Friday, November 30, 2007

Propositions begin as assumptions that we attempt to justify by a mix of reason, elision, logical and false or slippery analogies. This marks the behavior of analytic philosophers and rational action theorists no less than historians, professors of comparative literature, and opinionated novelists. The difference between the former and later groups is the authors' relations to their foundational assumptions.

What does it mean that Dennett's Darwinian fundamentalism, Chicago School economics and the philosophy of logical analysis are all variations on the same theme?  Why is that question -as with others of context and history- considered by practitioners not only unnecessary but off-putting. The answer has to do with claims of all three sometimes explicitly sometimes only implicitly, to the status of formal science. But those claims take the form of an analogy, and whatever the formal rigor of the structures built on top of that analogy the fact of it is still a problem. Chemists have nothing to fear from the history of chemistry; economists and philosophers aren't so lucky.

What's the appropriate model for philosophers: logician or critic? For American fans of Zizek and other Euros, the question is how should they respond to the European analogical (literary) rationalism. American academic philosophy is analytical, so American fans of European theory simply elide the difference between analogy and analysis creating an academic science of literature and history. The difference of course is that analytic thought hides its biggest literary moves in its original positions not in the body of its arguments. American literary and cultural theory is in no position to claim to be a science. But those who mock its pretensions-based on their own supposedly superior understanding of language- are not much better off.

All writers have opponents, but of those who see themselves as writers first, none oppose critical or historical re-contextualization. European analogical rationalism courts it. Contemporary academicism qua academicism and imagined as science, formal or otherwise, denies the validity of contextualization itself. And in terms of its use in economic theory, the results are literally damaging.

The night I heard him Zizek spoke as a critic, and said many things in his talk and over the dinner table that I agree with. I would even consider them "right." I'll get to the movies later. Among other things, we're both fans of Zhang Yimou

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Guardian
Prime minister Ehud Olmert today raised the spectre of the disintegration of the state of Israel unless a two-state solution with the Palestinians could be reached.
Drawing a parallel with the last days of the apartheid regime in South Africa he warned: "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (with Palestinians) ... then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

Today's warning came in an interview with Haaretz newspaper.

The remarks were published after Olmert and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, this week agreed at a US-sponsored peace conference to resume negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state for the first time in seven years.

Israel is sensitive to any comparison to formerly apartheid South Africa, but Olmert has aired such views before. When he was deputy prime minister under Ariel Sharon four years ago, he favoured a withdrawal from most of the territories taken in the 1967 war that would leave Israel with a "maximum" number of Israelis and a "minimum" of Palestinians.

Olmert also warned about the loss of support of the Jewish diaspora once the question became framed in terms of one man, one vote.
Multi-ethnic states are now the model. Some would say they always have been.
Went dancing with Slavoj The Bear yesterday. JT has been telling me for while I should meet him, He Invited me to dinner which he usually doesn't do since I'm too much of a wild card; but this wasn't business and he wanted to see what would happen.
The reviews were good.
Zizek said what we're seeing intellectually and what we should be fighting for is a redefinition of public and private with a new focus on the public not as state authority but as public space, as commons. I said the commons includes language.
He defended the value of "appearance." I asked him if he would accept "sense." He referred to Kant's definition of public and private reason, seeing the state and law not as public but private. But by that logic, academic philosophy is private reason and literature is public. I should have asked him that one.

I got him to back up a bit on Chavez. He said he was just trying to piss off Simon Critchley. He criticised Judith Butler along the same lines, and I mentioned Martha Nussbaum, though neither of us remembered her name off the bat.
There's more. He did one thing that really surprised me, in a discussion of the Holocaust and art and one well known novel, I can't remember the name or author, describing how he would construct the last moments of a film based on it. He's got a real awareness of the reciprical relation of poet and critic, and a real literary, moral imagination.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dualism bad hairstyles and progressive rock.
Science and speculative fiction, computer games and individualism.

The history of literature until recently was the history of the language of embodiment. All successful rhetoric involves an understanding of the material of language. All craft, even craft in the service of faith -religious oratory- is and always has been empirical and materialist in technique, if not intent. The skill of the orator or author draws you into a relationship that is fundamentally intimate, of having someone else's perceptions as your own. Whether those perceptions are the author's or those of his or her fictitious characters is immaterial. This is learning by seduction.
Science, speculative or cerebral fiction by comparison are fictions of the individual unchallenged; like video and virtual reality games they allow you to relive your life without testing your conceptions of yourself or others. Your virtual self is an augmented self. This is art less as a defense of dualism than a presumption of it, following the definition of consciousness as computation-plus, the nature of plus being unresolved but secondary, secondary because unthreatening, no longer a moral question for each of us but now quite literally academic.
The way to confront the arguments for dualism is to ask if the language and literature of embodiment [embodiment plus-computation] teach us things about the world and our existence in it that we would not otherwise learn. If the answer is yes then the debate, as described in the quote from Ned Block in the previous post, is resolved.

Consciousness is a problem mostly for those who are unwilling to accept a weakening of their own sense of authority. Once you do it becomes simply a question of logic.
See posts Nov. 1st and 6th and this from 2003. It makes no sense to argue against dualism using arguments founded on it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"The greatest chasm in the philosophy of mind--maybe even all of philosophy-- divides two perspectives on consciousness. The two perspectives differ on whether there is anything in the phenomenal character of conscious experience that goes beyond the intentional, the cognitive and the functional."

The greatest chasm in all philosophy, including and especially political philosophy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Outliers again

The number of people advocating for universal health coverage in this country over the past 20 or 30 years has been small.
The majority for many years either opposed them or did nothing.
The majority of Europeans are supportive of the national health programs in their countries.
What did the majority who opposed universal health care in the US have in common with tha majority of Europeans?
How did the American activists/outliers differ from the majority of both Europeans and Americans?
If the majority of American are now in favor of single payer program, what made them to change their minds?
"There's a curious article -- "The Philosophers That Sophie Skipped" -- in the December 7, 1996, issue of the Economist which is a discussion of Russell versus Wittgenstein in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. The writer of this article is clearly on Russell's side and takes some satisfaction in the fact that the profession of philosophy has never been so populated. There have never been more professional philosophers than there are now, and this is something which he thinks that Russell would have welcomed. Certainly, Wittgenstein wouldn't have. Wittgenstein saw his vocation as having to clean the Augean stables of the intellect. He thought that the brilliant young were being distracted from urgent tasks by pursuing these intellectual dead ends. I think he would have been deeply depressed if he'd lived long enough to see how many thousands of philosophers are earning a living that way.

This is not the first time in history that something of this kind has happened. Plato was caustic about Gorgias and the other Sophists who set up what he dismissed as "thinking shops" and, he implied, prostituted their skills for pay."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This begins here.

The new modernism is the historicism of the modern, the re-description of modernity not as an ideal but merely as the sensibility of the present. Dan Graham was the first to do this in architecture as an artist fascinated by (or obsessed with) our emotional responses to the experience of living within systems of ordered design. His twin interests were architecture and film so you see the connection. But what began as the replication of modern form as dystopian anti-ideal is being stretched into something other.
How do you finally kill off the memory of an overpowering father figure? If you're weak you copy him, if you're a little stronger you mock him, but to escape you write his biography. Transforming idealism into narrative, narrative wins and so do you.
It's easy to recognize if you pay attention to history, or if you never had any to begin with. In NY as in academia history is passe; LA has the advantage since they don't even know what it is.

Gehry's from the west coast, and Graham's worked mostly in Europe (where whether they like it or not they remember).
It makes sense that the design firm mentioned in the article has offices in Berlin, Beijing and L.A.

I'm going back to Beijing in the spring.
From Sept. 2004. Written on assignment for publication but unpublished. Reworked a bit today. It seemed appropriate.

Dalibor Vesely. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production

"Impatience with the long haul of technical reflection is a form of shallowness, often thinly disguised by histrionic advocacy of depth."

Timothy Williamson, "Past the Linguistic Turn." In The Future of Philosophy, edited by Brian Leiter. Oxford, 2004.

he modern crisis in communication, between the rhetoric of scientific reason and poetry, is not a new topic. Between our commonsensical appreciation of the clarity of science and the desire of many partly out of jealousy to extend that clarity to their own fields, and the often colorful opposition of those who struggle to defend us and the world from the onslaught of instrumentalism, this argument has been going on for quite a while.

Dalibor Vesely makes the humanist argument against instrumentalism in architecture and in life; but for all his range, and he's widely read in subjects from ancient to modern, he's still a specialist, trapped by the limitations of his field. For all his references to the complex relationships among the various factors -people, ideologies and technologies- involved in the production of the great buildings of the past, for all his discussion of phenomenology and the necessity for us of experiencing and learning the world as a series of sensations in context -including references to NASA studies of human subjects in zero gravity environments and isolation tanks- Vesely is forced by his argument to return to the terminology of depth, and he does so in a way that if he were writing on another subject would offer his opponents a field day. I doubt any of his opponents are architects, but that doesn't really make a difference. In a more general sense his enemies are his most important audience.

Vesely reminds us, referring to Aristotle, that Architecture is a mimetic art. Buildings are where we're born, where we spend much of our lives with much of the rest spent traveling between them, and most often where we die. What architect tries to make buildings without indulging the pleasures of construction? How many buildings are made without considering the landscape that surrounds them, and how many of us would argue they shouldn't be? It is true that there were ideologies in Modernism, and objects and structures made as little more than illustrations. It's also true that the Renaissance and Baroque had access to systems of metaphor that allowed both primary and secondary forms, both structures and details, to carry a literary weight. Buildings told stories in the past in ways they no longer do. But it's also interesting to observe that the communicative space Vesely describes in the Baroque exists now in movies. And what's come down to us as the post WWII ghetto of "design," of the changing fashions of the visual, has never been quite the same problem for literature: faddishness has always existed but rarely dominated. What Vesely does not say outright is that until recently design has never been considered an intellectual act; but now it's the model for all intellectual activity, and faddishness has become the rule. Indeed it's the logical consequence of a forward-looking instrumentalist philosophy.

Vesely asks important questions: What form of knowledge can respond to science and its bastard children? What form of knowledge is held by a violinist or a bricklayer, a knowledge that can be attained only by practice? And how much has the architecture of the present forgotten this? How much of current building is made as a statement, without accommodating the possibility of a rebuttal?

The best argument against instrumentalism, the best argument that Vesely's opponents in economics and philosophy would understand is that if in our scientific age our justice system is based still on a battle of opposed parties, of the opposed instrumentalisms of defender and prosecutor, then argument itself and not science is the intellectual keystone of our society. One way or another we're stuck with the ambiguities of language and conversation. It only makes sense then that buildings should be designed not as simple statements, as one side or another of an argument, but as the place where such arguments are held. At the very least this is practical: if the logic of our government is that we should be divided amongst ourselves then the logic of buildings should reflect this choice. Of course that means that the architects should allow that they are, as human beings, as individuals and as members of society, divided within themselves. Instrumentalism denies this as well it could be said, in opposition to our chosen way of life.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dance of Death (and Oher Plantation Favorites)
Recurring themes.
Association of John Fahey with Glenn Gould: the tragic formalism of the blues and the ecstasy of autistic refusal and denial. Kafka's laugh, and his perfection. "Too perfect" as Thomas Mann called it. Eliot as modern and reactionary. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Gould and Fahey's writing style.

Another analogy. Imagine Professor Immanuel Rath, unable to escape his fate, mastering his art and becoming a great performer of his role as fool, as the embodyment or the apotheosis of shame.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"American cinema is in the grip of a kind of moribund academicism, which helps explain why a fastidiously polished film like “No Country for Old Men” can receive such gushing praise from critics. “Southland Tales” isn’t as smooth and tightly tuned as “No Country,” a film I admire with few reservations. Even so, I would rather watch a young filmmaker like Mr. Kelly reach beyond the obvious, push past his and the audience’s comfort zones, than follow the example of the Coens and elegantly art-direct yet one more murder for your viewing pleasure and mine. Certainly “Southland Tales” has more ideas, visual and intellectual, in a single scene than most American independent films have in their entirety, though that perhaps goes without saying.

Neither disaster nor masterpiece, “Southland Tales” again confirms that Mr. Kelly, who made a startling feature debut with “Donnie Darko,” is one of the bright lights of his filmmaking generation. He doesn’t make it easy to love his new film, which turns and twists and at times threatens to disappear down the rabbit hole of his obsessions. Happily, it never does, which allows you to share in his unabashed joy in filmmaking as well as in his fury about the times. Only an American who loves his country as much as Mr. Kelly does could blow it to smithereens and then piece it together with help from the Rock, Buffy, Mr. Timberlake and a clutch of professional wisenheimers. He does want to give peace a chance, seriously."
Note taking a comment at CT.

Something else to add, since the two posts following this seminar on individualism at Crooked Timber are one on the perils of atomized culture and yet another celebration of it: Isn’t it great to be a middle-aged man who spends all his free time reading comic books?.

The problem isn’t one of institutions or individuals but of how individuals relate to institutions. Books that concentrate on rules for economic policy are about as useful as books that promise to teach you how to pick up girls.
Rules don’t make societies any more than rules make games. Games exist in the playing, and since there are no umpires in society who are not also players themselves, we have to trust our playing partners to make the honest call more often then not even when it’s in our favor. Ever play tennis?
Crises in society come about not because the rules break down but because rules are all there are left. The gearbox is fine, but there’s no grease. And what’s grease?
That’s the unasked question.

What percentage of the population in any country takes individualism as the model for behavior, up to and including the sort of sociopathological individualism economic science seems to prefer as it model? Both American political and economic liberals think mostly of social and religious conservatives and looney leftists as anti-individualist. And of course there’s the army. But the Scandinavian model is based on it. Social democracy is based on it. Religious conservatives counter the ideal of individual freedom with limits originating in god, social democracy with limits originating not in the state but in the community of which the state is a creature. That’s not a problem if we think of individuals as creatures of community. I speak and write in English, and I try to do so “well.” That means I do so expecting to be judged by others. As an individualist why would I care what others thought? Again the posters at CT celebrate individuation and bemoan atomization by turns. What can I say?

Europeans aren’t nearly as afraid of determinism as historically Americans have been. The question of free will is seen as an amusing conundrum not a problem with an answer. Cartesian philosophy never stopped being literature. But the formal structures of social democracy are beginning to appear now in US. While the academy is discussing libertarianism from above, academically mandated anarchism as the last hope for modernism, everyday post-modern [second modernist?] social-democracy is coming up from below.

So I’ll ask you: What percentage of the optimism now permeating academic thought can not be explained by reference to social determinism, as pathology? My sense of cautious optimism is based on something else entirely, the sense that people are getting used to there being unsolvable problems and are developing the capacity to accept the ad hoc. The academy is drying out, but the world’s getting greasy.
The Independent
America and the world's [other] executioners join efforts to block UN moves to end death penalty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Helena Cobban, nice way to put it:
Washington's Continued Coup Preparations for Pakistan
Here are two WGA strike Blogs. One from the the east coast, one from the west.

There's a lot of crossover at this point thanks to youtube but the voices are still distinct. One is self-regarding and self-pitying, the other tries to reach out and amuse a larger audience while keeping the issues front and center.
The culture of popular narrative has rarely been as sophisticated as it is now, but it's the sophistication mostly of those who didn't start out thinking they were all that sophisticated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

DeLong posts an insulting rant directed at Bob Herbert. I post a comment, which DeLong responds to by inserting bracketed [ ] text
As often happens, Prof. DeLong sees error as absolute, evil literally incarnate.
[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]
Not only is he sometimes wrong, but his manner is such that it makes it difficult for him to accept that he's misread either fact or implication. This attack is bad logic and lousy politics. Here's how Duncan Black handled the same question
And DeLong calls himself a social democrat?
I responded
"[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]"

More about you than him Professor. And you continue to editorialize within others' comments as if you were grading student papers. Your obliviousness is par for the course for someone so willing to question others' motives.
Herbert's a political writer. He makes technical mistakes and logical errors but he isn't a hypocrite. He doesn't change his tune to hide his inconsistencies as Brooks does. You know that, or you should. Maybe you just ignored it, but Duncan Black didn't.

You pretend not to be a political writer. The phrase "reality based" is used without irony, yet you've removed comments for content that didn't fit in your definition of the real. The fact that they were verifiable, and verified, meant nothing. Empiricism and reason lost out to something. To what? It would be annoying on any blog, but you make claims for intellectual impartiality. That's the problem with your silly attack on Herbert. The issue's no longer whether or not he was wrong but whether you can tell the difference between an intellectual failure and a moral one. Sometimes it's a tough call but the inability even to understand the question is an intellectual and moral failure on your part.
DeLong removes most of it and leaves
"[But errors committed through either moral or intellectual bad faith *are* evil. It would have been easy for Bob Herbert to inform himself so that he correctly informed his readers. He didn't. That tells you something.]"
More about you than him Professor. And you continue to editorialize within others' comments as if you were grading student papers.
[Yep. Comments on the comment policy are welcome in their proper place, which is not here.]
I reposted the comment, removing the reference to his editorial habits and leaving only the discussion of his post, and it was gone in five minutes.

From the post at Eschaton:
"And the most popular measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, does not include the cost of energy or food, “the two most significant aspects of the increased cost of living for the American people.”
This isn't true. The CPI does include food and energy; the "core inflation" measure does not. It seems increasingly likely that the Fed puts its hands over its ears and says "NA NA NA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" when it comes to the CPI and focuses almost entirely on the core inflation rate when thinking about its monetary policy decisions, and because of this press accounts tend to focus on the core inflation rate as the only thing that matters.

But the CPI does include food and energy costs, and it is the CPI, not the core CPI, which is used to calculate things such as cost of living increases for Social Security benefits (well, specifically a slightly modified measure called CPI-W is used, but it too includes food and energy).

Whether or not the index is calculated appropriately is another question, but it doesn't exclude those things.

United Hollywood Writers Strike East

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Observer
He denied ever being asked to fabricate evidence, adding: 'We're not asked to manufacture information, we're asked to find it. But if a detainee wants to tell me what I want to hear so he can get out of jail... you know what I'm saying.'

Other military intelligence officials in Iraq refused to comment, but one said: 'The message is, "Got to find a link with Iran, got to find a link with Iran." It's sickening.'
Jeff Koons has made some awful work but also some of the best American sculpture of the last 25 years. His stainless steel "Rabbit," is a strange, beautiful, terrifying thing.

But that doesn't make the Sotheby's video any less embarrassing to watch Sotheby's: Jeff Koons' Hanging Heart

Friday, November 09, 2007

For a few reasons, partly because from there it goes to here and then to here [see the last post]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

There is something really silly about this.
I've read through a few of the posts and beyond the boilerplate expressions of professional courtesy deployed to preface disagreement,they're all based on identical assumptions.
History is not just the history of ideas even though it is written by people who have them; the history of ideas is the history of articulate speech not the history of events. We live in a world of forms and we're forced to use form to describe form, so our models of the world are partial and for the rest of our perception of it. The trauma of secularization is a trauma of philosphers and priests and a percentage of the population, not all of it.

Secularization is no more or less than the record of our expanding sense of self-determiniation, but the boundaries of that self-determination are evident not in the successive ideologies of enthusiastic intellectuals who proclaim us free or not free depending on their sympathies but in the continuing necessity of people at large to watch movies and read works of fiction, works that are made as fabulous resolution to unresolvable disagreements among conflciting loyalties. We seek comfort in pattern. One can enjoy both the comfort and the awareness that that's all it is; one can be a materialist and know that our perceptions are fogged.

Secularism originates at the same moment as faith: the moment an event becomes a story. In theater, in actions as fiction, secularism eclipses it. This is not news.
Self-supporting structures of intellectual bureaucracy, built on mud. They keep their integrity even as they're sinking. More examples:
"Picasso not only worshiped the gods Dionysius, Priapus and Mithra..."
In about ten years of crisis during which it's been made clear he hardly understood what he was doing, Picasso made the most important series of paintings in the 20th century and some of the most important art from that century in any medium. But that was bracketed by periods of adolescent sentimentalism, mannerism, and kitsch. The grandiose statements reflect increasing insecurity; the confidence rings embarrassingly false.
"Picasso used to be a great painter, now he is merely a genius." It's doesn't make Braque a better painter to agree.

I'm not in the mood to make the longer argument.
Maybe it all begins with dualism: the continuation of religion by other means. The humanist materialism of the Renaissance wasn't enough.

Lawyers have/use/act through "Metis," scientists do not. Lawyers act half blind pursuing not truth but a secondary goal and using every rhetorical trick they can muster, with imperfect justice/"truth" the result of interaction. Artists and critics act in concert and opposition as the intellectual reflections of historians are founded on the actions of those who often do not share their interests. What happens when the importance of this opposition is denied? When critics talk only to critics it's called "philosophy", which has its purpose, but is then in danger of becoming merely scholastic. Scholasticism in technique, in craft, is one thing -you can't deny subjective influence in a process that is based on doubt- but scholasticism in the pursuit of absolutes another. An aggressive Kasparov will always end up having to be meet a cautious and patient Karpov; a player with a two handed backhand will always face a slice; foundations will always be tested. Fear of a Gordian knot isn't secret or hidden: it's the only fear that matters.

History is the intellectualism of insecure foundations. Academic philosophy is the intellectualism of dubious foundationalism, part and parcel of American self-absorption and naivete.

How do you recognize when a system has become little more than self-perpetuating formalism? When does the rule of reason become the rule of the reasonable?

The rhetoric of objectivity begins with dualism, with anti-determinism being not a goal but a moral necessity, an act of faith.

My comments Crooked Timber were sloppy.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

So fucking stupid
The performativity of the subjective intelligence. You need to be able to breathe! Machines don't need to breathe. Pseudo-autism and the pretense of objectivity. I'm a machine! The false analogy of the mind and the computer. What idiots. What fucking idiots.
Pseudo-autism or pseudo-sociopathy.

Why are lawyers like athletes?
Think. It's easy.

update: Beginning here and looking back through a few things... well, this is funny. The difference between sport as individual activity, racing against the clock, others, and yourself or as competitive philosophy: Kasparov vs Karpov and baseline vs serve and volley.

What about the idea that an emotion is a bodily perception? Suppose I am delighted that my son has become a doctor. I may have various sensations in my body that express this emotion -- say, lightness in my limbs and a warm feeling in my viscera. But the object of my delight is not my body; it is my son's success. My bodily sensations are directed to my body and my emotion is directed to my son. Therefore my emotion cannot be identical to my bodily sensations -- for the two have different objects. This refutes the James-Lange theory.
McGinn's presumption as to origins is just that. Nothing is refuted. Why is the awareness of pleasure any more than an acknowledgment of a sensation? Acknowledgment follows an event.