__marcelo (__marcelo) wrote,

Books! (Arcana of the Imperii, Supernatural, and Apocalyptic Variants Edition)

The Worst Is Yet to Come: A Post-Capitalist Survival Guide (Peter Fleming, 2019/#21): Nothing much you haven't noticed, and not much of a survival guide either (although, to be fair, I don't have many concrete recommendations either). A few details of note, in any case:

  • Analysts suggest the new economy blurs the boundary between work and personal life. With the help of smartphones, you can never turn off. But that’s not quite how I saw it. A suicidal work ethic needs an external domain (e.g., the home, family life, friends, etc.), untouched by the formal workplace in order to absorb its shocks. A lot of unpaid labour has to occur to shore up the “official” workplace. The separation is attractive to capitalism because the boss can work you into the ground and have someone else deal with the aftermath. That’s why the crisis of work is also a crisis of the household.

  • Something chilling and unexpected, but oh-so 20th century: [...] 83,000 men, women and children were murdered at the Jasenovac camp alone. A lot of hair was donated to the Third Reich that summer.
    Documents of those crimes were later found at the headquarters of the Heeresgruppe E intelligence division, who knew what was happening at Jasenovac. At the time, a young Austrian Wehrmacht officer was working at Heeresgruppe E helping to prepare a memoranda for “resettling” the Serbs. He did his job so well that the Nazi-Croatian government awarded him the “Medal of the Crown of King Zvonimir” for his services.
    After the war this officer — Kurt Waldheim — enjoyed a successful career as a diplomat and eventually became General Secretary of the UN. One of his last duties was to record a greeting placed onboard the 1977 Voyager II space probe[...]

  • Neoliberal capitalism is a political project first and foremost. It would rather choose to be economically inefficient, disorganised and even unprofitable than democratise its domain. That’s why challenging capitalism on economic grounds is often useless. Refute it as an ethico-political impossibility instead.

  • These dynamics could be behind the surprising number of psychopaths who’ve been discovered in management positions, transforming ordinary white-collar workplaces into veritable hatescapes. According to a recent study the likelihood that your boss is a psychopath is about the same as meeting one in prison. One in five prisoners have traits indicative of psychopathy. When it comes to the corporate hierarchy, the figure is 21% and the prevalence among the general public is only 1%.

The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947 (eds. Christine Ferguson and Andrew Radford, 2019/#23): The main takeaways: occulture was neither hidden nor dominant, nor, in fact, much isolated from anything else — the absurd epistemologies, petty jealousies, and outright insanity of the Theosophical Society and similar groups is amusing from the outside, but increasingly disturbing as you get more details — Alesteir Crowley could only wish he were who they accused him of being — no, seriously, there's nothing so ludicrous you can't set up a mystic circle around — there's a lot of worrisome racism and proto-fascism in a lot of these areas (partly because, well, there was a lot of that in general, although it also ended up being used in some aspects an areas of, e.g., Nazism) — Science Fiction and occultist fantasies aren't really as easy to tell from one another as either would want — pace the article's author, when I read of a female-shaped and -styled mummy that is shown to have somebody with a male skeleton inside with everything bound and filled in so it will look female, my first thought isn't "overweight male" as much as to wonder about gender identity in Roman Egypt (not about mismatches between birth-assigned gender and identity, I believe those are more or less an universal constant, but rather the mechanisms through which this was or wasn't addressed, by either individuals or society).

A couple of quotes:
  • The years between 1875 and Crowley’s death in 1947 form the historical parameters of our collection, enclosing a particularly fertile period of occult activity in Britain during which the influences, texts and legacies of the revival’s early phase were being disseminated and put to new use within an expanding and fragmenting public sphere. In addition to the spread of Theosophy and the advent of Crowley’s notorious “Great Beast” persona, these years also saw the rise of a great multitude of occult-inflected artistic movements of consequence to the essays gathered here, including the romance revival, symbolism, the Celtic revival, surrealism, and the neo-paganism inspired by James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890). (By the way, The Golden Bought having been published in 1890 explains a lot about both the book and the decade.)

  • The nucleus of Scotland’s Celtic Revival was the renowned (but now under-appreciated) polymath Patrick Geddes. Geddes’s principal occupation was a town planner, and his projects included renewing the Old Town of Edinburgh; designing plans for India, much admired by his friend Rabindranath Tagore22 and conducting the first town plan for Tel Aviv, on behalf of the Zionist Commission. But he was also a sociologist, a zoologist, an art critic and patron, a political economist and a committed Francophile (establishing both the Franco-Scottish Society in 1895 and Scots College in Montpellier in 1924). Many of these roles were informed by Geddes’s Celtic Revivalism, which he did a great deal to further from his base in Edinburgh. He commissioned murals of Celtic mythology for the Ramsay Garden Common Room in Edinburgh, executed by John Duncan; he managed a publishing company, Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, which printed a Celtic Library series that included the popular work of Fiona Macleod and Ernest Rhys and he was also the leading figure behind The Evergreen, a Scottish fin-de-siècle magazine featuring literature, art and scientific essays that articulated the voice, and markedly international vision, of Scotland’s Celtic Revival. Due to his many influential town planning and sociological endeavours, critics tend to cast Geddes as a scientific thinker and activist, but, as Philip Boardman reminds us, Geddes was “both a Western scientist and an Indian mystic”. Geddes had a deep interest in various aspects of fin-de-siècle occultism, one of which was Theosophy.

The Limits of Empire: European Imperial Formations in Early Modern World History: Essays in Honor of Geoffrey Parker (eds. Tonio Andrade and William Reger, 2019/#24): A collection of essays on Early Modern (mostly European) history, blithely stretching the nominal topic of the "limits of empire" (understood as "the operational limits of Early Modern empires and emperors"). Best understood as an uneven by interesting set of essays touching on topics Geoffrey Parker has written on, which isn't precisely a narrow field. Perhaps the best one is the closing chapter by Parker himself, with a sort of brief professional auto-biography, illuminating many of the details of practice and (intellectual) logistics of the type I find fascinating.

As a minor thing: I hadn't been aware of how contentious James IV/I inheritances had been. His mother, Mary Stuart, had left Scotland to Philip II (because of his Protestantism), and Elizabeth I saw him as a mortal enemy, and would've rather have a friend ("such as the count of Essex") get the throne. We tend to see dynastic monarchies as stable and settled, but I don't think it works that well. They can be stable during a reign (as long as there's no pre-existing alternative focal loci of power), and those periods are longer than in other political forms, but transitions are moments of instability and negotiation. Family is never easy, much less when there's power and wealth involved.

Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II (Geoffrey Parker, 2019/#25): Self-recommending combination of subject and author; not the first book Parker has written about Philip, but you never feel it's a redundant one. The only part I'd quibble with is the psychological analysis at the end, which feels questionable as psychology.

Philip II is of course a fascinating topic: partly because he was probably the most powerful person to the west of Constantinople and, say, to the east of Korea (not that Korea existed as such then), and partly because the way he lived and worked was rather unique. His emphasis on handling as much as possible through writing was, I think, a bit of an outlier among his peers, and his dedication to that kind of work also perhaps unmatched. He failed at a lot of what he tried, but on the other hand, he tried even more than what his considerable resources would have allowed — his religious outlook and the place in history in which he believed himself to be (never mind his dynastic responsibilities) meant that every defeat led to another attempt (God was testing him, and he would provide the necessary miracles to overcome petty issues like seasons, time, and money, if the cause was His), and every success to a further effort. And even if he lost the Netherlands and (from a much briefer and ephemeral toehold) England, and France ended up stronger than he would have wanted, as Parker says, Italy remained Catholic, Spain kept America south of the British colonies for a few centuries, and — what would have been equally important to Philip — it's still by and large Catholic.

His legendary micromanagement did lead to some successes (El Escorial was thought to be perhaps the finest building in Europe, not just because of its size but also because its homogeneity and coherence of design, something that you could only achieve in Early Modern Europe if you had somebody as powerful and dedicated to it as Philip was, as well as of course piles of money), although it meant that the whole empire was tied up to his (unmatched in his age, but still out of date by the time he used it) information and simple limitations of time — it would have been difficult enough (and damaging enough) for somebody to manage the important issues of the empire the way he did, but without any sense of priorities, well... as an ambassador said, If I had to expect death, I'd rather it came from Spain, because then it would never arrive.

My overall impression of his management style is that he did extraordinarily well given the limitations of technology and lack of organizational precedents, but his blind spots regarding time, logistics, and his fundamental inability to prioritize and delegate made that style impossible to pull off. It's also arguable that his religious outlook meant he would always push beyond his material means and be unable to pare down things, so that's another built-in self-limitation.

Another thing worthy of remark is that he was such a dramatic person. He would dissimulate, build elaborate Mission Impossible feints, fake paper trails, set up traps for people, and so on. Sometimes more often than strictly needed, I think, although I guess I should do better than he did and defer to the person on the field, i.e. him. But it's hard not to think that somebody who after making a promise or signing a treaty would go to a notary to (secretly) leave a record that he didn't feel himself bound by an promise extracted under duress — meaning "so I could get something else I wanted" — well... that person, if he doesn't love the game for the game itself, at least thinks in those terms. Escobedo's murder is such a fantastic overlap of incompetent unnecessarily dramatic conspiracies that I wouldn't be surprised if there's a black comedy version of it (there's an early Tarantino movie there, I swear).

A couple of quotes:

  • In November 1559, the king signed a final measure prepared by Valdés to root out heresy: a proclamation prohibiting all Spaniards ‘from leaving these realms to study, teach, learn, attend or reside in any university, school or college abroad’. Students and teachers currently abroad had four months to return, on pain of losing their benefices (for clerics) and their possessions (for laypeople); while ‘the degrees and courses’ of those who henceforth studied abroad ‘will not count, and will never count, for anything’ in Spain. It would be hard to exaggerate the cumulative impact of the measures conceived by Valdés and enacted by Philip and his sister in 1558–9. Certainly, they halted the practice of Protestantism in Spain – there would be no more ‘Lutheran cells’ and little circulation of heretical books – but keeping the lands of the Catholic King free from heresy came at a high price .After 1559, Spain was in effect quarantined from the rest of the world: without express approval from the Inquisition, no ideas could enter and no scholars could leave. Moreover, within Spain, the spate of arrests and accusations meant that no one – whether cleric or lay – could safely express any opinion about religion. As the count of Feria (still abroad) put it: ‘Affairs in Spain are taking a turn for the worse, because we are getting to the stage where we will not know who is a Christian and who is a heretic’; and so, he opined, where religion was concerned ‘it is better to be silent’. But silence was not always possible: between 1560 and 1562 over a hundred members of the Spanish elite, including Feria, received a summons to give testimony under oath to the Inquisitors involved in the trial of Carranza.Even the king had to do so – twice.

  • Only the combination of his [Philip's] many virtues – his ability to work long and hard days, his intelligence and his memory, his exercise regime and his moderation in all things – can explain Philip’s ability to take so many decisions on so many different matters throughout the fifty-five years that he governed. Nevertheless, this prowess disguised a surprising indiscipline in what he chose to concentrate on. Thus he read and commented on countless papers concerning the Escorial and ecclesiastical patronage, however trivial, whereas many documents on issues of national security contain few signs of royal interest – just as Don Diego de Córdoba, Don Juan de Silva and others complained (chapter 4). The king was not unaware of this problem. In March 1566, with war in the Mediterranean, a rebellion narrowly averted in Mexico and trouble brewing in the Netherlands, Secretary Pedro de Hoyo apologized for troubling his master with ‘trivia’ about the royal palaces: ‘When I see Your Majesty with many tasks, I am sometimes afraid to worry you with matters that could be postponed without detriment.’ The king replied ‘I gave up on the tasks: although there are plenty of them these days, sometimes a man can relax by doing other things.’ Everyone who has wielded executive power can sympathize with this statement: in a time of crisis, solving minor problems can provide short-term satisfaction, even relaxation, which seems to make the major problems less daunting. But Córdoba, Silva and the rest felt that Philip did not ‘relax’ by ‘doing other things’ just ‘sometimes’: they complained that he did so constantly, so that ‘relaxation’ became escapism.`
Tags: #21, #23, #24, #25, books

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