Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Some fixes on the last two posts.
Happy new year.
"We haven't found an iota of concealed material yet." Zilch.
Also: Josh Marshall on the stupidity of the administration's behavior towards N. Korea.
He thinks it's more of a crisis than I do. Iraq is a mess because of the events of the last 10 years, because of Hussein and of how we've responsed to him. Korea, on the other hand, is still perfectly managable. Kim Jong Il needs to be bribed and seduced, and he wants to be. He may be playing hard to get, but all he wants is for someone to ask him to dance. If Bush continues to insist on humiliation as a foreign policy, it will turn into a crisis that will have been as predictable as the end of a film by de Palma.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Comments: 115 and counting. The link (and although I haven't read them all I would bet the best and most clearheaded commentary), courtesy of Sam Heldman, who has casually outlined the best definition I know of the category of 'the political', which encompasses any opinion, on any subject, that is not considered by the vast majority of a specific group to be obviously true. What much of the country assumes, reasonably, about the meaning of the Confederate flag seems not to register much in Alabama - unless, of course, you're black. Actions or opinions taken for granted by men are seen as political by women, and what is normative for Israelis is political for Palestinians. What is seen by Americans... by heterosexuals...

2 out of 3 Americans question the need for Tax Cuts.
More on Rummy and Iraq.
"T-Lo."
The Bushies throw everything that the Clinton administration tried to do with North Korea out the window and then then when they are backed into a corner try to cover up their stupidity by arguing that they are the ones being flexible and pragmatic.
The difference between Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il is that one is a megalomaniac and the other, at this point, merely wants -craves- respect. The only ideology now in North Korea, as in China, is pride, and whether or not there is anything to be proud of, in the North's case at least, is beside the point. China has stature, and North Korea has none, except as a threat. They want a seat at the table. They need trade, and food. Seoul understands this, and we should be listening. And the fact that the new leadership was voted in for questioning the complete history of American policy -going back 50 years- is all the more reason.
"We are not planning a preemptive strike" Talking about invading North Korea, even to deny it, is pathetic and absurd. And it's scary.

Yesterday Pakistani dictator/PM Musharraf made a speech in which he said that he had made clear to his Indian counterpart during the hight of the crisis earlier this year that Pakistan would go nuclear if India invaded Kashmir. We now know how close we came, for a few weeks, to a nuclear war; much closer than we are or will ever be with Korea. Unless of course Bush insists on one-upping his playmates at every turn.

There has been some talk about hackers going after John Poindexter's personal data, and here's another nice bit of domestic blowback.

And more on the USG's support of Hussein in the 80's (copped from Atrios)

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Another Saturday night.

Some notes that I might turn into something.
What is it Kitsch?
We live in a world of language. We comminicate by way of language. As I wrote elsewhere the difference between a lover who sounds convincing when expressing his/her love and one who sounds like a fool is the language. It is the language or the gesture that 'convinces'. It is the telling of the story that makes someone into a convert, to love or christianity, not the story.
The interesting thing, to me, about religion is that it elides the obvious: that it is the mediating form that attracts people to one specific faith or another. The language of faith/ the rhetoric of faith/ the demonstration of faith... is faith. We can not escape the means of communication and mediation, even, or especially, when that escape is the object of our desire. It's all brilliantly circular, though no believer can accept such a definition.
But what is kitsch? Kitsch is unmediated faith. It is the equivalence of the plastic Jesus with Michelangelo's Pieta; that's the standard definition. But what does it mean? It is belief without rhetoric. In a sense it is the only actual demonstration of a faith in something outside of language, or out of the world. It is the only example of a faith where the rules of rhetoric and representation do not apply. And that very fact makes it off limits to discourse; makes it considered absurd, even by the vast majority of the faithful.

In Angela's Ashes, there is a description of the horror Frank McCourt's grandmother feels when, as a young boy, McCourt pukes up the communion wafer. [I should say here that I heard McCourt tell the story, but haven't read the book] He's been sick as a dog, but she runs terrified to ask a priest what to do: her grandson's body has rejected the Host. An exasperated priest tells her not to worry, that Frank has the flu. We laugh at the story, and we are meant to, or we were meant to when he told it on the radio. But what he is describing is an example of pure faith. And we laugh at it, because it is also pure kitsch.

What is Fascism? A parody of Monarchism. It is the 98 pound weakling who says he is a member of the master race. But he does not have to convince anyone that he is because he has a gun. In other words, he ignores the rhetoric of power, the language of authority, and uses only- and the 'only' is important- the fist in the face. Monarchy is violent but the fascist reverses the order: not the pomp and then the violence, but the violence and then the pomp, to dress it up not for himself but only for others. The rules Louis IV had to live by, on the other hand, were as strict as those of his courtiers. The pomp was the rhetoric of power, a rhetoric that was as important to the king and those around him as to anyone The rhetoric demonstrated that the order was just, that the order was all encompassing. For Hitler, of the kitsch master race, the pomp was a ruse.
If you doubt my logic ask yourselves this question: If it were otherwise, why did the history of monarchy produce so much art of lasting value and fascism produce almost none? Why is fascist art considered kitsch? Is it only that we cannot judge; the crimes are so great and so recent? I don't think so.

What I think we could say is that fascism, unlike monarchism, is a violent order where the perpetators have the same understanding as the victims; the only difference being in the psychological state of the perpetrators themselves.
---
What does it mean when Antonin Scalia says "The Constitution as I interpret it, is dead"?
He's given away the game. Once one allows interpretation one allows the possibility of alternate interpretations. What a brilliant piece of casuistry. But does such logic even have a place in a court of law? [Florida]
What is it when one tries to remove from history language that in a sense has already been written? If monarchism was once considered just, and was superceded by democracy, can one replace monarchism on its pedestal without doing damage to language itself. What does it mean to be so reactionary in a democratic state?
I often toss off whole paragraphs in a curt shorthand that two hours later sound as me bad to me as to anyone else.  I go back to them and, asking myself the same question again, work through a more complex answer. Sometimes only the grammer changes, other times the tone itself. I enjoy being bitter and dismissive when I am in the mood for it. But it does not always seem approproiate, or read as well, after the fact.

I don't think the notion of evil is useful. I don't think it's useful to describe the masses of people who give tacit support to Bin Laden, and the reasons for that are clear enough -'evil is never popular' is a truism I think- nor I do I like the term being applied to Bin Laden himself. That's still a bit of a stretch to some people.

I also do not think that 'spirituality', which is amoral- it can include a god of money- has any value as the basis of a political theory. Liberation theology doesn't have it's origins in spirituality per se but in the conditions of peasant life, which includes specific beliefs. The brilliance is that it imports nothing.
To say 'we need more spirituality' is to cloud the issue.

Friday, December 27, 2002

"Finally, Murray was not defending Bin Laden, she was speaking under an assumption most of us share, that 'Evil-as-such' is never popular. "

I'm quoting myself here, from the comments to my post -same as below- on NWB.
It is an important point. The right wing, at least the unsophisticated branch, does not hold this to be true. There is 'evil' in the world, and millions of people apparently worship it. It is important to state -and not simply to take it for granted- that we know that this argument is falacious, and that we base our own arguments on more solid ground.
Sam Heldman on the the popular presumption of guilt facing black politicians the moment any questions, even spurious ones, are raised about their ethics.

Also on what may or may not become a major issue, the Patty Murray speech:
We should not defend her points, which are obvious, we should ridicule mercilessly anyone who says that they are inappropriate. Give the idiots no room to breathe. The moment liberals show any weakness on this they will get slammed. On some issues, this might be a political maneuver, but not this time. If Dashle and Lieberman make any conciliatory gestures, they should be shouted down.
If Bloggers kept the fires going under Trent Lott's ass, they -we- should do the same for anyone who attacks Murray.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

From the Washington Post, in my case courtesy of The Guardian. No surprise: The CIA is accused of Torture.

Monday, December 23, 2002

I'm away from my computer for most of the week, but I may find time to put something up- if only a link or two.

Already I couldn't resist:
"Mr Biden said the crisis was 'a greater danger immediately to US interests ... than Saddam Hussein.'
...[T]he defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed such concerns. 'We are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts,' he said. "

This is so fucking absurd. Let's find another place that's going to cause trouble and see if we can make it a trifecta.
It's useless even to try and talk sense to such people. It's a 'nucular' pissing contest between imbeciles.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

I began this post after reading the debate Nathan Newman was involved in on the logic behind affirmative action. It has transformed over the last exhausting week into the post I'm putting up, still very rough in passages, and badly organized, but which now both makes clear the ambiguity of the situation as I see it and manages to describe my interests in a way I haven't before been able to.
If you've read it twice already, please read it again.
s.e.

ps. Max Sawicky wants to nominate my site as The Angriest Blog, if such a category ever appears in the awards of Blogistan. I think he means angriest readable blog, according to his criteria, so I guess I'm honored.
------


Racism against blacks still exists in this country. It is stronger than most whites will ever admit, and most dangerous where it exists in secret. Nothing about the current Trent Lott fiasco surprises me - It was never a secret to anyone who paid attention. But I think it is time we begin to understand and take political account -for once in this country- of our, meaning humanity's, ridiculous fragility.

I don't have many links to fellow bloggers. The ones I do have are to policy blogs such as by N. Newman and Max, or more recently, Sam Heldman. There are many blogs where I can pick up news from the street, so why link to them all? But even reading the people I link to I miss something. And that is an awareness of a certain absurdity that anyone needs to face who is caught up in politics, and specifically when dealing with 'reform.'

The wonder and beauty of people, and I mean beauty on the sense that one must learn to love what one can never escape, is that we are so incredibly stupid, and so driven by fears and phobias.
The problem with liberal technocracy, and in fact with socialism which comes out of it, is in a sense the problem of all political philosophy: the need to assume definitions, standards of consciousness and awareness, for various groups in society. In republican political organization, of course, that means the same category for all, regardless of class and more recently race, gender, and sexual orientation as well. But at some point, regardless of who designs the categories, with what politics in mind, this sort of identification becomes a straitjacket.
Experience always outflanks design. Destabilizing events are the basis of almost every novel or play ever written. At some point emotion or desire, illogic or simple chance takes control of the action. And at the end, order is restored, or changed, or gone seemingly forever. The inevitability of this is something that neither conservatives nor reformers -those who define themselves as such rather than simply having some opinions on a subject- seem to understand. And so it can come down to someone making the sort of charge that Chomsky seems occasionally to be capable of making: that because Freud thought we were all a litle nuts he was attacking our ability to run our own lives; that he was attacking democracy.

But declaring our own inevitable failures is not the same as declaring someone else's inevitable success. Chomsky is an honest news hound who can see clearly through a haze of doublespeak, but as a political philosopher he is as useful as a coffee shop chatterbox who argues that everything would be fine we would only be nice to each other. And as sick as I am of Foucault et al. there is a sensibility in him that is still foreign to this country, and especially to those who involve themselves in reformist debates, if in fact never foreign to politicians themselves, who are all cynical enough to understand. I don't know where I picked this up but I love it: Late in life Andre Malraux asked an old priest he had met what life had taught him about people. His answer: "There are no grown-ups"

The problem I have always had with some reformers, of whom Chomsky is the most famous recent example, is that by assuming that everyone must be capable of behaving as an adult, they can be so anti Freudian that their politics mirrors right wing economic theory in its reliance on static rationalism.
It is a cliché to say that blacks are still affected by the legacy of slavery. But it is true. And it is not yet somehow a cliché to say that Southern culture is still affected by the bloody and barbaric history of Scotland and Ireland. What can we say about South Boston? What is the reason for the extremely high drop-out rate of Italian American high school students in New York City? Why are so many prisoners the products of violent homes?
It may seem odd to think that something that happened 300 years ago is still of psychological importance to a group of people. Or that more than 100 years after emancipation the effects linger. Do you think American mythology does not affect the lives and behavior of white Americans? Does the mythology of pre Castro Cuba not affect the ridiculous posturing of a large part of the exile population in Miami? Can anyone describe how a whiny nebbish like Woody Allen could possibly come to be seen as personifying an entire people? Or, to be less comic in reference to my father's tribe: Is it possible that the disgusting behavior of Israelis towards the Palestinians has no relation to their own attempted destruction 50 years before?

I'll put this even another way. Do you think that I'm listening to the rap cd I bought on the street six months ago -one that you can't buy in a record store- because I want to sympathize with alienated black youth? No I'm listening to music by thugs from the street, because they can describe the street better than anyone else. I don't defend the right to free speech of a 20 year old with a Mac10 because I like guns, but because it's better to know what's on the street then not to. Besides, I admit, I like the sound. Would it be better if the streets were not what they are? Of course. But the streets are what they are. And growing up under some circumstances can produce a certain kind of person. What kind of person is that? Maybe the son of the man who washes the floors at your office. Maybe the kid scares the shit out of me. But if that kid chooses to tell me a story, with all that he's seen, and if I'm moved by it, how easy can it be for me to moralize?

Another story. I've spent the last three weeks working on the house of an extremely wealthy woman. We were in a hurry yesterday to finish up for Christmas: she had guests in from Europe and company coming for a cocktail party. At 2 o'clock we installed a stunningly beautiful Italian art deco chandelier that is worth more than I made last year. At 5 I finished rehanging the drawings from her collection in the hallway. After that I went to the bathroom, washed my face and hands, and went into the living room, which she had had done a few years ago in the most beautiful stucco Veneziano that I have ever seen in this country. Until two hours before I had thought that she was a very nice woman, with a nicely personal taste, in her collection and in her choice of lighting fixtures. But still I was annoyed because of the circumstances: last minute cleaning before a party makes my job less one of a tradesman than a servant, and I felt awkward having to ask the house guests to move while I swept the floor. But that was before I was told the only people attending the party were the house guests, a retired foreign service officer, his wife and daughters, and the men who had been working on her house for the last month. I don't have much more to say. It would have been one thing if we were all college boys, but not all of us were. She was a gracious hostess, I had a great time. Do I begrudge her her wealth? Of course. Do I begrudge her her taste? I've never in my life seen so much money spent so casually or so well. Part of me begrudges her nothing: she an intelligent woman involved in a lot of activities of which I would otherwise approve, and who enjoys the pleasures of wealth in a deeply unjust world. And she enjoys them with real style. So if I can't moralize about one end of the spectrum how can I moralize about the other? And if I can't moralize about a kind woman who has always had everything, how can I do it about an angry thug who has lived most of his life with nothing? Answer: I can't.

Really, I want everyone to grow up, but they won't. I won't. Some want to profit from that assumption, claiming it gives them license to do what they wish. Some want to condemn the absurdity of others who do not live up to their standards.

One more story: A Taiwanese friend's family lost everything when they had to abandon their factories in Haiti after Duvalier fell. They lost millions. He has never understood why his anger when he tells the story bothered me, and in fact, for that and other reasons, we are no longer friends. If I had been born in Haiti while his family was there, and my parents held the same beliefs they held here, instead of having an FBI file I would be an orphan. This is something he apparently could not, or did not want, to understand. But I know that he was working in sweatshops at the age of 13. Even if they were run by his father, they were run on borrowed money, and he still had to work the machines. Why did his parents work so hard? Why did they have to be so cheap so as to need what was nearly slave labor? I have no idea. Why does Confucianism demand that his mother receive $500 a month from each of her three sons? And the parents drive a new mercedes

Reformers will always have a problem with the way people behave. And with reason. And I will always have a problem with reformers. But that is not the same as having a problem with democracy, or trying to make a moral justification for greed. There is none. Nor, for that matter, is there one for wealth. But sometimes, often, the easiest solutions to our troubles run smack into the brick wall of what it means to be human. I am less interested in writing even or especially political writing that does not take this into account.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002


This country should not be the one Bin Laden describes. This country should not mirror the one Bin Laden wants to create. This is immoral, dangerous and stupid.

A link picked up tonight from Atrios:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranian and other Middle East citizens were in southern California jails on Wednesday after coming forward to comply with a new rule to register with immigration authorities only to wind up handcuffed and behind bars.
Shocked and frustrated Islamic and immigrant groups estimate that more than 500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles, neighboring Orange County and San Diego in the past three days under a new nationwide anti-terrorism program. Some unconfirmed reports put the figure as high as 1,000.
The arrests sparked a demonstration by hundreds of Iranians outside a Los Angeles immigration office. The protesters carried banners saying "What's next? Concentration camps?" and "What happened to liberty and justice?."
A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said no numbers of people arrested would be made public. A Justice Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Back in 5 minutes
Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Pleasant Dreams.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A new post on NoWar Blog

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Noted before sleep:
Josh Marshall: "Well, it turns out [Trent Lott's old friends] the Council of Conservative Citizens filed an amicus brief in the cross-burning case!"
I should say that I am opposed, by way of my fondness for the 1st Amendment, to any restrictions, unless the act is meant overtly as a threat . One of the assholes bringing the case was convicted of burning a cross on the original plaintiff's front lawn, so there are many ways in which he should lose without having to bypass the constitution. My opposition goes for bans on 'hate speech' as well.

Eric Alterman forwards this record of the courage of Tom Daschle. I ride the subways in NY, so I think I have the right, or may be about to earn the right, to say Nathan Newman who is kicking ass in general these days, is right about the strike.
Are Subcomandante Marcos and Baltasar Garzon going head to head?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I'd like to thank Sam Heldman for dropping my name in public, and giving me the chance to continue in this direction knowing I haven't made too much of a fool of myself yet. But that being said, I think there is still a problem in his understanding of esthetics as it applies to everyday life, including the writing and presentation of legal briefs.
As I I wrote recently Americans have developed a division between the esthetic and the intellectual that is anomalous in its relation to most of the planet. We are taught to see our shared values as imperitives, often religious or economic, and esthetics, whether rarefied or not is seen as connected more than anything else to leisure, as something for the weekend. Sam makes this bias clear when he writes: "Thinking of legal communication as being artistic in this sense may seem like an oxymoron, or at least a very very bad idea, if you think that legal writing must always strive to be as un-idiosyncratic and as crystal-clear as possible."
I am going to have fun here, because Sam has given a perfect example of the mistake many people make, and he's also my perfect audience, since a corollary to Sam's intellectual misunderstanding are the unintellectual -or anti-intellectual- and equally mistaken assumptions of the artists themselves, who are as immune to a discussion of the nature of art as theologians are to the nature of religion. Law is the perfect field for this discussion.

Art is that which convinces.
I heard a story, apparently true, of a well know analytic philosopher who gave up on his field after witnessing an exchange between lawyers in a courtroom.

Why is it that legal argument and esthetics should ever 'appear' oxymoronic? Why is it that an artistic temperment is assumed to be 'eccentric'? As I said in the post I linked above, it's often not the story that makes a case but the manner of its telling. A classically perfect piece of oratory has a material logic, in the sounds being made, the vowels, consonants, pitch and rhythm that's the perfect parallel to the clear logic of the argument. When I attempted to define a work of art I didn't say there was no art anywhere else. Perhaps I should have been clearer.  We're pattern makers; we create them even against our will. Try to speak random jibberish and you'll find that you're unable to;  immediately you begin making patterns. Sounds will repeat or will be answered: 'ug ug' 'bim boom.'

Every legal brief has art in it: word choices based on how pairings or groups sound together, words that are easy to pronounce in quick succession, metaphors used to make the issues more concrete to the reader or listener...
My comment about what makes a work of art took that logic farther. When the subtlety of the literary construction becomes inseparable from the beauty of the argument, then a legal brief, or any document can in effect do double duty. The Gettysburg Address is considered a work of art.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were both powerful orators. But my parents always found King's preacher's incantations overblown and annoying. For them Malcolm X was was more interesting. King would speak as a shepherd, from a superior position, while Malcolm X spoke to his audience as he would have someone speak to him, as an equal. King cajoled and exhorted, and Malcom X taught, in the sense that a teacher teaches those who will succeed him. I could go on, but the point here is only that for each, his art made manifest the choices he had made about himself and his community and history. The esthetic and the ethical mirrored one another. Their artistic devices were not mere design but acted as parallel to their intellectual and emotional lives, as is true, in a less self conscious way, for anyone. But they were skilled at it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

"The only difference between a well reasoned argument about a metaphysical subject and a badly reasoned one is the complexity of the portrait of the author and of his ideas. There is no difference in their value outside of that. Complex sophistry remains sophistry.
All art is sophistry."

"Something can be judged a work of it art if its arguments are rendered with an idiosyncratic subtlety beyond what is necessary to communicate its ideas, and which may even oppose them, but which so colors our perceptions that we can not separate the sensibility from the idea without feeling a loss.
Subtlety beyond necessity but not without purpose."

Quoting myself from notes somewhere. And the second one posted here a few months ago.
Sam Heldman sent me a note yesterday replying to my comments about sincerity and theatricality: "...there is something special about music that is not meant primarily to be played from a stage but is instead played for the playing of it." and this in the context of his interest in bluegrass and hill country back porch footstomping music. He sent me some links to individual disks which came back 'forbidden' when I clicked them, but the site is a good one to have on your list.

I responded twice to his note. It's obvious that I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to say as I wrote, so the letter is a bit sloppy. I was tired and a little drunk. I'm posting it because I'm tired tonight as well, but also because the reasons for, methods of, and responses to communication together make up my main interest: language, esthetics, rhetoric, ethics and law.

What is to be done?
Do you know how to dance?

"Since plastering doesn't take much thought, I spent a lot of the day thinking about what it was I meant by the term sincerity. After I read your email I looked it up in my 50 year old Webster's, and I suppose what it comes down to is a problem of volition. I have a great respect for the notion of the intentional fallacy, and in that context, sincerity implies intention. Sincerity is an emotion. 'Simplicity' and 'directness' describe the manner of things themselves: songs for example, or a style of playing. I would not call a craftsman's work sincere or earnest. I wouldn't call a mason sincere, even if he were brilliant. I might say that he had a sincere love for his work, but that's not the same thing.

My dislike of that word doesn't make me a cynic and I wasn't trying to sound like one. Maybe I shouldn't have used the term 'theatrical' since it implies an audience of others, of outsiders. When everyone in a church sings together the performers are the audience. Maybe that's not theater but it is still formalized presentation, perhaps even more formalized, more rhetorical. "These are the songs my/our grandparents taught me/us, and that their grandparents taught them." You can't get more formalized then that. The notion of sincerity also implies a focus on the individual performer rather than on the song and is therefore the opposite of formalization.

I see a musician on the subway a lot who sings nothing but sad songs. And he sings them with a miserable expression on his face and always in the same plaintive whine. He obviously is miserable, and he's trying to communicate his misery to the rest of us. I feel guilty for being so sick of him. I've heard him do 'Tears in Heaven' hundreds of times. But I've also heard Mexican guitarists singing beautiful sad duets that you know they can do at this point while reading the damn newspaper. And they stand there and sing them again and again and you know as you watch and listen that what they are thinking about is not their misery- if they are miserable- but the song. It is the character's in the song who are sad. Does that make the singers insincere? But they're good at what they do.

I think what you appreciate is the selfless respect for tradition. There's a depth in that that individual achievement can't match. And there's a simplicity to a certain kind of grass roots tradition that is as much about the community as the song. It's collective art. And in a society without much in the way of community, you're drawn to it, just as I'm drawn to the Mexican singers on the subway. But sincerity is an individual's emotion, and to me it changes the subject from the emotions in the performance to the emotions in the performer. I think that's a mistake.

I'll try another tack since I haven't quite hit it yet, and I'm a little drunk. What we both sense is the communication and familiarity within the group that's associated with sincerity. The sincerity is not directed at/to the audience and isn't even the subject of the 'conversation', but is demonstrated or made manifest by the performance. Lovers don't spend every day telling each other how much they're in love, not if it's going to last more than a week, they talk about the things they have in common and the communication demonstrates the emotion. Music is the same. The sincerity and the friendship is between the players. The audience, unless it's a community church, is along for the ride.

It's not sincerity that bothers me it's the thought that it is or should be directed at the audience, or that it therefore produces good art."

Monday, December 09, 2002

I want to add something to my comments about formalism. I don't care if it's Robert Johnson, The Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family or Johnny Cash; when members of the educated bourgeoisie take an interest in 'roots' music it's not sincerity that draws them in, but a rigorous and formalized theatrical presentation, and serious craft. Listening to Ralph Stanley you know the importance of faith in his life, but it is not his faith that attracts you it's his voice (he sings better than most believers). He constructs his singing with an interior logic and it's that logic, that pattern, as the song travels from beginning to middle and end -to resolution: the structure of all narrative- that's communicated to his audience. He constructs something with a sense that it has to be just so, and listening to it we're compelled to agree.

I watched a mediocre documentary on the tube recently, about Lon Chaney. It had a great quote: It's not an actor's job to feel the emotions of his character, it's his job to make the audience feel them. Eric Alterman and John Nichols, both of whom write in The Nation, always use sincerity as a yardstick, and it's stupid.
If art were about sincerity being in love would get you laid.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Trent Lott is a Racist. I didn't link to this before because it was getting enough play in the left coast of Blogistan, and there was no way I could help spread it much. There still isn't. But I flicked on the tube this morning and watched a couple of right wing pundits on national TV try desperately to convince themselves it isn't true. Even David Broder was shaking his head. This is getting some real play and should be pushed... Hard.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

What is 'formalism' in the arts? Whatever it is, it is ubiquitous as of when...1850? And the definitions its partisans apply don't cut it. I'd rather describe it as a natural, as opposed to chosen, technique spontaneously generated by a culture to keep the insincere from being the merely banal.

Frank Sinatra spoke about how the Dorseys taught him the importance of phrasing, and phrasing- the control of time- is Sinatra's genius. The beauty is cold structure; there is no love in his love songs.
Someone, probably Greil Marcus, talks about the formalism of a Rolling Stones performance. How did white middle-class kids from a England manage to rip-off working class American culture (black, white, urban and rural-Jagger copped fake white accents as well) and succeed, unlike everyone else, in making everything they stole their own? Certainly no other band was simultaneously both as derivative and as original as the Stones. The secret is not that they stole, but that they made thievery their subject. Jagger's redneck accent - listen to Beggars Banquet- is more than a copy or a parody because every song, by anyone, is always just a performance. But Stones songs are explicitly that and nothing else: they contain no real love, no real hate, no real hicks, no real black music, no real American music and no real politics (that's what Godard didn't understand about them.) Of course those things were all there: in their absence. As with Sinatra, the theatricality does not undermine the art, it is the art. The subtlety is the doubleness, the shadow of a sincerity that is not there, in an art that is somehow made out of its lack. This honesty is why Godard was interested in them in the first place.
T.J. Clark talks about Picasso's analytic cubism in a similar way, not as describing anything of the world, anything outside the painting itself -a vase or a woman- in any meaningful way, but as bodying forth meaning of a differet sort, as describing the anxiety of a situation, of the attempt and failure and repeated attempt to describe the world, and of making the absurdity profound by way of a kind of skillful but still frenetic -too frenetic, verging on desperate- presentation of the whole ridiculous mess.

Again, I'm fascinated by art and the definition of society and how various periods and forms come to terms with the imprecise- and unidealistic- nature of democracy and of democratic art: that an art about the maker can be seen by some, Picasso for example, and the Stones, or Sinatra, as the product of crisis, and by others, as the nature of things.
I've been following Nathan Newman and Sam Heldman's conversation about Bowers vs. Hardwick and judicial activism. Nathan also answered most of the questions anyone who was suspicious of the terms used to describe the United Airlines fiasco might care to ask. And today, as the Times reported, and Nathan predicted, the creditors of USAir tightened the noose around their debtor's employees.

A Glass in the Sink

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Thanks to Zizka from Vanitysite for recommending I look up the writing of Steven Toulmin in re my arguments about rhetoric.
Here's the beginning of whatever it is I'm going to write next

The debate with Scalia et al. comes down to whether a philosophy of justice should be posited as a question or a statement. The philosophy of free speech extends from the assumption that justice should be based on a question, therefore requiring -political- debate. What is freedom? What is obligation, and to whom is it owed? To be seen as consistent, Scalia's philosophy, in its opposition to the act of interpretation, must not recognize the logical and 'moral' validity of free speech (or of democracy itself).
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A philosophy of open debate is a defense of art...
Art is the world filtered through a sensibility. In a democracy, what is law? Not the sensibility of the individual but of the group. How is the law made to change?
Since law in a democracy must be seen as a questioning and literature is nothing but questioing at the level of mimesis and abstraction, art (literature) has the legal status of a hypothetical case.

If artmaking is to be considered an important activity rather than a 'spandrel' -the result of necessity but not itself necessary- can this be argued without recourse to metaphysics?
Easily, in literature and theater.
What about the rest?


There is a little bit of a debate going on concerning whom we should refer to as 'The Left'. Who should make the call: Hitchens, Pollitt, Alterman, or now that they've gotten into it, Tapped?
Why spend so much energy defending their turf? Because no one who doesn't call himself a leftist- even a bourgeois leftist- wants to be associated with those who do. From Alterman to 'Tapped', liberals want in on the game, but they want to keep their self respect, something leftists never lose. The left makes them feel ashamed and the right makes them jealous. The left will never control the program, but as long as the liberals are afraid, the the right will continue to.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

There is no line that divides information and rhetoric. A flat plane leads from the logical to the illogical, and from the rational to the absurd. If it weren't the case there would be no need to judge one from the other or argue abourt anything; and newspapers could be written by computer.

I had more written, and I would have tossed it all, but those three sentences stuck.