanging over this land, to recover us from our spiritual disarray, to regain our once-clear national sense of ourselves, however illusory, as the last best hope of mankind."

But I have to wonder whether a counter-Enlightenment posture might be more critical and more revealing. I am thinking, e.g., of imaginal systems like the Tarot, and especially the card of the Tower, which of course is the card that should reveal the true nature of 9/11. Bush and his cronies are a symptom, not a cause, of the confusion caused by the destruction of a tower of lies. Unfortunately, what most thinkers on the problem of Bush seem to lack is a sense of destiny, of the true length of the processes of historical change.

The basic meaning of the Tower is this: "With Mars as its ruling planet, the Tower is a card about war, a war between the structures of lies and the lightning flash of truth. The Tower, as [Robert] Wang points out, stands for 'false concepts and institutions that we take for real.' When the Querent gets this card, they can expect to be shaken up, to be blinded by a shocking revelation. It sometimes takes that to see a truth that one refuses to see. Or to bring down beliefs that are so well constructed. What's most important to remember is that the tearing down of this structure, however painful, makes room for something new to be built." (http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/basics/tower.shtml)

It has been hard for us who have been brought up with neo-Enlightenment values to grasp the transpersonal force of the Bush Administration, but we must regain our perspective. We must come to see that he was one of the "arrogant men" at the top of the tower, which has been destroyed. The consequent resurgence of fundamentalism is a misguided and unconscious (and thus distorted and temporary) return of the repressed, namely the more qualitative and imaginative systems of knowledge that were rejected by the Enlightenment, but which nevertheless represent a domain of human being that has for too long been ignored in favor of the dehumanizing quest for power and money... an activity that occurs solely within the Tower.

Bruce McClelland

Gordonsville, VA

Jun 27 2008 - 10:04am