Category Archives: Books

Leo Tolstoy – The Kingdom of God Is Within You

Quote from Chapter XII “Conclusion – Repent Ye, For the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand” from The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), by Leo Tolstoy:

“the organization of our society rests, not as people interested in maintaining the present order of things like to imagine, on certain principles of jurisprudence, but on simple brute force, on the murder and torture of men.

“People who own great estates or fortunes, or who receive great revenues drawn from the class who are in want even of necessities, the working class, as well as all those who like merchants, doctors, artists, clerks, learned professors, coachmen, cooks, writers, valets, and barristers, make their living about these rich people, like to believe that the privileges they enjoy are not the result of force, but of absolutely free and just interchange of services, and that their advantages, far from being gained by such punishments and murders as took place in Orel and several parts of Russia this year, and are always taking place all over Europe and America, have no kind of connection with these acts of violence. They like to believe that their privileges exist apart and are the result of free contract among people; and that the violent cruelties perpetrated on the people also exist apart and are the result of some general judicial, political, or economical laws. They try not to see that they all enjoy their privileges as a result of the same fact which forces the peasants who have tended the forest, and who are in the direct need of it for fuel, to give it up to a rich landowner who has taken no part in caring for its growth and has no need of it whatever—the fact, that is, that if they don’t give it up they will be flogged or killed.

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“Simply because torture and murder are not employed in every instance of oppression by force, those who enjoy the exclusive privileges of the ruling classes persuade themselves and others that their privileges are not based on torture and murder, but on some mysterious general causes, abstract laws, and so on. Yet one would think it was perfectly clear that if men, who consider it unjust (and all the working classes do consider it so nowadays), still pay the principal part of the produce of their labor away to the capitalist and the landowner, and pay taxes, though they know to what a bad use these taxes are put, they do so not from recognition of abstract laws of which they have never heard, but only because they know they will be beaten and killed if they don’t do so.

“And if there is no need to imprison, beat, and kill men every time the landlord collects his rents, every time those who are in want of bread have to pay a swindling merchant three times its value, every time the factory hand has to be content with a wage less than half of the profit made by the employer, and every time a poor man pays his last ruble in taxes, it is because so many men have been beaten and killed for trying to resist these demands, that the lesson has now been learnt very thoroughly.

“Just as a trained tiger, who does not eat meat put under his nose, and jumps over a stick at the word of command, does not act thus because he likes it, but because he remembers the red-hot irons or the fast with which he was punished every time he did not obey; so men submitting to what is disadvantageous or even ruinous to them, and considered by them as unjust, act thus because they remember what they suffered for resisting it.

“As for those who profit by the privileges gained by previous acts of violence, they often forget and like to forget how these privileges were obtained. But one need only recall the facts of history, not the history of the exploits of different dynasties of rulers, but real history, the history of the oppression of the majority by a small number of men, to see that all the advantages the rich have over the poor are based on nothing but flogging, imprisonment, and murder.

“One need but reflect on the unceasing, persistent struggle of all to better their material position, which is the guiding motive of men of the present day, to be convinced that the advantages of the rich over the poor could never and can never be maintained by anything but force.

“There may be cases of oppression, of violence, and of punishments, though they are rare, the aim of which is not to secure the privileges of the propertied classes. But one may confidently assert that in any society where, for every man living in ease, there are ten exhausted by labor, envious, covetous, and often suffering with their families from direct privation, all the privileges of the rich, all their luxuries and superfluities, are obtained and maintained only by tortures, imprisonment, and murder.”

Gustavus Myers – History of the Great American Fortunes & Supreme Court

Links to books by Gustavus Myers:

History of the Great American Fortunes, Vol. I

History of the Great American Fortunes, Vol. II

History of the Great American Fortunes, Vol. III

History of the Supreme Court of the United States

Meyers wrote some confounding things, but he also performed a valuable service by looking critically at things like methods of wealth accumulation, which have tended toward fraud and insider dealing (for instance, the History of the Great American Fortunes “gives the details of [the Yazoo land scandal] and other frauds that have shaped American history. The moral is that great gifts to insiders have effects that will last centuries.”)

David Wineberg – The Man With Two Brains

Link to David Wineberg’s review of Chris Knight‘s book Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics (2016):

“The Man With Two Brains”

Bonus links: “Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. A Review.” (this review usefully relies on Bourdieu), and “Understanding the Labyrinth: Noam Chomsky’s Science and Politics” (“Chomsky’s stance undercuts the responsibility of scientists to speak out as public intellectuals against dishonest invocation of pretended science [o]n behalf of commercial and political interests.”), and Systemic Functional Linguistics, and Denial AKA disavowal (“In Verleugnung, the defense consists in denying something that affects the individual and is a way of affirming what he or she is apparently denying.”)

William S. Burroughs – The Best of William Burroughs from Giorno Poetry Systems

The Best of William Burroughs From Giorno Poetry Systems

William S. BurroughsThe Best of William Burroughs from Giorno Poetry Systems Mercury 314 536 701-2 (1998)


Burroughs was the godfather of the Beats.  And yet, his extensive career giving spoken word recitations is, in a way, just as significant as his writings themselves (most of his readings were of his own writings) — setting aside entirely his sonic cut-up audio field recordings and mixed media visual artworks.  As a live performer, he worked his way through small venues, much like punk bands (and often in the same clubs that did punk shows).  His intonation, pacing and inflection did evolve though.  Listening to four CDs of material covering a long stretch of time reveals how he fine-tuned his delivery over time.  He mastered his sneering, nasal delivery, with certain words drawn out for effect, speaking often in a kind of deadpan but breaking from it regularly for emphasis.  And comparing these recordings from 1975 onward shows marked advancement over his 1960s recorded monologues.

Burroughs came from a fairly privileged upbringing and was highly educated.  He mostly used that background to more effectively mock rich elites and document what goes on in the world outside the realm of respectability.  He gets inside the self-important, smug and arrogant sense of entitlement in cutting, satirical narratives, which often explore basic countercultural themes and the realities of life for the poor.  His aloof, profane, magnificently unsentimental, and often scowling demeanor had a way of depicting vileness with an icy frankness that makes his accounts endearing, in their own startling and unexpected way, fostering a kind of cabal or union of outcasts and freaks who are onto the cons too.  As Barry Miles said about Burroughs in an interview, “His overall concern was always to confront control systems and attack them.  In literature it was usually done through humour . . . where he would take ideas to some absurd length which breaks through all the normal boundaries of good taste and decorum and it was often hilariously funny.”  No doubt, Burroughs exudes a kind of political libertarian populism, but it runs close anarchism.  At his best (and this Best of collection surely lives up to delivering the man at his best) he could hilariously depict the “country simple” wisdom of the underclasses as fully aware of the grim power struggles playing out under the guise of “neutral” politics that just so happen to prop up elites (something that was most explicit in his essays and Cities of the Red Night).  Burroughs was always on the look out for new techniques to disrupt the smooth functioning of oppressive social structures, taking particular glee in uncovering the overlooked (if not explicitly hidden) and elemental institutional mechanisms that maintain such relations between people.  He can be delightfully ruthless in exposing the vile motives of the self-satisfied “pillars of the community,” like doctors, journalists, police, and so on.  Burroughs’ characters are sometimes surprisingly conventional, even as he takes a very unconventional approach to developing and introducing those characters.  Burroughs also knows how to deliver an iconic catchphrase, taking colloquialisms to new heights by building so much around them to contextualize their lasting value.  He can also summon a sense of paranoia like few others.  And all this is not to mention his pervasive interest in fringe theories: UFOs, orgone accumulators, and that sort of thing.

Burroughs’ writings were often picaresque, heavily influenced by Céline, but also drawing on the influence of Denton Welch, Rimbaud, Genet, Conrad and others.  The picaresque style lends itself to short — and humorous — readings, the excerpts able to stand on their own.  But from Welch, Burroughs also drew on an ability to describe the ordinary in an uncommon way, and how to reveal with honesty that which is obscured.  Burroughs is able to summon and expand on those qualities in his readings.

As to the actual recordings here, they are mostly arranged chronologically by the date the underlying text was published — irrespective of when the audio was recorded, to some extent.  Then the last disc features a segment called “Nothing Here Now But the Recordings,” which are not based on any previously published text, but includes lectures and audio experiments, such as the “inching” technique Burroughs employed by manually moving magnetic audio tape through a recorder.

Burroughs actually made many, many commercially released recordings.  This set is exclusively material released on John Giorno‘s label Giorno Poetry Systems, often originally released on albums with contributions from many different performers (rather than exclusively from Burroughs).  There are many more Burroughs recordings out there, very few of which were ever sold in any quantity.  What is here focuses primarily on spoken word recitations, mostly readings of Burroughs’ own published writings.  The recordings not present here delve more fully into experimental sound collages (see Real English Tea Made Here) and collaborations with musical groups (see Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, The Black Rider).  But there are also various other spoken word albums Burroughs made that were simply made for other record labels (see Call Me Burroughs, Break Through in Grey Room, etc.).

Reading Burroughs is near mandatory.  But a complete picture of the man’s work requires exploring his other efforts, especially his audio recordings.  The Best of William Burroughs From Giorno Poetry Systems makes an ideal introduction to those audio recordings.  And just as to Burroughs’ outlook, a world that continues to lurch closer to a police state can stand to learn from Burroughs’ intelligent studies in ways to counteract those tendencies.