Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Goldman Case – 1: Introduction

You must know about the “freak shows” that were popular up until the middle of the last century. These macabre circuses traveled from place to place and exhibited their “freaks”: the elephant man, the snake woman, the scorpion girl and such.

The rabble went and paid to look at the freaks and count their blessings. Imagine being the parents of the “scorpion girl”!

Such naked exploitation of physical deformities is no longer acceptable. But the practice continues under a different guise. The freaks are now the child prodigies. The 5-year old Korean who plays Appassionata. The 4-year old Iranian who has memorized Qur’an –without knowing Arabic, no less! And the usually home-schooled, always awkward 8-year old who can correctly pronounce and spell onomatopoeia, hippocastanaceae and cwm.

These are mechanical performances, of course, like a bear dancing or a dog shaking hands. What these children know of music, religion and language is barely above what a space-traveling “astronaut” chimpanzee knows of Newtonian mechanics. The charade goes on because it promotes the idea of a haphazard and random life in which a lucky few are dealt a winning hand. You, too, could have been a contender, could have had class, if chance had not willed otherwise.

Art, religion and language are social systems that men create in order to survive. They help stabilize the social relations, stability being a prerequisite for reproduction. The more you are aware of these relations, the more “human” you are, the word used here in its social and not biological context. Humanity is precisely the awareness of others, both of people and relations. Exploring these relations is the subject of the humanities. (Exploring the relations in the natural world is the subject of science.)

The social relations, of course, do not have the permanence of natural laws and change with the development of human society. But they, too, are hidden from the view and must be discovered through a process, which is the search for Truth. Only through this process one gains the knowledge of physical and social worlds.

In the physical world, we verify the accuracy of our knowledge in practice. In the social world, the verification comes from the capacity of knowledge to systematically expand ; if such capacity is not present, the knowledge is false. But if knowledge corresponds to the essence of the phenomena, it must logically and perpetually move forward, with each stage containing and explaining whatever existed before. The process cannot contain unresolved contradictions.

Recognizing the Truth, thus, is the meaning and idea of human development. In the case of the writer, the composer, the painter, the philosopher – those, in short, whose vocation is exploring the social relations in search of the Truth – such development must reflect itself in progressive “maturity” of the producer and his works, resulting in ever deeper revelations about human relations.

That is another way of saying that in the investigation of social or natural relations, there are no accidents. But unlike in the natural world where our immediate sense of perception is limited by the properties of the material world – sounds beyond certain frequency we cannot hear, colors beyond certain frequency we cannot see – and must thus await the advancement of tools, the human relations are accessible to all. What is more, if their essence is understood, the understanding cannot but lead to the awareness of even more profound relations.

(Agamben has written about the “destruction of experience”, but he does not explore it from the one angle that can satisfactorily explain the destruction: the inability of the modern man to connect various aspects of his social contacts. That is what the destruction of experience means. Otherwise, experience, in the Kantian sense of the word, which is coming into contact with the outside world, cannot be destroyed. Agamben confuses – i.e., does not distinguish – the experience in the world of social and physical. So when, after a mystifying reference to the destruction of experience, he writes that “Hence, the disappearance of the maxim and the proverb, which were the guise in which experience stood as authority”, he is clearly talking about social experience. Maxims and proverbs work precisely by bringing in an example from the natural world to the social world to highlight social relations. I will return to this common confusion of contemporary Western philosophers in Vol. 5.)

That is why the spectacle a child playing a sonata by a master can only be a showcasing of instrumental skills. The content of the music, its message, can only be conveyed through the experience, a condition which precludes youth.

That is also why you would be hard pressed to name a contemporary writer, artist, philosopher, musician or director whose works have improved with time; I only know of John Berger and, to some extent, Beckett. The cultural personalities in the West are “adult prodigies”. They come to the public's attention with one “brilliant” performance or a “phenomenonal achievement” only to stagnate as the has-beens of the “cultural scene”.

Among the Western writers, Chekhov is the most outstanding example of consistent evolution. Thanks to the money men of commercial theater, many know him as the author of only Cherry Orchid, Three Sisters and Seagull. But his works are a legion. And they get better and more profound as the author ages.

Vladdimir Kataev has written one the most authoritative books on Chekhov accessible to layman. In fact, his “If Only We Could Know!” is so comprehensive that it is difficult to add anything original to it. Kataev explains that Chekhov’s writing is “about a discovery that destroys a previously held, superficial conception of life” and then adds elsewhere: “In Sakhalin [Island], Chekhov witnesses the terrifying extend of the evil prevailing in the world; but what he also realized was how carefully thought out and responsible any word of protest against that evil must be.”

That last comment brings us to the Goldman case.

I am not implying that Goldman is personified evil. On the contrary. The point is that comments that are not responsible and carefully thought-out would have absolutely no impact on the outcome, will achieve nothing and will go nowhere. That is the critical conclusion of a perceptive and mature social observer in his later years. It should not be taken lightly.

Goldman is a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.

Goldman is doing God’s work.

Goldman good.

No, bad.

We need to take an objective look at the case. That is why we study finance: to take an objective look at matters of finance.