Thursday, December 31, 2009

Not from AA but he reminded me
And an important image from my childhood.



Invited down to the ranch on Airforce II but my parents wouldn't let any of us out of school. The Vice President's Press Secretary had an ex-wife and two kids. And she had one more much younger from her new marriage. I didn't know I was invited until years later. Our phone was tapped by the FBI but maybe this was too early for that. By '66 my parents would have had other reasons for not allowing us to go.
That's about Johnson not Levine. AA says it well.

On Iran too

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hundreds of thousands of government supporters took to Iran's streets on Wednesday in a show of force against the opposition, with a senior cleric telling their leaders to repent or face death.
I thought the government was unpopular.

American liberals.

the trolley problem

I'm done this before with Michael Slote and self-other asymmetry, and Donald Davidson (click through again at the first link), but the trolley problem is the prime example of the same stupidity.

Still rewriting:
Common sense morality is morality among equals.
Military logic combines consequentialism and an ethic of piety. The issues raised by the trolley problem are part of the justification for military command structure. The military may not pretend to have an absolute moral answer -and when they do they're a danger to our form of government- but for their purposes the answer is a given and they have to deal with the consequences. Officers and enlisted therefore are kept apart, fraternization is considered inappropriate. The men who make the decisions regarding who lives and dies are not allowed to become friends with the men who are the first to die, any more than they are allowed to call themselves their equals. You can't mix equality with such responsibility over others. These are the sort of formal kinship relations anthropologists have studied for generations and they have a purpose.

The inability of academics and liberal technocratic intellectuals to understand subjectivity as a constant in behavior, including their own, connects to all sorts of things. Democratic politicians do not "command" respect but they ooze superiority while claiming friendship. And the people who hate condescending liberals are often so offended by the condescension that they ignore the logic of the argument.

Consequentialism may be strictly logical but dictatorship is not, even the dictatorship of technocrats. And as I've pointed out again and again, the liberal defenders of consequentialism and of other forms of academic truth-seeking more and more are dismissive of democracy, and of community as constitutive of anything. Community thus is defined as a group of individuals who choose to have some things in common. In fact the reverse is true: people are almost entirely tokens and types who respond differently based on individual experience.

The only non-contradictory form of human organization is a functionalism seen otherwise in the culture of termites and ants. Liberal self-supporting academicism, consequentialism, Quine's naturalized epistemology et al., lead down the road to the elimination of the individual as such, in favor of low common denominators. Yet all are founded in individualism. And no one, meaning no one who claims to be interested in the trolley problem, has noticed its connections to the military and to formalized kinship relations, because no one has been willing to leave the world of truths and absolutes and accept and acknowledge the political world of socialization, cohabitation and subjectivity that they actually live in and work within so unreflectively.

There is no right answer to the trolley problem, there is only the ongoing process of choosing what we value. If any of these idiots had been less ideological (and more observant) there would be no discussion of the trolley problem as such. As it is it's central.

The cognitive revolution was founded on the pretense of the intellectually and perceptually stable subject. A knee-jerk response to the fears engendered by behaviorism and communism as well: cold war culture. If not for that everything above would be pretty basic stuff.

This all ties into a discussion of Shakespeare on another page.
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If the right-wing base prefers community to "objectivity" the same is true of the community of the academy and of followers of naturalized epistemology. Community, collectivity and language, always take precedence. That most born-again Christians will get in their cars and drive safely to the doctor to get a flue shot and most climate scientists will agree on the data confirming anthropogenic global warming says nothing about what's most important to either.
Note taking. All comments removed by admin.

A lot of good comments by others, but with few exceptions not really much defense of their importance even by those making them. They're all defending something and doing a good job of it. But what is it?

“the fiction of ideas ” vs the fiction of preferences and of preferences described in common form. When the fiction of ideas lasts, it’s not because of the author’s intent but in spite of it. The only immorality in craft is hypocrisy. There’s something hypocritical in fascist art, but there’s nothing hypocritical in a Titian portrait of the schmuck Philip II.

What Titian gives us is a complex description of the language and categories of meaning in the period. Categories of perception in Venice in 1550 are worlds away from those of Florence in 1520: the difference between flat and idealized images of substance and substance used to to describe immateriality. At the end of his life Titian was painting with his fingers. Try reading Kant for half an hour and then a page of Hegel. You feel like you’re suddenly on a different planet. Same thing

Mimetic art is the description of something you love so much you can be honest about it, or that you hate so profoundly and know so well that you show it in all its complexity. Marx and both Eliot work. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong about the subject only that you’re observant, articulate and honest in describing your response.

Shakespeare will be with us as long as Plato. But Plato’s taste for intellectual elegance is both his strength and his weakness. It’s only possible because Socrates is supplied with straw men to go against.
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“It’s now no longer fashionable to insist that the arts ought to have practical value beyond the pleasure they give us”
Fashionable is the word, there’s no logical reason. Read Jerome Groopman on doctors as diagnosticians and the risks of going straight to testing rather than close observation and examination. A diagnostician is and needs to be a connoisseur: someone who doesn’t let rules do his thinking for him. What role does a connoisseur have in naturalized epistemology? None. Is an idea ever as complex as a human being? No. So maybe we need connoisseurs of humanity, not experts. And that’s what trial lawyers and politicians and actors and novelists and confidence men and playas are.
Hamlet is not an idea and even as an invention he’s more complex than most people. That’s a bit much but it’s the sort of rhetorical flourish that gets people in trouble. I’ll live with it.
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“More to the point, though, we watch them again and again for the sake of the music of the verse.”
It’s more than that. The characters themselves are works of art: complex and contradictory and memorable unities, even if we can’t quite say of what sort.
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To add one more thing about the whole thread and my defense of a kind of thinking.
These sort of arguments are important even though, or even because, there’s no one answer. It’s still arguing about ideas one step removed, as sensibility. Conversation itself creates culture. Since arguing over preference sharpens your awareness of it and actually changes it, making whatever you think a more sophisticated version of what it was.
And the morality of Shakespeare lies in this, and in his and his characters’ relation to the audience and theirs to him. The plays are very directly about and for and played by “us.”

Matthias Wasser: Alexsandr Nevskii was my Star Wars. And I saw it first couple of times in a theater. You have a point (but not a “data point”). Eisenstein wrote wonderfully about the difficulty of creating three dimensional characters for the new revolutionary culture. He loved Noh theater as a classical form with cardboard cutouts… that weren’t. That worry on his part makes even the pure propaganda films like The General Line worth seeing.
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#98 “perhaps to describe Shakespeare as “amoral” would be better”
But he’s not amoral. Is Euripides amoral because he’s not Plato?
In as English harden chaotic because it’s not modeled on Versailles?
And Geo is the one arguing for Versailles. He’s the conservative. Shakespeare is radical by comparison, but he describes the radical so as to make it normative, and in a sense unthreatening.
Shakespeare’s order is unstable and protean but it’s an order. It’s just not something you can remove from the language of the plays: the subject matter and form are inseparable. There’s no takeaway without loss. The plays the thing. That’s the idea.
He doesn’t profess a philosophy he makes one manifest.
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124: Shakespeare clearly means us to think that Macbeth, Antony, et al are heroes, that there’s something sublime and awe-inspiring about their character and purposes.

"You, say that reality is under no obligation to be interesting. To which I'd reply that reality may disregard the obligation that that we may not"
Borges.

I think Geo doesn't understand the difference between reactionary intellectualized nihilism and a sympathetic interest in people as they are. Wilder's Double Indemnity like Macbeth has a central character as killer. And no one would justify his actions because they're interesting, without misunderstand the movie. It's not a mash note to Leopold and Loeb. Others have done that, and defended such things as necessary to counter bourgeois banality, but not Wilder, and not Shakespeare. To understand people you have to risk sympathizing with them, even if they're murderers or pedophiles or criminals of whatever sort. It's a standard line that authors needs to love all their characters, even the bad ones. And sympathy is risky, but not as risky as walling yourself off from experience. As I said on another thread refusing to ever take a drink is not a guarantee of being clearheaded. It could be another symptom of the opposite.

Count me among those who dislike Borges as a illustrator rather than an artist, and as a reactionary. But both Borges and Geo are interested in ideas more than people.
And by the way, the authors of mash notes to L&L are classed as a category of postmodernists and they are in the sense of being mannerists: imposing formal clarity on an unclear world. Like Borges. The mature post-modern is baroque. With Dworkin for example, neither legal positivism nor natural law theory but law as theater and argument as constitutive of justice. And with Shakespeare: conversation not truth is constitutive of society.
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As I’ve tried to make clear you’re not arguing about literature but about values. Geo says that Shakespeare is conservative and defends what others call a schoolmarmish conservatism. He criticism Shakespeare worship but defends idealized heroes. Are they even appropriate for a democratic culture? Is it fair to say that Shakespeare only indulges human foibles while offering nothing better? I think the plays themselves offer something better: a public discussion of human foibles
Was Shaw’s socialism ever viable? What was it rooted in but paternalism? Is paternalism ever liberal? Stop talking about literary “tastes” and start talking about moral preferences. You are already anyway.

Art is the manifestation of ideas in ordered form. The artist concentrates on the form, the critic concentrates on the ideas. Art by critics usually sucks. Historians are too smart to try. And the criticism by artists is as idiosyncratic the conducting of composers. But we learn from both the authors and their interpreters.

Q- Is Geo a liberal or a conservative? The fact that he may consider himself a liberal is irrelevant.
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I have one in moderation. I won’t repost it, since I have no idea what set it off. Or maybe it’s just me. But I want to add something that makes the same point.
The title of Geo’s book is “What Are Intellectuals Good For?” not “What are Poets Good For?”
There’s a lot of Platonism in modern criticism, even modern literary criticism. Just throwing that out as a defender of poetry over professors.

This whole debate is over philosophy by means of literature. Maybe you should make the philosophical debate explicit. In the wider scheme of things, is Shaw in fact a liberal? Are Geo’s arguments actually liberal?
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Shaftesbury in The Moralist (1709). seems to have been the first to stress the basic contrast between such “tailored” gardens and untouched nature “where neither Art nor the Conceit or Caprice of Man has spoiled” the “genuine order” of God’s creation. Even the rude rocks” he feels “the mossy Cavern. the irregular unwroght Grottoes, and broken Falls of Waters. with all the horrid graces of the Wilderness itself, as representing Nature more, will be more engaging, and appeal with a Magnificance beyond the formal Mockery of princely gardens.” It took only one further step to postulate that the gardens themselves conform to the “genuine order of nature” instead of contradicting it. Where Le Notre had said that good gardens must not look like woods, Joseph Addison in the Spectator of 1712 painted the image of an ideal garden which comforms to the laws of “nature unadorned” (as Pope was to express it seven years later).

…To conceive of a garden as a piece of “nature unadorned” is of course a contradiction in terms; for a Joshua Reynolds was judiciously to remark in his Discourses on Art, ” if the true taste consists. as many hold, in banishing every appearance of Art or any any traces of the footsteps of man it would then be no longer a garden.” He therefore prcfers the definition of a garden as “Nature to advantage dress’d”; and it was this concept (well expressed by Pope when he admonishes the gardener “to treat the Goddess [Nature] like a modest Fair,/Nor Overdress nor leave her wholly bare”

Erwin Panofsky, "The Ideological Antecedents of the Rolls-Royce Radiator" in Three Essays on Style
The Committee to Protect Journalists:
Reporter who covered Yemeni unrest is held without charge
Link from AA

Monday, December 28, 2009

On Yemen, read AA.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Original image courtesy of The Frick Collection

Thursday, December 24, 2009

note taking:
"Hmm. Does the law of non-contradiction admit of degrees of adherence?"
Can the law of non-contradiction be applied to human society, and
can it be applied to any human society that we could consider just?

A modernist would say yes/ a post-modernist would say no.
An 18th century Philosoph would say yes/ a 16th century Humanist would say no.

And there's a difference between relativism in an absolute sense and relativism as an acceptance of what we can know of the world. Relativism of some sort is a necessity for a democracy, otherwise if you want to follow Plato fully take the politics too.
The dream of a perfect grammar in politics becomes a defense of authoritarianism. That's the post-modern and the pre-enlightenment (still secular humanist) critique of modernism and of the enlightenment and the age of revolution.

And Engels in a different context your words could have been written by a someone at Volokh arguing with Jack Balkin, or Brian Leiter mocking Bruce Ackerman. Your argument is fundamentally conservative in that to follow it results in conservative [read: anti-democratic] policy.

References follow:
Thus the Renaissance conception of humanitas had a two-fold aspect from the outset. The new interest in the human being was based both on a revival of the classical antithesis between humanitas and barbartias, or feritas, and on a survival of the mediaeval antithesis between humanitas and divinitas. When Marsilio Ficino defines man as a “rational soul participating in the intellect of God, but operating in a body,” he defines him as the one being that is both autonomous and finite. And Pico’s famous ‘speech’ ‘On the Dignity of Man’ is anything but a document of paganism. Pico says that God placed man in the center of the universe so that he might be conscious of where he stands, and therefore free to decide ‘where to turn.’ He does not say that man is the center of the universe, not even in the sense commonly attributed to the classical phrase, “man the measure of all things.”
It is from this ambivalent conception of humanitas that humanism was born. It is not so much a movement as an attitude which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man, based on both the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty); from this two postulates result responsibility and tolerance.
…The humanist, then, rejects authority. But he respects tradition.
Irwin Panofsky, “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline" in Meaning in the Visual Arts
“Humanism- Most generally any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and optimistic about the powers of unaided human understanding.”
Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.
Two definitions of Humanism. I prefer the first. Not hard to do considering I'm not a Modernist.
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In for a penny:
"It sounds as if you are denigrating modernity"
I'm not denigrating modernity. Or maybe I am but we're stuck with it. We're modern. Modern-ism is something else: enthusiasm and optimism regarding the technological advancements of modernity. Modernism involves a conflation of technological and moral progress. It gets more complex when you're dealing with someone like Eliot who is called a modernist when he's more a regretful modern. It's the same when thinking about humanism. Do you mean the humanism of humane irony or the later humanism of clarity and optimism? I think of the latter as a variant of post or anti-humanism. But I'm not any bigger on the optimistic enlightenment than I am on modernism. And for the record Surrealism and Duchamp weren't dealt with seriously in this country until the 60's and 70's, with the moves against Greenbergian modernist idealism. Surrealism is more a touchstone of post-modernism than modernism itself. See Rosalind Krauss.

Quine's naturalism begins with the arch rationalist's assumption that the self is a stable thing: acting and not reacting. And if that's not his argument then that doubt should be applied back to any speaker. This ties in in the 50's I guess to a distaste for behaviorism. A distaste that's more moral than logical.
But what happens when you apply formal systems or assumpions to the complexities of the social world? If you want to treat language as formal system go ahead, but don't delude yourself that it will still function as a representational one, representative that is of our experience. Numbers may or may not function as models but words are used in mimesis and mimesis is very personal. Don't even begin to talk about politics. It seems more like an escape from politics or with social engagement outside the academy.

If you want to talk about philosophy in the world look at the relation of ideas and behavior. You may want to see your ideas as representing yourself in the world, but actions do a better job of that. Arguing that we should all live by rules when we live (at our best) by principles and prudence is arguing for abstract reason from wishful thinking. Successful politics is always founded in empiricism, both the politics that civilized people despise and that they praise. But it's a functional streetwise empiricism, a different form of "realism" than that discussed here. What sort of a naturalized epistemology can we have when the agent of naturalization is so prone to going off?
And this means specifically that no one should confuse my argument with anti-realism. The relevant question to me is not the existence of the outside world but the problem of access and of moral responsibility. Someone should respond to my question about SCOTUS. And in general: if you don't have the capacity to describe your existing relations to the world: of social life; and politics, then you have little business discussing philosophy. And I say that assuming that for anything to be of broader philosophical interest it has to be seen to model something other than itself.

As to post-modernism. There is another division. There's the librarian model of de Man and Borges which is a sort of literary epicurianism (of language divorced from the world) which is connected to decadence and even anti-humanism but which helped lead towards a return to humanism. I think Garcia Marquez called Borges something like 'necessary', which wasn't meant simply as a compliment. And again: Duchamp and Surrealism and Krauss. Don't rely on Danto for Duchamp. Duchamp goes back to Baudelaire. He didn't want to be called a dumb painter because as he said: no one ever got called a stupid poet. And Eliot used readymades too, as collage: "Hurry up please, it's time." Duchamp is a literary trickster and if anything as conservative in his way as Eliot.
Playing off of outmoded forms of narrative that he couldn't quite let go of. He was a perv of the old bourgeois, but the pervy bits got him street cred with the punks.

Between modernity and modernism it's a mish-mash but they aren't identical. And the same with what follows, but if you want to imagine the American equivalent of European pomo-theorists you won't find them in the American academy. The unreliable subject is the subject of literature, and from there it became one of continental philosophy. The American academicized version of continental theory is like the perfect replica of the Parisian bistro in NY: a simulacrum without the context. And the unreliable author, whether Derrida, Deleuze, Zizek , Philip Roth or Norman Mailer, becomes in the academy the very very reliable expert in Unreliability Studies. The American academy is predicated on the reliability of American academics, when they are no more reliably aware of the external world than the rest of us. Humanism on the other hand, I am being snarky here is founded on the hope of a worldly academy, even occasionally a vulgar one.

And in relation of ideas to literature, complaining that the Europeans are just ripping off Montaigne is like saying Proust is ripping off Lady Murasaki. The point is the communication of ideas in the language of the present. It's the present that's being observed and described in literature. The world is the subject being represented through mimesis in language. People have been making chairs for thousands of years. If you and a friend are looking at a room full of chairs at the Metropolitan Museum you're not going to talk about the one thing they all have in common. If you're talking about novels you're not going to pretend the stories are "true." But there's probably more truth in the collected lies of Philip Roth than there is in the collected truths of Donald Davidson. The difference is that all Roth is trying to give an objective description of his subjective experience.
And maybe the Continentals are all lousy poets but in a very real sense what they were trying to describe was post-war Europe, while their American contemporaries were trying to describe absolutes. But maybe all the Americans succeeded in describing was post-war America. And that is what makes the Europeans smile.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


More from Guido: Model 2. A close-up. It's beautiful.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

back to behaviorism

Reading around professional philosophers' arguments (again) it's painful how even in discussing art they avoid the form that's the most threat to them and their self-designated status. I've read discussions of painting, photography and dance, but nothing on literature, other than fantasy/SF: the vulgar literature of illustration and intentionality. For academics more interested in breaking away from self-referential reason the references are to dance or other forms of notated perception that challenge them in ways only they themselves can articulate in language. Duchamp was right: no one ever called anyone a dumb poet.

Back to the last post: If Avatar is any good it will be because it describes the conflicted desires for individualism and community -the central theme of American life- in the language and symbolism of the first decade of the 21st century. If it succeeds it will be because it will be seen to describe the state of play. If it lasts it will be because it will be seen in the eyes of a future generation as having described the state of play in and around 2009. If people in the future find it emotionally compelling it will be because the language of America in 2009 was used in such a way to render it compelling in the future. And what is or is not compelling of course are the emotions of the filmmaker as they are embodied and articulated in his craft. In an art of megalomania there's no pretense of representing the world outside the author's perceptions of it. The best you can expect is an honest self-portrait.

"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." No. It's always the case that the new is born unrecognized right under the nose of the old.
And we are returning to a model of behaviorism. As I said before Chomsky will be remembered for his journalist's empiricism long after his academic rationalism is forgotten. It already is.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From 2004
On Rorty. The problem isn't anti-foundationalism it's anti-foundationalist philosophy. Philosophy is foundationalist by nature. Anti-foundationalist philosophy as an independent study as opposed to a philosophy of other subjects, of law, history, literature etc. is predicated on a return to control of an illusory enlightened awareness, as if the recognition somehow resolves the loss. The commingling of rationalism and anti-foundationalism is at the root -is the foundation, relatively speaking- of all the violent metaphysics of the European avant garde, both left and right. And Habermas is a nice guy, but so what?

Charlie Chaplin stands on a stage made of ice. He slips and falls. He gets up. He slips and falls again. He loses control. He negotiates with the inevitable. We laugh at him and at ourselves. Theater is anti-foundationalist, a winking lie. Common law like democracy itself is anti-foundationalist. It's not based on 'Truth' but on getting along.
So why the ridgidity of the British class system? That's for history and literature not philosophy.
The anti-foundationalism of craft is manifest only in practice. The facts of Avatar are the practice of corporate capitalism, high technology and personal (and vindictive) authoritarian individualism in the production of images of the tragic loss of a (fictitious) natural collectivist utopia. The film's ideas are as bound together with the means of their dissemination as those in any book by a professional philosopher. If only the reviewers of such books were as self-aware as film critics.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dahlan, and Dayton, again:
CIA working with Palestinian security agents
"Palestinian security agents who have been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank have been working closely with the CIA, the Guardian has learned."
In the studio a couple of days ago struggling unhappily with scrap paper, knife, and masking tape, I imagined being asked what I was doing. The answer was that if I knew, I wouldn't be doing it.
"One of the defining features of social media, if not the defining feature, is its participatory nature. Anyone, everyone, is a content producer."

Writers and other craftspeople ("Emily Dickinson and Gustav Mahler and Paul Gauguin") are not content producers they're form producers. The devolution of interpersonal communication to data transfer is the problem in a nutshell.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The science of history has been thoroughly discredited; the one exception, so we're led to believe, is the history of the present. The present is timeless, primed in the popular academic imagination for one form or another of snapshot empiricism and the logical analysis of resulting data which will then be generalized into the past. Unfortunately for all this, communication across space is subject to the same ambiguities as communication across time: our access to the the thoughts of our grandparents is only somewhat more limited than our access to the thoughts of one another. Communities, even those founded on defending individual rational action, are made up of individuals using collective constructions and forms. We communicate in signs and symbols and the specifics of each, whether written or oral, visual or aural, are the product of the age; we are reactors before actors, framed before framing. But we want to claim ownership of our reactions. Everyone likes the sound of their own bullshit, and we become aware of others' enchantments before we become aware of our own. Understanding is reciprocal and social. We do not advance alone.

Sophistication is diagnosis and analysis by connoisseurship, and it describes good but never perfect judgement of when to trust others or ourselves. It can't be taught but can be fostered, and learning to recite and follow rules makes you less watchful. Technocrats are lousy diagnosticians: they test to the taught.

Intellectuals think now only in terms of ideas, which are thought to be like numbers or notes on a scale: concrete points. In fact ideas change before their names do. To say otherwise is the argument of the most conservative theologians in our academies and courts. And numbers may be static but notes though numerical are no more than the parameters of music made specific and whole only in performance. Musicians and audience focus on the ways in which each performance is unique. As I wrote once, my mother's Bach performances were awful because she was too self-consciously humble to perform, she merely read the notes; and unsurprisingly her intellectual passivity was attached to personal arrogance. An excess of rationalism in the schoolroom makes you stupid in the street. The street like the courtroom is a stage. Stupidity is being unaware of others: unaware that they're your mirror not your other.

You may want to argue that history is bunk but you'll make an exception for your own. You may argue against "the very notion of a conceptual scheme," but you won't translate Proust. You may argue that perspectives are illusion, but the presence of women and minorities on the Supreme Court is more than a political necessity. According to the Palestinians, their anger is a response to the extremism of others.  Are they wrong?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Since I'm on a graphics kick these days and I'm annoyed by argument, I thought I'd join the two. Going through the archives, and making it official with a new tag:
Make it Idiot-Proof.





Philip Roth is a practitioner of philosophical naturalism. Alex Rosenberg is an academic and a professor of a minor branch of the minor school of late 20th century scholastic philosophy.

Physicalism denies free will; it does not therefore undermine itself, only the arrogance of those who profess it. I'm a humanist because I choose to be for all the very logical reasons described below and elsewhere, or, following physicalism, because I have no choice. Read Rosenberg's arguments for every example where he lets manifestations of "enchantment" slide by unacknowledged. It's not as directly offensive as Steven Weinberg's arguments from 19th century racism and empire but it shares the same foundation. Weinberg:
As I say in the article, one of the things that makes me sympathetic to Zionism is that it represents the intrusion of a democratic, scientifically sophisticated, secular culture into a part of the world that for centuries had been despotic, technically backward, and obsessed with religion.
As Rosenberg writes at his #8:"History Is Bunk." No doubt Weinberg agrees. Platonists and rationalists are more put off by empiricism than imperialism, but good colonial administrators are empiricists and political realists. Idealists, moral realists, by and large stay home.

The level of academic anti-intellectualism these days just stuns me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009









Again: all models (in progress) working with Guido Garfunkel.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009





tutu [ˈtoō, toō]
noun
a female ballet dancer's costume consisting of a bodice and an attached skirt incorporating numerous layers of fabric, this being either short and stiff and projecting horizontally from the waist (the classical tutu) or long, soft, and bell-shaped (the romantic tutu).
classical tutu
ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from French, child's alteration of cucu, informal diminutive of cul ‘buttocks.’
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ruff |rəf|
noun
1. a projecting starched frill worn around the neck, characteristic of Elizabethan and Jacobean costume.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Copenhagen climate summit in disarray.
"Developing countries react furiously to leaked draft agreement that would hand more power to rich nations, sideline the UN's negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol."

Coteret
Settlers prep to terrorize West Bank

The Leveretts link to Al Jazeera

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Leo Steinberg
Our teacher, Herr Säger, was a portly man of short temper. Any boy misbehaving would be struck smartly across the face. It was a daily occurrence—and one day, he hit me. I told mother, whereupon my parents went to see the headmaster to protest. This, after all, was the liberal Weimar Republic, a new age of progressive education, which condemned the physical chastisement of children as barbarous.
Accordingly, the headmaster expressed disbelief. Herr Säger, he said, was one of our most respected teachers, who surely would never lay hands on his boys. So he summoned Herr Säger, who denied having ever done so.
I knew nothing of this—until the next morning, when I was made to stand in front of the class to answer Herr Säger’s questions:
“Did you tell your parents that I hit you?”
“Yes.”

“Is it true? Did I hit you?”

“Yes, you did.”

Herr Säger turned to the class and called out:

“Boys, did I ever hit any of you?”
Stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say, since most of them had been struck many times. Herr Säger, raising his voice, repeated in a more menacing tone:
“Did I ever lay hands on any of you?”
Silence again, for a few seconds, until a boy in the front row caught on and said—“No, never!” Herr Säger relaxed, and at once the whole class of forty understood what was expected of them and chimed in: “No, never!”
At this, my tears started. Seventy-two years have passed, and still I remember that spokesman in the front row, looking triumphant, because he had found the right answer. Herr Säger turned back to me:
“Well, did I hit you?”
I nodded: “Yes.”
He pulled out the class record book, and intoned as he wrote these words, trenched in my memory:
“Steinberg nimmt es mit der Wahrheit nicht genau”—“Steinberg is not particular about the truth.”
Since the suburb of Zehlendorf was spared the Allied bombing of World War II, that document may still exist. There—in Zehlendorf-West, as in many places since—you will find it stated black on white that I am not to be trusted.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Models (in progress) with the help of Guido Garfunkel.




Velazquez Rediscovered.

In an age of specialization, people are less aware of what makes the best work what it is. They may sense it, but don't face it.
As a measure of quality technique is secondary, whether it's oil paint or piano playing. What's great in Velazquez is not simply that he's chosen to describe perception, the glow of light that hits the eye rather than the thing we want to call perceived, but that his work describes the weight that decision held for him. Velazquez was a devout Catholic, a defender of the universal church and the loyal servant of an absolute monarch, and yet he could not bring himself to paint absolutes. He painted perceptions because he understood as an empiricist of daily life that perceptions are all that we know. And we see for perhaps the first time in the history of western pictorial art not images and descriptions of faith but of the desire for faith, not the nobility of a political or religious order but the nobility of the need to believe, in what experience shows to be untrue.

Questions of technique or technical innovation are important to historians of form and style. Symphonic form and fresco had their heights, meaning each had a moment when it mapped the sensibility of an age so closely that it acted as a natural product or outgrowth: the age in microcosm. We study evolution in technique because every major form in its development was once necessity, required for the full description of a social, political, linguistic and moral reality. We should be willing to study devolution for the same reason, but by and large we aren't.

Technique is only interesting, or only profound, when acting as the model for, and more than that manifestation of, a form of consciousness. If you can't sense tragedy in Velazquez you can't understand the work; and if you sense it, it's worth understanding what it is and where it comes from. Similarly it makes little sense to study technique in Goya, or Manet, without admitting to their limitations in its use, and so the limitations of their chosen form itself, increasingly inappropriate to the modern age. Art critics are advocates, historians have no need to be: that's their advantage. It's clear to the disinterested eye that Goya was one of the last of the "Old Masters" in the 18th century, but it should also to be clear that he was one of the first "great illustrators" of the 19th. This means just what it sounds like it means.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Writing, rewriting.
"The greatest artworks of Modernism, as opposed to modernity, made between the 1870’s and WW I, are monuments to aphasia, to time frozen, to evocation and its denial: to representation in the absence of representation. Later abstraction, qua abstraction, where it exists (as formalism) is scholastic and empty. But there's always again the attempt to create or find the newest cause of or path to the sensation of crisis made static, if not solid. Modernist desire reappears up to the present, in the search for that electric buzz, of time and the world simultaneously acknowledged and denied."