de Sade and the Curious Endpoints of Power

The Marquis de Sade isn’t the world’s best philosopher. He’s a fairly good writer and stylist, and has an alright grasp of character dynamics, but his dialogues are worse than Plato’s when it comes to having one character give long speeches, and another nod, agree, and say “oh yes, you’re right, you’re so wise, you’ve convinced me completely.” Plato at least had the decency to have his characters argue a bit, and occasionally end a dialogue with the problem unsolved. de Sade, on the other hand, well…

The longest and most cohesive statement he wrote on his theories is in Philosophy in the Bedroom, a series of dialogues in which Eugénie, a young woman who has already been seduced by an older and more experienced woman, is further initiated into the world of libertineism by the older woman’s brother and his friend (and the well endowed gardener). In between various sex scenes, de Sade’s mouthpiece Dolmancé speaks at length about atheism, natural law, hatred of mothers, the pursuit of pleasure as the highest goal, and how the stronger are obligated to dominate the weaker.

Many have read this and his other works as attempts at satire, as trying to show the enlightenment philosophers where their theories inevitably lead, and speaking out against the perversions of the upper class, but that just doesn’t square with the details of his life, considering that he was imprisoned for beating a hired servant, Rose Keller, half to death, holding her captive for quite some time, and then trying to pay her off. He was arrested at the request of his mother-in-law, who wanted him unceremoniously locked away from her daughter. His letters are full of whining about how unfair it is that he’s in jail merely for beating up a whore he paid (which is an interesting interpretation of events, as Keller, a widow and beggar, was under the impression that she was being hired as a housekeeper). If it’s satire, it’s of the sort that is jealous of those who are getting away with what he was caught doing.

It’s easy enough to see where his hatred of mothers come from, considering the circumstances.

But he makes one very glaring and crucial mistake early in his philosophy that renders the entire system rather hilarious in light of his life, and it’s a mistake seen again and again in so many people who try to use Nature or the state of lawlessness or the power of the strong over the weak as justifications for their actions.

He starts with the fairly reasonable propositions that Nature doesn’t care about humanity’s existence one way or the other, and that pleasure is the highest goal of human existence. There is little evidence that the planet would stop spinning if humanity was wiped out, and life existed long before we came into being, so we can grant him this, I think. It’s the second bit that trips him up.

Because pleasure is the highest goal, we should be relentless in seeking it, and therefore nothing ought to stand in our way when it comes to wringing every last bit of pleasure to be had from everything and everyone around us. If you would enjoy someone, take them, whether they consent or not. If you’d like to kill someone, do it. If you want something, take it. The state does this all the time, so why shouldn’t the individual? Those who are strong enough to inflict their will upon the weaker deserve to have their will services, and those who are weaker should learn to enjoy the pain that accompanies their taking.

All well and good, if you accept some of his premises, but he makes a major misstep along the way, and forgets just how society was constituted in the first place.

There is no natural system of government. There are no natural laws. There are no divine rules set in place. These statements his philosophy is in complete accordance with. And so it is that the strong are allowed to set forth their will upon those who are weaker than them.

And they did. Hundreds of years ago. This is the origin of the state.

Implicit in the ability of one to impose one’s will on another is setting boundaries, rules, laws, that the weaker must follow. The idea that a group of strong individuals wouldn’t band together and assert their collective will upon a populace is such naivete that it’s surprising that so many miss it. This ahistorical view of things, the desire to restart history from right now, always seems to crop up. They miss that they are late to the party, that it already happened. And even if it were restarted, it’d only be a matter of weeks or months before people had banded together to form gangs, and then local municipalities, and then armies, and soon we’d have nations all over again. If the state were so weak, it would not be able to assert its will upon them. It wouldn’t be able to imprison or execute them.

But for someone who’s convinced that the powerful get to do what they want, whining when you’re the one’s getting fucked is just pathetic. You’re already living in the world you asked for. You did what you wanted, and people more powerful than you did what they wanted to you. Who are you to tell them that they can’t collectivize and mob together if it brings them pleasure to see you scorned?

At the end of Philosophy in the Bedroom, Eugénie’s mother arrives to try and save her daughter. She is beaten, humiliated, and raped by the assembled (primarily by her daughter), raped by a syphilitic servant, and her genitals are sewn up to insure that she is infected. If the collective is allowed to take revenge on a stand in for his mother-in-law because they disagree on her stances, why isn’t the collective allowed to have it’s way with him?

And when a truly strong man like Napoleon came into power and dominated the entire country, well, what possible objection could he have then? Dolmancé instructs Eugénie and the Madame de Saint-Ange not to complain when he whips them both bloody before sodomy, because it is only through pain that the greatest pleasure can be achieved.

Perhaps rather than struggling and running off to Italy whenever he could, de Sade should have learned to lay in prison and take it?

Or, perhaps, just perhaps, he’s not arguing in good faith, and like all folks of the Natural State of The World and The Strong Control The Weak persuasion, he imagines himself as the one holding the whip, rather than the one in the cell, and is baffled to find that this just isn’t the case?

Color Science

Consider a woman, Mary, who is color blind. She is a neuroscientist, and knows absolutely everything there is to know about color, all the wavelengths and all the effects of light on the eye, etc.. There is nothing she doesn’t know about it. But she has never, herself, experienced it. One day, a surgical procedure is developed, allowing her to see color for the first time. Does Mary gain any new knowledge?

So is formulated one of the modern classic philosophical arguments, and one that, honestly, is built on such a false premise that it’s difficult to believe that it’s had as much traction as it’s had. Rather than go through all the logical argumentation, I’ll simply rewrite the analogy, and the flaws should become glaringly obvious.

Consider a young man, Gary, who is a virgin. He is eighteen years old, and knows absolutely everything there is to know about sex. Thanks to the internet, there is nothing he does not know about it. But he, himself, has never actually had sex. One day, he goes on a date with a woman, and after dinner and a movie, they make love. Does Gary gain any new knowledge?

Obviously, Gary could not have full and complete knowledge of sex. Any claim as such is non-sense. There is no refutation of physicalism, because he never had the knowledge in the first place; he does not have all the physical knowledge, so his gain of new knowledge is nothing significant. He could imagine it, he could try to synthesize what it would be like, he could try to create a simulacrum via masturbation, etc. but any claim to absolute knowledge of the subject is necessarily false.

A hoax that got out of hand


I was angry with Alan Sokal back in 1996. He missed the point, to say the least, and, subsequently, did a great job providing everyone who didn’t want to think with an easy piece of shorthand to gesture at when they wanted to dismiss entire schools of thought without engaging with them (see also: Dawkins, Richard re: religion, whose blistering insights about the Problem of Evil and the Teleological Argument have only been debated for ~1500 years or so before he was born; a spectacular case of getting everything right but missing the point completely).

And so, in the grand tradition of academia, I decided to get back at him. And how better than to get him at his own game? A hoax of my own. It would take time, planning, effort. It would require coordination with someone just unscrupulous enough to want to see a proud man taken down a peg. And we wouldn’t go after some podunk little journal with no readers and even less renown. No, we’d hit one of the big time journals, one of the unassailable, unimpeachable bastions of integrity that represent the industry as a whole. The kind that the lay people have heard of.

So, my friend and partner-in-crime Andy and I started cooking up a paper that, clearly, had to be bullshit. There was no way anyone could read it and think that we were serious, that we had found a correlation. We stacked on as much garbage as we could, putting in as many spurious claims as we could link, each trying to out do the other in a marathon session that involved many bottles of wine and many scratch pads, trying to come up with the most ridiculous theory possible. It would be the “Naked Came the Stranger” of science publications.

“Autistic Enterocolitis” was the name we settled on.

We then stapled together some photos of sad kids and their upset parents, cribbed together some sentences about MMR from other papers we found lying around Andy’s office, copied the index out of an old Vladivostok telephone directory, and sent it off.

For the first year, nothing. If you don’t know what waiting for peer review is like, it’s an agonizing period of hurry up and wait. You are scrutinized by an anonymous jackass whose main concerns are advancing their own careers and making sure that they’ve been cited enough times in the bibliography that they feel like a part of the intellectual community. You will be given this person’s lowest possible priority, your paper lost underneath some student work, the novel they started last year, a coffee ringed calendar with numerous other “important” events they are blowing off, and the three complimentary textbooks they’re considering reviewing for next semester. But, if you’re lucky, some intern will knock the stack over when they rush in with multiple vials of blood that they’ve mislabeled and are hoping (praying?) that there’s some test that can be performed to identify the people they belong to so that they don’t have to do 18 more draws from even more doners in order to complete the experiment, and your (now bloodstained) paper will end up on top when the student finishes picking everything up through tears and goes running down the hall, wondering why they thought they could ever do anything right. Then you get a glance through to check that their name is somewhere in there, and a few notes to make it look like they did something. (“Nice use of commas, too many semi-colons. One is enough per paper to make the author look like s/he knows English grammar. Could have written more about mathematical diabetes, but otherwise acceptable for publication”)

Imagine our surprise when, on 28 February 1998, The Lancet published  “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children”

We were flabbergasted. Dumbstruck. It worked! We jumped up and down like teenage girls who’d just been asked to prom, hands clasped, the pictures on the walls of Andy’s apartment shaking each time we landed. How could they have taken the bait? Vaccines cause autism, which presents itself as a bowel disease we invented whole cloth? Who’d believe that garbage? And a sample size of only 12, a third of whom hadn’t presented autistic symptoms? We’d done it. All the was left was to call Social Text and let them in on the joke. They deserved it, after all they’d been through. They could drop the story and we’d let is spread like wildfire. We figured we’d let it stew for a week or two, then announce that we’d fabricated the whole thing — just enough time for the praise and adulation to start rolling in, but not enough that people would start actually acting on it. We didn’t want people to get hurt, after all. I was just wishing I could be there when Alan got the news that he’d been punked back.

But then, a funny thing happened. Not funny “ha ha”. More, funny “sad clown is going to hang himself and is on his way to the store to buy rope, and slips on a banana peel and falls off a bridge to his death”.

Somehow, people believed us. People really believed us. The newspapers and the TV didn’t bother to read the paper, they just ran with it. Those sorts of people emerged. Granola people. “I’m a Christian and a Mother and I Vote” people. Survivalists. Christian Scientists. The people who think the fluoride in the water contains mind control drugs. And these people convinced other people. It spread like a virus, like one of Dawkins’ memes, through the populace. It was too late. We’d let it loose, and there was no way to get it back into the cage.

And then Andy got weird; he started believing it too. We had an angry phone call one night, and we haven’t spoken since. He now denies that he ever knew me. It hurt, losing a close friend like that. That was 17 years ago. But he has famous friend now. Jenny McCartney loves him. So does Charlie Sheen. Alicia Silverstone. Donald Trump. One of the Kennedy kids. What use would he have for me?

It spiraled and snowballed, growing worse and worse. More and more people got in on the hoax. Old diseases came back, and came back with a vengeance. Children were disfigured. Babies born with horrific defects. Corpses piled up, needlessly. The Lancet finally retracted the paper, but the djinn was out of the bottle, the monkey’s paw had already closed one of its sinister fingers. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never wanted to cause the extinction of the human race. I just wanted to rib back someone who’d ribbed us.

Gotcha, Alan. Ha ha?

Intellectual Laziness

Something that has existed since, well, probably forever (even though this paragraph originally started ‘Something that’s become more and more of a problem…’, it’s almost certainly been an forever), is the problem of intellectual laziness.

If you’ve only glanced at a complicated topic, something that people have doctorates in, have written long books about, have done extensive research in, etc. etc., you probably don’t understand it very well, and any criticism you’re going to make of it is going to be rather surface level and will merely question a few of the basic assumptions made by the field of study, as though said baseis have never been questioned before.

For example:

  • Why do people think God exists when something would have had to make God, and also Evil exists?
  • Math has no use in the real world, so why am I bothering to learn this?
  • We should get the government out of things, because all those regulations do it make it harder for people.
  • That’s not art, it’s just a bunch of crap thrown on a canvas. My kid could do that.
  • Postmodernism is just a bunch of gibberish.
  • Postmodernism is just a bunch of really simple ideas dressed up in fancy terminology.
  • Science has been wrong before, so why should I trust it now?

I could go on, but you get the idea. It seems to go in three stages:

  1. A negative gut reaction to whatever is being presented.
  2. A refusal to actually engage with the material, which might provide evidence counter to the gut reaction.
  3. Repetitions of the same tired criticisms that everyone else makes, especially dismissal of anyone who cares enough to really be invested in “that crap”.

Odds are, if your criticisms can be found in the first two links of a google search for Anti-[whatever], and those aren’t from .edu sites, or are being shouted on YouTube by a man with an ill-chosen pseudonym, you haven’t engaged deeply enough.

(A parable: a fellow was writing a story about a leprechaun, and doing some research into the origins of the mythical figure — what they represented, why they endured as symbols of Irish culture and heritage, how their depictions had changed over time, how the stories told about them gave differing moral lessons. While out drinking one night, a friend of his, one of those folks prone to outbursts and moods, yelled “Your work is shit. You believe in nothing. Leprechaun’s don’t exist. I don’t need a degree in leprehuanology to know that!” Obviously, thought the fellow, but didn’t bother saying anything out loud, because you know how those types can be once they’re in their cups.)

A better method, albeit one that requires effort and opens one up to actual criticism, is Dennett’s “Steelmanning”. Described in his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, the Steelman is the opposite of a Strawman. You attempt to present the other person’s argument in the strongest terms possible, giving them the most charitable interpretations, making an actual case for them being correct, and demonstrating that you understand them completely. Then, and only then, do you begin any criticism.

Now this, of course, requires more than skimming the Wikipedia article on a given subject, and then making up what you think someone (some idiot?) might think about this (stupid) topic. Books are involved. Knowledge of the different schools of thought within a discipline. Replying to actual assertions, rather than the simply the existence of what you assume the thing is.

An short example contrasting the two:

“John Searle is stupid. His stupid Chinese Room doesn’t prove anything about learning or AI, because a person isn’t a computer. Some guy with a bunch of books wouldn’t be able to translate Chinese as well as a super computer, and therefore the other person would notice, and the Turing test would fail. What an idiot.”


“Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment, in which it is asserted that there is no difference between a computer interpreting commands and a person executing commands in a language they do not understand, is an interesting thought problem. The basic conclusion is that no artificial intelligence will be capable of contemplating itself, or understanding it’s own actions, just as the person manually executing the ‘program’ will not understand the language they are working in. There will be no ‘Strong AI’, to use Searle’s term. However, many objections have been raised to this analogy, and the one which I find the most compelling is that Searle’s conclusion (“Therefore there is no Strong AI”) does not follow from his premises. He assumes a dualism between Strong and Weak AI, and, because his experiment seems to demonstrate that there is not a Strong AI, he assumes it must be Weak. This does not follow. It merely proves that, in this particular instance, thought is not just computation. It does nothing to positively identify criteria for thought, nor to establish that computers are incapable of it. It does not prove that, simply because computational processes and their output can occur in the absence of a cognitive state, that thought is not occurring in this instance. Is there any way for Searle to prove to me that he himself is thinking, and not simply interpreting and executing external commands which his unconscious interior does not actually understand? Even more generally, is there a difference between the real thing and a perfect simulacrum? That is a question far too broad for discussion here. Needless to say, despite its numerous flaws, the Chinese Room is an interesting thought project that has entertained philosophers and AI researchers for years.”

As much as I might disagree with John Searle, and find many of his ideas based on incorrect premises, I would never call him a stupid person, or think that he should stop writing. It is chiefly because he is such an intelligent person that he is capable of producing such brilliant (if wrong) things as the Chinese Room. And I assume he’s writing in good faith, because he’s a doctor of philosophy at UC Berkeley.

Try it out next time you feel tempted to, say, claim that Islam is horrible because of the actions of a tiny minority of Wahhabists, or that Feminism is a cancerous political movement because of Andrea Dworkin rather than a multifaceted approach to cultural theory through which any number of subjects can be interpreted, or if you’re about to type “That’s Economics 101!” while not realizing that there is a 102, a 301, a 505, and other much more complicated classes that expand on and systematize the dumbed down and simplified explanations given in 101 classes so that students aren’t overwhelmed and can basic concepts (By analogy, they don’t cover friction when calculating motion in Physics 101. Does friction exist?).

Update: There will be further discussion of John Searle, rest assured.I have a lot more to say about Chinese Rooms, Limited INC., and, well… A lot. We’ll get there.

“I am Always Late to the Party” by Donna Greenhauser

I’m not one of those people who are glued to book reviews and clamoring to read the latest thing, despite my profession. I prefer to give books a bit of time to age, and to see if it’s just going to be a flash in the pan that no one will care about in a year or so (Water for ElephantsSarah’s Key) or will actually enter the modern canon as worthy of the time it takes to really read a novel.

Because I’m not, nor have I ever been, one of those folks who can speed through page after page, skimming through the boring bits, glancing over descriptions, jumping ahead to the action. For better or for worse, I read every word.

This isn’t a moral stand or a judgement on those who can read faster than I can. I’d find it rather useful if I could hustle through a novel in a weekend, or knock off six chapters in an evening. And I’m not going to make some preposterous claim, like that I enjoy slowly read novels on a deeper level or something. I just don’t read very fast. It’s something I’ve accepted.

It also means that, for me, while reading is a pleasurable and leisurely activity, it is also one that is undertaken with great care. Is whatever book I’m about to embark upon going to be more worth my time than Kant or Hegel? Woolf or Joyce? Pynchon or Wallace?

(It does seem to make reading certain philosophy easier, because I’m used to reading at a very slow pace, whereas, for example, a companion of mine once flew into a rage because she couldn’t deal with the long sentences, but also couldn’t turn her long ingrained speed-reading off. Another friend of mine used to fast-forward through parts of movies that she found boring, and then get angry at the films when she couldn’t understand what was happening (she was the quintessential person in the movie theatre “Why did they kill that guy? I thought he was with them? He was with the bad guys? When did they say that?”), but that’s a separate problem)

Which brings us around, the long way, to Greenhauser’s I am Always Late to the Party.

It’s a novel that came out a few years back, and one that I didn’t pay much attention to on its release, though a lot of folks seemed quite taken by it.

A quick plot summary: Esther, a woman in her late 20s, attempts to “rationalize” her life, by making everything she possibly can completely optimal. She counts her steps, she notes how many times she chews each different type of food, she measures how long she needs to sleep given what activities she has performed each day, etc. etc. She figures that by doing this, she will save herself enough time and effort that she’ll have time to be happy, that the main source of her unhappiness comes from how busy she is, and if she had the time to relax, she wouldn’t hate herself nor the world around her. She has encounters with various folks, there’s minor plot lines running throughout the book about her landlord trying to get with her sister, her boss dissolving the company because of mismanaged funds, her ex-boyfriend who lives down the street from her job trying to get back on his feet after their recent break-up, but the main thrust is Esther herself trying to solve the condition of her life by making more time.

She fails, as you might imagine.

But what struck me as brilliant about the book was not the set up, nor the rather predictable ending where her best friend lets her know The Secret that life isn’t just a series of tasks to be performed, but something to be relished and enjoyed, and that if you spend all your time trying to make yourself happy, rather than finding happiness, you’ll never succeed, and all that… No, it’s that this section comes while there’s still a good third of the book left, and Esther’s reply is “Yeah, no shit. But I don’t have any money. My job is falling apart. I can’t just fuck off to India for two months, Siobhan,” which, needless to say, isn’t the reaction she was expecting.

Now, they don’t have a big breakdown shouting match or anything, which is another point I liked, because far too often female friendships are depicted as fragile or petty, and this honestly felt like a realistic relationship. Siobhan takes it in stride, and lets Esther complain some more. She’s a good friend. They go out drinking, and through the strange vicissitudes of fate, end up crashing a very fancy party hosted by Simon, who is an amalgamation of a number of business person stereotypes. Esther looks like Simon’s ex-girlfriend from behind, and he ends up shouting a ton of nasty things at her, which Esther initially takes as criticism at her crashing the party. But then he gets more personal, going on about parts of their “relationship”, and finishes by calling her Grace. Only after he’s made a fool of himself does she turn around and say “I think you meant to say that to someone else.”

Esther and Siobhan get back to Esther’s apartment, and Siobhan passes out in Esther’s bed. Esther tries sleeping on the couch, but finds that this has fully thrown her attempts to control her life astray. It will take weeks for her to get back on track. But when she controlled everything, she wasn’t happy. What was she doing with all that spare time? Trying to figure out ways to arrange for more spare time? And when she let herself go and didn’t care, at the end of the night, regardless of how good a time she had, she was still back in the same place. What was the point? Why bother with any of it? She goes to the top of her building, intending to jump, but finds that the entire roof has been encircled with fencing and safety nets to prevent this very thing. She laughs, “A sad, private laugh, the sort you’d imagine coming from a clown’s tent as he takes off his make-up after the night is over”, and goes back downstairs.

There’s some plot wrapping up after that (Siobhan punches Judd, Esther’s ex-, when he shows up the next morning, her landlord and her sister finally go on a date, her boss sells the company and Esther doesn’t lose her job, she meets Grace and learns what an ass Simon was during their relationship, etc.), but this is really where the novel ends in terms of character development and significant action.

It isn’t that she chooses not to commit suicide, it is that suicide is made just inconvenient enough for her not to bother making the effort. Her life isn’t good, per se, but she is forbidden from stopping it easily. She must go on living, happy or not, unless she really doesn’t want to. And, which is why I’m glad the novel doesn’t end on the rooftop, the world doesn’t care whether or not she likes it or hates it. Life still moves on for other people.

One will hope that it will keep its place in the literary consciousness, but sadly, I’ve not seen a copy in bookstores since I bought mine.

So it goes, I guess.

“Where questions of style and exposition are concerned I try to follow a simple maxim: if you can’t say it clearly you don’t understand it yourself.”

Chapter Four: Calypso

Leopold Bloom was eating breakfast at his house at 7 Eccles St., at about 8 am, in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday July 16th, 1904. He was eating meat. Kidney was his favorite. He liked the taste of urine that the kidney had. He gave some to his cat. The cat was very pretty, and meowed at him. He petted her. He gave her some milk, too.

Mr. Bloom was going to bring his wife breakfast in bed. He made sure to get the toast just right. But she was still asleep, and didn’t want any yet. He told her he was going to go to the shop around the corner. He put on his hat and went.

Dublin was a big city and lots of people bustled about! He passed a church, and a school, and even said hello to one of his friends as he walked down the street.

On the way to the shop, Mr. Bloom thought about all sorts of things: his wife’s father, his military service, Irish history. His wife had been born on the island of Gibraltar, which is one of the islands that Homer may have been thinking of when he was describing the island of Ogygia, where Calypso lives. Molly Bloom is very similar to Calypso, the nymph in Homer’s Odyssey who kept him trapped on her island for seven years, because Molly too is an alluring and sexual creature and Mr. Bloom, who is like Odysseus, has been held captive by her charms. This is why this chapter is called Calypso.

Mr. Bloom got to the shop, and bought threepence worth of pork kidney. This is significant because Mr. Bloom used to be Jewish before converting to Catholicism to marry his wife, and Jews are not supposed to eat pork. He put the package in his pocket, and paid the butcher. “Good morning!” he said as he left.

When Mr. Bloom got back to the house, he found that some mail had been delivered. One letter was for him, and the other for Molly, his wife.

Mr. Bloom made tea while Molly read her letter. He took the kidney out of his pocket and put it on the stove to cook, and then went in to the bedroom to eat breakfast with his wife. Ms. Bloom was still in bed, and was not wearing very much. She was very pretty. Her clothes were tossed about the room. It was a very messy room.

Mr. Bloom asked what Molly’s letter was about. “It’s from my manager, Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan,” she said. “He’s bringing over the songs I’m going to sing later. Are you going to Mr. Dignam’s funeral later?”

Patrick “Paddy” Dignam was one of Mr. Bloom’s friends, who had died recently. The circumstances of his death are very similar to Elpenor’s, from The Odyssey (which, again, this novel takes much inspiration from), the youngest of the crew, who gets drunk and decides to sleep on the roof of Circe’s palace, and falls off a ladder to his death the next morning. This death is similar to that of Tim Finnegan, from the traditional Irish ballad, who will be the inspiration for Joyce’s later novel Finnegans Wake.

While heading to the funeral, Mr. Bloom will meet Mr. Simon Dedalus, who was the father of Stephen, the man the first three chapters of this book were about. While Mr. Bloom is at the funeral, Molly is going to have sex with ‘Blazes’ Boylan. We will learn later that Molly thinks her menstrual cycle is connected with her increased sexual appetites, and thus her decision to cheat on Mr. Bloom regularly with Boylan. She wanted Mr. Bloom to leave the house for most of the day, and he will do so, which will cause most of the action in the story. Mr. Bloom knew about Molly’s affair, and didn’t like it, but didn’t feel strong enough to do anything about it. Molly and Mr. Bloom were having marital problems. Some of these were because of their son, Rudy, died shortly after birth, eleven years ago. Mr. Bloom regularly wonders how life would be different had Rudy survived, and this is what prompts him to be so protective of Stephen when he finally encounters him later on in the story.

“Yes,” said Mr. Bloom. “I think the funeral is at 11 o’clock.”

“I had a question about the book I was reading,” said Molly, changing the subject again. “Do you know what ‘metempsychosis’ means? I came upon it in the book which is over there, underneath that pile of clothing, and didn’t understand it.” Mr. Bloom found the book, and she used her hairpin to point at the word.

“It’s a Greek word meaning ‘transmigration of souls’,” Mr Bloom explained.

“That’s confusing,” Molly said. “Why not say it plainly? Anyways, this book wasn’t very good. There were no sexy parts at all.”

“I’ll buy you a different book while I’m out.”

“Thank you. I’d like one by Paul de Kock. His name is a sex joke.”

“Metempsychosis means,” said Mr. Bloom, returning to the previous topic, “that we go on living in a different body after we die. Our soul moves into a new body. That’s what the ancient Greeks believed.”

“What’s that burning smell?” said Molly. She wasn’t interested in what Mr. Bloom had to say.

“Oh no! My kidney!” said Mr. Bloom. The kidney he had put on the stove earlier was burning. Mr. Bloom rushed into the kitchen and turned the stove off. It turned out his kidney wasn’t too badly burned, and he could still eat it. He did so while reading his letter. It was from Milly, Molly and his daughter. Mr. Bloom is happy to hear this she is doing well. She is studying photography, and doesn’t live with them.

Mr. Bloom ate his kidney, and drank a cup of tea. He then went to use the toilet. They had an outhouse. While using the toilet, he read the newspaper. He wondered what it would be like if he and Molly were in the newspaper. He then remembered to check what time the funeral started. Back in 1904, people didn’t have toilet paper, so Mr. Bloom had to use a torn sheet from the newspaper. He wiped himself and stood up.

Derrida, Robot vs Manual

Here is a paragraph from near the beginning of De la Grammatologie, translated by Google:

Whatever one thinks under this heading, the problem of language has probably never been a problem among others. But never as much as today has he invaded as such the world horizon of the most diverse researches and discourses the most heterogeneous in their intention, their method, their ideology. The very devaluation of the word “language,” all that, in the credit given to it, denounces the cowardice of the vocabulary, the temptation to seduce at little cost, passive abandonment in fashion, -guard, that is to say, ignorance, all this testifies. This inflation of the sign “language” is the inflation of the sign itself, absolute inflation, inflation itself. Yet, by a face or a shadow of herself, she again beckons: this crisis is also a symptom. It indicates, in spite of itself, that a historico-metaphysical period must finally determine as a language the totality of its problematic horizon. It owes it not only because everything that desire had sought to wrest from the play of language is taken up again, but also because, at the same time, language itself is threatened in its life, helpless, disoriented To have no limits, to return to its own finitude at the very moment when its limits seem to be effaced, at the very moment when it ceases to be reassured upon itself, contained and bordered by the infinite signified which seemed to exceed it.

And here it is translated by scholar and philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak:

However the topic is considered, the problem of language has never been simply one problem among others. But never as much as at present has it invaded, as such, the global horizon of the most diverse researches and the most heterogeneous discourses, diverse and heterogeneous in their intention, method, and ideology. The devaluation of the word “language” itself, and how, in the very hold it has upon us, it betrays a loose vocabulary, the temptation of a cheap seduction, the passive yielding to fashion, the consciousness of the avant-garde, in other words—ignorance—are evidences of this effect. This inflation of the sign “language” is the inflation of the sign itself, absolute inflation, inflation itself. Yet, by one of its aspects or shadows, it is itself still a sign: this crisis is also a symptom. It indicates, as if in spite of itself, that a historico-metaphysical epoch must finally determine as language the totality of its problematic horizon. It must do so not only because all that desire had wished to wrest from the play of language finds itself recaptured within that play but also because, for the same reason, language itself is menaced in its very life, helpless, adrift in the threat of limitlessness, brought back to its own finitude at the very moment when its limits seem to disappear, when it ceases to be self-assured, contained, and guaranteed by the infinite signified which seemed to exceed it.

If it were simply nonsense, cooked up by a con man, signifying nothing, there ought to be no difference in the comprehensibility of these two paragraphs, shouldn’t there? I could, jokingly, pull together meaning from the machine translation, assemble some ideas from it’s bad translation, and perhaps wax poetic on some combination of words that would not have arose from an intentional mind… But why bother, unless I found it fun?