Mediapart said [Aquilino Morelle] used the presidency’s chauffeurs to drive his son around; that a shoe-shine man was ordered to come to his office to take care of his 30 pairs of luxury shoes; that he dipped into the Elysee’s fine-wines cellar and that he spent most Fridays at a luxury Paris hammam. Mediapart also mentioned his rude attitude toward some Elysee staff.

Annals of Higher Ed

“I think greed is healthy,” [their speaker] told the graduating class at Berkeley’s business school in 1986. “You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” The speaker was Ivan Boesky, who shortly thereafter would be fined $100 million, and later go to prison, for insider trading.

Paul de Man: True Detective

[He] duly provides a résumé listing an imaginary master’s thesis (“The Bergsonian Conception of Time in the Contemporary Novel”) and an “interrupted” doctoral dissertation (“Introduction to a Phenomenology of Aesthetic Consciousness”). On a separate form, he describes his service [he was in fact a fascist collaborator] in a resistance group during the war…. When his transcript arrives, from the Free University of Brussels, he doctors it to appear that he got his degree…

University Diaries is always interested, as you know, in academic frauds – diploma mill grads, credentials-conjurers, etc. – and no one fits the bill better than Paul de Man. (UD was his student at the University of Chicago, and writes about it here.)

But Youth Wants to Know - What the hell? Why was he an academic God?

I don’t think it was his essays on literature, although the essays very cleverly reveal the way poetic assertions and poetic structures always seem uncontrollably to contain their own idea- and coherence-dissolving refutations. The essays very cleverly reveal the way this inescapable linguistic dissolution-operation applies just as much to the critic who thinks she’s interpreting literature as it does to the writer who thinks she’s creating literature. We think we’re using language to create meaningful fictive worlds and meaningful interpretations of those worlds, but we are being used by language. We are always trapped inside interminable sign-play, and all we can do is fashion more or less self-aware and intricate verbal fabulations, little mythic narratives about what’s going on in literature, the world, and our minds — narratives that reassure us that the world exists, we exist, beauty exists, meaning exists, moral conflict exists, consciousness exists. But we must be self-aware about all of this futility; we must never, as Peter Brooks puts it in describing de Man’s approach, take “the seductions of rhetoric as something in which to believe.” We must, indeed, de Man’s work and life seem to suggest, believe in nothing.

These essays were part of de Man’s immense charismatic appeal, in that they were the written address, if you will, of de Man’s broader, all-out assault on human consciousness. You could look it up there. You could go to the essays and delectate what Harold Bloom called de Man’s “serene linguistic nihilism.”

But de Man’s real appeal, I think (and I’m thinking about it because a new book full of evidence of de Man’s moral degeneracy has just come out and is being widely discussed) lies in his having embodied, for his time, first-rate absolute unswerving nihilism. Not just linguistic nihilism. Everything nihilism. Like America’s current wildly popular nihilist, the tv show True Detective‘s Rust Cohle, Paul de Man seems to have believed that, as Cohle puts it, “human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.”

Let’s be clearer about “consciousness.” We assume that we have a quality of self-reflective cerebral aliveness which can be trained to understand the world in clarifying and useful ways. We acknowledge that along with being clarifying and useful, consciousness can be a source of obfuscation and evil and false consolation and many other bad things. Yet few among us assume that because human consciousness can be monstrous as well as illuminating and transformative we must dedicate our lives to loathing it as tragic, and to revealing again and again its absurd insidious pointlessness.

And yet – all reflective people rightly take an interest in nihilism because all reflective people know what it feels like to have – at one point or another in your life – all of the supporting structures in your life collapse. We are drawn to – even seduced by – people we rightly identify as true nihilists or nihilistic in appearance (Amy Winehouse, Chet Baker) because we have room in our consciousness for the possibility that their brutal flattening of value and meaning might be right. A philosopher discusses Rust Cohle’s

meditation on the eyes of murder victims. The idea that they would have welcomed it, that they were being released, [chimes] well with many pessimists. [Rust's take on the murdered is] a visualization of what the pessimist ultimately holds — that death is to be welcomed…

Adam Phillips, a psychoanalyst, channels everyone’s nihilistic capacity when he says

These are parts of ourselves – that don’t want to live, that hate our children, that want ourselves to fail. Freud is saying there is something strange about humans: they are recalcitrant to what is supposed to be their project.

Cohle and de Man represent and represented true detectives of our collective latent nihilism; they’re on the case in our rats’ alleys where the dead men lost their bones, and they are taking notes.

In the latest New Yorker, Louis Menand quotes one of de Man’s colleagues calling him “a connoisseur of nothingness.” In an article written in 1989, when the dimensions of the de Man mess were just emerging, Frank Kermode describes critics influenced by de Man as “connoisseurs of the symmetry between the impossible and the necessary.” (Impossible to use language to posit meaning in a meaningless world; necessary to keep using and positing anyway.) UD would suggest that connoisseurship is the right way to enter into an explanation of de Man’s intellectual appeal. A good wine; a good nihilism. One wants to delectate this endgame. One should want to delectate this endgame, because it is a very serious and real thing. You can do it via Paul de Man quite adequately, and throughout his American adventures people excitedly intuited this about him.

Again, Heroin. And the Artist.

Just thinking out loud here about the theory that certain actors have no self – which makes them brilliant at playing other people, but leaves them dangerously empty at the end, as it were, of the day. These people – parasitically, I guess – use their successive roles to assume, to inhabit, an identity, but eventually their sense of emptiness draws them toward heroin as another (more reliable) filler…

See, first, druggy Peter Sellers:

[Jonathan] Miller — who had been a member of the “Beyond the Fringe” team, another 60s quartet influenced by Sellers and the Goons — called the actor “a receptacle rather than a person. And whatever parts he played completely filled the receptacle, and then they were drained out. And the receptacle was left empty and featureless. Like a lot of people who can … change their characters, he could do so because he hadn’t any character himself.” (Kubrick famously said, “There is no such person as Peter Sellers.”) [Peter] Hall adds this cogent caveat: “It’s not enough in this business to have talent. You have to have the talent to handle the talent, and that, I think, Peter did not have.”


Then see these thoughts on Philip Seymour Hoffman in the New Yorker:

[Sometimes] the price of remarkable creative vitality is a wasting away of mortality. Or, to put it another way: without the need to flee from pain by transfiguring it, you would not have the energy to endure the suffering, the solitude, and the uncertainty that are part and parcel of artistic expression.

This comes dangerously close, I know, to the banal romantic notion that all genuine artists must suffer, which is accurate only in the sense that people are by definition gregarious and that making art, even if you are an actor plunging, in public, down into your depths, is solitary, even asocial, in its untrammelled freedom. Still, the link between suffering and creativity seems less romantic than pragmatic. There is something to Aristophanes’ satiric parable in which humans were once whole and were then split down the middle, and thus spent their lives seeking their other half. We would not love or desire if we had everything we needed. Some artists, like Hoffman, would not escape into their creations if art did not mend what life had painfully shattered.

It’s a different model, I realize. Sellers, we hear from his friends (and he said it himself) had no self at all; Hoffman, by this account, had half of one.


UPDATE: Russell Brand:

In spite of his life seeming superficially great, in spite of all the praise and accolades, in spite of all the loving friends and family, there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedes all reason and that voice wants you dead. This voice is the unrelenting echo of an unfulfillable void.

More on Heroin…

… as long as we’re all thinking about it in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. This is from a review of a biography about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker:

In this book, heroin, as it takes over one musician after another, one scene, one city, one country (Gavin quotes the pianist René Urtreger estimating “that by the midfifties, 95 percent of the modern jazz players in France — himself included — were hooked”), is more than a plague, more than an endless horror movie, the reels running over and over, out of order, back to front (“It was like the Night of the Living Dead,” one fan tells Gavin of a Baker show in Paris in 1955. “Dark suits, gray faced, stoned out of their minds. Everything seemed strange to me, unhealthy. They were playing the music of the dead”). By the end — “Baker filled the syringe, then held it up. ‘Bob, you could kill a bunch of cows with this,’ he said. He plunged the needle into his scrotum.” – ”The man was a walking corpse,” the Rotterdam jazz hanger-on Bob Holland told Gavin. “He was living only for the stuff. Music was the last resort to get it” — it’s as if heroin itself has agency, and seeks out bodies to inhabit, colonize, and use up, not a substance but a parasitic form of life whose mission is to destroy its host, knowing that it can always leap to another. But the essential humanity of the host — his or her actual reality as someone who planted a foot on the planet before he or she left it, to be forgotten along with almost everyone else — is, in these pages, never reduced, whether it is that of Baker, or any of the musicians, friends, wives, or lovers trailing in his wake, those he knew and those he didn’t (from one dealer’s client list: “Bobby Darin, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Lenny Bruce, and the rock star Dion”), by 1981 “a growing trail of corpses.”

“Perkinsnacht,” the Wall Street Journal Calls It.

I plan to title my editorial response to the WSJ’s editorial Journalnacht.

If they come back at me hard and I have to escalate things, I’ll title the next round Wallstreetjournalpurgisnacht.

I am hoping a Mexican publication weighs in, so I can title my response Nachosnacht.

I am also hoping a fellow Rilkean weighs in, so I can title my response Gedichteandienacht.

Eventually, when all of this calms down and I write a mature summation, I will title it Stillenacht.

It’s not that this column “defend[s] Tom Perkins or his views…”

It’s that this column, which wants us to regard Perkins as a pathetic irrelevant old man who says stupid things, rather than as an important national voice saying something worth noticing, overlooks a fundamental fact about the Perkins story. As Paul Krugman writes:

You may say that this is just one crazy guy and wonder why The [Wall Street] Journal would publish such a thing. But Mr. Perkins isn’t that much of an outlier. He isn’t even the first finance titan to compare advocates of progressive taxation to Nazis. Back in 2010 Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, declared that proposals to eliminate tax loopholes for hedge fund and private-equity managers were “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

And there are a number of other plutocrats who manage to keep Hitler out of their remarks but who nonetheless hold, and loudly express, political and economic views that combine paranoia and megalomania in equal measure.


Eric Cantor:

There are politicians and others who want to demonize people that have earned success in certain sectors of our society. They claim that these people have now made enough, and haven’t paid their fair share. But, pitting Americans against one another tends to deflate the aspirational spirit of our people and fade the American dream.

Lawrence Kudlow, mocking the opposition:

“How dare they be successful earners and investors… Should we go out and shoot [the super-rich] for their success?”

Quotation of the Day.

“[Francois] Hollande is just a beret and a string of onions away from cementing global preconceptions of the nation indelibly.”


I’m giving thanks for what I just saw.

Just now, 7:33 in the morning, Thanksgiving Day, Rokeby Avenue, Garrett Park, Maryland:

I was sitting in the office reading, on the screen, E. B. White’s very short story, “The Second Tree from the Corner.” As I finished its last lines, I looked up to see a walloping big orange fox in my driveway.

She walked slowly – she loped – her nose somewhat to the ground, her eyes calm and thoughtful.

For the first time in my years of fox-watching… fox-glimpsing… here was a large slow meditative one, generously giving me a long shot of her glossy body, her elegant snout. She pondered, pondered, pondered, along my driveway, me all agog gazing, her thick tail grazing the paving. She pondered maybe the mice and voles and rats she’d rid us of that evening…

She loped then along the side path of flat gray pavers; wound along the curving mulch I packed down to make a trail through the back lawn…

And these paths that I’d made – they were hersShe knew them, used them, the paths I’d made for her dreaming feet (see Sunday Morning, the thanksgiving poem), and for my dreaming feet.

Finally the fox entered yet another path of mine, this one created by clearing leaves and twigs in a curving line through a little wood that dips and then rises toward the very back of my forest, where I’ve long known the foxes live.

Instead of disappearing into her den, she paused at the last place on the path my eyes could follow her, and she pondered again and placed her snout along the path and shook her tail. And then she went up into the deeper woods.


Thus she is, by the sheer coincidence of my happening to read White’s story in such a way as to have summoned her (I read it in search of a Thanksgiving story to which I could link you), my natural disturbance in the lovely scene, my gilt-edged excellence.

It was an evening of clearing weather, the Park showing green and desirable in the distance, the last daylight applying a high lacquer to the brick and brownstone walls and giving the street scene a luminous and intoxicating splendor. Trexler meditated, as he walked, on what he wanted. “What do you want?” he heard again. Trexler knew what he wanted, and what, in general, all men wanted; and he was glad, in a way, that it was both inexpressible and unattainable, and that it wasn’t a wing. He was satisfied to remember that it was deep, formless, enduring, and impossible of fulfillment, and that it made men sick, and that when you sauntered along Third Avenue and looked through the doorways into the dim saloons, you could sometimes pick out from the unregenerate ranks the ones who had not forgotten, gazing steadily into the bottoms of the glasses on the long chance that they could get another little peek at it. Trexler found himself renewed by the remembrance that what he wanted was at once great and microscopic, and that although it borrowed from the nature of large deeds and of youthful love and of old songs and early intimations, it was not any one of these things, and that it had not been isolated or pinned down, and that a man who attempted to define it in the privacy of a doctor’s office would fall flat on his face.

Trexler felt invigorated. Suddenly his sickness seemed health, his dizziness stability. A small tree, rising between him and the light, stood there saturated with the evening, each gilt-edged leaf perfectly drunk with excellence and delicacy. Trexler’s spine registered an ever so slight tremor as it picked up this natural disturbance in the lovely scene. “I want the second tree from the corner, just as it stands,” he said, answering an imaginary question from an imaginary physician. And he felt a slow pride in realizing that what he wanted none could bestow, and that what he had none could take away.

Inside the minds of two conspirators, in Don DeLillo’s JFK Novel, Libra.

He walked through empty downtown Dallas, empty Sunday in the heat and light. He felt the loneliness he always hated to admit to, a vaster isolation than Russia, stranger dreams, a dead white glare burning down. He wanted to carry himself with a clear sense of role, make a move one time that was not disappointed. He walked in the shadows of insurance towers and bank buildings. He thought the only end to isolation was to reach the point where he was no longer separated from the true struggles that went on around him.


Something about the time of year depressed him deeply. Overcast skies and cutting wind, leaves falling, dusk falling, dark too soon, night flying down before you’re ready. It’s a terror. It’s a bareness of the soul. He hears the rustle of nuns. Here comes winter in the bone. We’ve set it loose on the land. There must be some song or poem, some folk magic we can use to ease this fear.

From a John Judis article in The New Republic…

… titled The Last Days of the GOP.

What Washington business lobbyists say on-the-record about the House Republicans and about Tea Party activists pales before what they are willing to say if their names aren’t used. One former Republican staffer says of the anti-establishment groups, “They want to go in and fuck shit up. These non-corporate non-establishmentarian guys—that is exactly what they are doing. And the problem with that is obvious. What next? What happens after you fuck shit up?”

I have begun…


Mr UD’s homeland shows Europe how it’s done.

Ask around Poznan and residents offer all sorts of different explanations for [Poland's] recent [economic] success. Some say history has inured Poles to such drastic turns in their fortune that they enjoy life while they can, spending their hard-earned zlotys. Others say they learned to be resourceful under the hardship of Communism, where a company like Apart once had to buy old gold jewelry and melt it down before it could make a new ring or bracelet.

Mr. Niespodziany attributed it to a positive form of incompetence. “Even the crisis doesn’t work in Poland,” he joked.

Albert Camus in New York City

[Camus] fell in love several times over, notably with Patricia Blake, a 19-year-old student and Vogue apprentice. He read her pages from “The Plague” and she, in return, noting his fascination with the American way of death, found him issues of undertakers’ trade magazines — Sunnyside, Casket,and Embalmer’s Monthly. He particularly admired a funeral parlor ad: “You die. We do the rest.”

From an article about Camus and Sartre in New York.

“Lehrer had implied that a comment by Noam Chomsky had been told to him directly, when in fact the comment had originated in another journalist’s article published in the Technology Review.”

Readers will be reminded of the case of Johan Hari, a young hot British journalist who got much farther than Jonah Lehrer has along these lines.

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