Tuesday, June 26, 2012

SUICIDE (T-Shirt slogan Seen in Times Square)



Echoes. Echoes and prophesy, and the way a dog can sense a storm coming. And in humans, senses beyond the rational, narratives performed by agents against their own will, as if there was a collective will, or drive, or the idea that in holarchy, collective manifestations are enunciatory, and that when certain waves enter, as in mesmerism, the human vessel is powerless but to transmit. Looking at Stephen L. Cook's interestingly referential Prophecy and Apocalypticism, I was struck by a possible parallel between the origin of our modern Avant-Gardes, and Otto Plöger's influential original study about the origins and development of Old Testament Apocalyptic literature he mentions, from 1959. Plöger's approach, Cook informs us, has some roots in the work of the 19th century sociological work of Ferdinand Tonnies, who transmitted a distinction between "community" (Gemeinschaft), and "society" (Gesellschaft). "Whereas earlier scholars spoke in general terms about Jewish distress, Plöger's sociological understanding specified apocalyptic literature as the product of a Gemeinschaft alienated from the postexilic priestly establishment." He then goes on to describe how Paul Hanson further develops these ideas, combining them with the theses of Frank Moore Cross.



I guess what I find interesting, and what helps form the matrix for the general outline of my parallel, is something in that 'reutilization of mythopoetic language', and in a sense, one need only look at someone like Ezra Pound, who stands up as something of a poster child for just such a production, but really, just the term antihierocratic is sufficient to sum up most of the origins of many of our founding Avant-Garde Gemeinschaft, by their own admission, in various writings. Now one can take issue, and say, for instance that with Ezra Pound, his antihierocratic urge was presented more as a hyperhierocratic programme which upbraided the priestly establishment for their decadence, but we can also easily turn to something like the Cobra movement:

Their working method was based on spontaneity and experiment, and they drew their inspiration in particular from children’s drawings, from primitive art forms and from the work of Paul Klee and Joan Miró.

The strange thing, or rather the clever, curious thing, is the way antihierocratic urges can suddenly solidify into hyperhierocratic priesthoods of antihierocracy which is more or less what spawned post-modernism. So in a surrealist sense, we can see this sort of odd siamese-twin being being performed at the level of the Gemeinschaft, and in that sine-wave like bobbing or fourier transform from antihierocracy to hyperhierocracy, another modulation being carried out, that of the mundane rejection of one group by another, and the negotiation not necessarily of eschatology, but is-scatology, or even Piscatology, vis a vis, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”, whether that be simple entrainment, or an entrainment to de-entrain, whose paradoxical matrix is the very figure of a music of desiring, a push-me-pull-you of coloring organization, when only more organization, or organized disorganization can follow, ie, poetry, and indeed thought itself, as the penultimate emblem of phenomenality itself.


But looking as I always do, for the agent of Irronism, that item that perhaps represents all sides, and none, and one or more others, I happened recently on the newly translated text of Ernst Weiss' Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer which is one of the few books I have ever seen actually blurbed by Kafka:

"What an extraordinary writer he is!" —Franz Kafka


And what an extraordinary example of a man caught between Gemeinschaft, and Gesellschaft:



Medical officer. Student of Freud. Friend of Kafka. And, novelist of Murder, Schitzophrenia, AND Reason, whose narrator, cannot be trusted.

Here I would like to insert Tony Miksanek's Journal of the American Medical Association review of Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer 

Rats—the small rodent kind and the large human kind—figure prominently in Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer. Hordes of rats infest this novel, and they are nearly impossible to exterminate. Georg Letham, the narrator of this sprawling story, is a 40-year-old European physician with self-destructive tendencies and a deep affection for money. Although Letham prides himself on his ability to inspire trust, he is not trustworthy. By the end of the book, the twisted physician rediscovers his humanity and uncovers the epidemiology of yellow fever. Letham's life is full of contradictions. He admits to being lucky but gripes about his misfortune. He spends his nights either working in the laboratory or gambling. He is both a criminal and a scientist. Although his main interest is experimental bacteriology, Letham begins a private practice concentrating on surgery and gynecology. In hindsight, his exodus from research is a bad choice. He is not a people person: “Illness interested me, the ill did not.” Letham's tragic flaw is carelessness. While investigating scarlet fever, he transmits streptococcal sepsis to 2 surgical patients. He is unfaithful to his older and wealthy wife, and he later murders her by administering a deadly toxin. He is sloppy and leaves evidence—an empty vial and syringe—behind. He goes to trial, and his punishment for poisoning his wife is a life sentence of hard labor in a penal colony. Meanwhile, yellow fever is wreaking havoc on the tropical island where Letham is sent for imprisonment. The mortality rate from the infection is as high as 55%, and the etiology and transmission of the disease are as yet unknown. Typhus, leprosy, tuberculosis, and malaria also vex the inhabitants of the island. In all, an appropriate environment for a physician-murderer who happens to have an interest in microbiology research. Letham is quickly put to work in a makeshift hospital set up in a former convent. A group of 5 persons including Letham, a fellow convict, 2 physician-scientists, and the prison chaplain (a priest with an “Amen” tattoo) set out to identify the cause of yellow fever and how to stop its spread. They intend to infect themselves with the disease. The men are willing to sacrifice their own lives (along with the lives of others) to find an answer: “Physicians have experimented on human beings from time to time for as long as medical science has existed. It has not been exactly the rule, but by no means the exception, either, that physicians have ventured to experiment on themselves.” Their self-experimentation is “successful.” Letham contracts yellow fever and endures its terrible symptoms but survives. Others are not so fortunate: 2 men die as a result of the experiment. The scientists prove that the Stegomyia mosquito is the vector of transmission. The governor of the prison island authorizes a program to eradicate the mosquitoes, with the aim of eliminating yellow fever. Letham's influential father pulls some strings to obtain clemency for his son, and in light of Letham's sacrifice and service, the murderer receives a pardon. Although he must remain in exile on the island, he is allowed to ply his trade as a physician. Medical ethics is a hot topic in this novel. Yet the story addresses several important issues beyond the proper behavior of physicians and the moral code of conduct for medical researchers: justice, punishment, altruism, the fear of illness, the joy of recovery, the ecstasy of being alive, and the absolute worth of a single human life. Slowly and painfully, the physician-murderer comes to understand the duty of a physician—which is first and foremost to provide solace for the patient. The author, Ernst Weiss, has medical credentials. He served as a ship's physician and as a military physician. He was a friend of Franz Kafka, a survivor of tuberculosis and attempted suicide. First published in German in 1931, the book is now available in an English translation. Although the first half of this marathon-like novel is often tough sledding, it finishes strong. Part medical detective story and part criminal confession, Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer is a long and risky read. From a literary standpoint, readers can expect a sizeable reward for their effort.

With news articles tonight on the spread of West Nile virus in the local mosquitos near where I live, they are spraying for them not even 10 miles from here, the book carries a special charm, and the fact that I was carrying the book with me on a recent departure from New York where I happened to glance a giant inflatable rat strapped to the back of a pick-up truck and towering over it. The fact that the Hispanic town-car driver said something like "labor dispute theatrics" also lends a certain irronic frisson, and could even
replace, in a comic grotesque way, the whole Gemeinschaft / Gesellschaft dynamic. The book was an impulse buy at the book store of the Neue Gallerie.


I guess I could go on about quotationism and apocalyptic irronism, about eating breakfast at "Le Pain Quotidien," a chain restaurant, in New York, or at "Peasant" a bistro-boho Italian eatery in Nolita, about all the Arab lolitas I saw wandering Times Square, or "Our Square Times" and how that rhymes with the fact that I missed the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, but watched half asleep today as they attacked Johnny Depp on TV, and how I stood next to a lego Johnny Depp / Jack Sparrow at FAO Schwarz, or how I gawked at the mermaid atop one of Filippo Negroli's helmets at the Met, but all I can really say is


Amen...