Category Archives: California Culture

Commiefornia (415)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Being a communist would no longer be a fireable offense for California government employees under a bill passed Monday by the state Assembly.

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill to repeal part of a law enacted during the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s when fear that communists were trying to infiltrate and overthrow the U.S. government was rampant. The bill now goes to the Senate.

It would eliminate part of the law that allows public employees to be fired for being a member of the Communist Party.

Employees could still be fired for being members of organizations they know advocate for overthrowing the government by force or violence.

The bill updates an outdated provision in state law, said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, the San Francisco Bay Area Democrat who authored the measure.

Some Assembly Republicans said the Cold War-era law should not be changed.

Assemblyman Randy Voepel, a Southern California Republican who fought in the Vietnam War, said communists in North Korea and China are “still a threat.”

“This bill is blatantly offensive to all Californians,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Republican who represents a coastal district in Southern California. “Communism stands for everything that the United States stands against.”

California Unter Alles

Above: first wave punk rockers Dead Kennedys anti-anthem “California Über Alles“.

Below: link to an interesting article at SFBay Guardian on how California became the first US failed state– The Lesson of California–as well as another piece on the effects of neo-classical economics (i.e. neoliberalism) on the state and national economy, Killing the Dream.

Unsaid1 (calicult)

“The days run away like wild horses over the hills,” wrote Chas. Bukowsi– and he was right. The end of the semester functions as a caesura, a gap between phonemes, the white space separating words. Which is one way of saying that our lives– my life– are syntagmatic: a sentence begun not long ago headed inexorably toward some final punctuation, whether a modest, dignified period or mysterious ellipses. It’s cheap philosophy to say so, but crossing from one event into the next sometimes forces us to a minor crisis of indecision:

I do not know which to prefer, 
The beauty of inflections 
Or the beauty of innuendoes, 
The blackbird whistling 
Or just after.

I am learning to appreciate silence uncluttered by the vain compulsion to always speak. As much as I love the cursive of voices, most especially my own, a moment is revealed when the only sounds audible are the words that have not been said. What did we not say to each other? What did we forget?

In California Culture we didn’t come to terms with the fact that the subject of our study is legend: a vision the world once had in a dream– ultima thule, the western isles, a terrestrial paradise promising repletion and knowledge, a myth that led Ulysses (according to Lord Alfred Tennyson) 

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

We can hear the echo of an ancient impulse in the rhetoric of American expansionism from Bishop Berkeley’s “Westward the course of Empire takes its way” to Horace Greeley’s admonition “Go West young man.”  Berkeley’s famous line comes from his poem America, or the Muse’s Refuge: A Prophecy written before either California or the United States existed. Emanuel Leutze, a German immigrant, borrowed the phrase to title a painting completed during the first year of the Civil War. The West, California included, thus served as what we might think of as a ‘third space’ or an ‘other scene’– a place where sectional antagonisms would be worked through, as in Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian.

A Scanner Romantically (calicult)

Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Mist [1818]

You’ll have noticed by now that as a means of illustrating Fred/Bob Arctor’s increasing cognitive deficit Philip K. Dick injects a number of passages of German into A Scanner Darkly. In keeping with the theme of blaue blume, these interpolations all come from a Romantic strain in German culture: Goethe’s Faust, a poem by Heinrich Heine and the libretto of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

What this might tell us is that underneath the chain-store banality and late capitalist detritus of Dick’s dystopian Orange County there is an impulse, fragile and ambitious, to transcend that situation. Romanticism‘s obsession with mysticism and heightened states of consciousness find a somewhat degraded counterpart in the drug-fuelled delirium of Scanner’s characters.  The user of narcotics is, in some sense, a wanderer on a quest for Truth or Knowledge and runs many of the same risks as Goethe’s Faust, whose all-consuming desire to know the world in its totality leads him to make a contract with Mephistopheles. As with every deal with the Devil it is only a matter of time until the seeker, over-reaching, is destroyed.  

Here are translations of the German passages:

pages 175-6 (from Goethe):

“You instruments, of course, can scorn and tease

With rollers, handles, cogs, and wheels:

I found the gate. you were to be the keys;

Although your webs are subtle, you cannot break

the seals.

Page 179:

Why, hollow skull, do you grin like a faun?

Save that your brain, like mine, once in dismay

Searched for light day, but foundered in the heavy

dawn

And, craving truth, went wretchedly astray.

Page 181:

I’m like the worm that burrows in the dust,

Who, as he makes of dust his meager meal,

Is crushed and buried by a wanderer’s heel.

Page 183:

Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,

And one is striving to forsake its brother.

Unto the world in grossly loving zest,

With clinging tendrils, one adheres;

The other rises forcibly in quest

Of rarefied ancestral spheres.

Page 185:

Still this old dungeon, still a mole!

Cursed by this moldy walled-in hole

Where heaven’s lovely light must pass,

And lose its luster, through stained glass.

Confined with books, and every tome

Is gnawed by worms, covered in dust,

And on the walls….

Page 215 (from the Fidelio libretto):

LEONORA 
How cold it is in this underground vault! 

ROCCO 
This is only natural; it is so deep.

Page 261 (from Heine):

I, unfortunate Atlas! A whole world,

A monstrous world of sorrows I must carry.

I bear a weight unbearable; a burden 

That breaks the heart within me

As this is a short lyric poem the rest of it bears repeating:

Oh foolish heart, you have what you desired!

You would be happy, infinitely happy,

Or infinitely wretched, foolish heart.

And now– now you are wretched.

Blaue Blume (calicult)

Blaue blume means “blue flower,” an important symbol within German Romanticism representing a hunger for the infinite, sexual and spiritual desire, and a surplus of emotion. The philosopher Novalis writes of the blue flower in his unfinished work Heinrich von Ofterdingen. From the introduction:

The old people were already asleep; the clock was beating its monotonous tick on the wall; the wind blustered over the rattling windows; by turns, the chamber was lighted by the sheen of the moon. The young man lay restless in his bed; and thought of the stranger and his stories. “Not the treasures is it,” said he to himself, “that have awakened in me so unspeakable a desire; far from me is all covetousness; but the Blue Flower is what I long to behold. It lies incessantly in my heart, and I can think and fancy of nothing else. Never did I feel so before: it is as if, till now, I had been dreaming, or as if sleep had carried me into another world; for in the world I used to live in, who troubled himself about flowers? Such wild passion for a Flower was never heard of there. But whence could that stranger have come? None of us ever saw such a man; yet I know not how I alone was so caught with his discourse: the rest heard the very same, yet none seems to mind it. And then that I cannot even speak of my strange condition! I feel such rapturous contentment; and only then when I have not the Flower rightly before my eyes, does so deep, heartfelt an eagerness come over me; these things no one will or can believe.

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