Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Personal trauma and Zionism: Jessica Stern
And again: "The situation in Gaza suggests that suicide-murder can also be spread through social contagion."

Compare Robert Pape

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The Scientist

Instrumentalism and the national surveillance state. Frank Pasquale at Balkinization
Second, on a cultural level, there is a gradual melding of surveillance programs with a) what Daniel Callahan calls the "research imperative" and b) the rhetoric of war. Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg expressed the research imperative in its purest form when he said, "The blood of those who will die if biomedical research is not pursued will be upon the hands of those who don't do it." Privacy advocates will need to find equally pithy and dramatic encapsulations of their values if the research imperative is not to run roughshod over extant privacy rights.
[update: I've used this quote a few times since and had forgotten that I didn't insert the whole thing here.]
The full passage from Callahan.
Though unfamiliar to most scientists and the general public, the term expresses a cultural problem that caught my eye. It occurs in an article written by the late Protestant moral theologian Paul Ramsey in 1976 as part of a debate with a Jesuit theologian, Richard McCormick. McCormick argued that it ought to be morally acceptable to use children for nontherapeutic research, that is, for research with no direct benefit to the children themselves and in the absence of any informed consent. Referring to claims about the “necessity” of such research, Ramsey accused McCormick of falling prey to the “research imperative”, the view that the importance of research could overcome moral values.

That was the last time I heard of the phrase for many years, but it informs important arguments about research that have surfaces with increasing force of late. It captures, for instance, the essence of what Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate for his work on genetics and president emeritus of Rockefeller University once remarked to me: “The blood of those who will die if biomedical research is not pursued will be upon the hands of those who don’t do it."
Anyone not employed directly or indirectly in maintaining or extending human life is a murderer. That includes astrophysicists, zookeepers, literature professors and architects not sworn to the service of utility. No more gardeners. No more violin lessons.

It’s War Communism in the war on disease. It’s Stalinism for the betterment of the race, and isn't that what Stalinism always was? Is that pithy enough for you, asshole? Productivism is anti-democratic and anti-social. It doesn’t matter what the product is. War as a model for general human organization has a name, it's called Fascism.

From the past
Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values. Conflating the two in favor of facts, values become assumed. Values assumed all questions are seen as those of expertise. Expertise as the goal terms of measurement are assumed. Curiosity is defined by the frame, values by the frame moral worth by the frame.

Democracy is undermined as a value and then as a goal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Max Rodenbeck on Bernard Lewis
If it were only the present that Lewis perceived through a gently distorted mirror, this might not detract from his distinction as a historian. But he gets the past subtly wrong, too, often by omitting vital context. He says that when the Arabs rejected the partition of Palestine in 1947, it was simply because they refused to accept having a Jewish state next door. Yet Arabs were not alone in questioning the United Nations plan to allocate 56 percent of Palestine’s territory to a minority consisting mostly of recent immigrants, which made up barely a third of the population and owned just 7 percent of the land. Greece, India and Cuba, among others, also voted no, while China, Ethiopia, Colombia, Chile and Mexico abstained. The overriding motive of all these doubters was presumably not bigotry, as Lewis implies, but concern about Palestinians’ rights.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NYT: Deborah Solomon with Tzipi Livni
Your parents were among the country’s founders.

They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.

It was a more romantic era.
[From Arabist.]

It's a shame that no one teaches reading anymore; schools teach ideas not the ability to recognize them. Follow the conversation as if it were dialogue in a work of fiction. Read it as an outsider and you'll sense in Livni the armor of arrogance over hypocrisy and cold cynicism. Varieties of fascism: Livni as active, and Solomon as servant of power, as bottom, as fan.
The Guardian
Yagiz has hung a German flag from the window, much to the confusion of his mother. "Of course I want Germany to win the World Cup," he says.
He also thinks it's fine that Ozil, the German-born son of Turkish immigrants, has chosen to play for Germany rather than Turkey.
"What should be strange about that? He was born here, brought up here, he speaks the language, understands the culture – just like me. I can identify with him."

The boy could be speaking for Ozil himself. But what's clear from talking to him is how natural it is for a whole generation of young Germans – known as "Generation M" or "multiculti" – that their national football team comes from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Not only is this German team the youngest it has been since 1934 – half the squad are 24 or under – it is also the most ethnically diverse it has ever been. No fewer than half of the players were either born outside Germany, are the sons of immigrants, or have one non-German parent. And what's more, says national coach Joachim Löw, "they have a strong sense of identification with the eagle on their breasts and with the nation as a whole".

The effect of such a radical transition cannot be overstated in a country that for years did not consider itself a land of immigration, and where foreigners brought in to fill the skills gap were deliberately called "guest workers" on the understanding, or hope, that they would go home.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Best Party
They're the best party.
Jay Rosen again, on McCrystal, Politico and Thomas Ricks. He's good but not good enough. Nir Rosen's defense of his own actions [in comments] is much better
"i'm a journalist, not an american journalist. my job is not to serve as a propagandist for anybody, just to tell stories and my advantage is that i can tell stories that are hard to come by
...imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?"
How refreshingly amoral. Nir Rosen knows that his primary obligation is ethical: that by doing his job, he's playing his part in the functioning of democracy.

A neighbor of a friend works in criminal defense, doing mostly federal cases, drugs and guns. He's a schmuck in a three piece suit who drives a BMW and he knows it's not his job to decide if his clients are innocent or guilty. He'll state to anyone who asks that he's "at the forefront of the defense of your civil liberties", and he is. But American reporters want to be moral philosophers, judge and jury. And they forget (as many liberals do) that the government is not the people, and that their readers are their clients. It's not rocket science or the critique of pure reason it's adversarialism, and in one form or another it's the foundation of democracy.

Interesting as time passes to watch Duncan Black
[M]any reporters have a conceit that because they pretend to be superhuman truthtellers unswayed by the petty concerns of mere mortals, that they actually are that. They begin to believe their impossible claim of having no opinions, and start confusing their opinions with facts.
At some point soon he'll realize that the press are the original "reality-based community."

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Eduard Manet, Self-Portrait with Pallet, 1878

It's a terrible painting.

The Guardian: "Manet self-portrait fetches record £22m at Sotheby's auction"

The NY Times: "A Lackluster Art Auction in London"
Carol Vogel writes on auctions and the art business
The tone was set early on when the star of the event, a self-portrait from 1878 in which Manet depicts himself as something of a dandy — holding a palette and paint brush but dressed in an elegant tailored jacket — sold for the low estimate of $29.48 million, or $33 million including commission, with only one bidder.
Deal Book adds
It appears that Steven A. Cohen’s bet on a Manet self-portrait hasn’t exactly turned out to be the hedge fund billionaire’s most lucrative.
Mr. Cohen, who runs SAC Capital Management, bought the painting for what is believed to be between $35 million and $40 million almost a decade ago.
Richard Feigen is quoted as saying “It was a great picture, but he’s not an auction artist.” The second may be true, but I'm not so sure about the first. Most of the painting seems to me to present Manet at his most incompetent, and that's saying a lot.

Mozart wrote pieces that now are rarely played and Beethoven wrote works in his mature years that are called failures. But the art market is a market of speculators and speculators need material so I want to call this painting a well-timed and thematically well-placed failure. But it's also in the line of transition from a high material culture of great and greatly signifying craft, to a linguistic culture where objects are more like relics or touchstones to remembered arguments. This is something of a return to language. Failure for Manet is a given; more importantly it's his most important trait and primary subject. His best work is an articulate description of failure, but this one isn't so articulate.

The painting was at Sotheby's in NY a month before the auction and I spent about an hour looking at it, trying to separate the thing from its context: from the historical idea of Manet, from my idea of Manet, and from paintings by him that I like for what I imagine to be their internal logic. There's a kind of modern and contemporary art I sometimes call "cocktail party art", where pieces function more as part of an ongoing conversation than as free-standing things. A brilliant quip or retort loses its brilliance or even its intelligibility on its own, which is not to say it wasn't brilliant to begin with. A free-standing art is more resilient, because interpretable in different contexts and over time, whatever its original place. That's why many people -often conservatives- defend the notion of a "universal" art. But the intention or the claim of universality means little more than the claim of dogmatic specificity. History is the arbiter.

Manet's art was not fully situational nor was he anywhere close to being a master of communicative material craft (and at the time there was not yet a conflict, assumed or otherwise, in the relation of communicative immaterial craft to literature: Flaubert didn't have Manet's problems). He wasn't Duchamp and he wasn't Delacroix, though Delacroix was as famous for his weaknesses as for his strengths. Manet was in-between, and his work is awkward and ambivalent. That Duchamp's Fountain was and is one of the most important sculptures of the 20th century says as much about the century as about Duchamp.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From February: Leiter on Fodor on Darwin.
He linked to a review by Ned Block and Philip Kitcher, calling it "a judicious and utterly devastating assessment." I made a couple of comments at the time on rationalists' fear of the uncertainty, I wrote "instability", of empiricism, but I played it safe and didn't wade in too deep.

I missed this last month. A review by Lewontin. The conclusion
Even biologists who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of what the actual genetic changes are in the evolution of species cannot resist the temptation to defend evolution against its know-nothing enemies by appealing to the fact that biologists are always able to provide plausible scenarios for evolution by natural selection. But plausibility is not science. True and sufficient explanations of particular examples of evolution are extremely hard to arrive at because we do not have world enough and time. The cytogeneticist Jakov Krivshenko used to dismiss merely plausible explanations, in a strong Russian accent that lent it greater derisive force, as “idel specoolations.”

Even at the expense of having to say “I don’t know how it evolved” most of the time, biologists should not engage in idle speculations.
A judicious assessment. Also well written and with his usual sense of humor. Lewontin was always one of best reasons to have a subscription to the NYRB.

More from a "rejoinder" by Lewontin to a response to the paper linked to on monday. [PDF]. All published in Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice, and Persuasion across the Disciplines
Bill Wimsatt's "Lewontin's Evidence (that There Isn't Any)" made me think about a lot of questions in my paper. I would like to point out that the rhetoric of this conference has undergone a sudden change. Up until Bill's presentation and mine, everyone read his or her paper. In the tradition to which I belong that would be considered very bad form. That rhetorical difference is a mirror of the differences that I want to talk about. The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter, and so you must choose them carefully, and, therefore, you have to compose your papers and read them. I, on the other hand and perhaps Bill as well, but especialy I, as a natural scientist, am nothing but the oracle of Delphi, sitting here on my stool with eyeballs rolled upwards, and through me Nature speaks. That explains, in my view, the difference in rhetorical tradition between a meeting like this and the ones at which I spend my time. No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter. It is extremely important to understand the origin of that difference in rhetorical tradition because it represents a very great difference in what scientists believe to be the nature of evidence in natural science. A conference on the questions of evidence is really a conference on the questions of theory and metatheory. We cannot begin to talk about the evidence until we talk about what it is we are trying to produce evidence of. And the very method which we use is itself a form of evidence.
The paper itself has examples of oversimplification and "just so stories."

All this reminds me that I didn't grow up reading "Theory" I grew in a culture of the humanities, and reading Lewontin, where the foundation of his arguments not specific to genetics were assumed.
I'll repost the Panofsky [PDF] as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jay Rosen #3
(see last week and last year)
He's right, things are changing. He's changed.
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Helena Cobban at Foreign Policy
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Crooked Timber discusses other people concerned with the limits of democracy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Theoretical assumptions.
The relations of corporate to academic life over time.

1
“Jeremy, theory doesn’t change the way data is gathered, it guides what data is do be gathered and how it is to be interpreted, what tests are run; that sort of thing.”

I’m would disagree with that. Look at Karen Ho’s Liquidated and Karin Knorr Cetina’s work on finance. The fact that they come from two different theoretical perspectives shapes the sites that they do their research on and their research methodologies. KHo looks at the habitus of investment bankers, and carried out ethnography and interviews. KKC looks at financial markets in terms of information flow across global networks – she did interviews and not participant observation.
2
In 1952, Gillen took the problem to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a trustee. Together with representatives of the university, Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education. There were lectures and seminars led by scholars from Penn and other colleges in the area — 550 hours of course work in total, and more reading, Baltzell reported, than the average graduate student was asked to do in a similar time frame.

...Perhaps the most exciting component of the curriculum was the series of guest lecturers the institute brought to campus. “One hundred and sixty of America’s leading intellectuals,” according to Baltzell, spoke to the Bell students that year. They included the poets W. H. Auden and Delmore Schwartz, the Princeton literary critic R. P. Blackmur, the architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the composer Virgil Thomson. It was a thrilling intellectual carnival.

...What’s more, the graduates were no longer content to let the machinery of business determine the course of their lives. One man told Baltzell that before the program he had been “like a straw floating with the current down the stream” and added: “The stream was the Bell Telephone Company. I don’t think I will ever be that straw again.”

...But Bell gradually withdrew its support after yet another positive assessment found that while executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities. By 1960, the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives was finished.









[unfinished]
Arabist
Panofsky: Reflections on Historical Time [PDF]
Lewontin: Facts and the Factitious in Natural Sciences [PDF]
note taking
The problem is when theory (the observer) becomes more important than the thing being theorized about (the observed). Absent some form of ironization -implicit in works of art- the observer model becomes a model of superiority and condescension. Reading Bourdieu years and years ago he pissed me off immediately because he reminded me of all those who used to argue [do they still?] that Jacqueline Susann is just as good as Shakespeare, which is the equivalent of saying Sarko’s second favorite singer Celine Dion [so much for "Distinction"] is Mozart and any anthro with two books is Levi-Strauss.

The reactionary avant-garde had a habit of attacking the ideal of mastery, by which they meant the mastery of craft; and what replaced it was the goal of the mastery of ideas. The definition of ideology. Ideology says that, ideology, subtext, meconnaissance, false consciousness, the subconscious and language games are for other people, not for us. A geologist looks at rocks. Anglo american academic theorists look at the the most complex forms of the human imagination as if they were rocks. Shakespeare’s plays are not rocks. Bourdieu is American in that regard. The French think of theory and philosophy as another form of literature, as forms of art, which is why those who use the American model of science have no patience. Or they try to pretend French rhetoric is like physics and make fools of themselves.

Your experience is a lens; the english language is a lens; the academic system is a lens. An American academic talking and writing about the Yanomami is writing by default about the present in the US as manifested in the structures of his or her imagination. Writing about anything you’re writing yourself. You can either use your subjects as fodder, which if your subjects are other human beings is profoundly disrespectful, or you can engage them in a reciprocal exchange. And if you’re a good writer you can describe the exchange later and maybe it will outlast you by a bit. Data is a McGuffin. A Ph.D. is a marker of status. And seeing everything in terms of ideology is ideology. It’s a Gordian knot. A great ethnographer is a great writer; a great craftsman. What’s a better way to honor the craftspeople you observe than to become one yourself? Theory at it’s best is an academic attempt to return to a model of writing as literature. At it’s worst it’s the celebration of the metaphysics of bureaucracy.
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Rick is a “cultural materialist/ecologist” so welfare is the problem. A more “idealtional” approach would argue for racism as foundational.

Oy, Where to begin.

In NY they have French bistros. They have chefs who’ve studied the appropriate food and architects who know the appropriate interior designs but somehow it’s not Paris. The French forms of sociability aren’t there. The “forms” of social interaction aren’t there. The same is true for French theory in the US. American individualism replicates the ideas but not the manners and the manners are the underlying structure.

My mother was the worst technically proficient player of Bach keyboard works that I’ve ever heard. She “read” him while playing the keys that matched the notations on the page. Actual performance would have made it into something else, something personal. She did not perform she followed,

Rick’s “perfectly standard stuff” answers nothing except to give us another example of his politics (which in every other example he’s done a miserable job of backing up with evidence)
Interpretation of data requires that we become diagnosticians. What makes a good diagnostician? What makes a good interpreter? Interpretation is not following a tool, it’s using one. The hammer doesn’t drive the nail.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jay Rosen a year ago, and now. No change.
Note taking
If political reporters took their role as advocates as seriously as entertainment reporters do we'd all be better off. ...If Nir Rosen can imbed with the Taliban and do his job, why can't you imbed with the Senate?
Reporters style themselves judges when they should model themselves on lawyers in private practice. But the model of moral semi-consciousness, of advocate for hire, in this case by the public at large, isn't respectable. Everybody hates lawyers.

But legal philosophers are taken very seriously.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A repeat, from less than a month ago, but with the order reversed. In response to this.

Clement Greenberg
Each art, it turned out, had to perform this demonstration on its own account. What had to be exhibited was not only that which was unique and irreducible in art in general, but also that which was unique and irreducible in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through its own operations and works, the effects exclusive to itself. By doing so it would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its possession of that area all the more certain.

It quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medium. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered "pure," and in its "purity" find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence. "Purity" meant self-definition, and the enterprise of self-criticism in the arts became one of self-definition with a vengeance.
Max Weber
[S]cience [i.e. Wissenschaft, scholarly or method-based disciplines] has entered a phase of specialisation previously unknown and ... this will forever remain the case. Not only externally, but inwardly, matters stand at a point where the individual can acquire the sure consciousness of achieving something truly perfect in the field of science only in case he is a strict specialist. All work that overlaps neighbouring fields, such as we occasionally undertake and which the sociologists must necessarily undertake again and again, is burdened with the resigned realisation that at best one provides the specialist with useful questions upon which he would not so easily hit from his own specialised point of view. One’s own work must inevitably remain highly imperfect. Only by strict specialisation can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialised accomplishment.
The practice Holbo asks about was in fact standard for centuries


Masaccio, The Tribute Money. The figure of St. Peter is repeated 3 times.

In an age when the vast majority are illiterate a paintings were made for the public by the church paintings told stories. In an age of increasing literacy and private wealth, also of technical advancement, they moved away from it. As literacy increases even more painting continued to fade in importance, to the point where Panofsky who had no stake in Modernist pretension could write: "Today there is no denying that narrative films are not only 'art'—not often good art, to be sure, but this applies to other media as well—but also, besides architecture, cartooning and 'commercial design,' the only visual art entirely alive."

Comics are a minor art. In an age of high cultural anti-narrative narrative thrived in common idioms. Holbo defends comics as simple preference, related but not identical to the defense of speculative fiction. See the post before last.
Comics can be treated with a form of perverse idealism,a condescending irony that preserves modernist anti-narrative assumptions, like Feynman's bongos. But that gives comics -and the arts- less credit than they deserve.

How can you say the cafe revolutionary represents the cafe more than the revolution? He doesn't talk about the cafe, so what relevance can it have to his ideas?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Henry Farrell approves
John Gray on the disappearance of utopian dreams of social reform in science fiction here. His taste in SF is excellent and he has several good lines.
The role of science has been to gauge the limits of the species, with new technologies and extra-planetary environments being used as virtual laboratories for an ongoing thought experiment. If the mainstream novel employs the lens of the commonplace career – birth and education, marriage and divorce, ambition and failure – SF has pursued the inquiry by abducting the human animal and placing it in alien environments.
is particularly nice. It captures real (if not universal) differences without fetishizing the one as better than the other.
India was an alien environment for the British, Indochina was an alien environment for the French and Africa was an alien environment for the entirety of Europe. Henry Farrell can't deal with Palestine, but he can justify "thought experiments" on Mars. Fantasy is escape. It's evasion.

Science Fiction was created by men trying to get away from the alien environment populated by their wives.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Debt-ridden Greece gets vote of confidence from China"

Helena Cobban, just back from Syria, posts on Turkey's expanding economic and political engagements, and adds:
So this latest Türk Telekom deal is really significant. As important for the M.E. region as was China's August 2008 announcement that it was investing $3.5 billion in developing Afghanistan's Aynak copper field, for Afghanistan. (Funny that in all the recent reporting in the U.S. about the Pentagon's recent "discovery" of Afghanistan's mineral wealth, that never got mentioned?)
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Brian Leiter and "Joshua Cohen (Stanford)" seem entirely ignorant of the history of the American fantasy of can-do individualism, perhaps because they partake in it themselves. It's a fantasy that's become harder and harder to maintain outside the academy as well. The proudly self-reliant population of red states is supported by the redistribution of income from the coasts, though it comes from those who otherwise treat them with contempt. Bernstein ruminates too much, indulging in a public display of imagination, but that doesn't make him wrong.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eszter Hargittai at CT calls this "neat", and "very cool". The link was forwarded to her by a friend named Gilad Lotan, whose previous post on twitter reads: "Workin the Microsoft booth at pride - handing out bags, tshirts and doggy biscuits!"
Enthusiastic about banality because enthusiasm is good.

Andre Gide quotes Joseph de Maistre: "Whatever constricts man strengthens him." The context is a note on Calvinism and English literature. A few pages earlier he writes
I believe that never did the "rules"' embarrass any genius, neither that of the unities in France nor that of the three actors in Greece, and that Racine and Corneille as well as Aeschylus have sufficiently proved this. (That moreover they have no absolute value and that any great genius masters them, whether be finds support in them or negates them - and that to come along and claim that this or that great man was embarrassed by them is just as ridiculous as if a painter said that when painting he is embarrassed by his frame and exclaimed: "Oh if only I could spread out a little farther!" and that those who protest against them are like Kant's dove, which thought it would fly better in a vacuum.)

In general insubordination with regard to the rules comes from an unintelligent subordination to realism, from a misunderstanding of the ends of art, from that specious insinuation of empiricism which aims, through a scandalous generalization, to scoff at art by attacking it only where it has become artifice, and to label as factitious all supernatural beauty.
"Supernatural beauty" is no more or less than the pleasure we find in what pleases us.

Lotan exhibits the common nostalgia for the real. And he's a committed Zionist, elsewhere referring to Israel as "a moral society" and defending the assault on Gaza. Nostalgia on its own communicates nothing to those who don't share it. Communicating nostalgia to someone who doesn't takes skill. The communication of self-pity is not self-pity. Individualists think they don't manifest the behaviors of a type, and on that assumption they're more predictable and more malleable than those who recognize themselves in others, and who pay more attention to distinctions among perceptions and terms. The understanding of representative form -of language as both representational and formal, open and closed- is a thing shared if not always recognized by all adults. Ignorance of that is cowardice. You'd hope Lotan would see how his work is shadowed by Palestine and Palestinians. His melancholy is symptom. It presents without his being able to articulate it, even abstractly.

"...to scoff at art by attacking it only where it has become artifice," could refer to a preference on Gide's part for an art originating in ideas or in form [the reference to empiricism is too simple]. "Where it has become artifice" is where it has become no more than a pleasant way to waste the time for the maker or observer. But an art of ideas is still a designer's art, and a designer's art as opposed to one of craft and description is either meaningless diversion or meaningful lie; as in Lotan's case either banal or meaningful largely in ways opposite his own intent.

Novels are not designed they're written. Music is not designed it's composed, on paper or in real time. Films are made. The fact that buildings are now designed rather than built (theater and film sets are designed) is one of the weaknesses of contemporary architecture. Gide might say that empiricism opposes an interest in form [better to say "formality" than "formalism"] but you could also say that recognizing the necessity for communicative media -language as mediating form- mandates a respect for it.

There's also the sense that "to design" in english is to over-determine out of a sense of insecurity. It's meant that since sometime in the early 19th century.
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For more on blindness and self-absorption in Israeli art, see my earlier comments on Yael Bartana.
Also Gideon Levy , Ursula Lindsey and Naira Antoun on Waltz with Bashir

Friday, June 11, 2010








An in joke, since he died on the first day of the World Cup.
Just trying to get the scale. And the font isn't right.
Sigmar Polke 1941-2010

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Academics trying to come to terms with and understand the function of social/physical experience, of interaction in proximity to others, of direct observation of the world, having to interpret and recognize categories independent of what they've been told or taught.

John Quiggin
I’d also like to question the idea that an undergraduate text should give students more than what’s in the textbook. Taking Econ 101 as an example, the dominant textbooks have been by people like Samuelson, Nordhaus, Mankiw and so on. I assume they have put at least as much thought and effort into their books as a highly-motivated lecturer in Econ 101 puts into their lectures. So, a student who absorbed and understood everything in the textbook would surely be at least as well off as one who absorbed and understood everything in the lectures.

The point is, of course, that you can’t teach the average 18yo economics, or anything else, by giving them a textbook and telling them to read it. How exactly attending a lecture adds value is rather mysterious, but it does seem to work, and not because there is extra factual content.
Harry Brighouse
The idea is simple. If teachers were engaged in mutual observation and had resources to discuss what they were seeing and doing, they could begin to learn from one another, thus improving their practice. To use an analogy that Wagner doesn’t use, it’s like learning a musical instrument. You learn by watching and listening to others, noting what they do, mimicking it, practicing endlessly, subjecting your practice to your own critique and that of others, in the light of continued observations of others who are better than you are (or who are better in some particular way that you can improve).
A repeat for the third time: Thinking to the rule is both the founding principle and mirror image of teaching to the test. The weaknesses commonly acknowledged in the latter are all there in the former, unacknowledged.

A commenter on Brighouse's post links to an article in the NY Times. The article is tragic in what it says about this country; not the subject alone but everyone involved including the author. Trying to teach American teachers to be observant communicative human beings, to teach them the social skills they never learned in childhood.
I’m reminded reading this of the philosophy grad student who comes back to school in the fall after teaching undergrads in summer school and when asked how it went says: "It was strange. My students were all obsessed with sex. Not the idea of sex or the meaning of sex but sex!"
Now that she's gone I can say the woman who told me that story was Callie Angell, who between her stints at the Whitney was on the staff of the Journal of Philosophy. The grad student had been teaching summer courses at Princeton.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010



Hans Memling
Tommaso di Folco Portinari, Maria Portinari
"Probably" from 1470 [as wedding portraits] Oil on Wood, Two panels both 16 5/8" x 12 1/2" Originally the wings of a triptych.

I put them together just for simplicity on the page. They hang about 2 feet from one another at the Met. If they are wedding portraits, as people assume, then he's 38 give or take, and she's about 14. They're wonderful paintings but their relation to one another seems slightly comic. He looks blank, or blankly devout, and she looks annoyed: she's a teenager. The curve of her mouth makes me laugh. But that leaves the wrong implication. The richness of the paintings isn't separate from their function as portraits. They're not paintings of poses, stock images beautifully made, but paintings of people posing as stock images recorded as they are, as actors. The Met refers to the two panels as "among the masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art" and that has much to do with the tension they manifest between the political and moral, the exterior and interior, the requirements of ideal form and honest, direct, description of life lived, of experience.

Monday, June 07, 2010


The Dancing of the Giglio and Boat
The story, which is passed on through the generations on both sides of the Atlantic, is that around 410 AD, North African pirates overran the town of Nola. In the chaos, Bishop Paolino was able to flee into the countryside with some of the children. Upon his return, Paolino learned, from a sobbing widow that many of the young men, her son included, had been abducted into slavery. Moved to compassion, Paolino offered himself in exchange for the boy and was ferried off, a prisoner of the brigands. While in North Africa, word of the courage and self-sacrifice of Paolino spread and became known to a certain Turkish sultan. Taken with the tale of altruism, the sultan intervened, negotiating for the freedom of this holy man. Through the sultan 's efforts, Paolino and his paesani, were freed.
The Dancing of the Giglio and Boat commemorate the people going on to sea to meet the saint's captors as they return him to his people. Other histories refer to the kidnappers as Huns but it was the Germanic Vandals who moved north into Sicily (and the transformation of German into Hun has stuck). At Mt Carmel they're referred to as Turks and the iconography is Turkish and Islamic.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

All repeats. The third is a repeat of an entire post from April; no need for a link. Ignore it all if you're been here before.

The point is not to attack technocrats as such, but to make clear that technocracy sees the instance as subsidiary to the general, and that transposed as academic idealism the idea or aggregate becomes not only the primary object of practical concern but a primary moral value in itself, reversing the older logic of the humanities. It also makes certain policy positions seem not only appropriate but justified on grounds of liberalism. And it's where left and old right rebel against utilitarianism and the idea of the individual in defense of actual individual experience.

1-

Chris Bertram
The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves.
The state is not the people. [Both my parents helped write policy for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.]

2-

It's boring at this point but I'll say this again, since it remains an object lesson in failure: John Holbo cannot talk about the political situation in Singapore -where he lives and teaches- without threatening his career, which is why Henry Farrell and not Holbo himself responded to my comments a couple of years ago, replying that academic philosophy doesn't concern itself with real politics. That wasn't Farrell's term but that was the argument.
Holbo
In The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling approves the text of J. S. Mill’s “prayer of every true partisan of liberalism”: “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies . . . sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.”
Being such a partisan, having now said my prayer, I consider possible beneficiaries. I pluck from the crowd one Slavoj Zizek, anti-liberal intellectual.
Zizek was a dissident in Tito's Yugoslavia. My parents risked prison time in the US, in defense of their beliefs. When Holbo's not attacking Zizek and Jonah Goldberg he writes about comic books and fonts.

Holbo defends non-contradictory propositions contradicted by his actions. He refuses to deal in contexts because the result would be damning, showing his "revealed preference". He claims to live an examined life, but he's a liar and a hypocrite, fundamentally corrupt not because he's a realist but because his life and career are predicated on proffering the illusion that he isn't.

3-

Again continuing from a recent post, on the socialism of schoolmen and the authoritarianism of technocrats. [not new but relevant]

G.A Cohen, with comments by Harry Brighouse
It does seem to me that all people of goodwill would welcome the news that it had become possible to proceed otherwise [i.e. in ways that tapped into our nobler, rather than our more selfish, motives] perhaps, for example, because some economists had invented clever ways of harnessing and organizing our capacity for generosity toward others.

The problem, for Cohen, is that we lack such technology. We should not pretend that we have such a technology, but nor should we pretend that the search for it is futile, or that the lack of it means that the organizing principles of our own society are more appealing than they, in fact, are.
So if the master is the machine itself rather than others like ourselves…


As I said elsewhere in a longer discussion if the same points: "Cohen was raised a Stalinist and died a maudlin sentimentalist."
It's not that liberalism is perverse, it's necessary. Liberal idealism is perverse.
Read the post at the last link. It's a good one.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

"I generally think concerns about the ill impacts of urban gentrification are overblown."

Duncan Black's neighborhood was majority black before the redevelopment that brought him in. It's now 67% White and 12% black. Remember that every time he posts something on the overt racism of others.

Zadie Smith
But to live variously cannot simply be a gift, endowed by an accident of birth; it has to be a continual effort, continually renewed. I felt this with force the night of the election. I was at a lovely New York party, full of lovely people, almost all of whom were white, liberal, highly educated, and celebrating with one happy voice as the states turned blue. Just as they called Iowa my phone rang and a strident German voice said: “Zadie! Come to Harlem! It’s vild here. I’m in za middle of a crazy Reggae bar—it’s so vonderful! Vy not come now!”

I mention he was German only so we don’t run away with the idea that flexibility comes only to the beige, or gay, or otherwise marginalized. Flexibility is a choice, always open to all of us. (He was a writer, however. Make of that what you will.)

But wait: all the way uptown? A crazy reggae bar? For a minute I hesitated, because I was at a lovely party having a lovely time. Or was that it? There was something else. In truth I thought: but I’ll be ludicrous, in my silly dress, with this silly posh English voice, in a crowded bar of black New Yorkers celebrating. It’s amazing how many of our cross-cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment. A few minutes later, I was in a taxi and heading uptown with my Northern Irish husband and our half-Indian, half-English friend, but that initial hesitation was ominous; the first step on a typical British journey. A hesitation in the face of difference, which leads to caution before difference and ends in fear of it. Before long, the only voice you recognize, the only life you can empathize with, is your own. You will think that a novelist’s screwy leap of logic. Well, it’s my novelist credo and I believe it. I believe that flexibility of voice leads to a flexibility in all things.
"But to live variously cannot simply be a gift, endowed by an accident of birth; it has to be a continual effort, continually renewed."

I'd disagree only to say we live variously by default, we're conflicted and contradictory, and others notice that more than we do ourselves. Engaging that makes us stronger. Flexibility is the opposite of brittleness. Curiosity is the opposite of pedantry.

"He was a writer, however. Make of that what you will"

Friday, June 04, 2010

"1 Shot 2 Kills"

A sharpshooter's T-shirt printed for members of the Shaked Battalion of the IDF's Givati Infantry Brigade.
Sheikh Jarrah

A Palestinian woman whose house has been occupied by Jewish settlers faces Israelis who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the mainly Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem (Ahmad Gharabli AFP/Getty).
Mondoweiss

I posted this a week ago but I'll post it again.
A liberal Zionist debates a conservative and concedes democracy is too much to ask. Peter Beinart
I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian. I'm not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state.
In the comments on Bertram's post I also linked to this [the link's been changed and I don't remember what it was to], quoting from the interview linked in the second part of the post. When he deleted my comments he deleted most of the substantive information in the thread. Not that I claimed there or do here to have originated anything. I simply pointed. How many times can you supply data and history and have it be ignored without anger?
Well, they started squeezing Hamas almost immediately. Originally, in the weeks right after the late-January election, Hamas wanted to form a relatively moderate government that would include a large number of political "independents" under the leadership of Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh as Prime Minister. But as I know-- because I was the conduit of one of these threats-- threats of lethal violence were sent by the Israelis to any Palestinian "independents" who might be even considering joining a Haniyeh-led government. As a result, none of them did; and the government that Haniyeh ended up forming was 100% Hamas.
She adds this in comments
I have written about it before. It was Ziad. The threat was conveyed to me by Ziad's and my mutual friend Ze'ev Schiff, a decent man who had been extremely close to successive generations of the leaders of Israel's security establishment for half a century before his death last year.

To be specific, when I spoke with Ze'ev on the phone before I went to Gaza in March 2006-- and he did help me to get in-- he asked if I was going to see Ziad, who was then widely reported to be considering an offer from Hamas to be Haniyeh's Foreign Minister (as he subsequently became, during the brief life of the 2007 national unity government.) I said yes. He said-- and he repeated this a couple of times to make sure I got the meaning clear-- that I should tell Ziad he would face "the worst possible consequences" if he joined the Haniyeh government, and that he said this "on good authority."

I did pass the message on to Ziad.

Ziad also faced considerable family-based pressure from the Americans since his three children from his first marriage were at college here in the US, and I suppose if he had joined the Haniyeh government and then tried to visit them here he could be arraigned on all kinds of charges of aiding and abetting terrorists. But Ze'ev's words about "the worst possible consequences" struck me as constituting a more severe and immediate threat.
If you can see the relation between the basic empiricism in my arguments here and in the comments at Practical Ethics [archived here, with corrected formatting] you'll understand my arguments going back 25 years. For more, see "Klub Kid Kollectivity" or click on the "Make it Idiot-Proof" tag. If you're really up for an adventure and are interested in art history try this. It's a PDF.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Nir Rosen, April 2008
"Only elsewhere in the region"
Arabist
Helena Cobban
The comment was directed specifically to Chris Bertram.
There are now about 5.5 million Jews in israel and no one thinks they’re leaving (that includes the 3 million arrivals since 1990) but Zionism is not predicted in a defense of that fact but on an affirmative defense of expulsion and exclusion. That Jews have a right now to live in Israel is not to say they had a right to go there [to begin with] and expel the previous inhabitants, any more then to say that my own right to live in the US means that my ancestors had a right to drive the natives straight to hell. Zionists claim that expulsion was and is justified. The logic of Zionism to this day is not realism regarding the facts of history but idealism and racial isolationism. By any understanding of modern liberalism this can only be seen as anathema.
I wrote somewhere in the thread that Israel is to the middling liberal class what abortion is the the middling right. Later I amended that to global warming. Earnest concern for the violence of the resistance combined with generally passive acceptance of the violence of Israel; criticism arising only when Israel can be accused of using more violence than necessary to get the job done. Bertram's post is just and only that. But what exactly is the job? He can't be labeled a denialist regarding the Palestinian experience, he just thinks the claims are overstated. And no amount of data will change that.
---

Some more to add, in the context of this post specifically. The reasons for liberal support for Israel (Gentile and Jewish) are historical, not logical. To understand the origin and intellectual structure of this support you need to know the context of its development: you need to know the history of Europe in the 20th century, not the history of ideas but of acts, and their repercussions. Liberal Zionism as an oxymoron is a product, a reaction, a result. The terrifying fear to liberals is that their ideas are not cause but caused. The anti-historical rationalism of the contemporary academy -the hypertrophied idealism of "baroque" modernism, and of ideas- renders this understanding unacceptable. Support for Israel is religious in the sense of being faith based. But that faith is held even by those who claim to be immune to faith, acting only on reason.

The inability to recognize -and contextualize- your own capacity for faith means also that you're unable to understand that of others. The unwillingness to accept that we all slip into assumption makes you a lousy critic.
See a discussion of empiricism and the study of religion at the Oxford Practical Ethics blog.
Submitted for approval:

"The study of philosophy is the study of attempts to separate what we can know about the world from what we cannot. A philosopher is someone judged by their peers or descendants to have written something worth studying."
---

Accepted

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

No point in me commenting much on Gaza. [Obviously I was, elsewhere] The links are on the right.

The silence of self-important liberal leadership is par for the course. But the silence or near silence of academics who claim to bring a higher intellectualism to the public sphere, or at least to the world, is always frustrating. Technocrats know what they know and can arrange it in new ways, but it takes a generational shift and crisis to change knowledge itself. And then decay sets in again.

Most people are incurious by desire but flexible in behavior. Technocrats worship incuriousness. Openness interferes with technical mastery, which becomes a mastery of form. That what is built fails as representation is less important that the building of it. Liberalism isn't kitsch, but it allows for the defense of kitsch in cases that require it to defend the dreams of liberalism. Israel is kitsch. Ideological late modernism is kitsch.

Language is an open representational form. It's less important to build a new one than to learn to use the one we have.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Fantin-Latour, Portrait of a Woman, 1885


Degas, Portrait of a Woman in Gray, 1865

Fantin-Latour gives us a more interesting woman, but Degas gives us the more interesting painting. Characterization is secondary, that would follow the logic of modernism. Or did Degas give both a richer material experience (and a richer depiction of material experience) and a richer characterization of a duller person?
Both paintings are in the collection of the Met. They hang side by side.