Friday, July 30, 2010

I've rewritten the post a few times; and the discussion at CT continues downhill. Given their terms it can go no other way. They want a non-contradictory liberalism of freedom and equality, and it's not possible.
The Heroes of the U.S. Wild West are gunmen who make their own law of the John Wayne kind in lawless territory. The Heroes of the Canadian West are the Mounties, an armed federal police force (founded in 1873) maintaining the states law. After all, did not the British North America Act of 1867, which created the Dominion of Canada, state its object as "peace, order, and good government" and not "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?

Eric Hobsbawm, On Empire
The most intelligent people I've ever met are not greedy. I doubt any of the authors at Crooked Timber are greedy, and I think the same is true for most of the commenters. If you don't want to defend authoritarian morality the question then becomes how to convince more people to behave as you do.

Liberal intellectuals are more interested in ideas than in people, whose desires and preoccupations are seen as a constant, as much a constant as intellectuals' own proud superiority. But obviously tastes are not constant, either for the "folk" or their educated betters (see Canada above). Academics now worry about the poor but also treat business culture with deference. It wasn't always the case. The fixation on individualism, even methodological individualism, reinforces its ideological variant. The liberal elite don't know how to behave within communities because they can't imagine they're part of one, seeing it only as an option, something dangerous or quaint, when in fact its a constituting presence in the life of every human being.

The preference for absolute terms generalizing from hard or formal science, focusing on issues of truth and falsity, correct and incorrect, absolutes of right and wrong, all tend towards a focus on Individual action and achievement. As I've said before, the teleology of science is as absurd as mountain climbing, and at its most extreme, in the "research imperative" it's simply fascist.

What fields exist that do not focus on right and wrong, in either epistemology or morality, but skilled and unskilled, well made and not, and on professional ethics as opposed to abstract morality? How are they a better model for sociability and thus society?

I've rewritten the introduction:
[Fall 2011 (now 2012): new link here]

And again (see the last post).

In the linked interview the word "concept" appears 12 times and "idea" 21 times. Values are "value concepts."

It reads like a debate over the legal drinking age. Assuming that everyone is prone to alcoholism, the obvious solution is an authoritarian morality. The discussion is based entirely in the conflicts and contradictions of the lower middle class: upwardly mobile, emotionally and intellectually insecure, torn between community and individualism, and incapable of imagining anyone other than themselves. Morality is not (therefore cannot be) understanding from within, it's always punishment from above.

Previously they were talking capitalism and Calvinism. They won't understand any of this until they're willing to look in the mirror, but that would be indulging in subjectivism.

We perform our values every day as "value actions". The values we profess, as concepts, are only those we claim. Denigrating performance in favor of profession is choosing ideas -and intention- over actions, rationalism over empiricism and philosophy and presumption over history (the history of acts). The preference for ideas demands authoritarianism because the social world, of people and actions, cannot be rendered non-contradictory. Ideas are to acts as the perfect is to the good.

A focus on action and history brings us closer to an understanding of how life is lived. From there we can construct an idea of how to improve it, building up from the extant not down from the ideal. From this standpoint you recognize the primacy of inherently conflicting obligations which are supported only after the fact by non-contradictory laws. Laws as ideas are the vulgarization of the irreducibly complex experience of the world.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Henry Farrell asks: "Why Is Economic Inequality Higher in English Speaking Industrialized Democracies?"
Earlier he asked: "What Produced the Inequality Boom?"

All he has to do is look at his own value system in historical context- the history of value.

During the faculty strikes at Temple in the late 70's my father was amused to see that many of the most committed were the from the business school. He was amused by the hypocrisy as he was saddened by the weakness of the response in the humanities departments. The action had moved. And of course he and others who'd been around for awhile didn't think business schools belonged in the academy at all.

You've come a long way Henry.

Culture is constitutive of consciousness. Reading the comments it's funny to watch them working their way around to that. Funny but at the same time boring, frustrating, infuriating: waiting for an entire generation to enter adulthood.
Hurry up please.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ban the Burqa
The enclosed order still communicates with outsiders through a grille to avoid intrusion into a life of religious devotion. As a result... will have to photograph their own album cover, as well as provide the footage for their television advertisements.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Continuing from the last post, another link to CT, to a comment.
Any discussion of welfare states and social democracy would be incomplete without a reference to Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s work on welfare state typoligies, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Here, Germany, France and much of the rest of Continential Europe are considered conservative (corporatist- statist) welfare states, while the social democratic welfare states are found in Scandinavia, and liberal welfare states in the English-speaking world.
If you only talk to your friends, you don't have a wide range of reference. It makes no difference who your friends are.
Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism.

I've found a few references to him at CT but none substantive. That makes sense, since there's no discussion of culture on the site, or of anything that could used to reflect back on the modalities of the authors. That seems too general to be anything but insult, but it's a fair description.

The new generation of modernist intellectuals are as willing to make assumptions regarding others' behavior as ever, often by extending to them the optimism regarding capacities they once reserved to themselves. The vanguard have joined the mainstream, still using the discourse and more importantly the mannerisms of vanguardism. Having failed at leadership, having lead only to disaster, they've chosen to follow.
But there are also huge issues here about race and class and national identity. As people start finding out about this App, a huge uproar exploded. Only, to the best that I can tell, the uproar is entirely American. With Americans telling other Americans that Vaseline is being racist. But how are Indians reading the ads? And why aren’t Americans critical of the tanning products that Vaseline and related companies make? Frankly, I’m struggling to make sense of the complex narratives that are playing out right now.
To the best that I can tell she didn't even look. The general lack of sophistication in her writing is almost shocking.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Henry Farrell
Jonah Lehrer has an interesting post on the heuristic benefits of mixing it up by making online social contact with complete strangers.
A political scientist, a professional empiricist and intellectual urbanite, makes a new discovery: talk to people, on the web.

The most pathetic piece of writing on that site I've ever read. And the post Lehrer discusses makes it even sadder. Farrell, realizing his mistake, digs deeper
oh god – that is in fact the post that Lehrer links through to, which I had not read (stopping with Lehrer’s own argument). Don’t think it invalidates the underlying point (that it is good and enlightening to read people writing and thinking from very different perspectives), but it does point to the ways in which this can go horribly, horribly wrong if these people are treated as funny/quaint/weird inhabitants of some human zoo.
What can it mean that he's discovering, if that's the word, that "it is good and enlightening to read people writing and thinking from very different perspectives."

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s presence on the Supreme Court represents not just the result of intelligence hard work and luck, but the common recognition that there's a need on the court for minds affected, colored [shaped? built?] by the experience of womanhood. Ginsberg's experience is bounded by a thousand other things, but Henry Farrell is not a woman. Perspectives matter. And this is a discussion of experience not biology. If he is admitting something similar now -for the first time?- not in the context of a discussion of representative democracy and the Supreme Court but Twitter, what does this say about the underlying logic of his interests? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't argue that female judges are only a political necessity. I assume he's just too self-absorbed to see the crossover, but who knows.

Farrell is living an absolute fantasy of his own universalism. It may not be any longer a fantasy of white male universalism, or white heterosexual universalism, but it's still class-based, and based on the professional boundaries of academic life. He's just admitted that his life is himself and his friends talking about others. And though he may have heard their voices and their words he didn't listen to them. It was all just data. The only perspective that's mattered is the one he shares with fellow professionals. It goes to his general preference for fantasy: his philosophy like his choice of literature is science fiction.

Henry Farrell is the product of no culture. His views [As a scientist? Unlike Ginsberg?] are not restricted by his past decisions and those decisions can not themselves be the result of limited, individual experience. Experience is constitutive of nothing. There is no possibility that he is anything but first cause. He is outside. He is free.

He's lying to himself first, then to the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Arab guilty of rape after consensual sex
"A man has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after telling a woman that he was also Jewish"
"The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price."
Update 7/25
Kushour speaks fluent, unaccented Hebrew, as do many Palestinians living and working in Jerusalem. The woman asked his name and Kushour replied "Dudu" – a common Israeli name. "Since I was a kid everyone calls me Dudu – even my wife calls me Dudu. It's a nickname." At no point, he says, did the woman – who gave her name as Maya – ask if he was Jewish, although he has acknowledged that he said he was single.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"In a rich man's house there's no place to spit but his face."

How did we get from Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope to professorships in Management and Marketing? That's not a rhetorical question, but it's not one that would occur to political scientists or sociologists, since both fields are if anything anti-historical.
Org Theory. From Crooked Timber to Ben Casnocha in one step.
“…the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.”
The meaning of the word "science" has narrowed greatly over the past 150 years.

Brian Leiter predicts doom, brought about by the irrationalism of others
It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
There is no record in history of the mere presence and availability of knowledge changing anything. Intelligence is associative and association begin from what we know: prefer or fear. A curious, self-aware, and flexible intelligence is more accepting of new information than an intelligence set in its ways. That's all. Optimism is an ideology.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Carnegie Endowment on Fayyad and Fatah:
"Are Palestinians Building a State?"
Key Conclusions

-Government circumventing democracy. The unaccountable governing process that Fayyad has had to invent is not just postponing a democratic system—it is actively denying it.

-Isolated successes do not create rule of law. The increasing number of cases seen and submitted to the courts indicates growing efficiency and confidence, but security services continue to act outside the law under the guise of cracking down on Hamas.

-Lack of institution building. While Fayyad’s cabinet has managed to make a few existing institutions more effective and less corrupt, there has been regression in other governing bodies. Palestinian civil society is showing signs of decay as well. Ironically, there was more institution building and civil society development under Yasser Arafat than there has been since the West Bank-Gaza split in 2007.

-Disillusionment increasing among Palestinians. Popular support for Fayyad is growing but he still has no organized base. And Palestinians are increasingly cynical about the prospects for long-term development.

-Fatah is in disarray. The party remains bitterly divided. Party leaders recently forced Fayyad’s cabinet to cancel local elections when Fatah could not organize itself on time.

"Abbas eyes Nobel Peace Prize"

also, Foreign Policy
Taking the unusual step of actively campaigning for the award, Abbas has reportedly sent mediators to persuade the committee to award him the honor and seems to be circumventing the most direct (and much harder) route toward the prize -- creating peace.
[Links from Arabist, and AA]

And again for comparison, from The Crown Center at Brandeis:
Hamas Rule in Gaza: Three Years On
More from Helena Cobban
The author the the report, Yezid Sayigh of Kings College London, from earlier this year.

update wed: Ethan Bronner on Gaza, today and one month ago. Very different tone but needless to say, he wasn't there himself in either case.
More on Bronner and the Times
The student complaint came in a May 13 e-mail to Robert McKim, head of the religion department. The author of the e-mail said he was writing on behalf of a friend a student in Howell's class who wanted to remain anonymous. The e-mail complained Howell's statements about homosexuality amounted to "hate speech."

"Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing," the student wrote in the e-mail. "Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another."
From Brian Leiter, who like any number of academics these days, worries more about academic freedom than freedom of speech. The end result of this absurdity is that John Yoo's legal and academic standing is protected but he could be held liable under hate speech laws. Leiter lets the connection slip by.
"History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it." Descartes

Watch all three. AA blusters, but there's not much else to do when you're arguing against people who defend tautology. It's not even Burkean, it's (self-serving) fatalism as a form of morality.

"I'm 10 years old."
"You won't be 10 forever"
"How old am I?"
"You're 10 years old"
"So why are you arguing against the facts?"

If you treat political relations as timeless, that's your argument. Again [and again and again]: it's the press, making Alex Rosenberg's argument for objectivity and Philosophical Naturalism. But again [and again and again] Rosenberg's naturalism is an aspect, or product, of culture. You could even vulgarize it as a "meme". Timelessness, permanence, changelessness. Robert Jay Lifton referred to "revolutionary immortality" but more generally it's just the desperate search for permanence.

Helen Thomas: "...And, also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?"
Obama: "...With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger."
The American Prospect, July 2010: "Americans should be outraged that shoddy infrastructure and broken promises will be our legacy in Iraq."

Riverbend , August 28 2003
...Yesterday, I read how it was going to take up to $90 billion to rebuild Iraq. Bremer was shooting out numbers about how much it was going to cost to replace buildings and bridges and electricity, etc.

Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000 !!
Read the rest at Riverbend

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tony Karon on neutrality.
The comments are good too.

Friday, July 09, 2010

"Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it's 25%"
HSBC The World's Local Bank

The source may be Mark Cousins, quoted in The Observer. More links here, for those who don't know the history.
I was more surprised by the ad than the percentage. HSBC is a foreign bank, but I don't think the ad, which is one image in a larger campaign, will be seen much in the US. Still, it's international capital working its way.
The Guardian
The following is the text of a blog post by Britain's ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, commenting on the death of Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. It was posted on the Foreign Office blog on 5 July, but then removed on William Hague's orders yesterday

"One of the privileges of being a diplomat is the people you meet; great and small, passionate and furious. People in Lebanon like to ask me which politician I admire most. It is an unfair question, obviously, and many are seeking to make a political response of their own. I usually avoid answering by referring to those I enjoy meeting the most and those that impress me the most. Until yesterday my preferred answer was to refer to Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, head of the Shia clergy in Lebanon and much admired leader of many Shia muslims throughout the world. When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person. That for me is the real effect of a true man of religion; leaving an impact on everyone he meets, no matter what their faith. Sheikh Fadlallah passed away yesterday. Lebanon is a lesser place the day after, but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon's shores. I remember well when I was nominated ambassador to Beirut, a Muslim acquaintance sought me out to tell me how lucky I was because I would get a chance to meet Sheikh Fadlallah. Truly he was right. If I was sad to hear the news I know other peoples' lives will be truly blighted. The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints. May he rest in peace."
Footnotes at Mideastwire

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Continuing from tuesday, and the previous post which may or may not return (doubtful) to the place where it was first published.

300+ comments and liberal defenders of intellectual monoculture can't resolve the contradictions at the center of their ideology. Call it neoliberal guilt.

"Creativity" is inventive functionalism.  It doesn't question viewpoints only reinforces them in unfamiliar ways. "Observation" is seeing relations or the possibility of relations others miss.

Observation, not creativity allows a telephone company owner/engineer to imagine a coil-spring mercury switch while looking at the coil-spring of a phone-dial. It's a response and a reference to the external, less active than reactive, in the best sense, the opposite of expertise.

Monoculture is the destruction of the outside, contempt the the idea of the foreign, so that even as it expands to include new things it absorbs rather than engages.

Any form of society can be made flexible. Monarchy may allow enough mobility for the skilled and intelligent to rise, and there's a reason the military isn't run on universal suffrage, but there's a reason democracy requires it. Democracy isn't a way to get things done, it's a way of doing things. It's more about the game than it is about winning, so it makes room for a lot of different games and and ways to play. Democracy is founded on engagement not absorption, the engagement of citizens with one another and of the society with those outside it.

The current popular contempt for Microsoft is not that it is or nearly was a hegemon but that it's an incompetent one, hence the popularity of Google, even or especially among the technocratic-intellectual and "liberal" elite. That focus on success or victory is not good for democracy, which is relativist to the extent that it's founded on getting along, on civilized discord, not on truth. Neoliberals want a philosophy of truth, with the extreme stratification that results, without the consequences. Add to this of course that the "truths" they defend are as absurd as any other, only their beginnings in physicalism makes them seem less so. Does the fact that mountain climbing takes physical and mental strength, intelligence, careful planning and quick reflexes make it any less absurd? And would anyone take seriously attempts to follow Joshua Lederberg's "research imperative" that would condemn every one of us to all-consuming careers in medical research and its ancillary functions?

Life is absurd, and the observational imaginations of brilliant inventors are closer to those of novelists then to the current model of creativity. But there's no universal observation point,  no universal genius, which is why perspectives are a truth of our experience, and why having women on the Supreme Court is not simply practical politics, now if not a century ago, but of substantive importance for the function of democracy.

"Introducing Your World Cup Final: Ajax vs. Barcelona"

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

note taking [response posted, accepted by the moderator and pulled 8 hours later by persons unknown]

On the Human, "Cultural Evolution: A Vehicle For Cooperative Interaction Between The Sciences And The Humanities"
Cultural evolution or cultural change? Bernini's sculptures are advances over Michelangelo's only in technical complexity. In more important ways you could say the devolve from their predecessors, not the reverse. Forms of communication change as culture changes. Old forms die out, often very slowly.

"Novelty value... recommends expressive works to their audience..."
Only in the imagination of partisans of the modern formulation called "the avant-garde." In the history of culture "progress" is a recent term, and the ideology of cultural vanguardism -the myth of leadership- has no foundation; and it's been around long enough for us to recognize its failure. Faulkner described the American south of a certain period, as it existed in the categories of his own imagination: he was the product of a time and place who described it through himself, in language. The same was true of Joyce and Manet. The avant-garde is the first to use the language of its present. Looking at history you won't find it doing anything more or less than that. The question in the humanities, if you're going to refer to "science", is whether your own project will in the end be any less a historical relic than the Bauhaus. Some of us are still in the age of the fantasies of science.

"[The] blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science." When someone says to me that Quine was an empiricist I can't help but laugh.

Is there a relation between the anti-historical rationalism of post-war american academic philosophy and the equally rationalist and formalist idealism of Clement Greenberg's writing? And is there a relation to the recent stumbling attempts at empiricism by philosophical rationalists -"experimental philosophy" et al.- and the attempts at a representational art of "praxis" on the part of high art conceptualists, and more importantly the critics who champion them? The core of both is a condescension towards those fields that already occupy the land. This paper and things like it seems like an attempt to poach on historians turf while keeping a claim to the high ground of "science", as the increasingly academic Fine arts ape popular culture while claiming to critique it. Both continue an ideology of intellectual vanguardism, part of a tradition that claims in Alex Rosenberg's words that History is Bunk. Tell it to a Palestinian Alex. Or an Israeli for that matter.

The Sopranos and The Wire are not avant-garde. They fit with the standard model of art (as viewed by historians) as description of their time. The self -tyled vanguard of contemporary culture aligns itself with MIT, either through the pseudo-leftist academicism of October or the capitalist boosterism of "Convergence Culture". As I've said elsewhere MIT's techno-optimism celebrates the technical complexity of Grand Theft Auto while The Sopranos and The Wire describe the tragedy of the culture it's a part of. Will historians look at MIT -either the Consortium or October- for a contemporary analysis of our times or merely as symptoms of our romance? I'd say the latter, but that's just my opinion. We can't be sure, and the constant references to science, the aping of it in every field of study is an attempt to bypass that question entirely.

Colin McGinn
The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation – as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality.
Modernism is the dream of timelessness, and of immortality for the dreamer

On the piece itself: the article is full of grand generalizations and not enough specifics. There's not much meat.
It's a commonplace to see a relation of the forms of Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods in ancient Greece that parallel the art of the Primitives the Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque in the last millennium. You can refer to the rise and fall of forms of culture, and the rise and fall of cultures. But to do any of this without reference to the specifics of each place and time seems more than odd. The global view for global view's sake seems more than anything like a way to keep your hands clean. And history is a dirty business: to follow life and death is to be reminded of your own.

Clapping and Hollywood economics. Is the first point to describe how people move back and forth between the pleasures of individualism and membership? If so it's a nice story but what else? What's the surprise?

On movies: are you saying that the moments of communal response somehow are self-generating, that the crowd produces the response in some way, like a chemical reaction? Or are you merely observing that if a movie pushes the right buttons on a large enough percentage of its viewers the social aspect of enthusiasm has an inertial force, or maybe a little more? And if the latter, are you arguing that this is something to be overcome or indulged? By focusing on the mean -"this is how people behave"- does that in itself not add to a downward pressure? I have the same comments about economics: growing up around academics who were as materialist in philosophy as they were anti-materialist in behavior, I've become convinced as they were that increasing conservative "realism" about human greed resulted in an huge spike in the personal greed of academics. They viewed that with disgust.
Again, I'm looking for more. I suppose I'm looking for a point of view.

"[W]hile it may seem intuitively obvious that complex cultures create a collective ambiance that favors expressive forms that different from those of less complex cultures, one would like an explanation for this “fit.” I would expect a robust account of cultural evolution to provide such an explanation."

Look to ethnography and again, look to history. What are the relations of individuals to each other and to their community when their community is simpler or more primitive than ours? Look to the relations of Giotto to to Michelangelo to Rubens. Look at the economics. And yes I suppose that's Marxist. You can also see how Giotto and even more so Michelangelo were central to our understanding of their ages and Rubens less so as his chosen form is by this point in the long slow process of recession. Art describes the structure of the world that produces it. Anything man-made describes man. [a feminist might say: even to the exclusion of women] That's why mathematicians are Platonist, and historians are not. You are aware I think that individualism is a modern phenomenon. Look at working class neighborhoods and the pseudo-neighborhoods that gentrification makes out of them.

And then Moretti, who insists explicitly on treating the products of human activity as if they were so many rocks, though I have to assume he wouldn't be so happy to have his own work described in that way. If literature fundamentally is letter writing from the living to the unborn, why insist on dehumanizing it? I'm doing something similar here, responding less to your arguments than to the rhetorical structures behind them but I'm not writing of your work as if it were merely an object or event. Moretti is, and the question is why? Why pick apart literature and not the history of western philosophy as a series of tropes and "memes" and ignore agency entirely? That's a scary proposition for professors of philosophy.

Sita Sings the Blues

Some links: Panofsky, Three Essays on Style. I recommend The Ideological Antecedents of the Rolls-Royce Radiator which describes how a Palladian temple front found itself topped by an art nouveau sprite. As always Panofsky manages to be both cooly Germanic and casually hilarious. And deeply humane. Also The Intelligence of Art by Thomas Crow, with essays on Meyer Shapiro and Claude Levi-Strauss, on art, the foreign and the past.

I can only surmise why you spend so much time on new artwork, about which we can have only a limited perspective. But still even with that you don't offer us much. I'll begin with Chitra Ganesh.

Then I have to ask if you've done any research on the trope of floating figures on psychedelic or abstract patterns as an image of disembodied, private experience. [The McGinn quote links to a discussion of that subject] "Her outline, in black, is decoupled from the texture-filling forms, one for her hair (yellow-green), one for her body (a warm medium brown) and still others for her eyes. Paley does this for about six seconds. What’s this about?" Again you don't know even recent history of graphic art, or maybe (again) history doesn't matter.

You're skimming the surface. Panofsky and Crow are historians, and as such they are very wary of isolating patterns of any sort from their contexts. And that doesn't refer only to the works in the time of their making but the context of the historical narratives in which they've played a part. We look at Giotto and see things in the work that he could never see, even though they were always there, because we have a perspective on his own history and of his own world that he lacked. We also see how he fits into the world between his life and ours. It's the same with Constitutional theory or the theory of performance in Bach. Some say we have absolute access to the past, and that's all that counts. Others say we have to think only of the present. And finally there are those who say that originalism, interpretive history and present purposes should all apply, or better: that they all do whether we like it or not.

The human mind makes patterns of the world. Patterns are reassurance, are intimations of order and stability, and we like often to assume often that those patterns exist outside our imaginations, in the world. In very basic ways I'm sure they do, but things get very fuzzy very fast, and an ideology of clarity is counterproductive.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

To: Max Boot
Subject: FW: On the Middle East: It's Palin vs Petraeus

As you know, I didn't say that. It's in a written submission for the
Mentioned previously. Henry Farrell reposts the entire thing, re-titling it The Lies of the Creative Class. The original is here:
“the only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly re-invent it”

This rather sad article in the New York Times about long-term, middle class unemployment got me thinking…

Got me thinking about the cartoon above, in fact.

Any long-time blogger knows this: The only way to keep people reading your blog is by “Constant Re-Invention”. Keep on finding new things to talk about. Keep on DOING and CREATING new things worth talking about.

i.e. Creativity. Yes. That. Exactly.

And what has always been true for bloggers is now true for anyone hoping to live above the basic subsistence level.

The only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly re-invent it.

Again, Creativity.

And that’s your responsibility, not your boss’. If your boss won’t let you do that, then quit. Right now. Do something else. It’s your move. Nobody else’s. Sorry.

It isn’t rocket science. But sadly, it’s something far too few of us ever think really hard about.
We've been through this before, here and elsewhere. Read the comments on Henry's post to see what a piss-poor job defenders of intellectual monoculture do defending the values of free social life against the imperatives of production. See also the "research imperative" discussed below. The same logic applies: if you can't do the job, get out of the way.

Civilization and social life mitigate against the cruelties of simple Darwinism by creating a multiplicity of interlocking and overlapping roles in daily life. Instrumentalist utilitarianism and productivism narrow those roles. Individuality is the product of multiplicity, individualism fosters homogeneity.

The author of the post above, like Grant McCracken and his friends at MIT define creativity as inventive functionalism: the point of the trip is to get where you're going, the point of the game is to win. "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." [The research imperative] As I said, it doesn’t matter if the product is a cure for cancer or a landing on Mars, productivism, the military model of social life, is anti-democratic and anti-social. It's war-communism, crisis as timeless truth: it's fascism.

I'll repeat again: MIT's "Convergence Culture" of optimism and design gives us Grand Theft Auto, while the observational model of art give us The Wire. The former is a drug or its equivalent, the latter a depiction of the lives of those affected. It's almost pathetic that people who would call themselves intellectuals can't see the difference.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Guardian: "Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead."

Siegel's piece is here

Two links on this page from 2008.
"He added: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

"It is a commonly held assumption that Americans don’t like to read authors who write in languages they don’t understand. That belief persists here in Frankfurt, where publishers from 100 countries show off a smorgasbord of their best — or at least best-selling — books.
By and large, the American publishers spend most of the week in Hall 8, the enormous exhibit space where English-language publishers hold court."
Contemporary -young and serious- American culture is stunted because its practitioners came of age in an intellectual milieu that stood and stands morally opposed to the dangers of imagination, and in defense of an ideology of facts, or perspectival facts, labeled as truth. Their art is derived from what they enjoyed as angry teenagers, and refusing to put away childish things -in their impotence, still tempted by rebellion- they celebrate them in the off hours of their adulthood, with vague memories of why they were important and a lingering awareness that what they signified is out of reach.

For the elite, objectivity is the model or the scold: to be outré is to point to something labeled fact and giggle. The isolation of adolescents and the poor becomes the exceptionalism of the adult and educated; the genius of kids who can't play guitar and don't care becomes the indulgence of adults who can't and think it doesn't matter. And in the end it doesn't, because fun and games are only fun and games and tomorrow they go back to work. The arts, necessary to the elite in their youth become entertainment for them in their maturity. Ph.D.'s in any subject, even literature, are most comfortable, most in their element, watching Buffy or Lost, with their knitting circles. And of course they're lousy critics of what they love because in the end they're fans, as unwilling to analyze their tastes as they are unwilling to investigate themselves.

This lack of curiosity is rooted in privilege, class loyalty and nationalism, and in a deep insecurity guarded by assumptions labeled reason. A graph is the model for the myth of a transparent non-constitutive frame A story is the model for a constitutive frame you can't ignore. That the latter is easier to disagree with isn't a weakness it's a strength. Stories require an audience. Propositions stand alone. And for the majority, and for outsiders who don't matter, fiction or faith, as narratives held with an irony unrecognized by the elite, rule no more or less than ever.

If American literature has become academic and provincial, non-fiction is moving away from the academy, becoming fresher because more vulgar. Narrative vulgarizes the ideal. Considering his history of criticizing vulgarity Siegel's argument now lines up on the side of vulgarians over the professionals. I don't have to agree with his examples to note his reasons for choosing them; post-war America was not a "Golden Age" for anything but the economy. Siegel too is a fan.

The introduction to a thread at CT
I have almost nothing with the Tour de France, or with any other big sport event for that matter. The only relation between the Tour and me is that it started in Rotterdam this year, the city where I work. I have no interest, no expertise, no patience.
The author is: "a philosopher and economist, and... a professor in Practical Philosophy[!] at the Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam". You'd think that would imply an interest in or even a preoccupation with forms of public activity and social life. But Ingrid Robeyns' preoccupying interest is her rational non-narrative framing device, and her problem with the Tour de France is that it's a public -collective- narrative. If you want to understand how the Tour, or public narrative, is perverted by commodification, you have to want to understand what commodification is perverting.

Robeyns has no interest in things that don't interest her. She wouldn't put it that way; I'm sure she'd justify her choices as the result of rational process, and they are. But her choices are no more or less rational than those of bicycle racers or tribesmen in the highlands of New Guinea. Her frame, lens, preference, sensibility or tastes all precede her choice of tools. But to her in a sense they don't exist, because they're a given. Having no interest in her own subjectivism, it her own subjectivity, it does not exist. It's sad.

More of the same.
Liberal technocrats against the world they helped make. The socialism of monads and drones. The cognitive dissonance is painful.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Compare and contrast.
John Holbo
Solomon can split the difference between parties to a dispute, but not if Solomon is a party to the dispute, such that Solomon is now obliged to split the difference between splitting the difference and not splitting the difference. You end up with a cross between a Russellian Theory of Ramified Types and a Liberal Who Can’t Take His Own Side In a Fight. (And we haven’t even started in on what happens to Solomon once the other parties get wind of the fact that Solomon always splits the difference.) Committing yourself to evenhandedness, while thinking of yourself as just one player in the game – not as ‘above it all’ – seems sensible and modest, but it risks giving you an epistemological itch you can’t scratch. It may preserve you from groupthink, but by attacking the ‘think’ bit, not the ‘group’ bit.
Nir Rosen [a repeat from below]
"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?"
Serendipity again.
Harry Brigbouse on Joan Rivers
I’m sure I first heard Joan Rivers the same way I did Bob Newhart and Woody Allen, on Frank Muir Goes Into… but she never entered my consciousness really till I moved to LA in the mid-80s and started seeing her on daytime TV. I found her captivating—the only thing on TV worth watching a lot of the time. Rude, self-deprecating, very funny, and very clever. So when Swift and I wandered past a theater showing her new movie last night we decided, whimsically, to go in after dinner.

I’d recommend it to just about anybody over 21...
He also links to what he calls a "delightful profile" of her written by someone who's known her for 20 years. One of his stories: "A few days after 9/11, she called and asked me if I wanted to meet her for lunch at Windows on the Ground. She pushes as far as she can as soon as she can. It’s compulsive."

Nir Rosen and Joan Rivers would have a few things to talk about, but Holbo and Brighouse take themselves too seriously to see the obvious relation. They still don't understand Jon Stewart.

Perfect tie-in, from the past.
"...more than his fair share of sunlight."
Brighouse can get a kick out of Joan Rivers only by ignoring the fact that she makes a living mocking everything he claims to represent: the schoolmasters' search for non-contradiction.
Interested to hear her take on "Legitimate Parental Partiality."

The Professor
Tony Karon has a day job: "So stay tuned on Friday and Saturday for what could be some of the most entertaining games of World Cup 2010."