Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Against His-story, Against Leviathan! chapter 3 (gift economy vs. trade, Ur & Sumeria)


The surplus product, the famous margin, did not give rise to the Leviathan. On the contrary, it is the Leviathan that gives rise to the margin. Communities of human beings needed this margin no more than communities of wolves.

Bes need a margin to feed their queen. The Leviathan needs a margin to feed, not only the gods and their shrine keepers, but mainly the Lugal and the Ensis and the Scribes as well as all the springs and wheels with which to make war.

The first Leviathan does not revolutionize the material conditions of production, for it institutes these; it is itself synonymous with material conditions of production. The first Leviathan revolutionizes the conditions of existence itself, and not only of human beings but of all living beings and of Mother Earth herself.

The surplus product makes its appearance together with the vessels that hold it. Human communities have long had baskets and vases, although rarely more than they could carry from winter to spring camps. They did not need them. With the rise of the first Leviathan there is a virtual technological revolution in vessel production. Turner, and Mumford before him, mention the proliferation of bins, storage jars and clay vats that now makes its appearance.

In fact Ur, enclosed by walls and stocked with grain, is itselve a large vat, a town-sized storage bin.

The surplus product is merely another name for Leviathan’s material contents, its entrails. It can hardly exist by itself, suspended in mid-air, “ripe” for the beastly carcass to form around it.

Communities of free people had usually stored enough food to last them through an average winter, and although some of their dreamers were excellent weathermen, they often had to skimp and squeeze when the sky outwitted the dreamer.

The first Leviathan stores enough for the worst possible winter and then some, since free people no longer do the work. A living being so stuffed would suffocate and explode. There are hoards of every conceivable product. And where there are hoards, there’s trade.

Trade is very old. In the state of nature, trade is something people do to their enemies. They don’t trade with kin.

A person gives things, just as she gives songs or stories or visions to her kin. The receiver may or may not reciprocate on some other occasion. The giving is the source of satisfaction. We will be so far removed from this, we will not understand. That will be our shortcoming, not hers.

She trades only with enemies. If a hostile group, whether near or distant, has something she wants, she and several well-armed cousins go to the hostiles with something the hostiles might want. She offers her gift, and the hostiles had better offer the thing she wants on the spot or she’ll carry her gift right back to her village.

Soon after the rise of the first Ur, trade becomes extensive. Virtually everyone is now everyone else’s enemy. When you give someone a gift, you expect what you went for; you keep careful records on your clay tablet, and woe to him who defaults.

A single view of the hoards gives rise to a new human quality. This quality becomes so widespread that we will not believe it did not always exist: Greed.

You can see that over half the grain in the storage bins rots every year, unused. And you know that in the Zargos Mountains and in the Levant there are camps of foreigners who rarely store enough food to tide them through a hard winter. Those in the Zargos Mountains wear beautiful fur garments, and those in the Levant derive a purple dye from shells.

You, a Priest’s brother and an Ensi’s cousin, set out toward the Zagros Mountains with forty zek-drawn cartloads of grain, a years output of forty zeks. You go at the end of a long, hard winter. You get ten fur robes for every cartload. They claim not to have so many furs. Perhaps it has dawned on them that they are being plundered, that the relation they’ve established with you is not a relation between their furs and you grain, but between themselves and the zeks who harvest the grain, and that you are a thief who is stealing from both.

So you rush back to Ur with your grain and return to the foreigners’ camp with you cousin the Ensi and a band of well-armed men. The Ensi’s men remove the robes from the foreigners’ backs. There still are not enough robes, so the Ensi’s men return to Ur with several of the foreigners’ sons and daughters.

Ur has progressed to the stage of engaging in foreign commerce.

* * *

There is some evidence that Sumerian traders followed their greed as far east of Ur as India, as far south as the first or second cataract of the Nile. Before speculating about their trips, I have to digress into another matter, because modern prejudices have made a mess of the little evidence there is.

Many if not most of the first archeologists will be enlightened, progressive and unabashed racists. The appearance of the murderous Leviathans will be a great moment for them, and they will claim that the Leviathan of the appropriate race was the father of all the other Leviathans.

A little later, during the Community of Nations era, the racism will have to be toned down somewhat. It will be said that the people in Egypt as well as those in Persia and India were all endowed with the genius to devise permanent war machines, that they all developed their own Leviathans independently during the same few generations by coincidence.

The feat of launching a Leviathan will be considered a sign of genius. But is this feat a sign of genius or of mental debility? Who but imbeciles would step out of the state of nature and into the entrails of an artificial worm’s carcass for no good reason? The suggestion that numerous human communities succumb to this idiocy at a given moment, each of its own initiative, is neither plausible. It takes genius to keep the monster away.

There are plenty of ways of keeping the monster away. Unfortunately for human communities, not all these ways lead to a safe refuge. For the sake of brevity, I will reduce these ways to two: the community can remove itself physically from the monster’s reach, or it can stay where it is and try to hold its own against the beast.

The earliest tablets do not record the movements of communities outside of Sumer’s sphere. It will be suggested that the last migrants to the double continent on the opposite side of Earth from Ur, the Inuit people, begin to cross from Siberia to Alaska to Greenland at about the same time when the first Leviathan is set in motion. There will be no proof that these people are being pushed by others in an early version of the now famous analogy of falling dominos. Toynbee and others will document such movements for later ages, when military exploits by Chinese generals will send people camped by China’s wall running across the length of Eurasia to Rome’s gates, pushing all others before them. We will know that a vast number of Eurasian communities will successfully keep themselves out of the monster’s reach until the Leviathan called USSR swallows the last of them in our time.

Physical removal, namely fleeing or as we will say, dropping out, effectively removes one from the monster’s reach. But ultimately none flee for good, since Leviathan will shrink the size of the world and turn all places of refuge into cleared fields.

And not all communities want to flee. Their valleys, groves and oases, the places where their ancestors are buried, are filled with familiar and often friendly spirits. Such a place is sacred. It is the center of the world. The landmarks of the place are the orienting principles of an individual’s psyche. Life has no meaning without them. For such a community, leaving its place is equivalent to committing communal suicide.

So they stay where they are. And they are kissed by the monster’s grotesque lips. Artifacts of Sumerian origin will be found in early Egyptian as well as Indian sites. We will not know who carries the artifacts, but we will know that it is easier to walk from Mesopotamia to the Nile in the age of the first Ur than in our age, even after Urlugal begins to turn the region into a “darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.” Compared to what modern Leviathans will make of this region, the darkling plain of Urlugal’s age is a peaceful garden, and an Ensi’s cousin would have no trouble walking in it.

As for the more distant places, we will know that when the sea and land caravans between the Fertile Crescent and India are first mentioned in records, they are mentioned not as something new but as something very old, and the first mention of the silk route to China will not be an inaugural address.

Leviathans eventually become enormous, as large as continents. But we should not project this enormity to the early days and expect these first contacts to be frequent and to involve lots of people. In some circumstances, near a source, a pebble can change a whole stream’s course. We all know of the later traveler Marco Polo, who acquired a taste for Chinese pizza, spaghetti and ravioli and carried his taste across the entire length of Eurasia, totally transforming the Italian diet. I would guess that only two visits, one by the Ensi’s mercantile cousin and the second by the Ensi and his punitive expedition, would make a strong impression on any community in the state of nature. And Sumerian merchants travel far, by land and by water, to distant places they call Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha.

I’ll let the reader speculate about the details of such encounters. I’ll only say that, after the children of the defaulters are kidnapped by the spear-armed goons, a member of the community who speaks of the positive wonders of Civilization is a moron, not only in his kin’s eyes but in ours too.

* * *

Here we reach a problem that has plagued people since the age of the first Ur, the problem of resistance. Some of us will wish, in retrospect, that the communities within Ur’s reach had destroyed the first monster in its lair, while it was isolated and not very large.

Apparently numerous communities in the Zagros mountains and in the Persian plains try to do precisely that, and they fail.

Others, less sanguine, perhaps less confident of the might of their gods in the face of armor and wheels, do the next best thing to fleeing: they wall themselves in, thus walling the moster’s claws out. The walls protect these resisters from Ur’s claws but do not keep the resisters out of Leviathan’s entrails.

Why do the resisters fail? This is an important question, the question of Life against Death. Norman O. Brown will make it the title of a very informative book.

Pre-state communities were gatherings of living but mortal individuals. All their secrets and all their ways were passed on directly, by word of mouth. If the keeper of important uncommunicated secrets died, her secrets died with her. Enmities and grudges died with their holders. The visions and the ways were as varied as the individuals who experienced and practiced them; that’s why there was such a richness. But the visions and ways were as mortal as the people. Mortality is an inseparable part of Life: it is Life’s end.

We will keep projecting modern institutions into the state of nature. There were no institutions in the state of nature.

Institutions are impersonal and immortal. They share this immortality with no living beings under the sun. Of course they are not living beings. They are segments of a carcass. Institutions are not a part of Life but a part of Death. And Death cannot die.

Insis die and zeks die, but the labor gang “lives” on. Generals and soldiers die, but Ur’s army “lives” on and in fact grows larger and deadlier. Death’s realm grows but the living die. This creates problems that resisters have not, so far, been able to deal with.

Those who try to destroy the first Liviathan by storming its walls, the Guti and others in the Zargos mountains, the Elamites in the Persian plains, the Canaanites and other Semites of the Levant, cannot dispatch a simple war party with an informal chieftain as in the old days. A war party from a single camp won’t reach even the outskirts of Ur. They have to gang up with other camps, with as many as possible, before even contemplating a serious raid. And once they do gang up and attack, they cannot disperse and return to village life as they always could before. They may even defeat Ur’s main army, but before their victory celebration ends they get word that Ur’s undying army has already massacred more of their kin.

So, since they bothered to gang up, they stay ganged up. The young men don’t lay down their spears. This is unprecedented, but how else are they to resist the monster? They’ve committed themselves to staying and they feel constrained to accept the horrible consequences.

Their armed men do unto the foreigners what the foreigners do to them. They return with captured Sumerians, and the captives are put to work on local shrines and fortifications.

Technology progresses by leaps and bounds. Death’s real expands. Soon there are many Leviathans. There’s Elam in the Persian plains, there’s Mari and Ebla and others in the Levant, and there’s talk of a Guti Leviathan somewhere in the mountains. The brave fighters succeed in defeating only themselves.

* * *

Those who wall themselves in fall into a similar trap.

Communities built walls before, at Jericho for example. But they built a wall once. Wall-building was not an institution among them. The hostiles camped outside were not Urlugal’s undying army. They were another community who either moved to another site, or who found husbands and wives among those of Jericho, and ceased being hostiles.

This is no longer the situation faced by the builders of walls on the banks of the Nile, by those raising the walled Mohenjo Daro on the banks of the Indus, by those who would slightly later enclose themselves in fortresses in Central Anatolia.

The Leviathanic intruders are not communities of free mortals. They are emissaries from something that neither leaves nor dies. Even their memories are not human but are stones carried in pouches. Jericho’s walls will no longer do. The walls have to be high and strong, and they have to be repaired as often as the ditches of Erech.

The seasons pass and the generations pass, yet the walls must still be maintained. And maintained they are, generation after generation.

The seeress who dreamt of the need for these walls has experienced her last important vision. From that day on her kin have paid her scanty attention; they’ve been hovering around her brother, Pharaoh, who in his person combines the offices of Sumerian priest and Sumerian Lugal.

Walls cannot be permanently maintained with a temporary division of labor. At first free cultivators of the soil are invited to help build the walls, in exchange for stimulating visions as well as grain plundered by Pharaoh’s men from other cultivators. And the free peasants do build, apparently of their own accord, sublimely beautiful walls and pillars and shrines, with surfaces covered by sculptured and painted motifs rich with meaning to everyone on the Nile.

But a permanent division of labor is compulsory simply by being permanent, and compulsion is soon as common on the banks of the Nile as on those of the Tigris. What was done voluntarily by one generation is expected of the next, and is imposed. Egypt is no longer a place where people share ways; it is now a place where some impose laws on others. Ways were always living ways; laws are not ways of free people. Laws are Leviathan’s ways.

The tasks performed for Pharaoh are not freely chosen; they are imposed tasks, forced labor.

And like a living worm that reconstitutes itself from a mere segment, a complete Leviathan is excreted by the Pharaoh’s household. The builders and craftsmen are no longer invited. Pharaoh now leads armies northward to Sinai and the Levant, southward to Nubia. He returns with captives. He imposes heavy tribute on those not captured and leaves tribute collectors in distant garrisons. Like the Lugal, he now has scribes who keep track of the tribute, and he sends punitive expeditions.

Pharaoh too has an artificial memory now, a data bank as we will call it. His scribes have devised a script of their own as have scribes in distant Mohenjo Daro on the Indus. The characters and the materials are different, but the aim is the same. And Pharaoh’s scribes, like the Lugal’s, have devised an artificial year, a calendar, the earliest form of clock, to be able to foresee the days when the tribute crops turn ripe.

How sad! All this is being done to protect the old ways from the onslaught of a beast with “a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” All this is being done for the sake of the spirits of the valley, for the ancient community’s gods.

We must remember that enlightened progressives who would do all this for the sake of productive forces, for Science and Technology, for the Leviathan itself, have not been born yet. Perhaps the cities of Sumer, amazingly secular cities, already contain precursors of modern progressives, but even there the god in the Ziggurat comes first.

In Egypt there is not even a glimmer of progressive enlightenment, and there won’t be for at least a hundred generations. There the aim of all violence, of the capture of foreigners, of the rending of communities, is to preserve the old community, to defend Life against the great cadaver. All the killing of the raids, invasions and wars is sacrificial killing. It is done for the sake of Life, for the sake of the spirits of the animals, the plants, the river, the underworld and the sky.

But the world of the spirits shrinks, as it had in Sumer, and becomes confined to the Temple, which in Egypt is also the Pharaoh’s household.

Unfortunately for the Egyptians, Life cannot be preserved in a sealed jar. It atrophies, and at last it dies.

This sad, slow death can be seen in Egypt’s paintings, its sculptures, in its lore, in its shrines.

The earliest painters and sculptors clearly still breathe the air of the community Pharaoh’s household intends to preserve intact. These people are still in touch with women who leave their bodies and visit the underworld, with men who extend themselves toward the sky and fly, with people who actually speak to the Jackal and the Ibex, for the gods still mingle with the people. Pharaoh’s early craftsmen still know such seers, but not many, and the next generation knows even fewer.

There are still seers who have visions and revelations, but who knows what foreigners inspired them? Ultimately only Pharaoh’s visions can be trusted, and Pharaoh takes care to confine himself to the visions of the old ones.

The gods stop mingling with the people from the day when Pharaoh undertakes to defend and preserve the gods. And despite all Pharaoh’s efforts, the gods die. I suspect it is because of his efforts that they die. I don’t presume to know much about deities, but it seems they cannot support Leviathans any better than people support plagues; gods are among the cadaver’s first victims; the beast is deicidal.

The death of Egypt’s gods is recorded. After two or three generations of Pharaoh’s protection, the figures on the Temple walls and pillars no longer jump or fly; they no longer even breathe. They’re dead. They’re lifeless copies of the earlier, still living figures. The copyists are exact, we would say pedantic; they seem to think that faithful copying of the originals will bring life to the copies.

A similar death and decomposition must pale the songs and ceremonies as well. What was once joyful celebration, self-abandon, orgiastic communion with the beyond, shrinks to lifeless ritual, official ceremony led by the head of State and his officials. It all becomes theater, and it is all staged. It is no longer for sharing but for show. And it no longer enlarges the participant, who now becomes a mere spectator. He feels diminished, intimidated, awed by the power of Pharaoh’s household.

Our painting, music, dance, everything we call Art, will be heirs of the moribund spiritual. What we call Religion will be another dead heir, but at such a high stage of decomposition that its once-living source can no longer be divined.

* * *

While the ecstasy of the former living community languishes within the Temple and suffers a slow and painful death, the human beings outside the Temple’s precincts but inside the State’s lose their inner ecstasy. The spirit shrivels up inside them. They become nearly empty shells. We’ve seen that this happens even in Leviathans that set out, at least initially, so resist such a shrinkage.

As the generations pass, the individuals within the cadaver’s entrails, the Ensi as well as the zeks, the operators of the great worm’s segments, become increasingly like the springs and wheels they operate, so much so that sometime later they will appear as nothing but springs and wheels. They never become altogether reduced to automata; Hobbes and his successors will regret this.

People never become altogether empty shells. A glimmer of life remains in the faceless Ensis and zeks who seem more like springs and wheels than like human beings. They are potential human beings. They are, after all, the living beings responsible for the cadaver’s coming to life, they are the ones who reproduce, wean and move the Leviathan. Its life is but a borrowed life; it neitgher breathes nor breeds; it is not even a living parasite; it is an excretion and they are the ones who excrete it.

The compulsive and compulsory reproduction of the cadaver’s life is the subject of more than one essay. Why do people do it? This is the great mystery of civilized life.

It is not enough to say that people are constrained. The first captured zeks may do it only because they are physically constrained, but physical constraint no longer explains why the children of zeks stick to their levers. It’s not that constraint vanishes. It doesn’t. Labor is always forced labor. But something else happens, something that supplements the physical constraint.

At first the imposed task is taken on as a burden. The newly captured zek knows that he is not a ditch-repairman, he knows that he is a free Canaanite filled to the brim with ecstatic life, for he still feels the spirits of the Levantine mountains and forests throbbing inside him. The ditch-fixing is something he takes on to keep from being slaughtered; it is something he merely wears, like a heavy armor or an ugly mask. He knows he will throw off the armor as soon as the Ensi’s back is turned.

But the tragedy of it is that the longer he wears the armor, the less able he is to remove it. The armor sticks to his body. The mask becomes glued to his face. Attempts to remove the mask become increasingly painful, for the skin tends to come off with it. There’s stiall a human face below the mask, just as there’s still a potentially free body below the armor, but merely airing them takes almost superhuman effort.

And as if all this weren’t bad enough, something start to happen to the individual’s inner life, his ecstacy. This starts to dry up. Just as the former community’s living spirits shriveled and died when they were confined to the Temple, so the individual’s spirit shrivels and dies inside the armor. His spirit can breathe in a closed jar no better than the god could. It suffocates. And as the Life inside him shrivels it leaves a growing vacuum. The yawning abyss is filled as quickly as it empties, but not by ecstasy, not by living spirits. The empty space is filled with springs and wheels, with dead things, with Leviathan’s substance.

* * *

The once-free human being increasingly becomes what Hobbes will think he is. The armor once worn on the outside wraps itself around the individual’s insides. The mask becomes the individual’s face. Or as we will say, the constraint is internalized. The ecstatic life, the freedom, shrinks to a mere potentiality. And potentiality, Sartre will point out, is nothing.

This reduction is most visible in the cities of Sumer, Leviathans which are amazingly modern in this respect as well. It becomes so visible that the Sumerians themselves start to notice it. It is not the increasingly stupefying ritualization of the Temple’s activities that bothers them, nor even the evermore noticeable inner emptiness of the Ensis and their families. All this seems to be accepted as a consequence that follows the need for a dependable supply of water and zeks. What bothers them is that descendants of the first Sumerians are themselves being reduced to zeks. The main instrument of this reduction is trade, or as we will call it, business. The Sumerian city, more than any other early Leviathan, is a heaven for businessmen.

A businessman is a human being whose living humanity has been thoroughly excavated. He is by definition a person who thrives in, an on, the Leviathan’s material entrails. People reduced to things are amongst the objects in the beast’s entrails and are obviously fair game to this hunter of profits. The businessman’s axiom, long before Adam Smith will publicize it, is: Every man for himself and the gods against all.

We’ve already seen how the Sumerian businessman reduced a community of foreigners to debtors, then defaulters, finally zeks. He now applies the same economic wisdom to foreigners inside Sumer, and at last he stops distinguishing between foreigners and Sumerians.

The reduction goes so far that by the time of the reign of Urukagina, even the Lugal is bothered by it. And this Lugal decides to do something about it, or at least publishes a tablet stating such an intention.

This Urukagina, who assumes the office of Lugal of Lagash at a time when his southern neighbors have already adorned the banks of the Nile with the first pyramids, may not be the first reformer. He’s the first documented reformer. He is the first of many who will put the wellbeing of the entire worm ahead of the wellbing of a segment. He can see that the greedy profit-seekers, who are a mere section of the whole, have been distorting the cadavers coherence, its very ability to move, by eating up all its entrails. He proclaims that the vipers “shall not gather fruit in the poor man’s garden,” they shall not reduce Sumerians to zeks.

By placing the welfare of the entire worm above that of its swelled segment, this reforming Lugal, like many of his liberal successors, unleashes forces which overwhelm him. Relying on his memory of earlier stages of the worm’s existence, he presumes to know the best, or most just, arrangement of the worm’s segments.

The first Urlugal presumed to know the hierarchy of the gods and got away with his presumption because the gods were already weak and dying.

Urukagina doesn’t get away, because the segment he attacks, although by definition dead, is not weak. Retribution takes the form of an invasion from Umma. Urukagina is swept out of office by Lugalzaggizi of Umma. Urukagina is killed, so are his liberal Ensis and most of their zeks, and Lagash is razed to the ground.

The town of Umma is not known either for its power or its courage, and it doesn’t susddenly acquire these qualities. Its strongman Lugalzaggizi does not invade Lagash with Umma’s forces. The necessary forces as well as the technology needed for an invasion are in the segment Urukagina attacked. Lugalzaggizi is the instrument of the reformer’s downfall not because he champions the powerful, but also because he knows something Urukagina did not know.

Lugalzaggizi understands that the head of Leviathan is not where it was a year or a generation ago, nor where Urukagina thinks it ought to be. Just as the Lugal’s god is always the god in the phallus-shaped Ziggurat, so the Leviathan’s most powerful segment is always its head. Such is Leviathanic justice, and Lugalzaggizi, not Urukagina, is the true champion of the worm.

Lugalzaggizi’s championing of the powerful gives him allies in all of Sumer’s cities. Perhaps they are all beset by reformers nostalgic for an earlier Leviathanic order. Lugalzaggizi’s forces overrun all of them.

Before all the corpses are buried, Lugalzaggizi is Lugal of Umma, Lgash, Ur and Erech. His scribes describe him as the Man of Erech, the One and Only. The Tigris-Euphrates valley is occupied by a single Leviathan. Sumer is one for the first time. The worm has eaten all its predecessors. Lugalzaggizi’s scribes also describe him as the Lugal of Lugals, an expression which his Semitic-speaking subjects translate as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But the days of even this Almighty are numbered. Just as Sumerian speakers are no longer all priests and Ensis, Semitic speakers are no longer all zeks. By way of marriage, physical prowess or toadying, grandchildren of zeks are in the palace and in the Temple. Those in the Temple presume to give the names of long-forgotten Semitic deities to the Sumerian gods, give the vulgar name Ishtar to the daughter of the Moon. Sumerian-speaking priests no longer seem to care; many of them must know that the Sumerian gods are no longer anything more than names. Besides, many of the brothers of the Semitic-speaking priests are Ensis—so many, in fact, that it would be imprudent to insist that Ishtar’s real name is Inanna. Furthermore, in the outlying cities along the road from Sumer to the Levant and the Sinai, there are not only Semitic-speaking Ensis but even a few who presume to the office of Lugal. Such a one is Sargon the Akkadian.

Sargon is Sumerian in everything but his language. He apparently began his career as an Ensi to the Lugal of Ur, for whom he collected tribute from a Levantine province. When Ur fell to Lugalzaggizi, Sargon named his province Addad and assumed the post of Lugal. He has benn observing Lugalzaggizi’s fat Leviathan, something we will call an Empire, for a whole generation. Suddenly he figures out something that even Lugalzaggizi doesn’tknow; his scribes say Ishtar told it to him. Sargon knows that the phallus-head of the Leviathan is for all the powerful, not only Sumerian-speaking powerful.

All the powerful who have felt the least bit slighted find a champion in Sargon. Following Lugalzaggizi’s lead, he captures his mentor and sweeps through the cities that gave rise to the first Leviathans.

A single Leviathan, as long as the Nile and several times wider, now sprawls over the entire Fertile Crescent. Its entrails contain Mesopotamian Umma, Ur, Lagash and Erech as well as all the cities along the roads to the Levant.

Sargon, who started his career as tribute collector, knows as well as any Pharaoh or Lugal what the worm does best. It eats tribute, not only to feed the Lugal and his Ensis, who now have Semitic names, but above all to feed the increasingly violent gods in the Temple, gods as dead as the Leviathan itself, and just as hungry.

* * *

The feats and fates of Urukagina, Lugalzaggizi and Sargon are the subject of what we call “history.” Mary Jane Shoultz has demystified the word. When we speak of real History, of His-story, we mean His-story. It is an exclusive masculine affair. If women make their appearance in it, they do so wearing armor and wielding a phallus shape. Such women are masculine.

The whole affair revolves around phallus shapes: the spear, the arrow, the Zigguat, the Obelisk, the dagger, and of course later the bullet and the missile. All these objects are pointed, and they’re all made to penetrate and kill. The Mesopotamian Zigguat and the Egyptian Obelisk man-made mountains which point at the sky, forecast the day when males will tear the atmosphere’s ozone layer and propel themselves to airless spaces where once only gods flew.

Many, from Euripides to Bachofen, Shoultz, Grass and Turner, will ask why His-story is so exclusively masculine. They will remember the stud-like character of the human male in the state of nature and will wonder if the Leviathanic feats that constitute His-story are the male’s revenge.

With the rise of the Leviathans, women are debased, domesticated, abused and instrumentalized, and then scribes proceed to erase the memory that women were ever important. Diamond says that literacy, which Shoultz calls Maleliteracy, is ideally suited to erase the poast from memory. In the old communities, what one elder forgot another was likely to remember, and traditions could hardly be lost unless the whole community met disaster.

But as soon as social memory loges on the scrolls and tablets of scribes, a single directive from Pharaoh or Lugal can erase a whole portion of the past, or even all of it. In Egypt many early cartouches, nameplates will be found with the barely-discernable name of a woman, the Matriach; on all of them, the woman’s name is erased by later scribes, who then place the name of a man in the cartouche.

The woman is the mother; she’s Earth; she gives birth to Life. But the man no longer feels inferior; he has immersed himself in the Leviathan, which is neuter and gives birth to no life, but which doesn’t need to give birth, since it is immortal. Empowered by Leviathanic armor, the males hit back.

Turner will cite one of the bedtime stories told by Sumerianized Akkadians who share power with Sargon. They still remember the primal mother, Tiamat, the first progenitor of life. But now they make her out to be as dead as Leviathan, saying that heaven and Earth herself are formed of her dismembered carcass. Marduk, Sargon’s god, is her dismemberer. In Turner’s words, Marduk “smashes her skull, splits her body like an oyster, and the obedient winds whisk her blodd away.” Turner will point out that the violent Marduk will have a long line of Earth-hating successors; or contemporary Lugal Reagen will try to be the last.

His-story is a chronicle of the deeds of the men at the phallus-helm of Leviathan, and in its largest sense it is the “biography” of what Hobbes will call the Artificial Man. There are as many His-stories as there are Leviathans.

But His-story tends to become singular for the same reason that Sumer and now the whole Fertile Crescent becomes singular. The Leviathan is a cannibal. It eats its contemporaries as well as its predecessors. It loves a plurality of Leviathans as little as it loves Earth. Its enemy is everything outside of itself.

His-story is born with Ur, with the first Leviathan. Before or outside of the first Leviathan there is no His-story.

The free individuals of a community without a State did not have a His-story, by definition: they were not encompassed by the immortal carcass that is the subject of His-story. Such a community was a plurality of individuals, a gathering of freedoms. The individuals had biographies, and they were the ones who were interesting. But the community as such did not have a “biography,” a His-story.

Yet the Leviathan does have a biography, an artifical one. “The King is dead; Long Live the King!” Generations die, but Ur lives on. Within the Leviathan, an interesting biography is a privilege conferred on very few on on only one; the rest have dull biographies, as similar to each other as the Egyptian copies of once beautiful originals. What is interesting now is the Leviathan’s story, at least to His scribes and His-storians.

To others, as Macbeth will know, the Leviathan’s story, like its ruler’s, is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The ruler is killed by an invader or a usurper and his great deeds die with him. The immortal worm’s story ends when it it swallowed by another immortal. The story of the swallowings is the subject of World His-story, which by its very name already prefigures a single Leviathan which holds all Earth in its Entrails.

* * *

Withdrawals of human captives from the entrails of the dead worms are at least as common as the swallowings of small Leviathans by larger ones. People do not only revolt. People actually leave, escape, get out. They try to do so all the time. They frequently succeed.

Sargon’s reign was long. His empire lasted for two generations. It ended when “all lands revolted against him and beset him in Agade,” in the words of a Cuneiform tablet. Nothing is left of the enormous Leviathan that sprawled over the entire Fertile Crescent.

Unfortunately, segments of the decomposed worm remain scattered over the countryside, and each segment tends to recompose itself into a complete worm. Dead things have powers living beings lack. Biologists will try to give this strange ability of the dead to the living, by a process called cloning.

Some of the fragments, the ones containing the rich and powerful, succeed in giving motion to a new worm, and a new Leviathan punishes the withdrawers vy reducing them to outright slavery, to perpetual zekdom. Sargon’s successor Rimush even extends the worm’s carcass over the Elamites in the Persian plains.

There are revolts in every quarter, and at last Rimush is killed by his own guards. He’s succeeded by Naram-sin, called “God of Agade” by his own scribes, but this god’s empire is in a state of continual decomposition. The captives in this Leviathan’s entrails invite kingless nomads from every quarter to help them tear up the monster from the inside.

The intestinal wars last long into the next successor’s reign. At last Elamites withdraw, Lagashians withdraw, and then the entire beast breaks into little pieces. Zeks even abandon the canals.

The great Leviathan is destroyed, for many people permanently. A similar Leviathan will not rise again in this part of the world until four generations later. Anarchy returns to the Fertile Crescent.

Unfortunately this is not the anarchy of a former age. The human beings who have withdrawn from the Leviathan are maimed. Their armor doesn’t come off. In many the potentiality to by human remains nothing. The region itself has been turned by the warring Leviathans into an inhospitable wilderness. And some of the allies, for example the Gutians, who had been invited to help overthrow the great worm, try to set in motion a worm of their own, modeled on Lugalzaggizi’s and Sargon’s. Nevertheless, the captives withdraw, apparently preferring even this flawed anarchy to the Leviathanic order.

During the very generation when anarchy return to the former Sumer-Akkad, Pharaoh’s conscripts walk away from their pyramid-and-palace-building assignments, turn against Pharaoh and against all his priests’ official rites, and restore some degree of anarchy to the Nile as well. Pharaoh’s zeks return to their villages and try to resume life as it was lived in the old days. Fractured segments of the monster that was headed by the Memphis monarch lie scattered on the Nile’s banks. The fallen Pharaoh’s former agents try to give motion to some of these segments. “Seventy kings during seventy days” reveals the degree of their success.

And a generation or two after the collapse of these two giants (archeologists will disagree about the chronology), a third attempt to launch a Leviathan floundersd. Mohenjo Daro on the Indus is abandoned by its inmates. The details of this withdrawal will not be known because the script will bot by deciphered. This withdrawal will be a myster to people with Civilized brains, and it causes will be sought in floods, droughts, invations and even a “tectonic shift.” If one is convinced that people would never leave the entrails of Civilization, then one has to resort to tectonic shifts to explain why people do leave. But if one is not so convinced, then the mystery is not why people leave, but why they stay inside as long as they do.

The people by the Indus are spared from being shackled by a State for many generations. Those by the Tigris and the Nile are not spared so long.

Here it should be pointed out that the segments of decomposed Leviathans have an unfair advantage over communities of free human beings. The segments are like machines. If they’ve merely been abandoned and haven’t rusted too badly, they can be oiled put back into operation by any good mechanic. The segments, being dead things, may corrode; they will never die.

But human communities, once dead, stay dead. Communities of living beings are clearly inferior in this respect. Put somewhat differently, Death is always on the side of the machines.

This has tragic consequences for those who at last succeed in disencumbering themselves of the heavy carcass. They cannot return to the old communities, for these have been destroyed by generations of plundering, kidnapping and murdering Civilizations. People cannot resume; they have to start over again. We should not assume that the ways, what we will call Culture, nurtured and cultivated over thousands of generations, can be regenerated overnight. It may well be that such ways require the cultivation of many generations.

But the people struggling to launch a new Beginning don’t have an age in which to do it. They’re camped in the midst of Leviathanic segments, machines which any good mechanic can reativate and use to put a whole generation’s efforts to naught in a single campaign.

This is precisely what happens. On the Nile, segments of the decomposed Leviathan are put back into operation in Thebes and Heracleopolis, and both grow into complete worms. On the Tigris-Euphrates, in fact in Erech, the strongman Utukhegal gets hold of the unwieldy worm the Guti had set in motion, only to be overthrown by his own deputy; but this deputy, Urnammu, succeeds in getting the entire Sumero-Akkadian Leviathan back into motion, again stretching it from the Levant to Elam. All the efforts to launch a new Beginning are brought to naught; they’re not interrupted; they’re killed.

After two generations the captives of the regenerated monster withdraw again. This time the Sumero-Akkadian Leviathan is abandoned for good. But armored Sumerianized Semites insist on tinkering with the segments, and at Ashur they set a new worm into motion, this one manned by zeks from among new Semitic foreigners, Amorites.

Five generations later, descendants of the Amorite zeks launch a Leviathan of their own in Babylon, where they continue to call labor-gang bosses “overseers of Amorites.” And five generations after that, the Amorite Hammurabi stretches the Babylonian worm over ancient Urukagina’s realm, while the Amorites’ former masters, the Assyrians, stretch their worm over the western provinces of Lugalzaggizi’s realm.

Meanwhile, unnamed people from the forests and mountains of the Guti have carried bits of Mesopotamian armor across all of Eurasia to China, for such is said to be the origin of the Yang Shao culture. Only two generations later there’s a script and a Hsia Dynasty whose founder, Yu, is credited with providing a reliable water supply.

To the west of the Fertile Crescent, in Anatolia, where women will continue for many generations to celebrate Earth’s unstinting fertility, at two spots often visited by Assyrian merchants, there are already incipient worms, later known to Egyptians and Assyrians as Hittites.

Every new model has accessories its predecessors lacked. The segments left on the Levant by the decomposition of Sargon’s monster are reconditioned into mobile, octopus-like monstrosities that will transport Phoenician commerce to places far beyond the reach of more stationary worms. The Phoenician merchants at Byblos and Ugarit even recondition the hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts into a far more efficient too, the alphabet.

Human communities regress while the worms progress. The Leviathan’s greatest achievement, as L. Mumford will suggest, is to reduce human beings to things, to remake men into efficient mechanical fighting units.

All this is depressing. The realm of Death expands. And since Death is to Life as Night is to Day, when Death’s realm expands, Life’s contracts. The inhuman tale truly signifies nothing human.

Having mentioned some of the main protagonists who set themselves up against human communities and against Mother Earth herself, I’ll turn to a small group of people who who withdrew from the entrails of one of the great Leviathans. These people were insignificant to everyone but themselves at the time of their withdrawal and would have remained insignificant if their Jewish, Christian and Islamic heirs had not carried the shadow of their withdrawal to every previously safe refuge on the globe.

These people are, of course, the Israelites who withdrew from Egyptian Civilization, and at this point I have to say that I’m surprised the armored questioner who smugly threw the positive wonders of civilization in my face, since part of his armor is made out of the detritus of this small group who walked away from the wonders.

* * *

1 comment:

S. Kalyanaraman said...

Brilliant, scintillating note.

On the scribes in distant Mohenjo-daro, here is an ebook which has cracked the code of the hieroglyphs (so-called Indus script). http://sarasvati95.googlepages.com/
Download the ebook which has the complete corpus of epigraphs