Charles Swann: The Kind of High Finance Player / Homme d’Esprit the World Desperately Needs!

A Meditation on Marcel Proust’s main “In Search of Lost Time” – character and that personality’s High Finance angle

Et à tout moment elle [Mlle Odette de Crécy] demandait: “Qu’est-ce qu’il [Charles Swann] peut faire en ce moment? Si seulement il travaillait un peu! C’est malheureux, un garçon si doué, qu’il soit si paresseux.” (Marcel Proust: Du Côté De Chez Swann, Librairie Générale Française, 1992, p. 423)

The Canon of Western literature has regaled us with a sizable collection of fictitious personalities who have either chosen the financial industry as their professional mainstay or who have supported their lavish life-style in large measure through the proceeds of (earlier or current) money market activities.  Balzac’s Baron de Nucingen is one of those characters, as is Flaubert’s M. Dambreuse, Zola’s Aristide Saccard, Dreiser’s Frank Cowperwood, Dicken’s Mr. Merdle, Trollop’s Augustus Melmotte, DeLillo’s Eric Packer, Tom Wolfe’s Sherman McCoy, Musil’s Leo Fischel, Bernhard’s Georg Murau and Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman to name perhaps the most important of them.

Usually these fictitious bankers/traders/financiers are not portrayed as very likeable human beings. Authors mostly prefer them to be consumed with desires for wealth, splendor, debauchery and extravagance. Dishonesty and deceit therefore are often times part of the standard tool set of these characters. And sometimes they do not even shy away from crime and murder in order to pursue their goals.

Not always though are these financier-personalities presented as appalling individuals. Occasionally they even serve as positive, inspirational role models both to the author and the hero of the literary piece itself. Thomas Bernhard’s Uncle Georg in “Ausloeschung” (Extinction) is a case in point here. Not only does that Uncle Georg muster the courage to physically, emotionally and intellectually distance himself from the loaded, crypto-fascist provinciality of his Austrian family background, but his very different, sophisticated investor life-style also helps his nephew Franz-Josef to realize that an intelligent approach to money market speculation may well constitute a viable basis for a life devoted to philosophical reflection and erudition.

Such uplifting examples of financial market personalities in literature are, however, far and few in between. Clearly, the finance industry itself is quite a bit to blame for the negative press it has received in the upper echelons of Western art. The abuses, the digressions and the mistakes it is responsible for, not just in the 19th and early 20th century but to this day (see, for instance, the bloated and misguided current Trump bubble and/or the earlier subprime travesty), are substantial and considerable.

Despite all the distortions though which have been produced by the likes of Wall Street, the moral track record of the industry has a few more shades to it than high Western fiction generally has us believe.  And thankfully enough some literary giants are indeed willing to acknowledge this. Marcel Proust is one of them. His famous Charles Swann Jr. – character which is elaborated most prominently in the first volume (“Du Côté de chez Swann”) of Proust’s seven-part series “In Search of Lost Time” (1913 – 1927), isn’t just an example of a superbly refined, high-class intellectual, but he is also the archetype of a charming and cherished, world-savvy interlocutor/counselor to the high and mighty, the sort of which you usually only find (or used to find) in the most hand-picked circles of High Finance. Continue reading

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English gives you confidence, Hochdeutsch or High German, on the other hand, does just the opposite

An observation inspired by the British Parliament’s soul searching after Theresa May’s historic Brexit-vote defeat on Jan 15, 2019

Nun hats Preußen den Leuten in der Provinz nicht leicht gemacht. Dieser berliner Überlegenheitston, der die andern wie verständlich so maßlos reizt, diese törichte Attitüde, die sich aus Herrschergelüste, Überlegenheitsfimmel und Postenjägerei zusammensetzt, hat unendlich geschadet. Die Vormachtstellung Preußens muß fallen ….

Ignaz Wrobel (aka Kurt Tucholsky) : Berlin, Berlin; Die Weltbühne, 29.03.1927, Nr. 13, S. 499, https://tucholsky-gesellschaft.de/1927/03/29/ignaz-wrobel-berlin-berlin/

 

My dear native English speakers, we are terribly sorry to yet again have to clumsily hijack your fabulously versatile language here. But the post-Brexit-vote deliberations in the lobby of the British Parliament (which we happened to see on Sky News the other day) reminded us too much of the self-esteem travails our own “mother tongue” imposes on to us not to take the opportunity  to express our expatriate feelings to that effect one more time.

Obviously, it is quite remarkable that even in the moment of unprecedented national uncertainty British MPs still manage to express their thoughts on live TV without showing signs of distress, anguish or even panic. Watching their stellar performance we couldn’t help but ask ourselves if German MPs had kept a similar calm in the presence of international cameras, had it not been Britain’s fate that would be at stake here but Germany’s destiny instead. No doubt the mere fact that such interviews with German MPs would have had to be hesitantly translated into English by a faraway interpreter to make them intelligible for an international audience would have given the entire spectacle the flavor of a broadcast from Mongolia. In the British case, however, the coverage unfolded in a smooth and collected first-world manner. In fact, even the Right Honorable MP from East Antrim who laboriously pronounced his views in a heavy, tongue-tied Northern Irish accent still oozed so much natural confidence while speaking that we were quite sure that similar thoughts could never have been expressed with the same aplomb even in the most carefully crafted, subtly vocalized  “Hochdeutsch” (High German).

Of course, we recognize that it may not be clear to your average native English speaker from Kent or Sussex that language can have an impact on the self-esteem of any culturally sensitive debate participant. The towering importance which Britannia used to exude over the High Seas may stand in the way of that. For citizens from Clackmannanshire or Dumfries, though, the complicated psychological side effects of language are already somewhat tangible. For people from Noah denkt™’s neck of the woods, however, linguistic soul-searching, if not even dialect-due deference have become a full-blown way of life. Continue reading

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Oh no, Michel Houellebecq dons a Yellow Vest too!

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the French writer’s Trump defense

Trump is pursuing and amplifying the policy of disengagement initiated by Obama; this is very good news for the rest of the world. (…) The Americans are no longer prepared to die for the freedom of the press. Besides, what freedom of the press? Ever since I was twelve years old, I’ve watched the range of opinions permissible in the press steadily shrinking.(…) Unlike free-market liberals (who are, in their way, as fanatical as communists), President Trump doesn’t consider global free trade the be-all and end-all of human progress. When free trade favors American interests, President Trump is in favor of free trade; in the contrary case, he finds old-fashioned protectionist measures entirely appropriate. (…) President Trump doesn’t like the European Union; he thinks we don’t have a lot in common, especially not “values”; and I call this fortunate, because, what values? “Human rights”? Seriously? (…) It’s my belief that we in Europe have neither a common language, nor common values, nor common interests, that, in a word, Europe doesn’t exist, and that it will never constitute a people or support a possible democracy (see the etymology of the term), simply because it doesn’t want to constitute a people. In short, Europe is just a dumb idea that has gradually turned into a bad dream, from which we shall eventually wake up. “

Michel Houellebecq: Donald Trump Is a Good President. Harper’s Magazine, December 20, 2018

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): We are aware that Noah denkt™ is reluctant to come out of its self-imposed retirement from public debate and speak out again despite all the “macro garbage” and “manufactroversy” (see Salman Rushdie : The Golden House, 2017 ) that is engulfing us. But Michel Houellebecq’s Harper’s Magazine statements (“Trump is a good President”, December 20, 2018) forces us to confront you again. You probably read the pertaining article, didn’t you?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Yes, we did.

AE: To summarize Houellebecq’s position both in the Harper’s Magazine essay as well as in his literary work, it is probably fair to say that he is wary of the mass-market ignorance and hyperbole the post-modern civilization generates, that in his mind the opportunist free trade regime has a lot to do with this increasing absence of decency and refinement, and that a return to protectionist, nation-state policies might not be too big a mistake. Would Noah denkt™ agree with this characterization of Houellebecq’s views?

Nd: We would. The latter part, pertaining to the preferable return to protectionist, nation-state policies was nevertheless somewhat new to us. His novels so far did not explicitly suggest an anti-EU stance, for instance.

AE: So what does Noah denkt™ make of this latest, let’s call it, yellow-vest-evolution in Houellebecq’s thinking?

Nd: Well, it needs to be taken seriously. And that is true despite the lack of depth his views may exhibit in terms of historical perspective and economic analysis. If a fine, poetic French soul like his comes to these kinds of protectionist conclusions this clearly deserves attention. Obviously, there is no denying that liberalism, democracy and capitalism are in very dire straits at this point. Financial markets everywhere would crash if they weren’t being propped up by extremely blown-up central bank balance sheets. Companies more often than not have to push the legal limits in order to satisfy their investors’ revenue expectations (VW, Facebook, fiscal engineering etc.). Entrepreneurial can-do confidence usually receives VC funding only for dating, storing and “cornerjob” search applications. And voters by now are so tired of the usual set phrases repeated over and over again by their political class that they meanwhile prefer to vote for outright nutcases instead endorsing the same old rhetoric yet again. It is hence no wonder that people like Houellebecq ponder whether a fundamental switch away from UN/WTO internationalism might not bring some relief here?

AE: And what is Noah denkt™’s position in this? Obviously you have defended both the European Union and Houellebecq’s work in the past. Continue reading

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About Immature and Mature Artists : A Tale of two Wilhelms

Wilhelm Meister (J W Goethe) meets Wilhelm Adler (Saul Bellow) and others

Standing a little apart, Wilhelm began to cry. He cried at first softly and from sentiment, but soon from deeper feeling. He sobbed loudly and his face grew distorted and hot, and the tears stung his skin. A man—another human creature, was what first went through his thoughts, but other and different things were torn from him. What’ll I do? I’m stripped and kicked out . . . Oh, Father? What do I ask of you? What’ll I do about the kids—Tommy, Paul? My children. And Olive? My dear. Why, why, why—you must protect me against that devil who wants my life. (…)

The flowers and lights fused ecstatically in Wilhelm’s blind, wet eyes; the heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. It poured into him where he had hidden himself in the center of a crowd by the great and happy oblivion of tears. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day, 1956

 

You’ll get right away why the following story caught our attention and why we ran with it. After all, it’s a tale of two Bills, Wils or Wilhelms. Both of them dream of being famous. Both of them want to make in the art world. And both of them eventually leave the arts behind after having failed therein or having found it seriously wanting. We are talking here about Saul Bellow’s Wilhelm Adler, aka Tommy Wilhelm in Seize the Day (1956) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-96). Obviously, there are serious differences between the two of them. Mr. Meister has a credible enthusiasm and interest in theater from Day 1 while Tommy gets into acting only after a fraudulent talent scout talks him into pursuing a screen actor’s career in Hollywood. And while Tommy fails in his Hollywood stint quite miserably, Mr. Meister does in fact have some noticeable success therein.

The bottom line however is that both protagonists enter the art world without having adequately reflected on themselves and without having had a serious immersion into the real world of labor before pursuing their artistic calling. In this they differ somewhat noticeably from Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1800 /1802) which was crafted at the time to be a stellar counter-piece to Wilhelm Meister. Novalis felt that Goethe had put the validity and legitimacy of the poetic profession in such serious doubt through the publication of the Wilhelm Meister story that it bordered on destroying it altogether.  Hence, Novalis’ attempt to rescue the dignity and indispensability of the poetic calling by offering an alternative pro-poetry piece to the Wilhelm Meister pitch. And there are in effect significant differences in the route that Mr. von Ofterdingen takes into the arts. He doesn’t jump into poetry right away. Instead he goes on a journey first which leads him to spend (albeit not enough) time in studying the military and commercial job reality before finally settling on becoming a writer. There is consequently a bit of a chance that Mr. von Ofterdingen will be exercising the poetic profession with a balanced mind and not fall victim therein of his own lofty and narcissistic needs.  The latter is however exactly what happens to both Tommy Wilhelm and Wilhelm Meister. They are both driven by some shiny and woolly ideas of fame and beauty. And they both realize eventually that neither of the two can be had by way of an escapist pursuit.

In fact, Bellow is very convincing when pointing out in his novel that an earth-shaking Jesus Christ-all-is-lost moment (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Matthew 27.46) is pretty much indispensable for any artist, and perhaps for any human being, to reach the sort of personal that is indeed necessary to provide a meaningful original contribution. “A true soul”, he (Bellow) has the otherwise quite ambivalent Dr. Tamkin say, “is the one who must pay. It suffers and consumes itself, and realizes that a false soul cannot be loved. Because it is an imposture. A true soul likes the truth. And when a true soul is in that state it wants to kill the false soul. Love has turned into hatred. It is then when we become dangerous. We are capable of killing. We have to kill who cheats us.” (p.128)  And a few pages later Tamkin continues: “In reality, you have a deep personality and have great creative abilities, but you also have emotional disorders.” (p.130) (These quotes are our translation from a Spanish language edition of “Seize the Day”. See footnote *) In other words, Tommy, just like Mr. Meister, will first have to weed out and kill his “emotional disorders”, i.e. his narcissism in an “all-is-lost”-crisis before he can hope with some legitimacy that fate, reason and balance will ultimately be on his side.   Continue reading

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Napoléon III versus Trump I

Review of our forecasting performance in 2017, inspired by Émile Zola’s 1871 novel “The Kill”

It’s the time of the year again, when Noah denkt™ looks back on the year gone by to qualify its economic forecasting acumen. This year however this poses somewhat of a problem. Sadly, we have hardly made any economic predictions throughout the year other than maintaining our view that the Trump presidency will ultimately do more damage to the economy than help it. In fact, we have been so turned off by the knee-jerk reaction of the stock market to the rambling goodies delivered by Trump Presidency (tax cuts, government spending, deregulation) that we couldn’t even focus on the economic coverage any more. Instead we have immersed ourselves in studying the analytical expertise of literary luminaries such as Honoré de Balzac or Henry Miller to find some intellectual reprieve from the socio-economic deterioration of which the Trump White House is only a symptom not the cause.  It therefore comes in handy for this year’s year-end review that we are just finishing the reading of Émile Zola’s 1871 novel “The Kill” (“La Curée”). There are such serious similarities in this novel to our present time that we simply cannot resist in including it in our annual evaluation exercise.

“The Kill” which is the second book in Émile Zola’s 20 volume series “Les Rougon-Marquarts” talks about the rise of a Paris financier (Aristide Saccard) during the real estate boom years of the 1860s in Paris. It describes how a self-obsessed Emperor (Napoléon III) flooded the city with capital in the vain attempt to glorify himself with the specter of brilliance and adventurism. It details how subject financial narcissism unleashed the “animal instincts” (Jamie Dimon) in the Parisian financial community and it has us understand how such mindless greed eventually ended in tears once the fundamental strategic miscalculations of the Napoléon reign came to light in the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.

Now, to be frank, Zola’s book is not first and foremost an economic study of the causes that led to the Long Depression in the 1870s. His work is primarily a socio-psychological analysis of the Saccard family and the circles they move in. “The Kill” consequently ends three years before the Napoléon daydream finally comes undone.  At that time, Mr. Saccard’s fortune’s are still by and large intact. And yet the ominous signs of the later breakdown of the entire financial system are already there to see for those who want to see them. The Moroccan Port Company had just failed miserably, the Bank “Crédit mobilier” had crashed and Napoléon III’s 1862 Mexico invasion had ended a year earlier in a shameful and humiliating retread. So by 1867 the Emperor himself is already talking about “some black spots that are darkening the French horizon” (see footnote*). Zola specifically refers to that famous Napoléon III speech of Aug 27, 1867 in his description of the Cotillion dance during the final ballroom spree hosted by Aristide Saccard and his wife Renée (see footnote**).  It is hence fair to say that there are ample allusions in Zola’s work to the fact that the intellectual deficiencies of the Napoléonic leadership will ultimately cause a serious bust in the French society and financial system. Here is the most important reference to that effect:   [For our own English translation of the following excerpt, please see footnote *** ]

“A cette heure, Paris offrait, pour un homme comme Aristide Saccard, le plus intéressant des spectacles. L’Empire venait d’être proclamé, apres ce fameux voyage pendant lequel le prince-président avait réussi à chauffer l’enthousiasme de quelques départements bonapartistes. Le silence s’était fait à la tribune et dans les journaux. La société, sauvée encore une fois, se felicitait, se reposait, faisait la grasse matinée, maintenant qu’un gouvernement fort la protégeait  et lui ôtait jusqu’au souci de penser et de régler ses affaires. La grande préoccupation de la sociéte était de savoir à quels amusements elle allait tuer le temps. Selon l’heureuse expression d’Eugène Rougon, Paris se mettait à table et rêvait gaudriole au dessert. La politique épouvantait, comme une drogue dangereuse. Les esprits lassés se tournait vers les affaires et les plaisirs. Ceux qui possédaient déterraient leur argent, et ceux qui ne possédaient pas cherchaient dans les coins les trésors oubliés. (…) Dans le grand silence de l’ordre, dans la paix aplatie du nouveau règne, montaient toutes sortes de rumeurs aimables, de promesses dorées et volupteuses. (…) L’Empire allait faire de Paris le mauvais lieu de l’Europe. Il fallait à cette poignée d’aventuriers que venaient de voler un trône un règne d’aventures, d’affaires véreuses, de consciences vendus, de femmes achetées, de soûlerie  furieuse et universelle. Et, dans la ville ou le sang de décembre était à peine lavé, grandissait, timide encore, cette folie de jouissance qui devait jeter la patrie au cabanon des nations pourris et déshonorées.

Aristide Saccard, depuis les premiers jours, sentait venir ce flot montant de la speculation, don’t l’écume allait couvrir Paris entire. Il en suivit les progress avec une attention profonde. Il se trouvait au beau milieu de la pluie chaude d’écus tombant dru sur les toits de la cité. (Émile Zola: La Curée, Pocket 1990, ISBN 978-2-266-19802-8, p 82-83) Continue reading

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Henry Miller: A Different Kind of Silence Breaker

An essay on Henry Miller triggered by Charlie Rose’s sex scandal and the #Metoo Campaign

The same day we learned that US news icon Charlie Rose had been fired by CBSNews and PBS on substantiated allegations that he too of all people may have sexually harassed female co-workers our literary pursuit had us stumble upon the following text:

[I]did the work of five men at a time. In three years I hardly slept. I did not have a single shirt in good condition (…)

The best of the new approach was the introduction of female telegram messengers. It transformed the entire atmosphere on the premises. Especially for Hymie [my assistant who assigns the new hires to the various offices] this was a gift from heaven. (…) Despite the increase in work, he had a permanent erection. … At the end of the day, I always had a list of five or six [female applicants] that were worth trying. The trick was to keep them in uncertainty, promise them a job, and get laid in the process. In general, it was enough to invite them to eat, to take them back to the office at night and go after them on the zinc-covered table in the dressing room. If, as sometimes happened, they had a cozy flat, we would take them home and finish the party in bed.

(see footnote *)

This is an excerpt from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, a semi-autobiographical novel which was originally published in 1939 and banned in the US until 1961. In the age of the Matt Lauer et al. sex scandal, it isn’t easy to take note of a passage like this without considering it twice. After all, we are talking about an unabashed description of a sexual harassment here. And subject description is even included in a piece of art which undoubtedly forms part of the US canon of literature. So what is going on here? Is this another example of men dominating what is considered to be legitimate art, i.e. another example of male insensitivity towards the needs and rights of women? Or does art get a free pass here because it is considered to be a mind-game only?

Before we get too excited though about Miller’s daring prose we need to put it into perspective. Tropic of Capricorn is above all a novel about the existential challenges a writer has to face in order to discover his artistic calling and then run with. Miller explains that his effort to survive as an employee in the American economy pushed him to such a point of despair that he had to consider suicide before finding the guts to bank on the artistic capacity he had earlier diagnosed in himself (On the connection between considering suicide and becoming a writer see also our own “Businessplan Existenzphilosoph” on this). So, the novel is first and foremost about Miller’s own self- resurrection from near-annihilation. On a second tier it is also about the inhumanity of human existence in general and in New York in particular. According to Miller the capitalist reality in New York likes to pretend that everything’s running fine and smoothly when it actually “stinks from within”(**). Hence the excruciating devastation he experiences when trying to make a living there in a run-of-the-mill fashion. Only in a third tier, finally, Tropic of Capricorn is also about explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. Clearly, these different layers of the book are interconnected with each other and they influence one another.  But it wouldn’t be right to say that Tropic of Capricorn is mainly about sex or loose talk about it. It is a contemplation of life, – at times poetic, at times direct -, that naturally includes the portrayal of sexual encounters which clearly are an essential part of human existence.  And this is precisely one of the aspects which explain Miller’s inclusion into the canon of literature.  We have to bear in mind that all talk about sex was effectively taboo in the Victorian and pre-Wilsonian ages.   The topic was considered to be dirty and salacious. And taking issue with this uptight and potentially dangerous silence on one of the most powerful aspects of human nature is a big part of the social liberation fight that is being waged after World War I and in the 20s of the last century. Henry Miller is part of that liberation movement and breaks new ground here. Others will later follow in his footsteps and will face considerably less obstacles in discussing intimate aspects of their life and how they impacted their evolution. Continue reading

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Who can succeed Chancellor Merkel in Germany?

Observations on the failure of the four-party-coalition talks in Germany

La création du premier être, premier représentant d’une nouvelle espèce intelligente créée par l’homme  “à son image et sa ressemblance”, eut lieu le 27 mars 2029, vingt ans pour jour après la disparition de Michel Djerzinski. Toujours en hommage à Djerzinski, et bien qu’il n’y ait aucun Francais dans l’équipe, la synthèse eut lieu dans le laboratoire de l’Institut de biologie moléculaire de Palaiseau. La retransmission télévisée de l’évènement eut naturellement un impact énorme – un impact qui dépassait même de très loin celui qu’avait eu, une nuit de juillet 1969, près de soixante ans plus tôt , la retransmission en direct des premiers pas de l’homme sur la Lune.. En prélude au reportaje Hubczejak prononça un discours très bref où, avec la franchise brutale qui lui était habituelle, il déclara que l’humanité  devait s’honorer d’être “la première espèce animale de l’univers connu à organiser elle-même les conditions de son propre remplacement”.

Aujourd’hui, près de cinquante ans plus tard, la réalité a largement confirmé la teneur prophétique des propos d’Hubczejak – à un point, même, que celui-ci n’aurait probabalment pas soupçonné. Il subsiste quelques humains de l’ancienne race, en particulier dans les régions restées longtemps soumises à l’influence des doctrines religieuses traditionelles. Leur taux de reproductions, cependant, diminue d’année en année, et leur extinction semble à présent inéluctable. Contrairement à toutes les prévisions pessimists, cette extinction se fait dans la calme, malgr’e quelques actes de violences isolés, don’t le nombre va constamment décroissant. On est même surpris de voir avec quelle douceur, quelle resignation, et peut-être quell secret soulagement les humains ont consenti à leur propre disparition.

Michel Houellebecq: Les Particules élémentaires, Flammarion 1998, pages 315f

 

In the early hours of Monday, Nov. 20, Germany’s Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) officially tanked all efforts by Chancellor Merkel to form a four-party-coalition government in Germany. This unprecedented move by the FDP may well signal the beginning of the end of Ms. Merkel’s otherwise formidable rule over political affairs in Germany and in Europe. It is hence time to introduce to our international audience the candidate within Ms. Merkel’s center-right CDU who is most suited to eventually succeed her both as president of the party and as Chancellor of Germany. The person that comes to mind here first and foremost is Germany’s current Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen. What kind of person is she? And does she have what it takes to live up to the awesome legacy that Ms. Merkel is leaving behind?

If Prof. Stephen Hawking and French author Michel Houellebecq are correct in predicting that the future of mankind will largely depend on its ability to substitute itself by a scientifically created human race, then Ursula von der Leyen clearly represents the next step in man’s evolution towards a flawless cyborg. Her hairdo never moves an inch. Her composure rarely comes undone.  And her body has withstood the test of time and motherhood without apparent sign of wear and tear. Not just has she given birth and raised 7 children, she also found time to gain a PHD in Medicine and a Master degree in Public Health. She spent time in Stanford, California, studied at the London School of Economics and speaks English and French with stunning ease and fluency. In short, she is a perfect combination between Evelyn Waugh’s Lady Marchmain (Brideshead Revisited), TV Azteca’s Patty Chapoi (Ventaneando) and The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart (Christine Baransky); or to put it in more colloquial terms, she, Ursula von der Leyen, is a captivating blend of what is most noticeable in Ann Coulter, Nancy Reagan, Bree Van de Kamp and Claire Underwood.

If she herself is, however, an improbable product of perfection, we have to admit that this article on her is just as much an engineered hybrid. Continue reading

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Starbucks is no place for Wittgenstein’s Nephew

An essay on the importance of coffee shops in the digital era

In his 1982 novel “Wittgenstein’s Nephew” the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard spends a lot of ink on the difficulties that cerebral guys of the literary kind (“Geistesmenschen”, in German, something like “thinkers” in English) have to locate the right place to read in public.  Obviously his plot is set in Vienna which can boast of a large variety of coffee shops (“Kaffeehaeuser”) which to this day breathe the peace and qualm of a bygone era. And yet even in the Vienna of the 1980s Bernhard’s hero has the hardest time to find a place that matches his needs in order to pursue his studies. While one place is too dark for extensive reading, others are too crowded by the hipsters of the time and in yet another one the waiters are too narcissistic and obnoxious for reasonable people to actually be able to forget about their presence.  In the end Bernhard resigns himself to the fact that of this many coffee houses in Vienna there is in essence only one place and one only where the mix of light, noise, space and comfortableness is just right for brainy guys to muse on their observations about life. In his case it’s the Coffee House of the Sacher Hotel that he finally settles for.

Now, if Bernhard was wrestling with this issue back in the 80s imagine the difficulties philosophical analysts of the digital age have to find their spot in the turbulent chaos of our times.  First there is the challenge to uncover a piece of literature that can still add relevant insights to the vast sample of interpretations that our modern day poet is already familiar with. And if against all odds, he or she does in deed tumble on a worthwhile source of inspiration then chances are that an adequate place of rest for a sustained analysis of subject offering is pretty much nowhere in sight.

 

The difficulty large rests on the fact that the Starbucks outlets and all its various off-springs aren’t a viable alternative here. First, the few empty chairs usually available in these joints are generally not upholstered. So it is hard to sit on them for a protracted period of time. Then there is this ridiculous problem of the air-conditioning at least in the megalopolis that we find ourselves in. It is usually so cold in these places that you need to bring along a hat, a sweater and better even a scarf only to cover yourself against the insistent jet of air coming from above. But even if it weren’t the air-conditioning that would lower temperatures below the point of comfort, the stellar presence of the uber-cool tech generation already does enough to freeze you up inside.  So while your eyes keep watering and your back is hurting, the unabashed ease of being of the Babettes and Leas from iPhoneland can’t help but remind you what a marginalized loser of yesteryear you really are. How are you supposed to concentrate in circumstances like these which have your self-consciousness run amuck? Continue reading

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To all those who have fallen through the cracks

 

How Noah denkt overcame its futility trap !

« Cela dit survivre [comme poète] est extrêmement difficile. On pourra penser à  adopter une stratégie à la Pessoa : trouver un petit emploi ne rien publier, attendre paisiblement la mort. En pratique on ira au-devant de difficultés importantes : sensation de perdre son temps, de ne pas être à sa place, de ne pas être estimé à sa vraie valeur … tout cela deviendra vite insoutenable. L’alcool sera difficile à éviter. En fin de compte l’amertume et l’aigreur seront au bout du chemin, vite suivies par l’apathie, et la stérilité créatrice complète. Cette solution a donc des inconvénients, mais c’est en générale la seule. Ne pas oublier les psychiatres, qui disposent de la faculté de donner des arrêts de travail. Par contre, le séjour prolongé en hôpital psychiatrique est à proscrire : trop destructeur. On ne l’utilisera qu’en dernier ressort, comme alternative à la clochardisation. »

Michel Houellebecq : Restant Vivant méthode, Chapitre 3 : Survivre, Éditions Flammarion 1997, rééditer dans Michel Houellebecq, Poésie, J’ai lu, 2000, pages 21, 22

 

Noah denkt  has been quite open about the Buddhist and Schopenhauer inspired creativity hole that it had recently dug itself into. It now feels though as if we are slowly growing out of it again. Why is that?

 

Well, it is dawning on us that what we are doing in this project really needs to be done. Someone out there does indeed have to demonstrate that wisdom can still impose itself and break through without having to hawk itself, to market itself or otherwise make some noise about itself. Because this is what our hysteric and overcrowded digital marketplace truly demands. After all, there are too many talented people out there that have lost faith in the self-imposing quality of wisdom. And hence it is this lack of hope that drives too many of them into all sorts of destructive and addictive behavior, be it of the narcotic or the extremist kind.

 

If we are therefore serious about minimizing the level of violence and despair that our hyper-competitive world creates evidence is required that convincingly demonstrates that sensible philosophic and poetic proposals can still break through even if they are proffered by otherwise inconspicuous and unlikely creators.

 

Standard wisdom, obviously, has it that serious, market-relevant proposals of the non-technical kind can only come from sources that have major academic credentials to back them up. Poetic souls, however, who strive for existential wisdom can rarely boast of said stellar academic recognition. After all, it is in the very nature of existential wisdom that the limits of institutional conformity, professional career building and standard approaches need to be challenged and explored in order to come to itself. In other words, many of these uniquely talented poetic souls are simply too shy, too caught up with themselves or too much in a cloud of their own to perform with ease and confidence in the standard structures that society has provided them with to find their livelihood. A large majority of wisdom seekers consequently finds itself sooner or later in a dead-end professional street where there is seemingly no viable exit left to live a full creative life and be successful with it. This is why many of them end up in violent despair.

 

Of course, one can only always argue that a talented mind who cannot find a creative way to overcome his predicament is not worth his salt. After all, it is the inevitable confrontation with existential barrenness and nothingness and the original resolution of that which produces meaningful truth. Subject argument however downplays the sheer unsurmountable weight which a highly pervasive science-based culture places on the shoulders of an existential philosophic project. Never before has the science-based risk calculation been more pervasive than a in the age of the Human Genome Project and the Hadron Super Collider. Decision makers, opinion leaders and even spiritual authorities everywhere are therefore hard pressed to find reasonable philosophical arguments that could sustain a sanity threatening contradiction of the consensus view in the pertaining expert community. In other words, it has effectively become a near-suicidal undertaking to reach the depth of reasoning that can sensibly voucher for an existential and poetic risk taking of “the hope against all hope” kind (Romans 4:16). In any case all encouragement along the way is highly welcome. And this is especially true if the latter should come from a fellow and congenial mind.

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Heavy handed police tactics against regular people

A two-for-one comment on the Catalan referendum and the German migration problem

Yesterday, on the night of the Catalan independence referendum, Noah denkt™ felt a strong urge to add its voice to the ample commentary about Spain’s inapt response to that regional vote. A day later on Oct. 2, however, this German-based project faces itself with the question of how can it reasonably mingle into domestic issues in other countries when it hasn’t addressed the disastrous rise of the far-right (AfD) in its home territory (see the German national elections of Sept. 24)

THE RISE OF GERMANY’S FAR-RIGHT

Now, obviously, we could hide behind our EU-citizenship here and argue that Spanish domestic matters are EU-matters too. But that would still dodge the AfD-issue which clearly warrants a forthright response as well. The reason why we haven’t given our two-sense on this yet has to do with the fact that we still haven’t found a viable solution to the massive refugee crisis that Germany and Europe are being confronted with. There is no doubt in our mind that the rise of the AfD in Germany is a consequence of the large and disorderly intake of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015. Obviously, this intake has put a strain on social coherence in Germany. Not only is it difficult to see how such a serious number of people originating not just from other countries but from other continents can be successfully integrated into German society; but it’s equally unclear whether the asylum seeking process was the right conduit in the first place to address the Facebook migration reality. Hence, we are left in this matter with the underlying question of what the concept of humanity and humanitarianism actually requests of post-modern civilized societies. The Pope obviously argues that religious and humanitarian convictions dictate that all emergency migrants should be welcomed with open arms in Europe irrespective of the integration challenges that such an open access policy entails. Legal scholars (and AfD supporters) on the hand maintain that the asylum law refers to political persecution by state agencies only and that not any ole’ emergency can constitute a legal basis for granting asylum. In this conundrum Michel de Montaigne (1533 to 1592) may remind us that the adepts of Greek stoicism regarded the inclination for compassion and pity as reprehensible; instead they were willing to help the afflicted when being made aware of them but always insisting on not being emotionally affected by the victim’s plight. (Michel de Montaigne: The Essays, Chapter one, see: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2H_4_0019)

Noah denkt™ is inclined to take its cues from Stoicismin this matter. We share the belief that meaningful help can only be granted if it’s done without a bleeding heart since the latter would only abuse of the victim’s pain in order to thereby remedy the rescuer’s personal trauma experiences in the past.

What all that means in practice though for dealing with people who attempt to cross the Mediterranean on ramshackle boats without having suffered systematic persecution by state authorities in their home country is a different matter. Should they be rescued and taken back right away to the African shores? Does due process really require an honest personalized evaluation of each individual’s request for political asylum complete with a right to appeal to the courts if the first step evaluation does not produce the migrant’s preferred result? Or is it thirdly fair to hope that a new immigration law would slow the flow of destitute people to Europe and thereby avoid humanitarian disasters on the Mediterranean Sea?

Of course, governments have already trimmed down the due process requirements for repatriation of rejected asylum seekers. And new immigration law concepts are already being discussed in most European countries including Germany. Nevertheless, the underlying humanitarian question which the spectacle of desperate migrants raises continues to be philosophically and ethically unanswered. In this moral  quagmire, Noah denkt™ has so far rejected to take a position arguing that if the Pope cannot get it right how can this outfit possibly aspire to achieve just that. But we also have to recognize that our failure to take sides in this debate is jeopardizing the continuation of this project. This is why we have now decided to join the ranks of those who call for the introduction of a new immigration law, a more rigorous repatriation of rejected asylum seekers and a trimming down of the due process requirements for the evaluation of asylum seeking petitions. We don’t like that but the rise of the far-right in Germany (of all countries!) requires some policy adjustments. If they will ultimately resolve the bigger issues is another matter though. But let’s take this step by step and leave the remainder of this article to the Catalan issue instead. After all, there is a humanitarian element in this debate as well.

THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

It seems to us that if you didn’t really understand up until now why Catalans are so adamant about gaining more respect/autonomy and/or independence from the Spanish state, the images of Spain’s Guardia Civil using rubber bullets against otherwise regular Catalan voters may have provided some answers here. The spectacle which the Spanish Federal Police offered to an international audience on Oct. 1, 2017 was a disgrace not just for Spain but for the entire European Union. It may well have been that the Catalan government was hoping to produce this kind of images when insisting on following through with its uneasy referendum in the first place. The fact however that the Rajoy government has fallen into this trap speaks to the latter’s lack of sensitivity, adroitness and flexibility in this matter. And it is quite likely that it is the very same heavy-handedness which we have seen yesterday from Madrid which has over the centuries and in recent past reignited Catalonia’s desire for independence in the first place. It is, therefore, a huge disappointment for everybody who loves Catalonia and Spain alike to see that Madrid once again made the same mistake and insisted on orthodox legalism when subtlety and nimbleness would have been required.

From a Northern European perspective it is hard to see now how Mr. Rajoy whose pro-austerity policies we have otherwise staunchly defended over the years can stay in power without calling for snap general elections. Clearly, the sad images of riot police tearing Catalan women by their hair cannot be processed in a business as usual manner. Serious soul searching is now called for and it seems to us that the European Union has a role to play here.

When decrying robust police tactics in this case, Noah denkt™ is well aware that our project was way more generous with rough police tactics when commenting on the use of tear gas by German police against protesters of the Stuttgart-21 construction project. So some readers may be tempted to argue that our stances are contradictory here. But they aren’t. The Stuttgart-21 dispute was about the construction of an ambitious new train station. There wasn’t a historically charged background to this. No cultural minority felt marginalized here. And no rights of national recognition were being trampled upon. So the intent to defend the law was in deed quite unambiguous then. This unambiguity however is not as manifest in the case of Catalonia. The Rajoy government is not just defending the law here, it is also defending the reach of its own power. The legality argument is therefore not only about preserving the spirit of law but also a convenient vehicle for Madrid to safeguard its own interest. That is why less fervor in the application of the legality argument would be very much warranted.

Likewise the Catalans should understand that their political class is still not experienced and mature enough to lead Catalonia into a prosperous independence. Whenever Noah denkt™ has had the opportunity to listen to Catalan leaders speaking to an international audience in their own native language the eventual voice over by a challenged interpreter made the entire presentation seem like a third-world experience. And it is the provinciality of Catalan leaders which is ultimately to blame for that. A mutually satisfying middle ground along the erstwhile Zapatero plan should therefore be found by both parties to smooth the tensions between Madrid and Barcelona. And please, just do it for the benefit of all of us.

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