The Anatomy of Revolution

CASTRO MOVES INTO THE HAVANA HILTON

BY SANDRA M. CASTILLO

[To mark his death, UD looks at this poem, which reflects on the ironies of history and the disastrous tendencies of revolutions. The title alludes to Castro having in victory taken over and reclaimed the very Batista-esque Hilton Hotel, renaming it Free Havana.]

“History always dresses us for the wrong occasions.”
—Ricardo Pau-Llosa


[Scruffy guerrillas from the hills crowd into the plush Hilton.]

Camera Obscura

[The whole poem will concern itself with obscurity, enigma — the ungraspability of the meaning of historical events and world-historical figures. Part of the problem, it will suggest, is precisely the images through which we try to take in the real world.]

The afternoon lightening his shadow,
Fidel descends from the mountains,
the clean-shaven lawyer turned guerilla,
his eyes focused on infinity,
El Jefe Máximo con sus Barbudos,
rebels with rosary beads


[History once again seems to dress us wrong – anti-clerical revolutionaries retaining their rosary beads.]

on their 600-mile procession across the island
with campesinos on horseback, flatbed trucks, tanks,
a new year’s journey down the oldest roads
towards betrayal.


[Towards betrayal. The revolution will be betrayed. Betray itself.]

Ambient light. Available light

[We always have very partial knowledge. We move by what’s available to us in terms of understanding, but it’s never enough.]

Light inside of them,
nameless isleños line El Malecón to touch Fidel,
already defining himself in black and white.
The dramatic sky moving in for the close-up
that will frame his all-night oratory,
he turns to the crowd,
variations on an enigma,
waving from his pulpit with rehearsed eloquence,
a dove on his shoulder.


[First the references to the rosary, and now, in this stanza, many suggestions that this “faith” (Fidel) revolution is really a slightly transposed religious event – variations on an enigma – with people lining up to touch their deity, who dresses like a priest in black and white. He speaks from a “pulpit” and sports a dove.]

This is a photograph. This is not a sign.

[People stubbornly “symbolize” reality, a process by which a revolutionary leader becomes a god.]

Flash-on camera. Celebrity portraits.

1. Fidel on a balcony across the street
from Grand Central Station,
an American flag above his head,
New York, 1959.

2. Fidel made small by the Lincoln Memorial,
Washington D.C., 1959.

3. Fidel learning to ski,
a minor black ball against a white landscape,
Russia, 1962.

4. Fidel and shotgun,
hunting with Nikita,
Russia, 1962.

Circles of Confusion

Beyond photographs,
Havana is looted and burned.
Women weep at our wailing wall,
El Paredón, where traitors are taken,
and television cameras shoot
the executions, this blood soup,
the paradoxes of our lives,
three years before I am born.

[Random photographic images trace Fidel’s reduction to a celebrity – or, if you like, the process by which the revolution’s strongman becomes a kitschy version of god – while the rest of the religious story plays out as well: The wailing wall where we mourn the loss or theft of the original faith; the devolution of divine passion into inquisition. But it’s a modern inquisition – it’s all photographed and filmed.]

Photoflood


[A photoflood is a lamp that sheds intense illumination in order to produce artificial light for photography and filming. The only form of true lucidity available to us is the artificial brilliance we rig up in order to “flood” the world with yet more images.]

But it is late afternoon,
and a shower of confetti and serpentine
falls from every floor of the Havana Hilton,
where history is a giant piñata,
where at midnight, Fidel will be photographed
eating a ham sandwich.


[This final stanza returns us – after the poem’s meditation on history and revolution – to the narrative immediacy with which the poet began. We are back at the Hilton, and celebrations of the revolution’s victory take place. Of course, given the treacherous and enigmatic nature of such events, they are “serpentine.” The last lines make everything explicit: history is a nightmare of chaos and grief, a great violent shaking up which nonetheless can be seen to smuggle back in precisely the cultural realities that inspired the revolution in the first place. Its final image has Castro – at midnight, the darkest hour – fully reduced by the camera and celebrity culture: he is pictured eating a ham sandwich.]

Castro…

dies.

View from my Thanksgiving Table

20161124_135916

Deer eating a pumpkin.

For these moments we give thanks: Thee, fully forth emerging.

A Clear Midnight
by Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

“The first unauthorized use of the credit card occurred on Feb. 19, 2002, when Rathmann’s credit card was used to pay Bolivar Insulation in the amount of $1,249. The last unauthorized use of the credit card was on Aug. 20, 2015, when Rathmann’s credit card was used to pay an invoice from Ozark Mountain Pest Control in the amount of $30.”

More news (see post below this one) from the University of Missouri, which didn’t notice a thing for thirteen years.

“I just can’t carry this burden anymore.”

It’s that old devil called shame again
Hits a tutor and starts fucking up our games again
Puts a wrench in our plans, tears up our fans,
And just breaks our heart.

It’s that sly old son of a gun again,
He keeps telling her that she’s the naughty one again.
But we still have our coach, still have our teams,
And those jocks in my class.

When you’re “responsible for management of the public image” of the Baylor University football program…

… every day is a challenge. Ken Starr, Art Briles, gang rape and cover-up galore… All in the context of a very self-righteous, very Christian campus…

It would be a challenge for anyone [“Uh we’re pleased to announce we have the final numbers… Let’s see… ’17 women [have] reported 19 sexual or physical assaults involving football players since 2011, including four gang rapes…'”] , but Heath Nielsen is really struggling with it. Maybe it’s something in the Waco water supply, but (paraphrasing Tammy Wynette) sometimes, in Waco, it’s hard to be a man.

A sportswriter was photographing a football player after a game, see.

[The writer] had received permission from a football player to take [the] photograph, and after the picture was taken “Nielsen walked up to [the writer] on the right, grabbed [him] by the throat with his right hand, squeezed and pushed him away from the football player,’ an arrest warrant affidavit … says.

When [the writer] and the player asked Nielsen what the problem was, he replied, “He’s abusing his privileges,” the affidavit said.

To review: This is the guy in charge of managing the team’s public image.

Willows in High Wind at the Kennedy Center

20161120_132006

UD used to be lectured, on a regular basis, at academic conferences…

… on the absurdity and evil of Richard Rorty, one of her heroes (along with Albert Camus, George Orwell, Christopher Lasch, Iris Murdoch, and Christopher Hitchens). He was simple-minded, non-transgressive, jingoistic, a stick in the mud. Dull, naive, like his pragmatist hero, John Dewey.

You should read way-transgressive Slavoj Zizek, Margaret, and get out of the Rorty rut.

*********************

Slavoj Zizek has announced that he would, if he were an American citizen, vote for Donald Trump.

Like the West Coast Straussians who come at the problem from the right, Zizek’s so disgusted by what he imagines “liberal democracy” to be, he wants someone – anyone – to fuck it up but good.

*********************

Rorty? In his naive chauvinistic way, Rorty spent his career defending liberal democracy as the best thing we’ve got and utterly worth defending with all our heart.

Here he defends it against — Zizek.

Zizek starts off from a Lacanian account of desire and says that ‘The problem with this liberal dream is that the split between the public and the private never comes about without a certain remainder’ and that ‘the very domain of the public law is “smeared” by an obscure dimension of “private” enjoyment.’ He goes on to ‘locate in a precise manner the flaw of Rorty’s “liberal utopia”: It presupposes the possibility of a universal social law not smudged by a “pathological” stain of enjoyment, i.e. delivered from the superego dimension.’

I do not see that political liberalism need presuppose anything of the sort. I imagine that ressentiment, as well as the mild form of sadism which is intrinsic to Kantian notions of obligation, will go on forever – or at least as long as there are judges, police, etc. But I should think the question is whether anybody has any better ideas for a legal and political system than the liberal, constitutional, social democratic one. I can find nothing in Freud, Lacan, Zizek, Derrida [and others on the radical left] which persuades me that anybody does.

*******************

Rorty’s enjoying quite the posthumous vindication. Post-Trump, his name is everywhere. He is widely seen as having anticipated and analyzed more clearly and compellingly than most the rise of Trumpian conditions in the United States. In particular, people are citing these three paragraphs:

[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Jennifer Senior, in the New York Times, rightly notes that, like Lasch, Rorty looked with dread upon the emergence of a “cosmopolitan upper class which has no …sense of community with any workers anywhere,” but lives instead in an exceedingly pleasant, totally insulated, white-noisy bubble.

This group included intellectuals, by the way, who, [Rorty] wrote, are “ourselves quite well insulated, at least in the short run, from the effects of globalization.”

No current group of academics embodies this truth better than those law professors who continue to enjoy high salaries, low course loads, and assorted perks despite so deep a crisis in their profession that astonishingly few people are applying to law school. Critics like Brian Tamanaha and Paul Campos have had a field day with these professors.

**************************

In the book of Rorty’s everyone’s talking about lately – Achieving Our Country (1998) – he makes his critique of what he calls ‘spectatorial’ radicals in the academy more explicit:

When one of today’s academic leftists says that some topic has been ‘inadequately theorized,’ you can be pretty certain that he or she is going to drag in either philosophy of language, or Lacanian psychoanalysis, or some neo-Marxist version of economic determinism. Theorists of the Left think that dissolving political agents into plays of differential subjectivity, or political initiatives into pursuits of Lacan’s impossible object of desire, helps to subvert the established order. Such subversion, they say, is accomplished by ‘problematizing familiar concepts.’

Recent attempts to subvert social institutions by problematizing concepts have produced a few very good books. They have also produced many thousands of books which represent scholastic philosophizing at its worst. The authors of these purportedly ‘subversive’ books honestly believe that they are serving human liberty. But it is almost impossible to clamber back down from their books to a level of abstraction on which one might discuss the merits of a law, a treaty, a candidate, or a political strategy. Even though what these authors ‘theorize’ is often something very concrete and near at hand – a current TV show, a media celebrity, a recent scandal – they offer the most abstract and barren explanations imaginable.

*********************

Dissolve enough agency and you end up marooned on Slavojnia: the most abstract and barren island imaginable.

It’s but a trifle here…

… yet this chronicle of university life would be incomplete without recording the New York attorney general’s comment on our sketchy president-elect.

In 2013, my office sued Donald Trump for swindling thousands of innocent Americans out of ​millions of dollars through a scheme known as Trump University. Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeal​s​ and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university. Today, that all changes. Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.

UD says: This is true leadership. Having been shown the way by the highest office holder in the land, the rest of this country’s attorneys general can now go after their states’ fraudulent universities.

“During Tony Frank’s tenure as president of [Colorado State University], athletic subsidies have risen by 70% while academic budgets have been cut or frozen. Students have been paying more and more for their education but getting less and less in return.”

Depends on what you mean by “return.” If you’re attending a university in order to watch professional football, “returns” mean a world-class stadium, professional-league players, and a multi-million dollar coach. It doesn’t bother you that your sports program is a “Ponzi scheme. Universities pay and pay and pay, but because they’re late to the party, they never see any payback.” Actually, students pay and pay and pay, as tuition and student fees spike to meet the humongous debt on new facilities and on a fleet of private planes for recruiting visits etc etc …

And even when, as at Western Missouri, things turn toward the “unsustainable” as your school loses gobs of money year after year after year, you’re going to want the place to keep fielding teams to the bitter end.

On an unsustainable budget, Western Missouri just “approved the installation of six new athletic programs,” so hubba hubba.

One of UD’s colleagues…

… helps organize a group of artists and intellectuals looking for ways to resist hate crimes in America.

“The sunlight on the garden…

20161120_104240

… Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold.”

************************

UD‘s woods, on a cold
bright windy autumn day.

“THE UNIVERSE COULD BE ONE GIANT ALIEN CLAIMS SCIENTIST”

Whatever.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm on the Six Hundred Dollar Afternoon Tea.

Headline:

A Place Where People Happily Pay $600 for Afternoon Tea
New York’s most expensive tea service offers caviar and Champagne at the Baccarat hotel.

**********************

[SOS so far withholds comment. But she wonders how, even with caviar and champagne, a tea service could cost six hundred dollars.]

**********************


First Section:

Key Details: Focusing on caviar and champagne, Tsar Nicholas II is Baccarat hotel’s new, luxurious take on the classic afternoon tea.
Competitors: The Peninsula ($60–$72 for classic afternoon tea, $285–$395 for afternoon tea with caviar and champagne); Mandarin Oriental ($48 for classic afternoon tea); Ritz-Carlton Central Park ($56–$89 for classic afternoon tea)
Price: $400 paired with Lung Ching Imperial tea, or $600 paired with Krug Grande Cuvée NV 750ml
Why It’s Worth It: If you’re going out for Champagne and caviar — not afternoon tea — you’ll spend as much anywhere else. And the interiors at the Baccarat are like no other.

**********************

[The article appears in Bloomberg, a business publication, so maybe the author figures the busy Wall Street people scanning this piece will expect it to look like a consultant’s report, extracting key details up front for a person in a hurry. Quite the ethos of the tea ceremony, yes? I wanna take high tea, and make it snappy… Figure I’d like to spend say six hundred dollars for the forty minutes I’ve got available for this. Is it worth it? … Peninsula’s got the same deal for $60. So… $60/$600… But there’s that ‘like no other’ hotel interior… What did it cost me last time I sat down inside the Baccarat? Oh yeah, nothing. OTOH, that Nevada Cuvée sounds intriguing…]

*********************

Take the elevator to the second floor of the glitzy, year-old Baccarat hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and the doors will open in the Grand Salon, a bright and dazzling parlor with giant windows that overlook the Museum of Modern Art and Baccarat crystal dangling from every nook and cranny. Since the hotel’s opening, it’s been a place filled with women in fur coats and business meetings over $24 whiskey cocktails. Now it’s also home to the city’s most expensive afternoon tea service.

*********************

[I like the murdered Tsar theme, and women in fur coats is also good. In a better world, I’d have bragging rights once I did the most expensive tea in the city, but what hedge fund guy gives a shit about anything that only costs six hundred?]

*********************

At $600, the Baccarat’s Tsar Nicholas II menu is 10 to 20 times as expensive as those of most of its competitors. For comparison’s sake, you can spend just $30 to $70 and sip premium teas at the Peninsula, or nibble on dainty pastries from three-tiered trays at the Mandarin Oriental. The hotel is also outdoing its own self; it already offered two excellent tea services called the King Louis XV ($95) and the Prince of Whales ($110), both with artisanal-leaning offerings such as rose-scented madeleines and tomato-white cheddar brioche.

[Wow! Prince of Whales! That must be with caviar from the Beluga whale rather than the sturgeon. Far out. But shouldn’t that cost more than Tsar Nicholas?]

But as much as the Baccarat is playing in a crowded market—there’s an afternoon tea for every need, style, and mood in New York—it’s also reigniting a culinary tradition that can often feel neglected or worn. Its strategy? Make afternoon tea feel indulgent again.

[Yeah, those hundred dollar teas … You feel like you’re at a Walmart cafeteria…]

Whereas Baccarat’s other two services make for beautiful, light afternoon meals, the Tsar Nicholas II is primarily and unabashedly about two things: caviar and Champagne. And tea, if you’d like.

A third of that $600 price tag is allocated to Champagne. The service is meant to feed two, and comes with 750 milliliters of Krug Grande Cuvée NV. You can opt to skip the Champagne and stick to “just” tea for $400.

Another third of that price, roughly, goes to caviar: a generous 30 grams of Petrossian’s Tsar Imperial Ossetra, one of the higher grade caviar offerings from the brand. (The Petrossian shop a few blocks away sells this 30-gram tin of Tsar Imperial Ossetra for $170.) It comes with classic accoutrements of chives, egg yolks and whites, red onions, and crème fraîche, all presented on a tiered Baccarat crystal stand.

[Two hundred bucks for caviar that sells down the street for $170. But that doesn’t take into account the setting and service and crystal plus the whole thing of jamming 30 grams of caviar down your throat at one sitting… What? Are you gonna ask them to put it in a doggie bag? Fuhgeddaboudit! You are not asking for a doggie bag at the Baccarat!]

Pay attention to the warm blinis on the second tier. See that light, reddish tint? The blini batter is infused with Ruschka, a Mariage Frères tea blend with citrus and Silver Needle, a rare white tea made from only the top buds of the tea plant. The infusion is one of the many small touches that differentiate the service and make it memorable. Others include appropriately knowledgeable but not obtrusive servers and sharp attention to details — like not overfilling each tea cup and offering perfectly polished silverware and glassware. It’s the little things that make a big difference in an affair so delicate as afternoon tea.

[The people pouring your tea know how to do it so it doesn’t slop over the sides. Plus the cutlery’s clean.]

Aside from caviar and accoutrements, the Tsar Nicholas II comes with a few additional courses, including an amuse-bouche of pickled sable with fingerling potatoes, sweets of Stoli Kvass sorbet infused with rooibos, and a pair of bonbons filled with Earl Grey caramel. Notably absent are the traditional trappings of savories, scones, and sweets. In their place, however, are exemplary lavender shortbreads, which were flaky and delicate — so good in fact, that Baccarat should consider offering them as a standalone item on the menu.

[Yeah, me neither. Turns out to be a teeny bite-sized bit of food usually offered for free at a restaurant. Literally, a mouth-amuser.]

As for the tea itself? The suggested pairing for this service is Lung Ching Impérial, also by the acclaimed Parisian tea-maker Mariage Frères. It’s made up of prized green Dragon Well and Long Jing leaves from China’s Zhejiang province, signaling a sophisticated (and welcome) departure from the tried-and-true Japanese teas so popular in New York and beyond. These tea leaves are pan-roasted and flat-pressed, rather than balled-up or twisted into little tea pellets as most green teas are.

[I’d pay a lot to avoid the vulgar balling and pelleting you see in most green tea preparation… Flat-pressing is incredibly labor-intensive, as in this advertisement for tea:

Crafting this tea is done entirely by hand, pressing all the leaves flat over hours for each tiny three to four pound batch.]

***************

Final paragraph:

Save for the Baccarat Blend, any of the dozen teas offered in the Grand Salon (including the Lung Ching Impérial) can be easily purchased online. So: Is Tsar Nicholas II worth it? If you approach the service not as a traditional afternoon tea service but as an over-the-top, multi-course caviar service, then the answer is yes. The Grand Salon is expansive and luxe, transporting and celebratory in its mood. You come for the food and service as much as the dazzling ambiance (which certainly factors into the price). But don’t expect an afternoon tea that will satisfy like a proper meal. Tsar Nicholas II is purely about pleasure.


[It’s worth it if you don’t want a proper meal, and if you think gorging on thirty grams of caviar is pleasurable.]

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