Book Life is Real Life

Books I've read. Books I want to read. (Very) Short book reviews.

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai

Schoolgirl (Modern Japanese Classics) - Osamu Dazai, Allison Markin Powell

Schoolgirl chronicles a day in a life of a Japanese girl. It's a first person narration full of angst, snark and minute observations. From a casual mention of a war, it's fair to assume that the story took place in the early 1940s, but it really doesn't matter, because she could well be just another teenager from our time, from any country. The narrator has an acute self-consciousness not uncommon in teens and a degree of self-awareness that is more typical in someone older. And in a true stream-of-consciousness fashion, you'd get to see her contradict herself without any sense of irony, from badmouthing her mother to berating herself for being such a bitch to wishing that she could be a better, nicer girl.


For an introduction to Dazai, I think Schoolgirl is as good as any. It's short, and it gives you a good idea about his prose and the feel of his works. For me, it's just an OK book, but I suspect that's because I've read No Longer Human, which, some people believe, is his best work. But I'd recommend Schoolgirl to anyone, especially if you're looking for a quick read, and if you like angsty/moany youth confessionals like The Catcher in the Rye and Botchan.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

The Duty to Remember--But What?: Afterword to the 2000 Edition

- The precept of staying alive as the sole thing that counts, as the supreme value that dwarfs all other values, is among the most tempting, and the most common, interpretations of the lesson of the Holocaust.

- Soon after the end of the war psychiatrists coined the concept of survivor's guilt--a complex psychical ailment which they ascribed to the survivors' asking themselves why they had stayed alive when so many of their near and dear had perished. According to that interpretation, the joy of escaping death was permanently and incurably poisoned among the survivors by uncertainty about the propriety of sailing safe out of the sea of perdition--with disastrous consequences for the survivors will to live and to succeed in life after their rescue.

- In the course of time the "guilt" aspect, so prominent in the original diagnoses, has been progressively exorcised from the model of the "survival complex", leaving behind the pure and unalloyed, unambiguous and no longer contested approval of self-preservation for self-preservation's sake. It is just the haunting pain left by the sufferings that staying alive required that is now blamed for the persistence of the "syndrome".

- Such a shift brings us dangerously close to the spine-chilling image of the survivor as painted by Elias Canetti--as the person for whom "the most elementary and obvious form of success is to remain alive". At the far end of the obsession, Canetti's survivor wants to kill so that he can survive others; he wants to stay alive so as not to have others surviving him...

- The lessons of the Holocaust are reduced for popular consumption to a simple formula, "who strikes first, survives"; or to an even simpler one, "the stronger lives". The awesome, two-pronged legacy of the Holocaust is, on the one hand, the tendency to treat survival as the sole, or at any rate the topmost value and purpose of life, and, on the other, to the positing of issue of survival as that of competition for a scarce resource, and so of survival itself as a site of conflict between incompatible interests--a kind of conflict in which the success of some depends on the defeat of others in the race to survive.

- The ethics of hereditary victimhood reverses the logic of the law: the accused remain criminals until proved innocent.

- The pernicious legacy of the Holocaust is that today's persecutors may inflict new pains and create new generations of victims eagerly awaiting their chance to do the same, while acting under the conviction that they are avenging yesterday's pain and warding off the pains of tomorrow; while being convinced, in other words, that ethics is on their side.

The most important lesson of Holocaust is that in our modern society people who are neither morally corrupt nor prejudiced may also still partake with vigour and dedication in the destruction of targeted categories of human beings; and that their participation, far from calling for mobilization of their moral or any other convictions, demands on the contrary their suspension, obliteration and irrelevance.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 8
Afterthought: Rationality and Shame

- Terror remains effective as long as the balloon of rationality has not been pricked. The most sinister, cruel, bloody-minded ruler must remain a staunch preacher and defender of rationality--or perish. Addressing his subjects, he must 'speak to reason'. He must protect reason, eulogize on the virtues of the calculus of costs and effects, defend logic against passions and values which, unreasonably, do not count costs and refuse to obey logic. By and large, all rulers can count on rationality being on their side. But the Nazi rulers, additionally, twisted the stakes of the game so that the rationality of survival would render all other motives of human action irrational. Inside the Nazi-made world, reason was the enemy of morality. Logic required consent to crime. Rational defence of one's survival called for non-resistance to the other's destruction. This rationality pitched the sufferers against each other and obliterated their joint humanity. Graciously, the noble creed of rationality absolved both the victims and the bystanders from the charge of immorality and from guilty conscience. Having reduced human life to the calculus of self-preservation, this rationality robbed human life of humanity.

- The lesson of the Holocaust is the facility with which most people, put into a situation that does not contain a good choice, or renders such a good choice very costly, argue themselves away from the issue of moral duty (or fail to argue themselves towards it), adopting instead the precepts of rational interest and self-preservation. In a system where rationality and ethics point in opposite directions, humanity is the main loser. Evil needs neither enthusiastic followers nor an applauding audience--the instinct of self-preservation will do.- The second lesson of the Holocaust is that putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way predetermined, inevitable and inescapable. One can be pressed to do it, but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on to those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation--what does matter is that some did. Evil is not all-powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the authority of the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end--a choice.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 7: Towards a Sociological Theory of Morality

- Durkheim (whose treatment of moral phenomena turned into the canon of sociological wisdom, and virtually defined the meaning of the specifically sociological approach to the study of morality) debunks all pretentions that there is substance in evil other than its rejection by a force powerful enough to make its will into a binding rule. But the warm patriot and devout believer in the superiority and progress of civilized life cannot but feel that what has been rejected is indeed evil, and that the rejection must have been an emancipating and dignifying act.

- The appearance of immoral conduct is understood as the manifestation of pre-social or a-social drives bursting out from their socially manufactured cages, or escaping enclosure in the first place. Immoral conduct is always a return to a pre-social state, or a failure to depart from it.

- This theory of morality concedes the right of society to impose its own substantive version of moral behaviour; and concurs with the practice in which social authority claims the monopoly of moral judgement. It tacitly accepts the theoretical illegitimacy of all judgements that are not grounded in the exercise of such monopoly; so that for all practical intents and purposes moral behaviour becomes synonymous with social conformity and obedience to the norms observed by the majority.

- In the aftermath of the Holocaust, legal practice, and thus also moral theory, faced the possibility that morality may manifest itself in insubordination towards socially upheld principles, and in an action openly defying social solidarity and consensus. For sociological theory, the very idea of pre-social grounds of moral behaviour augurs the necessity of a radical revision of traditional interpretations of the origins of the sources of moral norms and their obligatory power.

- Hannah Arendt had articulated the question of moral responsibility for resisting socialization. The moot issue of the social foundations of morality had been cast aside; whatever the solution offered to that issue, the authority and binding force of the distinction between good and evil cannot be legitimized by reference to social powers which sanction and enforce it. Even if condemned by the group--by all groups, as a matter of fact--individual conduct may still be moral; an action recommended by society--even by the whole of the society in unison--may still be immoral.

- The socially enforced moral systems are communally based and promoted--and hence in a pluralist, heterogeneous world, irreparably relative. This relativism, however, does not apply to human "ability to tell right from wrong". Such an ability must be grounded in something other than the conscience collective of society.

- The process of socialization consists in the manipulation of moral capacity--not in its production. And the moral capacity that is manipulated entails not only certain principles which later become a passive object of social processing; it includes as well the ability to resist, escape and survive the processing, so that at the end of the day the authority and the responsibility for moral choices rests where they resided at the start: with the human person. If this view of moral capacity is accepted, the apparently resolved and closed problems of the sociology of morality are thrown wide open again. The issue of morality must be relocated; from the problematics of socialization, education or civilization--in other words, from the realm of socially administered "humanizing processes"--it ought to be shifted to the area of repressive, pattern-maintaining and tension-managing processes and institutions, as one of the "problems" they are designed to handle and accommodate or transform. The moral capacity--the object, but not the product of such processes and institutions--would then have to disclose its alternative origin.

- Once the explanation of moral tendency as a conscious or unconscious drive towards the solution of the "Hobbesian problem" is rejected, the factors responsible for the presence of moral capacity must be sought in the social, but not societal sphere. Moral behaviour is conceivable only in the context of coexistence, of "being with others", that is, a social context; but it does not owe its appearance to the presence of supra-individual agencies of training and enforcement, that is, of a societal context.

- Emmanuel Levinas describes the existential condition of "being with others" with a quotation from Dostoyevsky: "We are all responsible for all and for all men before all, and I more than all the others."

- According to Levinas, responsibility is the essential, primary and fundamental structure of subjectivity. Responsibility, which means "responsibility for the Other", and hence a responsibility "for what is not my deed, or for what does not even matter to me". This existential responsibility, the only meaning of subjectivity, of being a subject, has nothing to do with contractual obligation. Because of what my responsibility is not, I do not bear it as a burden. I become responsible while I constitute myself into a subject. Becoming responsible is the constitution of me as a subject. Hence it is my affair, and mine only.

- Responsibility being the existential mode of the human subject, morality is the primary structure of intersubjective relation in its most pristine form, unaffected by any non-moral factors (like interest, calculation of benefit, rational search for optimal solutions, or surrender to coercion). The substance of morality being a duty towards the other (as distinct from an obligation), and a duty which precedes all interestedness--the roots of morality reach well beneath societal arrangements, like structures of domination or culture. Societal processes start when the structure of morality (tantamount to intersubjectivity) is already there. Morality is not a product of society. Morality is something society manipulates--exploits, redirects, jams.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 6: The Ethics of Obedience [Reading Milgram]

- The person who, with inner conviction, loathes stealing, killing, and assault, may find himself performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority. Behaviour that is unthinkable in an individual who is acting on his own may be executed without hesitation when carried out under orders.

- In a nutshell, Milgram suggested and proved that inhumanity is a matter of social relationships. As the latter are rationalized and technically perfected, so is the capacity and the efficiency of the social production of inhumanity.

- Perhaps the most striking among Milgram's findings is the inverse ratio of readiness to cruelty and proximity to its victim.

- Mediating the action, splitting the action between stages delineated and set apart by the hierarchy of authority, and cutting the action across through functional specialization is one of the most salient and proudly advertised achievements of our rational society. The meaning of Milgram's discovery is that, immanently and irretrievably, the process of rationalization facilitates behaviour that is inhuman and cruel in its consequences, if not in its intentions.

- The reason why separation from the victim makes cruelty easier seems psychologically obvious: the perpetrator is spared the agony of witnessing the outcome of his deeds. But this is not the only explanation. Again, reasons are not just psychical. Like everything which truly explains human conduct, they are social. Placing the victim in another room not only takes him farther away from the subject, it also draws the subject and the experimenter relatively closer. There is incipient group function between the experimenter and the subject, from which the victim is excluded. In the remote condition, the victim is truly an outsider, who stands alone, physically and psychologically. Loneliness of the victim is not just a matter of his physical separation. It is a function of the togetherness of his tormentors, and his exclusion from this togetherness. Physical closeness and continuous co-operation (even over a relatively short time--no subject was experimented with for longer than one hour) tends to result in a group feeling, complete with the mutual obligations and solidarity it normally brings about. This group feeling is produced by joint action, particularly by the complementarity of individual actions--when the result is evidently achieved by shared effort.

- The effect of physical and purely psychical distance is farther enhanced by the collective nature of damaging action. One may guess that even if obvious gains in the economy and efficiency of action brought by its rational organization and management are left out of account, the sheer fact that the oppressor is a member of a group must be assigned a tremendous role in facilitating the committing of cruel acts.

- In the course of a sequential action, the actor becomes a slave of his own past actions. Smooth and imperceptible passages between the steps lure the actor into a trap; the trap is the impossibility of quitting without revising and rejecting the evaluation of one's own deeds as right or at least innocent.

- Inside the bureaucratic system of authority, language of morality acquires a new vocabulary. It is filled with concepts like loyalty, duty, discipline--all pointing to superiors as the supreme object of moral concern and, simultaneously, the top moral authority. They all, in fact, converge: loyalty means performance of one's duty as defined by the code of discipline. As they converge and reinforce each other, they grow in power as moral precepts, to the point where they can disable and push aside all other moral considerations--above all, ethical issues foreign to the self-reproductory preoccupations of the authority system.

- As Milgram puts it, "the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.... Superego shifts from an evaluation of the goodness or badness of the acts to an assessment of how well or poorly one is functioning in the authority system."

- Bureaucracy's double feat is the moralization of technology, coupled with the denial of the moral significance of nontechnical issues. It is the technology of action, not its substance, which is subject to assessment as good or bad, proper or improper, right or wrong. The conscience of the actor tells him to perform well and prompts him to measure his own righteousness by the precision with which he obeys the organizational rules and his dedication to the task as defined by the superiors.

- Milgram's own conclusion is that it is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences of the action.

- Once responsibility has been shifted away by the actor's consent to the superior's right to command, the actor is cast in an agentic state--a condition in which he sees himself as carrying out another person's wishes. Agentic state is the opposite of the state of autonomy. In the agentic state, the actor is fully tuned to the situation as defined and monitored by the superior authority: this definition of the situation includes the description of the actor as the authority's agent.

- We may surmise that the overall effect of such a continuous and ubiquitous responsibility shifting would be a free-floating responsibility, a situation in which each and every member of the organization is convinced, and would say so if asked, that he has been at some else's beck and call, but the members pointed to by others as the bearers of responsibility would pass the buck to someone else again.

- The readiness to act against one's own better judgment, and against the voice of one's conscience, is not just the function of authoritative command, but the result of exposure to a single-minded, unequivocal and monopolistic source of authority. Such readiness is most likely to appear inside an organization which brooks no opposition and tolerates no autonomy, and in which linear hierarchy of subordination knows no exception: an organization in which no two members are equal in power. Such an organization, however, is likely to be effective on one of the two conditions. It may tightly seal its members from the rest of society, having been granted, or having usurped, an undivided control over most, or all its members' life activities and needs, so that possible influence of competitive sources of authority is cut out. Or it may be just one of the branches of the totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian state, which transforms all its agencies into mirror reflections of each other.

- A most remarkable conclusion flowing from the full set of Milgram experiments is that pluralism is the best preventive medicine against morally normal people engaging in morally abnormal actions. Unless pluralism had been eliminated on the global-societal scale, organizations with criminal purposes, which need to secure an unflagging obedience of their members in the perpetration of evidently immoral acts, are burdened with the task of erecting tight artificial barriers isolating the members from the "softening" influence of diversity of standards and opinions. The voice of individual moral conscience is best heard in the tumult of political and social discord.

- Most conclusions flowing from Milgram's experiments may be seen as variations on one central theme: cruelty correlates with certain patterns of social interaction much more closely than it does with personality features or other individual idiosyncracies of the perpetrators.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 5: Soliciting the Cooperation of the Victims

- Among the resources of resistance that must be destroyed to make the violence effective, by far the most crucial position is occupied by the traditional elites of the doomed community. It is hoped that the marked group, once deprived of leadership and centres of authority, will lose it cohesiveness and the ability to sustain its own identity, and consequently its defensive potential. The traditional elites of the doomed community constitute therefore the prime target of the genocide, as long as the latter is aimed indeed at the destruction of the marked people as a community, as a cohesive, autonomous entity. (e.g. the Slavs under German occupation.)

- However, since the state of affairs the Nazis wished to create was one of total Entfernung--an effective removal of the Jews from the life-world of the German race--all "special treatment" of Jewish elites became unnecessary. After all, they were destined to share the lot of their brethren anyway.

- Perhaps an anticipated effect of such a "totalization" of the Jewish problem was the survival of Jewish communal structure, autonomy and self-government long after similar factors of communal existence came under a frontal assault in all occupied Slav lands. This survival meant first and foremost that Jewish traditional elites retained their administrative and spiritual leadership throughout the duration of the Holocaust; if anything, that leadership was further reinforced and made well-nigh uncontestable following the physical segregation of the Jews and the fencing off of the ghettos.

- Jewish elites played therefore a crucial mediating role in the incapacitation of the Jews; quite untypically for a genocide, the total subjection of a population to an unconstrained will of their captors was achieved not through destruction, but by reinforcing the communal structure and the integrative role played by native elites.

- At all stages of the Holocaust,the victims were confronted with a choice (at least subjectively--even when objectively the choice did not exist any more, having been pre-empted by the secret decision of physical destruction). They could not choose between good and bad situations, but they could at least choose between greater and lesser evil.

- To make their victims' behaviour predictable and hence manipulable and controllable, the Nazis had to induce them to act in the 'rational mode'; to achieve that effect, they had to make the victims believe that there was indeed something to save, and that there were clear rules as to how one should go about saving it. To believe that, the victims had to be convinced that the treatment of the group as a whole would not be uniform, that the lot of individual members would be diversified, and in each case dependent on individual merit. The victims had to think, in other words, that their conduct did matter; and that their plight could be at least in part influenced by what they were about to do.

- The diabolical aspect of this setting was that the beliefs and convictions it sanctioned, and the actions it encouraged, supplied legitimacy to the Nazi masterplan and made it digestible to most, the victims included. While fighting for petty privileges, exempted statuses or simply the stay of execution which the overall design of destruction provided for, the victims and those who tried to help them tacitly accepted the premises of the design.

The Monk by M. G. Lewis

The Monk - Christopher MacLachlan, Matthew Gregory Lewis

The Monk is said to be the archetypal Gothic novel. Sure enough, it has monks and nuns behaving badly ("behaving badly" is an understatement, really), ghosts, sex, bandits, rape, incest, violent mob and devilish pact. I had high expectation for this novel.

The titular monk is Ambrosio, a man so devout with conducts so exemplary that he's made an abbot at the age of thirty. Problem is, he's not as good as everybody (including himself) thinks he is. From the start, readers get a glimpse of his real character, which is full of vanity and self-righteousness. Ambrosio looks down on his fellow men (and women) and shows a surprising lack of self-awareness for someone thought so wise. He doesn't seem to realize that it's easy to be good and proper in the security of a cloister, and that one's integrity is measured in the face of temptation, not in its absence.

Anyway, Ambrosio meets this novice, who idolizes him, but who is actually a woman called Matilda. She bought her way to the abbey because she wanted to be close to Ambrosio, a man with whom she thought she could connect intellectually. Ambrosio tells her to leave once he finds out about her real identity, but one beauteous orb (don't ask) later, he's inclined to let her stay for three days.

In a twist of event too fantastical to believe--involving a venomous serpent and some sucking--Ambrosio ends up having sex with Matilda, who's on the brink of death. From this point onward, everything goes downhill for Ambrosio. I mean, yeah, he gets to have a lot of sex with Matilda, who made a pact with the devil to prolong her time on earth so that she could be his secret sex buddy. But he soon grows tired of her, which is a problem if you're a horny monk with no women around you bar one. And then, with the help of Matilda, who transitioned from the role of a lover to a pimp seemingly without difficulty, Ambrosio comes out to the world in search for a new sex object, getting closer and closer to eternal damnation in the process.

Apart from Ambrosio's story, the novel also features several sub-plots, all of which converges on the climactic episode in the crypt. There's the story of Antonia, a girl who comes to Madrid after her mother's death to seek the help and acknowledgement of a wealthy relative; Agnes, a young woman who enters the convent following the promise of her parents and the ruse of her aunt; and Don Raymond, Agnes' lover who had many interesting experiences throughout his road-trip across Europe (my favorite is the one with the Bleeding Nun).

However, I can't say that I enjoyed the novel. The meandering storytelling often left me bored, and the cultural and temporal distance has reduced much of its shock value for me. It seems that Gothic novels just aren't for me.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 4: The Uniqueness and Normality of the Holocaust

- Holocaust was as much a product, as it was a failure, of modern civilization.

- The German state annihilated six million Jews. At the rate of 100 per day this would have required nearly 200 years. People can be manipulated into fury, but fury cannot be maintained for 200 years. A lynch mob is an unreliable instrument of annihilation; it can sometimes be moved by sympathy.

- Thorough, comprehensive, exhaustive murder required the replacement of the mob with a bureaucracy, the replacement of shared rage with obedience to authority. The requisite bureaucracy would be effective whether manned by extreme or tepid anti- Semites, considerably broadening the pool of potential recruits; it would govern the actions of its members not by arousing passions but by organizing routines.

- Motives for mass murder have been many and varied. They range from pure, cold-blooded calculation of competitive gain, to equally pure, disinterested hatred or heterophobia. Most communal strifes and genocidal campaigns against aborigines lie comfortably within this range. If accompanied by an ideology, the latter does not go much further than a simple "us or them" vision of the world. Truly modern genocide is different. Modern genocide is genocide with a purpose. Getting rid of the adversary is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end: a necessity that stems from the ultimate objective, a step that one has to take if one wants ever to reach the end of the road. The end itself is a grand vision of a better, and radically different, society. Modern genocide is an element of social engineering, meant to bring about a social order conforming to the design of the perfect society.

- Stalin's and Hitler's victims were killed because they did not fit, for one reason or another, the scheme of a perfect society. Their killing was not the work of destruction, but creation. They were eliminated, so that an objectively better human world--more efficient, more moral, more beautiful--could be established.

- From the fact that the Holocaust is modern, it does not follow that modernity is a Holocaust. The Holocaust is a by-product of the modern drive to a fully designed, fully controlled world, once the drive is getting out of control and running wild. Most of the time, modernity is prevented from doing so. Its ambitions clash with the pluralism of the human world; they stop short of their fulfillment for the lack of an absolute power absolute enough and a monopolistic agency monopolistic enough to be able to disregard, shrug off, or overwhelm all autonomous, and thus countervailing and mitigating, forces.

- What in fact has happened in the course of the civilizing process, is the redeployment of violence, and the redistribution of access to violence. Like so many other things which we have been trained to abhor and detest, violence has been taken out of sight, rather than forced out of existence. It has become invisible, that is, from the vantage point of narrowly circumscribed and privatized personal experience. It has been enclosed instead in segregated and isolated territories, on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society; or evicted to the "twilight areas", off-limits for a large majority (and the majority which counts) of society's members; or exported to distant places which on the whole are irrelevant for the life-business of civilized humans.

- Violence has been turned into a technique. Like all techniques, it is free from emotions and purely rational.

- Use of violence is most efficient and cost-effective when the means are subjected to solely instrumental-rational criteria, and thus dissociated from moral evaluation of the ends. The dissociation is by and large and outcome of two parallel processes, which are both central to the bureaucratic model of action. The first is the meticulous functional division of labour (as additional to, and distinct in its consequences, from linear graduation of power and subordination); the second is the substitution of technical for a moral responsibility.

- Dehumanization starts at the point when, thanks to the distantiation, the objects at which the bureaucratic operation is aimed can, and are, reduced to a set of quantitative measures. Reduced, like all other objects of bureaucratic management, to pure, quality-free measurements, human objects lose their distinctiveness.

- Contrary to widespread opinion, bureaucracy is not merely a tool, which can be used with equal facility at one time for cruel and morally contemptible, at another for deeply humane purposes. Even if it does move in any direction in which it is pushed, bureaucracy is more like a loaded dice. It has a logic and a momentum of its own. It renders some solutions more, and other solutions less, probable.

- Bureaucracy is programmed to seek the optimal solution. It is programmed to measure the optimum in such terms as would not distinguish between one human object and another, or between human and inhuman objects. What matters is the efficiency and lowering of costs of their processing.

- Bureaucracy did not hatch the fear of racial contamination and the obsession with racial hygiene. For that it needed visionaries, as bureaucracy picks up where visionaries stop. But bureaucracy made the Holocaust. And it made it in its own image.

- In the absence of traditional authority, the only checks and balances capable of keeping the body politic away from extremities can be supplied by political democracy. The latter is not, however, quick to arrive, and it is slower still to take root once the hold of the old authority and system of control had been broken--particularly if the breaking was done in a hurry.

- In most cases, even the most profound blows to traditional authorities in pre-modern societies differed from modern upheavals in two crucial aspects; first, they left the primeval, communal controls of order intact or at least still viable; and second, they weakened, rather than strengthened the possibility of organized action on a supracommunal level, as the social organization of the higher order fell apart and whatever exchange was left between localities was once again subjected to a free play of uncoordinated forces.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 3: Modernism - Racism - Extermination II

- Heterophobia (resentment of the different) seems to be a focused manifestation of a still wider phenomenon of anxiety aroused by the feeling that one has no control over the situation, and that thus one can neither influence its development, nor foresee the consequences of one's action. Heterophobia may appear as either a realistic or an irrealistic objectification of such anxiety--but it is likely that the anxiety in question always seeks an object on which to anchor, and that consequently heterophobia is a fairly common phenomenon at all times and more common still in an age of modernity, when occasions for the "no control" experience become more frequent, and their interpretation in terms of the obtrusive interference by an alien human group becomes more plausible.

- Contestant enmity is a more specific antagonism generated by the human practices of identity-seeking and boundary-drawing.

- Bauman argues that racism differs from both heterophobia and contestant enmity. The difference lies neither in the intensity of sentiments nor in the type of argument used to rationalize it. Racism stands apart by a practice of which it is a part and which it rationalizes: a practice that combines strategies of architecture and gardening with that of medicine--in the service of the construction of an artificial social order, through cutting out the elements of the present reality that neither fit the visualized perfect reality, nor can be changed so that they do.

- In a world notable for the continuous rolling back of the limits to scientific, technological and cultural manipulation, racism proclaims that certain blemishes of a certain category of people cannot be removed or rectified--that they remain beyond the boundaries of reforming practices, and will do so for ever.

- According to George L. Mosse [Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism], "it is impossible to separate the inquiries of the Enlightenment philosophies into nature from their examination of morality and human character ... [From] the outset... natural science and the moral and aesthetic ideals of the ancient joined hands." In the form in which it was moulded by the Enlightenment, scientific activity was marked by an "attempt to determine man's exact place in nature through observation, measurements, and comparisons between groups of men and animals" and "belief in the unity of body and mind". The latter "was supposed to express itself in a tangible, physical way, which could be measured and observed". What was left to racism was merely to postulate a systematic, and genetically reproduced distribution of such material attributes of human organism as bore responsibility for characterological, moral, aesthetic or political traits. Even this job, however, had already been done for them by respectable and justly respected pioneers of science, seldom if ever listed among the luminaries of racism.

- Only with the modern reincarnation of Jew-hatred have the Jews been charged with an ineradicable vice, with an immanent flaw which cannot be separated from its carriers.

- It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to arrive at the idea of extermination of a whole people without race imagery; that is, without a vision of endemic and fatal defect which is in principle incurable and, in addition, is capable of self-propagation unless checked. It is also difficult, and probably impossible, to arrive at such an idea without the entrenched practice of medicine (both of medicine proper, aimed at the individual human body, and of its numerous allegorical applications), with its model of health and normality, strategy of separation and technique of surgery. It is particularly difficult, and well-nigh impossible, to conceive of such an idea separately from the engineering approach to society, the belief in artificiality of social order, institution of expertise and the practice of scientific management of human setting and interaction. For these reasons, the exterminatory version of anti-Semitism ought to be seen as a thoroughly modern phenomenon; that is, something which could occur only in an advanced state of modernity.

- Racism, even when coupled with the technological predisposition of the modern mind, would hardly suffice to accomplish the feat of the Holocaust. To do that, it would have had to be capable of securing the passage from theory to practice--and this would probably mean energizing, by sheer mobilizing power of ideas, enough human agents to cope with the scale of the task, and sustaining their dedication to the job for as long as the task would require. By ideological training, propaganda or brainwashing, racism would have to imbue masses of non-Jews with the hatred and repugnance of Jews so intense as to trigger a violent action against the Jews whenever and wherever they are met. According to the widely shared opinion of the historians, this did not happen. In spite of the enormous resources devoted by the Nazi regime to racist propaganda, the concentrated effort of Nazi education, and the real threat of terror against resistance to racist practices, the popular acceptance of the racist programme (and particularly of its ultimate logical consequences) stopped well short of the level an emotion-led extermination would require. This fact demonstrates the absence of continuity or natural progression between heterophobia or contestant enmity and racism.

- Sabini and Silver ["Destroying the Innocent with a Clear Conscience: A Sociopsychology of the Holocaust", in Survivors, Victims, and the Perpetrators] shows that the most successful--widespread and materially effective--episode of mass anti-Jewish violence in Germany, the infamous Kristallnacht, was a pogrom, an instrument of terror ... typical of the long-standing tradition of European anti-Semitism not the new Nazi order, not the systematic extermination of European Jewry.

- Mob violence is a primitive, ineffective technique of extermination. It is an effective method of terrorizing a population, keeping people in their place, perhaps even of forcing some to abandon their religious or political convictions, but these were never Hitler's aims with regard to the Jews: he meant to destroy them. There was not enough "mob" to be violent; the sight of murder and destruction put off as many as it inspired, while the overwhelming majority preferred to close their eyes and plug their ears, but first of all to gag their mouths. Mass destruction was accompanied not by the uproar of emotions, but the dead silence of unconcern. It was not public rejoicing, but public indifference which "became a reinforcing strand in the noose inexorably tightening around hundreds of thousands of necks." Not that indifference itself was indifferent; it surely was not, as far as the success of the Final Solution was concerned. It was the paralysis of that public which failed to turn into a mob, a paralysis achieved by the fascination and fear emanating from the display of power, which permitted the deadly logic of problem-solving to take its course unhampered.

- The true role of the sophisticated, theoretical forms of racism/antisemitism lay not so much in its capacity to foment the antagonist practices of the masses, as in its unique link with the social-engineering designs and ambitions of the modern state (or, more precisely, the extreme and radical variants of such ambitions). One can assume that when situations calling for a direct take-over of social management by the state happen in some not too distant future, the well-entrenched and well-tested racist perspective may again come handy.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 2: Modernity - Racism - Extermination I


- The distinctiveness of Jews was an aspect of Christian self-identity. Even after the spiritual dominion of the Church waned, the age of modernity inherited this conceptual Jew. The conceptual Jew was seen as the prototype and arch-pattern of all non-conformity, heterodoxy, anomaly and aberration; he visualized the horrifying consequences of boundary-transgression, of not remaining fully in the fold, of any conduct short of unconditional loyalty and unambiguous choice.

- For most members of society, the advent of modernity meant the destruction of order and security; and the Jews were perceived as standing close to the center of the destructive process. For centuries, Jews were safely isolated in partly enforced, partly freely chosen enclosures; now they emerged from their seclusion, bought property and rented houses in once uniformly Christian districts, became part of daily reality and partners of diffuse discourse unconfined to ritualized exchanges. For centuries Jews were a pariah caste, legitimately looked down upon by even the lowliest of the low among the Christians. Now some of the pariah moved into positions of social influence and prestige--through intellectual skills or through money, now accorded full status-determining force and ostensibly unconstrained and unqualified by considerations of rank and pedigree. The fate of the Jews epitomized the awesome scope of social upheaval and served as a vivid, obtrusive reminder of the erosion of old certainties. Whoever felt out of balance, threatened or displaced, could easily--and rationally (since modernity requires any problem to be "rationalized")--make sense of his own anxiety through articulating the experienced turbulence as an imprint of Jewish subversive incongruity.

- Among early critics of modernism, there's a tendency to conflate Judaism with money, power and the ills of capitalism.

- Unlike the membership of those "born into" a national community, for the Jews membership was a matter of choice, and hence in principle revokable until "further notice". The sight of a large group of people free to flip at will from one national fortress to another must have aroused deep anxiety. It defied the very truth on which all nations, new and old alike, rested their claims: the ascribed character of nationhood, heredity and naturalness of national entities. The short-lived liberal dream of assimilation foundered on the essential incompatibility between nationalism and the idea of free choice.

- As the Jews "socialized", and became culturally indistinguishable from and socially invisible among their host, their distinctiveness had to be rearticulated and laid on new foundations, stronger than human powers of culture and self-determination. And thus, Judaism was replaced with Jewishness.

Notes: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman

Chapter 1: Introduction: Sociology after the Holocaust

- Bauman proposes to treat the Holocaust as a rare, yet significant and reliable, test of the hidden possibilities of modern society instead of an anomaly or a new malign strain of an allegedly tamed virus (violent irrationality, which is said to have been cured by modernity and the civilizing process).

- The rules of instrumental rationality are singularly incapable of preventing Holocaust-style phenomena.

- According to Herbert C. Kelman ("Violence without Moral Restraint", Journal of Social Issues, vol. 29 [1973]), moral inhibitions against violent atrocities tend to be eroded once three conditions are met, singly or together: the violence is authorized (by official orders coming from the legally entitled quarters), actions are routinized (by rule-governed practices and exact specification of roles), and the victims of the violence are dehumanized (by ideological definitions or indoctrinations).

- The increase in the physical and/or psychic distance between an act and its consequences achieves more than the suspension of moral inhibition; it quashes the moral significance of the act and thereby preempts all conflict between personal standard of moral decency and immorality of the social consequences of the act (re: mediation of action). This tendency is enormously helped by the mere discrepancy of scale between the result and its immediate cause--an incommensurability that easily defies comprehension grounded in commonsensical experience.

Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre, Lloyd Alexander Death Note, Volume 1 (Collector's Edition) - Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata

When I read Death Note several years ago, I was very, very disappointed with its ending. So this self-righteous bastard, this mass killer, got Nothingness as his sentence? Not fair! Compared to that, Sartre's Existential Hell is, well, hell.


At first glance, it might seem that the other way around is true. My vanity, or my will to power, or whatever you want to call it, cringed from the idea that one day I would be no more, forgotten completely, my traces of existence wiped out by the passage of time. In contrast, Antoine Roquentin's plight in Nausea is "so vague, so metaphysical that I am ashamed of it."


But here's what I realized from reading Death Note: nothingness is only undesirable when seen from the perspective of existence. If there is such thing as non-existence, by the time you're at it (I know my statement is full of semantic contradictions, but please bear with me for the sake of argument) you won't even conscious anymore of your nothingness, your insignificance; there will be no pain, no happiness, no emotion, absolutely nothing. Plainly speaking, what's to fear about nothingness when you're not even aware of it? (Because, of course, in Nothingness, there's no such thing as awareness/consciousness/perception/soul.)


Now consider the horrors of existence. Roquentin obviously rejects the notion that this world is but a transit station, that the meaning of this life is derived from the eternal. Life is here and now, there is no before- and after-, and so, what's the point? We all are going to die in the end anyway. Why one finds himself here in the first place? It seems weird and futile and meaningless.


Even though some parts of Nausea felt dragging and boring, which is deliberate, I'm sure, because that's how life is, others hit me hard because they rang true. For example, the time Roquentin looked at his old photos and mused about the (un)truthfulness of memories--"As for the square in Meknes, where I used to go every day . . . I do not see it any more. All that remains is the vague feeling that it was charming . . . . I can search the past in vain, I can only find these scraps of images and I am not sure what thy represent, whether they are memories or just fiction." Or the burden of thoughts that refused to be silenced--"Thoughts . . . stretch out and there's no end to them . . . . Then there are words, inside the thoughts . . . a sketchy sentence which constantly returns: . . . 'Smoke . . . not to think . . . don't want to think ... I think I don't want to think. I mustn't think that I don't want to think. Because that's still a thought.'"


I exist, and that's all.


Note: As far as I know--and I'm not very knowledgable to say the least--the only religion that explicitly states that non-existence is bad is the old Egyptian religion. Even then, I'm guessing the idea of Ammit the crocodile-lion-hippopotamus demon hybrid devouring your heart is more frightening than non-existence itself. Anyone care to enlighten me more about the topic?

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald The Beautiful and Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read mainly for enjoyment. My favorite books are the ones that managed to move me emotionally, suck me into the story, or change my perception, not necessarily the best literature. That said,The Great Gatsby is widely recognized as the best work of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, but The Beautiful and the Damned left a deeper impact on me.

Upon finishing The Great Gatsby, I thought, Poor Gatsby! It's hopeless, his love for Daisy, it's always been hopeless. So what if he's rich; in the end, it's impossible to compete with status and old money.

The Beautiful and the Damned was something else. Throughout the first half of the book, I often found myself bored with it. I had to force myself to read, page after page. But when I got to the part where Anthony Patch had his downward spiral, the story became infinitely more interesting. As he partied and drank into oblivion, seemingly incapable of stopping himself, I felt my heart contracted with pain, visceral pain. Anthony was spineless, and his misery was the result of his own recklessness, but I actually felt his despair. In contrast, The Great Gatsby was enjoyable from start to finish, but never once did I feel such intense emotion like what I felt when I read The Beautiful and the Damned.

Enough blabbing. For now, I'm adding Tender is the Night to my to-read list.

The Great Mortality by John Kelly

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time - John   Kelly

Some interesting tidbits:


- The term "Black Death" was not used until 1631. Fourteen century contemporaries called it the "Great Mortality."


- Prior to the Great Mortality, Europe was on the verge of Malthusian deadlock. Without intending to sound heartless . . . the epidemic actually helped control the population boom.


- There are two types of disease associated with the bacteria Yersinia pestis, bubonic and pneumonic. Bubonic plague, which is transmitted by rat fleas, is the most common form, while pneumonic plague is airborne and more fatal. (Bubonic plague can develop into pneumonic plague, though.) If you want to use the analogy of cancer, then bubonic plague is like malignant tumor and pneumonic is like metastasis.


- Two important factors in the dissemination of the plague are natural disaster (including the sudden change of weather pattern, which drove wild rodents away from their natural habitat and into contact with humans) and travel (trade and Mongol invasion).

Multi Shelves, Follow and Invite Fb Friends, Social Share Buttons & the Fastest Way to Reach the Top

It’s time to finish up this week with some great news. As always we present you several new functions on BookLikes. Let’s see what we’ve got here this time.


This Thursday brings multi shelves, fast way to follow and invite your Facebook friends, social share buttons on your blog posts and "back to top" on Dashboard.


Putting books on many shelves was very desirable function and we’re happy to make it available :-) So now book collecting can be easier and even better arranged. How to put books on many shelves? Just create  shelves of your choice on your virtual Shelf and then pick appropriate ones while editing your books.



From now on you can also easily Follow and Invite your Facebook friends. 

Just connect your Fb account in Settings and your friends will be visible on Dashboard. Then you can start following them or if they aren’t already on BookLikes, invite them via Facebook.


You can also find other avid readers and your friends on Explore page where you see BookLikes community adjusted to your language version and on Find Friends page where you can search people via their names, usernames, blog names or email. Or Invite friends by inserting e-mail in Invite box (Dashboard, on the left). 


Your writing will also get additional social component: share buttons that can be added to your posts and reviews on your blog. Then your guests and blog visitors can easily spread the word and share your writing. Share buttons are optional, you can decide whether you want to add them or not. To switch them on go to your Settings/Blog and tick options in Social networks spot. Share and Like buttons will appear next to your blog posts. 


Last but not least point today is a tip: how to reach the top the fastest way? Just click “back to top” on Dashboard :)


More thrilling updates will be revealed soon :-)

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai, Donald Keene

Despite its title, No Longer Human is really about the pain of being human (duh). It's about depression. Alienation. Life spiralling out of control.


Okay, so Yozo, the protagonist, is afraid of humans. He doesn't understand why exactly people act like they do, but in order to fit in, he tries acting as human as possible. This poses an extra problem because now, on top of his fear of humans, he's also afraid lest people find out that he's a "fake," that everything he does is nothing but false affectation.


Now, I think that way of seeing things is interesting because isn't it normal for people to assume different "masks" when they interact with different individuals? It's to be expected that people act differently with, say, their boss than they do around their friends; it doesn't mean that they're being insencere.


Or perhaps that's precisely the point? Just because something is perceived as "normal," it doesn't mean that it comes easily and naturally for everyone. When you're incapable of doing what everybody else is doing, like Yozo, you might end up concluding that there's something wrong with you, that it's your own lack of humanity that is to blame. Yozo thinks like that, and maybe it just proves just how kind he is. (And why those women fall in love with him, even though all he seems to do is leeching them for money, sex and affection.) I imagine that people who are truly inhumane--psychopaths, let us say--wouldn't suspect that there's something wrong with them.