Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Occupy Gaddis: A Mongolian Detour

Didn't read any of J R today. A terror-inducing line outside the Shedd aquarium doomed us to an afternoon at the Field Museum, which has a temporary exhibit about Gengis Khan, the most fascinating  historical figure of all time. The exhibit had plenty of interesting shit about the "how" of the rapid and violent expansion of the Mongolian empire (short answer: technological advantages, which included superior longbows, stirrups and badass siege machinery, including a version of the giant crossbow on wheels from Warcraft II, which the exhibit had a delightful scale model of; a carefully-oragized military, a total lack of moral scruples and, you know, just wanting it more). But what about the "why?" Why does a band of illiterate nomads decide that forcibly incorporating the entire known world into a well-organized crypto-cosmopolitan, semi-bureacratic state is like, worth the effort? How does the idea occur to them? Like where does this kind of ambition even come from? I mean this in the literal (as well as philosophical) sense--with modern colonial powers the expansionist impulse is fairly straightforward to understand: there's a drive for resources, political clout and foreign markets, not to mention ideologies of racial and cultural supremacism. But the Mongols didn't care about resources--hell, they even introduced an early version of fiat money. They had no civilizing drive; the reason the empire got so enormous so quickly is that they didn't fuck around with imposing their values on the conquered. In a weird way, the Mongols were open-minded and semi-tolerant because they were motivated purely by tribalism, which is emotional and inward-facing, rather than ideology or religion, which is systematic, expansionist and inherently arrogant. The Mongols weren't involved in any generational political struggles when they kicked this thing off either. They weren't locked into a mutually-destructive long game with the Russians or the Arabs or the Chinese (all of whom they would eventually conquer). They were just kinda roaming the steppes, tending their horses, minding their own business. Then something changed. But what? Why go through the headache? Thoughts?

So I didn't read today, but these people probably did: Infinite Zombies writes about the money-art nexus, with a nifty take on the bust-drowning on page 1. Chazz Formichella on humor in the novel.

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