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sunday post: back in the garden knowing what we know

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Lars von Trier is famous for never flying, and thus never visiting America, despite the fact that he’s set most of his recent films there. Some laugh about this; others compare him to Kafka when the latter is up to this sort of thing:

As Karl Rossmann, a poor boy of sixteen who had been packed off to America by his parents because a servant girl had seduced him and got herself a child by him, stood on the liner slowly entering the harbour of New York, a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft, and round the figure blew the free winds of heaven.

Back to Antichrist: Americans do not as a rule own Scandinavian-style summer shacks deep in the woods, unreachable by car, and which they arrive at on weekends via train and then taxi and then hike. We don’t have trains like that, and if we did we likely wouldn’t have taxis like that either. We drive. This even goes for psychotherapist/grad student couples who live in Seattle, who would pull the Subaru up to the sidedoor of their cabin just like any other red-blooder USAer.

That said, there’s a way that Von Trier’s strange euro-goggling of America and my own meet. When I lived where I lived before London, my little rust belt burg, I extremely often coped with things by imagining that I was actually living in some sort of small, Mitteleuropean city. I’d tool around the autobahns (interstate highways) in my VW, shop at a food-coop where all the brands were not the brands that I grew up with, eat lunch outside at a wine-bar cafe, buy furniture at IKEA and the like. It was a coping mechanism that didn’t really work – there weren’t any trains to take anywhere, and no one spoke any interestingly baffling languages on the streets.

One of the ur/unwritten posts of this blog is a post that I have been meaning to write for years about the IKEA catalogue and notions of Europeanness. I wish there was someplace where I could look through back issues, as there’s one image in particular that’s stayed with me for years, but which I’ll never find again in all likelihood.

At one point, I thought somewhat seriously about buying a little plot of land on the shores of the prettier of the two Great Lakes in the vicinity and planting on it one of those prefab little cabins, the sort where a truck pulls up and dumps your parts and an instruction manual and then you work on it every weekend until its done. This seemed like a very Scandinavian idea to me – weekends at a remote cabin without utilities, on a lake without tourist infrastructre. Obviously, I never did it.

At any rate, please don’t laugh. We all cope with America whatever way we can – it takes a lot of coping, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with self-made psycho-visual filters and screens devised for such uses…. But think about it for a second. Von Trier consistently sets his films in America because he wants to criticize this place that he has never visited, but in setting his films there without really knowing the place, he ends up creating a strange Euro-slanted America, the America that is the America of my dreams when I am stuck there, hating the place. Or even, in a certain limited sense, the America that I’d love to see happen.

Of course, I dreamed these little waking half dreams mostly on weekends, on Saturdays and Sundays, as that was when I had the most time to look around and to worry about what I was seeing.


Saturday night I went out back for a cigarette and smoked while listening to the kids next door. Parents are away, teenager is having a party. She has had parties for three straight nights. They go on about this or that and then suddenly, at one point a phrase slips through my mind: When I am 18 again I wonder if..

Ah dumb brain! Tragic paraphraxis! The entire history of religious belief as merely a prolongation of a mechanical fault in the wires. How much of life do we live with stuff like that floating about in the back parts, only barely audible, visible, legible? How often do we ignore it? And what sort of deformative effect does it have upon the stuff in the foreground?


K-punk has a really good post up that brilliantly ties together his recent honeymoon at Disneyland Paris (huh!) and Michael Jackson. It ends in the following way:

Postmodernity has meant the repudiation of the Father. Fathers are either absent, bad or ineffectual. Cosetted by the maternal superego, no-one wants to say no… no-one wants to pay the price of success….

But the problem isn’t that childhood is curtailed too early, it’s that it never ends… This is how Jackson exemplified our plight… To truly overcome the Father-Thing you would have to occupy its place, but who is willing or able to do that?

I have been wondering the same thing lately, but (of course) in a more personally-directed and much less abstract way. That is to say, I have been wondering about what it would take for me to “occupy [the] place” of the Father-Thing, once and for all.


My wife is going to start guestposting on my blog so watch out for that! She’s a better writer than I am, so this can only be to the good. Unless she chickens out. I wonder what will happen… Sorting out an account for her tonight.


We worked that out – that is to say, I hired her – while we sat on Primrose Hill Saturday, one kid asleep and the other not. We’d already done the Zoo, and later we’d have dinner at Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, which, I must say, makes pizza good enough to eat and is kid-friendly so there you go. We lolled, we were run into by our neighbor (the husband of the woman who’s becoming my wife’s best friend, it seems….), we talked about writing.

The other thing we talked about – our theme of the day, really – was our disgust and incomprehension at the way modern day men in big cities of the developed world comport themselves post, say, 25. In particular, we were serially shocked by what we already knew, all too well, which is that grown men dress stupidly, childishly. The tee-shirts! Tee-shirts with cartoon characters on them! Tee-shirts with very dumb jokes written on them! The Arsenal-wear and the Hotspur-wear!

There is a dad of a kid at my daughter’s school, a normal looking guy who is probably in his worklife a lawyer or tv executive or something, who on weekends dresses up in his favorite CBeebies t-shirt and rides a fucking scooter around the neighborhood. It’s more than just a getting in touch with my toddlers sort of thing, as it’s a relatively common site to see the family at the park, mom watching the kids in the playground, while dad scoots or skates around the other parts of the park, trying out moves on an apparatus that is his, that does not belong to his children but was probably some sort of father’s day present or something.

We talk, my wife and I, about the women attached to these men. We talk about the deformative effect this sort of thing must have upon their sex life. Maybe some women would find that sort of thing cute and boyish and thus warm and maybe from warm get to sexy. But I, imagining things through a woman’s eyes (do I imagine anything any other way? Les femmes, ces sont toutes moi) can’t quite work out the erotomath. On the other hand, I’m sure the kids love it… Until they start to really, really fucking hate it.


Disclosure: I adore athletic wear, officially branded merchandise. I love soccer jerseys and baseball hats – there is perhaps nothing I love more purely and simply, though of course, as posted recently, it’s probably not all that simple a love at base. I will further disclose that I have a rather large collection of the stuff hanging in my closet. But I do not wear it out! I am not a child! I used to wear a River Plate windbreaker when I lived in Brooklyn, but that just had I’ve just been to Buenos Aires hipster appeal, the most hipster appeal I could ever muster. But even this has been left hanging in the closet now that I’m, you know, fully adult.


Engels lived for a long, long time in Primrose Hill. See?


I had a hard time finding a bank machine tonight with funds available after the long drunken weekend (London’s not mine) and thus ended up wandering past Blockbuster (yep, they’re over here too, sadly), did a little doubletake misstep on the pavement, and headed inside to rent LVT’s The Idiots, which I’d never seen.

(Worth mentioning, and definitely fodder for another post, but I am one of those people who can and does fantasize themselves the world’s leading expert on certain novelists and one filmmaker on the basis of reading (or, in one case, seeing) one or two or maybe even three of their works. Not sure whether it’s a fox / hedgehog sort of thing, or just delusion. But I pull it off, and it works, and who knows, maybe in a few cases I’m not that wrong.  I feel no responsibility to the oeuvre! What’s up with that? Another post, another post.)

Wow! What would it be to have the balls to waste your audience’s time for 95 minutes all in service of an astoundingly brilliant final 5 minute run? Un coeur simple meets Baader-Meinhof! A vertible cinematic thesis on the incisive question of the minor character.

We didn’t fail to note, as we watched it, that the male characters spent much of the film wearing really stupid T-Shirts. Is that part of the idiotic pose or not?


Today, we had a lovely picnic in the park and some wiffleball to boot (we use a bat that has a huge MLB logo on it, imported natch, so that the local yokels don’t think we’re playing fucking rounders.) We’re not – this is plastic baseball. My daughter has surprisingly sweet swing, liners to all fields, for a four-year old. She refuses to pitch to me or play catch so I guess it’s the American League for her, when it’s time. My broken finger, still untreated, forces me to throw with three rather than two fingers on the ball.

During and after the picnic we talked more about this whole “adulthood” and “child rearing” issue and decided that it’s impossible to speak publically about without sounding like a dick, generally a resentful dick. So perhaps we’ll leave it at that till next weekend.


The FT had lunch with Lars Von Trier this week…

Asked to “justify” the making of the film, he refused outright, reminding the members of the press that they were his guests, and attributing the work to “the hand of God”. And then, for good measure, he informed his audience straight-faced that he was “the best director in the world … and I am not so sure that God is the best God in the world.” Many artists cite divine inspiration for their work; not so many assert their overt disappointment at what their deity has to offer.

You know, as artist / divinity comparisons go, that’s not bad. I happen to think he is “the best director in the world,” and I certainly would agree with the God part, if there were a God.


LVT has four kids. I didn’t know this, and actually I was wondering in light of the child-death stuff in the film. But it makes sense… The first sign that She is going mad is an episode of phantom crying… And if you’re a parent, you totally understand the uncanny realness of that sort of thing. You’re sitting in your living room, having a drink, watching tv, when suddenly there it is clear as day. Somebody is crying, somewhere. You leave your seat, you go to the bottom of the stairs, and it is gone. I tend to think that it has to do with the attunement of your audial receptors to certain frequencies, frequencies that can be hit by other sounds but signal only child in trouble once you’ve got an infant.

Going through the process of having a couple of kids certainly does open up one aspect of the work that might be a bit harder for some to see. Or several aspects, actually. IT, who’s already written what looks to be a fairly definitive post on the film, labels the opening scene “almost comical” in her post. Here’s the full quote:

The moppet that dies in an almost comical opening scene manages to combine the trauma of the primal scene with the premature suicide of a little Oedipus in a matter of moments; the film is not about his death in any meaningful way, and the very creepy abuse – creepy because so utterly minimal – that we discover his mother has inflicted on him (routinely putting his shoes on the wrong feet leading to a mild distortion of the bones noted in the autopsy report but not deemed a significant factor in his death) says far more about Gainsbourg’s disturbed mind than it does about the child.

And it is comical, in a limited sense – the limited sense of the comical, always struck through with tragedy and gore, that pervades LVT’s work. The corpsestink grinning that he does is what makes him a properly (converted and now ex-)Catholic artist, and its really no wonder that the hacks keep comparing him to Bosch and the like.

The perfume-ad-quality of the sex bits of the montage, the obviousness of the primal scene moment (but these things do happen, don’t they?) and of the scenario in general might make you think comic, yes. But on the other hand, the child death isn’t played, I don’t think, primarily to comic effect, and it certainly won’t’t strike, from what I can tell, most parents who see the film that way. Rather, this is the very stuff of cliché, generic, yet all the more powerful for that, as it taps right into the deep parental anxiety, the nightmare dreams that I am sure all of us in the family way have and probably on a nightly basis. The reason why people worry about the height of the crib bar and install those awful fucking gates on their staircases (far more likely to kill you as you stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night than save your toddler), why I have to wear a jacket when I go outside to smoke (SIDS / smoke exposure), etc.

My own version of the dream is as stock as they come. I am getting myself and my daughters out the front door. The oldest one takes off out to the sidewalk, as she always does, and I am struggling and getting frustrated. I catch a glimpse, just a glimpse, of her pink jacket disappearing between two parked cars. And then another car, this time moving, comes to a sudden stop in the street. There was a low thump, a thump knowable at once but which you only hear somehow a few seconds afterward and then likely forever and ever and ever after that. Stock, see… And just to get it from the other end of the montage (again, this is obvious, but I’ll go on anyway): There is almost nothing (sure, I mean there are some things, god) more psychologically disruptive to a couple’s sex life than the birth of a child. It’s not just a matter of having no time and the like. It’s that you’re constantly (if lucky!) sneaking away to steal a few minutes (can’t ask really for more than a few minutes) but once you’re there you don’t so much fuck as wait to get caught fucking. Phantom crying morphs into phantom footsteps and door creakings, and the funniest part of all is that even after you’ve stopped action several times because one of you has heard something, even then, with uncanny regularity just before the finish of things, then the door does in fact silently open, no footsteps at all, or if you’re lucky enough to have locks (there are other problems with having locks – Christ, do I have to explain everything on here? No but we should get some locks…) and everyone rolls away and covers up and curses under their breath and exchanges meaningful looks and takes care of the kid, who may or may not just have seen the scene (again? how many times can it still be primal?) that they talk about in the crazy-people books.

Sorry to be crude about it, but it’s like they somehow know when you’re about to, erm, finish. And really, why wouldn’t they – its a vexed issue for them on the wider level, the sibling thing. More partial gene carriers good, spliting up the family fortune very very bad, etc.

Anyway, all the reviewers who have kids seem to mention the disturbing power of the opening scene in what they write. From the FT piece again:

Forget the bloody mutilations, I say. As the father of a young son, it is the first 10 minutes that are the most unbearable to watch. “Yes,” he nods. “I have four children. You think that the more that you have, the easier it gets but that is not how it is. You worry more and more.”

I believe him on this score. And there’s more to it than that. The most bathetic thing in the scene, the way the kid’s little stuffed animal follows him down out the window, commits the same meters per second per second contortions on the way down, he’s not only playing yet another familiar, and familiarly evocative thing for parents, he’s setting up one of the major (and majorly ambivalent) rhymes of the work as a whole. The pacified animals that He sees at the end – animals that appear double-cooked in film, spliced in from some sort fading reel out of the archives labelled Bambi-vivant – represent a nature retamed, restuffed, a reversal of the children’s book trope of the stuffed toy come to life.

One last thing in this line. One of the things it’s principally about is the staggeringly heavy effect upon a couple of having an infant, in this case an infant that dies in the opening sequence of the film… But enough of the movie is invested in figuring out just what happened last summer, presumably the first full summer of the child’s life, that it remains a film about the fatal first two years of parenthood. All of a sudden, and despite all the good PC thoughts you were thinking when you decided to have the child, some very important things get set straight for you during the first few years of your first child’s life. The character axis of the film hits heavy on one of the most important things. He gets to keep working, gets to keep being the same indifferent rational machine-type being that he’s always been. She, on the other hand, gets all feral and animally. It’s hard to explain what it’s like, for both the male and female parties involved, the first time you see a new mother’s tits start to leak because it’s feeding time, a bit late for the feeding. Stigmata-y, except its animality rather than divinity that’s being revealed in the flow. The resentments that pass back and forth between the characters, but particular from her towards him, are familiar too. What else is She saying, other than something like I understand that this doesn’t accord with the rational plan for your life that you came up with when you were seventeen, but buddy, I’m bound up in something here and it’s calling the shots, not me. So get in line. What is that thing that’s calling the shots? “Nature” is one word for it, I suppose, but not quite the one I would want to use.

Under normal conditions, though, father and mother stay just too fucking busy to stop and fully consider the consequences of what has just been revealed to them, startlingly, about the way things really are vs. the way they’re talked about over shabby-elegant brunches on idle, childless Sunday mornings. But remove the child from the scene, and thus the busyness of parenting, and one might imagine all of this stuff coming back with a vengeance. We’ve been thrown out of Eden, and now lo and behold here were are again – except we’ve already learned the stuff about our nakedness, the fact that we’re more like the beast that we’ve named than the Guy who made us, as well as what the Guy said about bringing forth children in sorrow. There is an extra-therapeutic explanation for why She – despite the fact that motherhood seems not to have suited her – keeps jumping He for sex and why he keeps trying to resist her advances… It’s not him that’s throwing the thousand upon thousands of acorns on the roof of their place, it’s her…

I am going to keep writing about this film for a good while yet… I’ve not even started to say what I’d like to say about it. Despite the fact that IT seems slightly nostalgic for the hardy days of high child mortality and the survival only of the fittest of the brood (mourning the child becomes a bourgie “indulgence” in her post – as if they should just churn a few more out and see which ones can figure out how to use the can opener by themselves and certainly not waste time worrying over the ones that fall from the nest – where have we heard that sort of thing before, in another field of culture?) (UPDATE: IT has posted a response to this and adjusted her post slightly to remove the line I hammered on. I want to say that I feel pretty bad about what I did here… As I know very well that IT doesn’t support the things I’m saying here…) I’m extremely happy to live in a world where you have one or two or three and they’re likely to make it through to adulthood. But like most modern developments that I’m (we’re) happy about – like for instance sexual freedom in general, survival past the working prime, etc  – this development undoubtly is no doubt deeply out of sync with ageold and hardwired instincts and not easily adjusted psychosocial patterns. We, as a species, are very good at getting better at things, and that’s perhaps our biggest problem – and the problem that the film brilliantly takes up.


I only admire artists who work with a palette smeared in received technicolor, generic cliché. The only two moves are overmuch and undercut, and the rhythm of performing those two moves is what makes up the dance, the only dance, that I am interested in. Stock images make us feel because our feelings are stock. There is no shame in this, save for the very shame of being human and thus thrown and programmed, not really ourselves except in the sense that we are everyone else too. I admire LVT, admire him ever so much, because he understands this. The chatterering types get locked into a cyclic reiteration of this is too much and he’s having one over on us. They’re right, but they don’t quite understand the underlying point, the fact that there’s no other way to do it, not anymore or perhaps it was always already the case.


One last thing from the FT interview, something that perhaps overturns the entire post in the very act of tying it all up. As it turns out, LVT himself is one of those Child Men that were bothering us this weekend:

Von Trier, 53, is dressed in what I take to be Danish summer casual style, T-shirt, cargo trousers and sandals, which suits his portly figure.

Cargo-trousers? Sandals? Summer casual?

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July 27, 2009 at 5:47 am

26 Responses

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  1. It’s Tottenham Hotspur, singular.

    This can be shortened to Tottenham, or Spurs, but never Hotspurs.


    B Nicholson

    July 27, 2009 at 8:36 am

  2. OMG, not an agent from the infamous Spurs XII?!

    Put his off the track, Ads, by mentioning Sol Campbell, and watch him foam at the mouth.

    Meanwhile, once-brave River having done so awfully these past several campaigns (nothing like so awfully as Spurs mind you), don’t you think, Ads, it might be time to finally break out that windbreaker? It’s hip to be unhip!

    tom clark

    July 27, 2009 at 10:40 am

  3. “All of a sudden, and despite all the good PC thoughts you were thinking when you decided to have the child, some very important things get set straight for you during the first few years of your first child’s life. The character axis of the film hits heavy on one of the most important things. He gets to keep working, gets to keep being the same indifferent rational machine-type being that he’s always been. She, on the other hand, gets all feral and animally. It’s hard to explain what it’s like, for both the male and female parties involved, the first time you see a new mother’s tits start to leak because it’s feeding time, a bit late for the feeding. Stigmata-y, except its animality rather than divinity that’s being revealed in the flow. The resentments that pass back and forth between the characters, but particular from her towards him, are familiar too.”

    Again, I haven’t seen the film, and I’m trying to parse what you’re saying is in the film and what you’re saying the film gets right about how things are in real life, so… but this passage points to some things that I think are important, very important, in line with my earlier comments about a) extended adolescence and b) raising kids being the most important thing there is, something socialists need to attend to. That is, I recognize some truth in this passage, some familiarity, with my own life, with an 11-1/2 month old daughter, but I object to some of what I read in it. Some resentment is there: my wife has expressed resentment that I “get” to go to work, escape the house, even, hell, read on the train in my lengthy shitty commute. The problem is I don’t want to go, at all. I’d give it up if I were financially able to. Granted I have other interests which I might rather do, which could instead be my refuge in the land of being an indifferent rational man person. Except that my other “interests”, literary, political, philosophical, are intimatly intertwined with my thoughts on children, that is to say on a future society. Everything feeds into and out of how we deal with, raise, instruct, enjoy, etc, children.

    It’s interesting that you mention IT’s post, which you suggest misses some things that a parent would not (I haven’t read it yet, since I’m wary of reading TOO much about this movie in advance of seeing it). When I talk about the left, socialists or whatever, needing to attend to this kind of thing, I have in mind the knowledge that many would-be socialists seem to think it’s possible to create a world without children, or that it’s possible to completely separate women from the role assigned to them. I love IT, but on occasion I’ve (perhaps unfairly?) gotten a whiff of this kind of thing from her. A desirable society would not shrink away from this fact. (Don’t misunderstand. I think gender issues are vitally important. In my view, the way forward must be radically feminist, which I think means centrally recognizing the problems facing most women, of necessity, and attempting to actually address them.)

    And now I can’t think how to coherently finish my comment, so I’ll end it here. Anyway, I’m glad you’ve been writing about these issues. I’ve been meaning to myself, without much success.


    July 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm

  4. B,

    Oh shit. Will correct. This is actually very, very helpful as I live pretty much on the exact dividng line between Arsenal identified north london and the spurs part. If you turn left at the end of my street it’s the former, right the latter. Of course there’s a heavy socio-economic aspect to this as well, at least right here.

    I’ve somewhat regretfully gone Arsenal myself… Seems like it’d be more interesting to be for the Spurs… Ah well…


    Oh, and despite the windbreaker, I’m actually a Boca Juniors fan in that league. Odd to own the jacket (tracksuit actually) but the colors were so damn nice. When I was there, I saw Boca Juniors play Estudiantes at La Bombonera- Tevez scored the game winner. Wussily, I bought “escorted” tickets – a guy called Nacho took us to the game. Ha! Was rather amazing though, the whole thing… I think I posted on it once ages and ages ago, though it might well have been on my previous blog.


    July 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm

  5. ‘that it’s possible to completely separate women from the role assigned to them’

    Oh dear. If that’s a ‘radically feminist’ position then I’m a biscuit.

    infinite thought

    July 27, 2009 at 8:19 pm

  6. Richard,

    Believe me, I know all about the negotiation. This is what I tell people when they ask me what parenting is like on the couple end of things. All that used to be free and easy is now negotiated, enters into a family economy of time and care and money. If I am work, I feel guilty that I am there, that I could be home getting my wife more work time. (Academia makes this tougher, as relatively little of my time is spent on activities that I actually have to attend – i.e. teaching classes… Mostly I’m in libraries or working in my office at the university. My wife on the other hand feels guilty that she uses money to pay for childcare so that she can write (and since she’s mostly writing a book, the money comes at the backend, not the frontend, only making things worse…) And of course, we have the same sort of arguments / discussions that you describe, or our own versions of them. I get to work, but much of that is teaching and marking papers when I need to write (academic stuff) and really want to write (other stuff). She gets to write more freely, but only a small amount of the time. She takes more care of the kids; my life is swallowed up by the university, etc etc etc.

    When we do well (we’ve been doing very well on this front lately) we both have a sense that the deal is fair, that we have the deal that we both want, and therefore there’s no need to deploy ye olde passive-aggressivity in order to convince the other of your horrible plight. When it goes badly, on the other hand, it goes very badly indeed.

    I agree that socialists need to think through the issue of the family, and thanks for recognizing that I’m at work on that. A sane world would provide the opportunity for all of us to do as we like, within reason, and support us in our choices. The freedom to have children or not, and to be socially supported in that choice, is, yes, what I am after.

    I am super super sure that IT is going to post something fantastic about this in the very near term. In fact, looks like she just dropped a comment your way.


    July 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

  7. Ugh. I knew that would come off wrong. What I mean is that it’s impossible to avoid the fact that it’s women who must bear children, and are physically equipped with, say, breasts, for early feeding, among other things. Unless we’re somehow arguing that we’re not going to have children, I don’t see this can be pushed aside. The question is how can the historical burden of child-rearing actually be fairly distributed? Women have rarely if ever been treated fairly when it comes to the real work they have been forced to do in raising children. What I’m saying is that that work is the most important work that is done, period. A future society should be built around this kind of work, making it equitable, less burdonsome, shared, etc.

    I hope this sounds better. Obviously there’s more to say on this, but I’m not a quick writer. Apologies for sounding retrograde.


    July 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  8. IT,

    So waiting for your post on this.

    I should have kept going a bit in my reply to Richard, at least saying that I am quite sure that we’re all basically on the same side on this. What we’re working out is the rhetoric, not really anything more than that. Pretty sure all of us support both the freedom of women (and men) to sexual and other forms of self-determination and the welfare of children, as well as adults. Just the wording we’re arguing about….


    July 27, 2009 at 8:28 pm

  9. I agree with Richard’s last point insofar as certain strains of feminist thought seemed to sidestep the question of what one should do about women who actually do opt-in to the childbirthing thing. Bodies do indeed matter in this case. Not supremely, or all the same way, but in aggregate, yes, they do.


    July 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm

  10. Thanks Ads. I saw your comment after posting mine in reply to IT, since I knew I’d appeared to put my foot in my comment mouth.

    (Another issue few talk about: babies need to learn how to sleep. That more than anything else has caused us major problems. Because our sleep has suffered mightily, especially hers of course, because I need to get up and go to work, don’t I, and it goes around and around…)


    July 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm

  11. Working on it! And no crossness anywhere (although the post might look like I am a bit!).

    infinite thought

    July 27, 2009 at 8:35 pm

  12. Richard,

    Same here. Yours is exactly the same as my first, sounds like. Same exact here. We’d be so much saner if the first one had slept like a normal human being.


    although the post might look like I am a bit!

    Wha? Please don’t. No tone on internet!!!!


    July 27, 2009 at 8:37 pm

  13. I just mean I’ll be defensive about the leaving babies out to die accusation. I was going to tear Richard’s line to shreds, but I don’t think he meant what it sounded a bit like.

    Don’t worry – I’m trying to curb my more polemical tendencies in the name of serious questions, I promise.

    infinite thought

    July 27, 2009 at 8:45 pm

  14. oh ok fair enough. just through me a fat link up top so I can watch thousands of your readers cascade through my statcounter, all with my feet up, all while I read Amartya Sen.


    July 27, 2009 at 8:47 pm

  15. infinite thought

    July 27, 2009 at 9:22 pm

  16. IT,

    I’ll reply over here because, you know, you don’t have a discussion box. Should tell yr readers to do the same (tee hee).

    But I don’t think procreation is a topic that should be solely restricted to those who happen to have done it.

    Agreed. I mean, it works both ways, I think. And even as a general matter of courtesy, in casual conversation, I’m of the school that no one should ever encourage anyone to have a kid who doesn’t have one, or encourage those who have one to have more (been a big time victim of that myself)…

    No doubt I’ve been corrupted by the abstractions of my discipline or am monstrous, or something, but I can see no good reason to have one’s own child if there are other children already existing in the world who need looking after.

    It’s a very, very good thing to do, you’re absolutely right. I’m sure there is a thread of selfishness in wanting your own, or even a sort of livingroom eugenics, no doubt. I think you’d be very good at it too, of course.

    I’ll admit that I strongly dislike the claim that people have unmediated access to their natural desires (‘I’m feeling so broody!’), especially when fertility is so often highly controlled by contraceptives. I mean, how can you tell?

    Sure, yes. But isn’t the answer that you weed out, as best you can, the malign profit or ideology driven external impulses and then proceed as you can. After all, all desires are mediated, but if we let the mediation stop us in our tracks, we might be in for a pretty boring, static ride, muttering to ourselves as we go I only want the coffee because the coffee people want me to want the coffee, the coke because the coke people want me to want the coke, the sex because the lingerie people want me to want the sex, the baby because the baby clothes people and the gov’ment want me to want the baby. I mean, it has to stop somewhere, right, lest we end up desiring nothing at all, which sounds very zen and very very boring.

    There’s nothing at all they don’t have their greasy paws on, the money men, but that’s not an excuse to stop wanting, is it?

    Really want to hear your answer to this – am very interested.

    I dislike intensely the idea that people slot people into their lives at suitable career/financial points, rather than having them out of love, but I suppose the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    Yep. A socialism that took heed of the issue of the family would aim at fixing exactly this problem. That’s exactly the one.

    You might say, oh but IT, having a child is always a good, these other things are objectively not. But then we get onto thornier questions indeed…and here the philosopher will always be outnumbered, as the ruse of biology is apparently always stronger than that of reason.

    I think this is exactly what I want and others want to hear you talk about. This is what we’re smelling, and this is maybe what we’re not going along with. Whole bunch of questions.

    1) Is reason not “biological”?

    2) Is biology not reasonable? (Sure, sometimes, vernacularly, sure it’s not. But at root?)

    3) Most of all, of course: what does reason have to tell us about all this? What are you about to say?


    July 27, 2009 at 9:57 pm

  17. Ads,

    Lucky you to have been there at the Chocolate Box in the youthful savage glory days of Carlitos the Apache.

    But I will admit to being an Estudantes aficionado and further add that the most stirring spectacle I have witnessed in some 60 insane years of following various sweaty agons in various arenas was Estudiantes’ astonishing fightback in the 2006 Apertura to overcome “insurmountable” odds and finally defeat Boca (en casa, yet) to become campéon. The celebrations in La Plata are worth memorializing:

    El Pincha: Campéon

    (BTW: Estudiantes are called El Pincha, short for Pincharata: the ratcatchers.)

    As to your neighbourhood turf issues, I got caught up in those in virtual reality–in fact it’s a good thing one can be boiled in oil only virtually in these strange domains–back here. Trivia stuff perhaps but it will give you a line on the Sol Campbell reference, and if you pick up that thread it will lead you directly into the black little heart that pumps in the breast of the Spurs XII at White Hart Lane:

    Winter Sports 1.5: History and Football, Part II

    That bit in turn came out of something even blacker: Gaza:

    Winter Sports I: Football and History

    But I stay out of those things now, I only want to be


    tom clark

    July 28, 2009 at 1:03 am

  18. Surely the desire to have children is not like the desire to get drunk, unless you can imagine a a continuous 18 year drunk (the Homer Simpson in me sighs, beer!) that grows into forty more years of occasional visits, followed by signing you into the old folk’s home.

    The Malthusians have always worried that the people were having babies in spite of the reason they shouldn’t have them – that reason being the collective effect of them on the land. The Malthusian case has never gone over well – Hazlitt, memorably, said that “his name hangs suspended over their [the poor’s] heads, in terrorem, like some baleful meteor.” On the other hand, Hazlitt himself was a rather careless father, the very image of an intellectual – he let his only sun play by the banks of river while he was discussing some metaphysical matter with a pal, and got so interested that he didn’t hear the cries of the boy when he fell in the water and was starting to drift with the current. Luckily, a passerby rescued the child.

    Myself, I think the should and shouldn’t of having children is mired in various superstitions. Really, if you are worried about overpopulation, you are worried about energy use. We each of us, in the developed world, use about as much energy per year as a blue whale – and you can eliminate the equivalent of a child just by radically cutting down on that energy use. I doubt that anybody is going to do so, however, outside of those in hippiedom. The energy use is a framework for the shoulds and shouldn’ts, I think, in a way that biology jsut isn’t.


    July 28, 2009 at 1:25 am

  19. I probably shouldn’t interfere with your agreeing that you weren’t disagreeing after all, but I didn’t think there was much wrong with ads’ contention that a parent would be possibly less likely to read that scene in the way that IT suggested, and that it doesn’t have to in any way imply that the parent experience is qualitatively better. But it is experience, and that means something. Having children changed me, sensitised me towards certain things, made some other things in my life less important. Experience will do that to you. It doesn’t make me somehow more entitled to talk about family, or to claim that my life choices are superior to those of the childless, or of the person who chooses to foster or adopt. But I did devote a rather large amount of physical and emotional energy keeping three wee little humans alive, and it has coloured my outlook somewhat. That’s really as far as it goes.

    As for why should we even have children, fair cop, it’ll be hard to argue that what the world needs is more people. The decision to have our own rather than adopt was a complicated one, and I’m sure that reasons of selfishness and not wanting to put ourselves through those particular ringers had something to do with it. Fostering is a whole other thing – that, yes, I’d be tempted to say, qualitatively better – and we haven’t ruled out doing it later in life, but we wanted a family first, and here we are, recoiling a lot more than we used to when a child gets hurt in a film.


    July 28, 2009 at 1:44 am

  20. Wringers/ringers, mmmhh… Did I mention that English is my second language and that I was found under a bridge?

    As you were.


    July 28, 2009 at 3:08 am

  21. didn’t think there was much wrong with ads’ contention that a parent would be possibly less likely to read that scene in the way that IT suggested

    We didn’t disagree on that: Ads went too far by suggesting that I was nostalgic for high infant mortality! I got an interesting note from somebody:

    ‘I agree with everything you said. It’s one of those topics about which it’s difficult to have a normal conversation with otherwise-rational people. Which is one of the reasons I go out with a demographer. They know the score! There are still quite a lot of academics in population studies who would be equally sceptical that having a child is automatically good, and would strongly contend that while family planning has become unfashionable in policy circles, it remains one of the surest routes to the attainment of development goals and women’s empowerment in the developing world. Closer to home there’s nowhere near enough positive stuff written about adoption or fostering. It must become the pillar of your republic’s family policy.’

    infinite thought

    July 28, 2009 at 8:14 am

  22. Ads:

    1) Is reason not “biological”?

    Human beings are animals, but they are capable of occasionally making decisions that don’t merely

    2) Is biology not reasonable? (Sure, sometimes, vernacularly, sure it’s not. But at root?)

    It’s a ruse, like reason. The joke about philosophers is that it’s very easy to make a list of pros and cons re children – but fortunately for the continued survival of humanity, people rarely listen to philosophers. David Benatar has an interesting point to make, though he concedes that he is likely to get little agreement:

    3) Most of all, of course: what does reason have to tell us about all this? What are you about to say?

    That we can think rationally about having more children without immediately becoming emotional or defensive. That other considerations can play a part of our decisions about biology – they already do. Most women in the developed world use some form of contraception. A truly ‘natural’ approach would see them having up to 13 or so children each. And virtually no one wants that these days. People are already rational about children – I’m merely suggesting they could be more so.

    infinite thought

    July 28, 2009 at 8:27 am

  23. I must have misunderstood where you were going with the biology versus reason finale of your post. Apologies.

    Agree that not enough positive things are written about adoption and fostering; not so sure that it should be the pillar of a family policy – surely that ought to be helping families to remain functional, especially with regard to fostering, and it’s amazing how far lifting some of them out of poverty can achieve. Transfering the care of the children of the unemployed and the working poor to the relatively better off is not the kind of pillar I’d feel too comfortable to lean on.


    July 28, 2009 at 8:29 am

  24. Giovanni – I think the person who sent me the comment was being a little jokey about philosophers and family planning…


    1) Is reason not “biological”?

    Human beings are animals, but they are capable of occasionally making decisions that don’t merely …drift off into insomniac distraction. I mean that don’t merely follow the whim of whatever we want to call instinct or impulse.

    infinite thought

    July 28, 2009 at 8:41 am

  25. […] July 27, 2009 Update: infinite thought points us to another post on Trier’s latest by Ads without Products. I had forgotten how beautiful of a writer Ads is and, because there weren’t many spoilers, I […]

  26. roger,

    Good Hazlitt quote! Really like him – was drafted in to teach him this year, hadn’t even read before, excellent stuff though…

    I think you’re right with all of this. I find myself very resistant to the energy use argument vs. kids (which seems to keep coming up elsewhere) as, like with so many other things, it seems a lot more effective to work towards personal / social improvement on this front than worry all that much about the n+1 that you’ve added. I want to say more about this, but it’s all still processing.


    There’s two things I regret in this post. One was coming at IT a bit hard and unfairly (I know that she doesn’t really think these things – gonna fix all of that in a minute) and the other is the bit about non-parents not being able to understand the film.

    The latter said, I do think that there is something of a split that generally obtains in discussions like this, and it’s a discussion that goes like this. Both sides are saying “child,” but the childless side tends to think “reproductive decision” when that work is used, whereas those of us with kids at home tend to think “my living breathing child.” Both sides, I suppose, go do with a more rounded sense of the word.


    We’ve probably said our peace about this for a bit, haven’t we. I guess I’m still wondering about contraception itself, whether it might fall under the “natural” side of the ledger too. Likewise, “not following impulses” is also assuredly a facet of “natural” being as well. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll keep talking about this….


    July 29, 2009 at 9:51 pm

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