Sunday, August 10, 2014

Have a lovely Sunday!

For philosophical anarchists like Joyce, rejecting authority meant rejecting the entire conceptual category to which "authority" belonged: abstractions and foundational assumptions.  Anarchists believed that states and churches rested upon phantom concepts (like legitimacy or moral obligation) masquerading as fundamental truths when they were really just inventions helping tyrants wield power. 

The philosophical core of anarchism was thus a skepticism of the ostensibly self-evident concepts that held sway over people.  It was the conviction that big ideas could enslave, whether they be duty, rights or God; your home, your fatherland or your church.


Anarchism emerged as a response to the rapid growth of the modern state, and, more particularly, to the growth of one of the nineteenth century's biggest ideas: the police. 

When the British Parliament created the Metropolitan Police in 1829, it invented a form of state power that was diffused throughout the city.  Ten years later, Parliament empowered the police to arrest loiterers, "riotous" drunkards and anyone committing  misdemeanor whose name and residence couldn't be verified.  The act banned cockfighting and shooting firearms within three hundred yards of homes.  It banned driving "furiously," wantonly ringing doorbells and flying annoying kites. 

It banned the sale and distribution of "profane, indecent, or obscene" books, and the laws would only get stronger over time. 

By 1878, the British government had passed more than one hundred laws expanding police powers, and Britain set the example for police expansion all around the world.


For people suspicious of authority, the multiplying laws were self-perpetuating: more ordinances created more criminals and, thus, the need for more police officers and an ever-exploding government.  The professionalize of law enforcement made patrolmen seem like foot soldiers in an increasingly centralized apparatus staffed with detectives, jailers and bureaucrats who thought of state power as job security. 

To artists like Joyce, who considered free expression sacrosanct, censorship epitomized the tyranny of state power, for the state not only banned obscenity, it decided what obscenity was. Unlike firearms or kites, the violation was arbitrary--the law hemmed the government in with limits of the government's choosing -- and that fact censors acted as if indecency were self-evident only made the arbitrariness more blatant.  To publish a gratuitously obscene text -- to deny "obscenity" as a legitimate category altogether -- was  away to expose and reject the arbitrary basis of all state power.  It was a form of literary anarchy.



The MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses
 Kevin Birmingham
 (The Penguin Press: 2014)
 p 50-51

5 comments:

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

“…I want you to read over and over all I written to you. Some of it is ugly, obscene and bestial, some of it is pure and holy and spiritual: all of it myself.” James Joyce

Well Janet, I looked up the book, read the sample. How was I to know that on this lovely Sunday morning the secret to, and reason why, we do what we do would be found here?

I feel like I should go to church, and yet if I did Chicken Little, the sky would surely fall.

Thomas Pluck said...

I read Ulysses first in college, taught by a professor who adored it, who spoke of good writing like a sybaritic gourmand of an unforgettable meal, a infatuated lover about their beloved.

It's a masterpiece of the human spirit that distills the literature of the centuries that came before it, and elevates a simple human day to mythology. And it's really, really, funny.

LynnRodz said...

Joyce's Ulysses is comparable to us in the prime of life, while Finnegans Wake is when we become old and senile. (Personal opinion of course.)

Mark G said...

'Anarchists believed that states and churches rested upon phantom concepts... masquerading as fundamental truths ..."

This led my thoughts to something I've read very little about, but also find fascinating:

"...The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

"The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the simulacrum pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place.

"Third order, associated with the postmodernity of Late Capitalism, where the simulacrum precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes.

"War comes not when it is made by sovereign against sovereign, rather, war comes when society is generally convinced that it is coming."


Jean Baudrillard

Lance said...

I don't suppose we could query as if "Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax."

Quotation from
Dorothy L. Sayers
Clouds of Witness, Chapter 7