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The Palimpsest

This amniotic world whose great spokes twirl has energies more than centripetal.

Consider the behavior of busses. Their routes are not, obviously, set by the drivers, whose pay and dignity are typically less than those they ferry. No residue of power lies behind the wheel; rather it is in the wheel itself. Tracing the spiral of authority first to the bus station, then to the transit authority, then to some federal office likewise places the seat of accountability back, ultimately, on the authority of the voter, on a seat on the bus.

There is an Ariadne but she is of the world she governs. Her threads are not born of mind but of concentric rings of history whose ossified alignment redraw themselves into an organizational ontology.

Consider again the bus. There is nothing really to like about roads except by reference to where they might take us or, for the wounded among us, we they might take us from. But what is a bus? A bus is the uncomfortable admission that our private hopes and sufferings lie along a public path. But the bus does not apologize for this. The psychological machinery of regret and trepidation and verve is not found among the cylinders and oil of its engine. Anger at the bus, whose glassy walls and umbilical handrails are nothing if not accommodating to human sight and grip, can only reflect anger at oneself.

The palimpsestic tension that once defined our reality has been gone for some time. History has been rendered teleological. The palimpsest is now of our future—it is where we are going, not where we are or have been, which outlines the scope of the imagination, which defines us. Did you think that what is possible has always been defined in relation to the future?

I ask one last time to consider the bus. If only busses ran backward so much more would be clear. How much better would we know the strangers already sitting upon our entry—the origins of their discontent, their steps as they entered that collective crucible, etc., etc. Is it not a little strange that the only difference between one bus and another is the people within it? Well, perhaps not. But is it any stranger that the only difference between one person and another is the busses in their heads, dutifully tracing separate psychic routes no less engrained than an asphalt path, their endpoints no less predictable but all the more tragic for that? Or is that our failure—that we do not perceive roads as tragic?


Is the Ron Paul Revolution an Antisystemic Movement?

There is always much talk of the role of the Iowa caucuses in winnowing the field, and here we, too, are concerned with separating the wheat from the chaff. The question is how.

Romney’s vote total, just eight marks higher than Santorum, has already been spun as supporting the notion that he is the frontrunner and that voters are still searching for the “anti-Romney.” Of course the variegated nature of punditry has produced this conclusion in various permutations—various qualifications of victory, or of relative loss, so long as his competitors are already such losers that there is some elasticity in treating the Romney campaign as intrinsically tied to its electoral manifestations. There will be no recount; Romney won by the “slimmest of margins”; the campaigns and our media have moved on. Romney was, at least, not rejected; ergo, he has some momentum. This is the coloration we see.

For our purposes, it is first of all necessary to trace the brief historical path by which this consensus was formed. For months Romney served as the sine function relative to a succession of competitive cosines. Perry seems to have enjoyed a measure of establishment support such that in August he was seen as posing a credible threat to Romney. Cain was deemed a placeholder or protest vote: someone incapable of winning the nomination himself but who nevertheless reflected the deeply unsettled nature of the field. Gingrich’s rise added a new dimension: while disliked by the party establishment, he understood the mechanics of politics and momentarily seemed to have enough self-consciousness regarding his liabilities that these could be tamed, perhaps even mobilized into assets—his past sins forming a redemption story for the Christian right, his prickliness making him the mad dog who will tell it like it is.

Nevertheless each has faded. Romney has outlasted all of them through his appeals to electability, to lucidity, to maturity. No one especially likes him—but no one especially liked Bob Dole, or even John McCain. Obama may channel Teddy Roosevelt but run like Truman in 1948 against Congress, etc., etc. Such metaphors have helped us absorb the dynamics of the race and reduce its more unusual aspects to mere contingencies.

Generally this narrative has already been absorbed into our collective disseminators of opinion and indeed has become all the more true and self-fulfilling. But the question must not always be one of wait-and-see, whether-or-not, and once the voting starts—kiss-and-tell. There is as of yet no acceptance of the concept of emergence, or bifurcation. Our evaluations have changed but the criteria that determine them are frightfully static. The concern here is that our fixation on the specific inadequacies of candidates and the appeal to precedent has belied the systemic processes that helped produce the latter and are now governing the decisions of the former.

Here we must remain deliberately vague. Our unit of analysis is sufficiently grand and amorphous that any attempt to predict or define the essentially systemic roots of a given primary or debate is not just unlikely to succeed but is absurd on its face. Hypotheticals are possible—is Mitt Romney’s self-eviscerating campaign a net liability or asset in relation to his competitors, or is it the accumulated residue of a mass cultural uncertainty that is only now democratically expressed?—but we may well have reached a cleavage point at which the utter inappropriateness of such an action says more about our failure to have formed a proper methodology for undertaking it than whether such events can legitimately occur. For I suspect they can and will and indeed already are. We are creatures of body; all understanding has evolved to describe the systems in which it dynamically formed but not the evolution of those systems themselves. We have the prehensility of apes but describe ourselves as men. Still, we must consider the Ron Paul Revolution.

Skepticism is warranted. Paul supporters are a little bit embarrassing; with little effort we could likely trace their historical development as an outgrowth of descendants of the John Birch Society, Goldwaterites not fully absorbed by Reagan, Objectivist leaflets, that old nativist strand going back to the Know-Nothings, and that well-meaning if somewhat naively prescient statement by Washington that we should avoid the entangling of alliances. The RPR seems nothing special. But the scope of our question is such that our skepticism may itself be symptomatic of the problem at hand. In considering the eminently unstable dynamics in which we find ourselves we must walk the tightrope between abstract helplessness and the certainty of precedent. Aware of the problem, we are unable to even articulate how a solution might be formed—yet we have prehensility, it is all we have.

Ron Paul has his flavors out in the wind and is therefore the best we have to a barometer of sorts. He is, no doubt, inadequate on several counts. There is no guarantee the energies which are bound to form will plant themselves within the movement he leads. But these energies, even if outside him, will be shaped in relation to him. He is doing and saying the most Interesting things. Movements are drawn from a single well; whether they surge or dwindle we can trace the systemic flow at least in relation to this process. So there are at least some questions we can ask.

1. To what extent is the RPR processual. By this I refer both to the position of the RPR relative to the institutions that surround it and to its internal dynamics. This depends on Paul himself—whether he is primarily responsible for organizing the RPR into existence, or if the wolf has simply, for now, chosen to dress itself in the clothing of Austrian economists. Certainly the RPR is already doing better than it had four years ago, though this has something to do with the political-cultural evolution we have undergone since Obama took office, and perhaps not so much with our wider entry into disequilibrium. But the possible connections between these two factors have not yet been explored.

2. The relation of the RPR to media structures. Money Bombs and decades-old racist leaflets remain the most prominent examples of how the RPR reaches out to the rest of us. Gloria Borger doesn’t quite know what to make of it, clearly. The prominent debates that have played out over the past six months were less than kind to the RPR. We might wonder, then, if the RPR is behind the tide on this point, or if the rest of us must catch up to them.

3. Is the RPR a structural corrective or liability. This is related to #1. It is possible that by absorbing a measure of discontent within the sphere of electoral establishment, the RPR is a great asset to the powers-that-be, who have quite a few shock absorbers at their disposal for such situations. The modern presidential primary system is itself a product of the recognition that candidates must be tested prior to the election season through a whole other election season itself. But the RPR may indicate that this additional epicycle too shall pass. The invisible primary has been embarrassingly visible over the past year, and it is unclear for how much longer the RPR will benefit by siphoning support from Santorum or Gingrich rather than Romney. The February gap in relevant contests may be sufficiently large to birth another epicycle of sentiment such as we saw with the cosines listed above. But again, this question cannot be answered yet.

4. Will the RPR favor the emergence of uncertainty, which itself seems to favor the RPR. We must ask what is conservative about the RPR if it profits from radicalism in the electorate. We are told that if the positions of the RPR were adopted, America would return to the 1700s, but this is absurd—cultural periods do not repeat themselves. We have the weight of our history behind us; so heavy, in fact, that we are wavering as we try to take the next step forward. It is unclear if the RPR is that wavering foot or the grains of sand underneath, or indeed the oceanic waves that govern our path and birth the sand. Paul himself has facticity—his son is a sitting senator, he enjoyed his formative development in the 60s—that may encourage or inhibit his openness to these dynamics. There is no question the RPR is a groundswell of sorts, but from which sectors of society and at what stage in its organization will determine if the coming eschatology is endorsed by or lain atop the bloodied bones of the RPR.

What must be remembered is that all national political campaigns, even in the United States, must create an equilibrium rather than passively join one; the process is always dynamic. Hence, all of these questions are of interest in any election cycle. Here I use the RPR as a metaphor for questions that are in fact relevant to all the Republican campaigns. It may be responded that our discourse has enough metaphors already; but what we are doing here is not a part of the discourse. It may be the case that the RPR, precisely because its makeup and functioning is well outside the ordinary functioning of the political roadmap, will not be the locus of uncertainty—its story will run parallel to but not directly chart the dynamic process by which institutional certainty structures are systemically questioned. And yet in asking our questions in relation to the RPR it has, to some extent, already served this function at the methodological level.

Observe the uncertainty! That I, commentator, fail even to index my questions and graspings within the conditions for the possibility of answers! The dates are drawn and falling upon us—we can only go farther, outward in expression and into ourselves. The machinations of stasis are dead. Today we are riding the whirlwind.


Numerals have no inner character beyond their material application. “Thirteen” is avoided when labeling floors in a building but embraced in the profit of the baker’s dozen. They are not of this world but are colored by it. Inventory and revenue may meet or not meet expectations; massacres and holocausts and murders are distinguishable in both scale and reprehensibility in quantity alone. Thus history bleeds into figures. Only when applied to the substance of time can the opposite occur. The aging of a year affects our sensation of it—a layering of pungency. Only in the demarcation of years can the absolute universal base of experiential reality become fresh or stale or portentous.


And so we have the ritual. For the New Year streets are rendered brackish with caked black pyrotechnic residue and sulfur in the air. The next day leaves splintered balsa under foot and the residual mob firing occasional concussions in the distance, a snooze alarm for a year already upon us. There are no wanderers to clean these streets and for us they will as well as clean themselves, the gunk dissolving of itself beneath rain and tire or else removed and clustered and likely burned by an agent whose machinations are invisible and nigh unknowable and for that reason rendered convenient. What commission, what order, what plan will delineate this renewal was born of outsourced prudence of the past, its action an integral part of the compulsive unmaking of the revelry by which we bring closure to the old and resolutions for the new. Thus indomitable time is subjected to the schedule. We have learned to charge ourselves admission to the carnival.


Yet this world turns. The compartmentalizing of experience cannot forever supplant that from which it draws legitimacy. One truth looms large: the Archimedean point from which we abstract and project is an alien thing. Its logic has begun to congeal, will continue to ossify, and can be broken.


There are three ways of understanding the history and character of our world. One is through numbers. Another is through ideas. Here we are interested in the third. For this world is not long for this world.