Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Utilitarian psychopaths...

Still can't get over this shit:
Euripides answers both the metaphysicians and the sociologists. It's better that a populace (the "folk") argue over (subjective) values via the process of (objective) democratic form than an elite argue over "ideas" whose values are assumed.

Democracy isn't concerned with truth. The strength of democratic process-democratic form- is stability.
Back to the myth of journalistic objectivity.

The focus of the intellectual elite on questions of absolute truth and/or technical analysis of averages (idealism and/or technocracy) both weaken democracy, the latter by focusing on managing the populace rather than educating them/us to ask how best to manage ourselves. A focus on the mean puts downward pressure on the mean: assumptions concerning the prevalence of self-interest rather than discussion of the values behind it licenses self-interest.
Neoliberalism and the neoliberal academy is a product of science and pure reason.

Yes I've said it all before.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Communication is two people looking at the same object"

The model of the sciences above is too simple. It was meant as a description of shared assumption, geek enthusiasm. The model of the arts describes observation of action and performance rather than direct communication, direct communication which is in fact impossible since we communicate only through mediating forms of behavior and language. We aren't mind readers. Below is the model of science communication as idealized by technocrats.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I added a new comment on Leiter's thread, [see below] posting the passage quoted here. Read Seaford for Romano and the reviewer for Jason Stanley.
It may not appear. I can never tell.

I'll post the passage again. From a review of Money and the Early Greek Mind at NDPR
Overall, Seaford’s book is interesting, insightful, and combines expertise in ancient sources with careful reasoning. It certainly offers an invaluable discussion of the origins and cultural contexts of early Greek philosophy. But Seaford’s concern with the historical explanations of Greek philosophy suggests that his book may not appeal to scholars interested exclusively in the philosophical content and argumentation of Presocratic texts. The author often explicitly minimizes intellectual explanations of a philosopher’s views in favor of socio-political, religious, and psychological factors (219; 253–4; 273). In fact, he insists that comprehending the relevant cultural factors is necessary for understanding Presocratic metaphysics. We must, he maintains, avoid treating ancient philosophy as if it were created in a “historical vacuum” (10), even if this threatens most Presocratic scholars’ “control of their subject and the autonomy of ’doing philosophy’“
Stanley writing about his father [new link here]
I recently spent two years writing a book review. So I’m not quite the one for the task of summarizing, however briefly, the legacy of life and work that my father has left behind. The task is made more difficult by the differences in our lives. He was raised in Berlin, under the shadow of Hitler, and first experienced this country as a refugee. The path he took, first to the academy, and then within the academy, was largely determined by these experiences. I was raised in a secure setting, surrounded by other children of academics, and my work is not related to the experiences of my past. Finally, my father was not a typical academic, content (as I am) to master a small area, and rule over his academic fiefdom with an iron fist. Specialization was not for him. Indeed, he wrote a whole book about its dangers.

That book, The Technological Conscience: Survival and Dignity in an Age of Expertise, [Stanley doesn't supply a link] tries to do many things. But fundamentally its topic is human dignity, a topic that is perhaps the theme of my father’s life and work. As a person, my father was steeped in myths that usually accompanied a more religious cast of mind. He lived his own life as a calling, and was not one to let others live as they thought they wished. He could not understand how anyone could live without a deeper purpose or meaning. Like many a religious soul, he was suspicious of mechanistic explanations whose purpose he suspected was to remove the mythic purpose of our journey. It is presumably for this reason that The Technological Conscience is occasionally found on the syllabi of courses taught in Christian colleges, which concern the conflict between religion and science.

But it would be a fundamental misunderstanding of my father’s life to construe him as religious. Religions run certain risks my father was never prepared to take. They run the risk of rejecting the truths of the past, of the moral lessons of the Holocaust, and they run the risk of rejecting the truths of the future, that we are, unless all of us make it our callings to intervene, doomed. Religion conflicts with the humanistic impulse to face directly the hard truths that emerge through the study of human interaction. Once we have recognized these truths, we will see our future, and may function as agents in altering its course. Dignity is achieved in recognizing our agency in this task. The purpose of myths, morals, and meaning is to motivate us towards this purpose.

At the end of The Technological Conscience, my father moves to the topic of education. Education was the battleground that my father believed the war over the soul in the mechanistic, consumerist age would be fought. Without intervention, education was bound to become the domain of technocrats, seeking to instill in us tools for survival, but not the means by which to flourish. (There is an unfortunate tendency, in the book, to view this grim future as one in which we are all forced to learn some math; we are darkly warned that “We may expect that mathematics, statistics, and computer related symbol skills will spread as a nationwide focus of curriculum revision and elaboration”.) The topic of education was one that occupied my father through the rest of his career. In particular, he wrote about the role of the university in providing the means by which to achieve dignity. The way we academics function as agents in history is by bestowing the gift of autonomy upon our students.

Again, religious themes emerge in this work. My father’s reading of the Adam myth, in his paper “The Educator’s Conscience: From Paradise to Disneyland”, was that autonomy was God’s gift to Adam and Eve. Through eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve acquired self-reflection, and thereby became autonomous moral agents, capable of forging their own paths through the world. The function of the university is to play God, by awakening critical self-reflection. At our best, according to my father’s work, we academics grant our students the gift of autonomy along with knowledge of the mistakes of the past, in the perhaps vain hope of securing the future.
I'm not sure it's fair to say he's echoing Panofsky;  they share a tradition.

Jason Stanley [2006]: In Defense of Baroque Specialization

Marcus Stanley, and my response
"The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective / communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."

You have that precisely backwards. The humanist is embedded in culture by calling, the mathematician only by default, while embedded by choice in a private world of universals.
Reading Davidson again and Quine, what becomes clear is the Puritan moralism behind the logic; that it would be preferable to have Mozart without the performances of Wilhelm Kempff or Alfred Brendel. Or perhaps there's no difference because the "content" is the same. The dream of a language reduced to the essential. A desire to collapse of the space between image and object. The impossible desire precedes reason. Values precede logic and then return to impose it.
There could be no more poignant contrast to this confidence in the spells of art [in the perceptual "objectivity" of hieroglyphs] than a passage from Plato's older contemporary Euripides that also deals with tomb sculpture. When Alcestis is going to die, her grieving husband Admetus speaks of the work he will commission for his solace:

And represented by the skillfull hands
Of craftsmen, on the bed thy body shall
Be laid; whereon I shall fall in embrace
And clasp my hands around it, call thy name,
And fancy in my arms my darling wife
To hold, holding her not; perhaps, I grant,
Illusory delight, yet my soul's burden
Thus shall I lighten...

What Ademtus seeks is not a spell, not even assurance, only a dream for those who are awake; in other words, precisely that state of mind to which Plato, the stern seeker after truth, objected.
Plato, we know, looked back with nostalgia at the immobile schemata of Egyptian art.

Gombrich, Art and Illusion, p.126
Marcus Stanley: "The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective / communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."

The question is whether we want the communal enterprise of Athens and Euripides or of Plato and technocratic pharaohs.

"When fascism comes to America..."
Leiter quotes Sinclair Lewis, and links to Rick Perry. I reply, sending him a link to Richard Posner. Leiter thinks that content separates his ideas from those of his friend, but form unites them. The formal relation of elitism and authoritarianism is more important than the difference between the "content" of legal realism and law and economics. The focus on content is a waste of time. Content or "meaning" is private; all that is public, all that we share, is form.

Rosen contra Brendel It's in the paper [PDF]

Friday, September 23, 2011

note taking. comment at Leiter, rejected
I wish Romano had done a better job, but there was more substance to his arguments than Stanley's. On Davidson and language, Romano should have been more direct. As any professional translator will tell you, translation is transliteration. Davidson would seem to think that word is empty.

To a humanist of Romano's tradition it seems as if philosophy in its search for universals as primary structures has given us no more than universals as surface generalizations, often useless, counterproductive, or reactionary. To use Stanley's example from his conversation with Ann Stoler, the question of whether a table is white or off-white,  reddish or bluish, (our sees color differently) is less interesting to me than whether a Greek man is white or not. [ethnicity] My regular response to anyone who claims the centrality of non-contradiction to 'serious' intellectualism is to ask that question about Jews. The answer is that whiteness depends on context.

The "extended mind" is only one example where a contextual reading of a philosophical project seems more interesting than the project itself. It's a truism to say that we use objects to orient ourselves in the world. But to say that we externalize ourselves rather than internalizing the world seems more a statement of ideological commitment than reason. I think immediately as I've said elsewhere of the philosopher dude and his angry girlfriend: "No baby... please... I understand you... you're a part of me! I have an extended mind!"

It's interesting, again thinking in and about context, that the transition from internationalization to externalization in philosophy of mind seems to mirror the conservative/neoliberal transition in politics. The arguments over the past century for the primacy of misreading, of bias, of subjectivity and "méconnaissance" (of internalization) have turned into claims for its opposite. [as if the answer to false humility were open arrogance] These claims when made elsewhere are the foundation of neoliberalism. Is this academic philosophical change based on reason or rebellion? Alex Rosenberg's argument is that philosophy works its way outside of history but it's only fair to read his claims in light of history. It's interesting that Jason Stanley's father, whose arguments come into some abuse from Stanley, is the author of "The Technological Conscience: Survival and Dignity in an Age of Expertise." [new link]

And given the long and short, only 100 year, history of futurism, what are we to make of the new vogue for arguments that refer to the body as a "biological skin-bag". [the phrase is Andy Clark's] Anyone with a reasonably wide range of historical knowledge will read that phrase spontaneously (without thinking) as much for subtext as for text. Is that reflex in error?
The link is to a short memorial by J. Stanley for his father. It's obvious the son is still fighting the same fights.

The question isn't whether or not formal logic is a waste of time but whether there can be a formal logic of behavior: of values, politics and economics. There will never be a formal philosophy of action that is not sharply prescriptive and authoritarian. If the world was not designed by authority there is no reason to think it can be well managed by it.

The formal philosophy of language is formal economics without the risk of having to run away from contradictory evidence.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Issandr El Amrani at Arabist: "Please take 15m of your time and watch this excruciating video of last Thursday's State Dept. briefing."

It's amazing.

Exchange with Matt Lee:

QUESTION: But do you see going to the UN as anathema to an approach in getting them – why can’t it be embraced as part of an approach to get them back to the table instead of being viewed as an enemy of getting them back to the table?

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, again, what we’ve tried to be clear all along here is that our focus, and we believe the parties’ focus, should be in direct negotiations because it’s only by dealing with these issues through direct negotiations that they’re going to reach a settlement. So one-off actions in New York don’t accomplish anything at the end of the day.

QUESTION: But why can’t you --

MR. TONER: We’re going to continue to work today, tomorrow, through New York to get the parties back to the negotiating table. But our position all along – I don’t know how it could be more clear – is that we think these --

QUESTION: It can’t be any more clear. I’m not asking you what your position is.

MR. TONER: We think these --

QUESTION: I’m asking why you lack the creativity to use this as leverage to get them back to the negotiating table, instead of trying to fight a losing battle in which you’re going to be the only – you’re going to be isolated, the Israelis are going to be isolated, because if they go to the General Assembly, they’re going to win.

MR. TONER: Precisely because --

QUESTION: So why don’t --

MR. TONER: -- because we think it’s --

QUESTION: Why isn’t there anyone in this Administration that has the brainpower, the creativity, to use this as a positive thing to build momentum instead of regarding it as completely a negative thing?

MR. TONER: Because it’s counterproductive.


QUESTION: But that’s --

QUESTION: Why is it – it’s counterproductive to you. To the Palestinians, it gives them some kind of hope, some kind of confidence, that when they do sit down – let me finish – when they do sit down at the negotiating table, that they have more leverage than some kind of nonentity that they’re treated as now.
From August 2010
connecting to various recent posts and notes
Aber etwas fehlt
Sitting in a bar reading Limited Inc.. One table away a young couple were facing a crisis. It would be hard to count the layers of falseness and dissembling, of performing for and lying to each other and themselves, of false confidence, feigned indifference, contempt and self-abasement, all as reflex. It was a less sophisticated version of Derrida and Searle. Ressentiment

A work of art is both fundamentally a thing unto itself -though affected by others and events- and a communicative act. The same was true of the couple's actions, as self-directed formalism and outward-directed performance. And most of the communication was in subtext. The spoken "I love you" was secondary to the unspoken, "I can walk away". And beneath that were all the communicated subtleties, if communicated is the right word, in gestures read by the audience but most likely not by the performers.

A novel is a thing crafted out of a plot, and judged as that. It's less an essay than a house. Language, as event and communication is an aspect of life. Philosophy and theology are parasitic on that. Literature, art, is both descriptive and formal. History, describing both art and the world, is observational and secular.

Derrida wants to replace the historian of art with the philosopher of art. Searle represents those who oppose history itself.
And we're suppose to choose one or the other.

Tamanaha on instrumentalism. It's a strange book, well intentioned but as above he's blind to his own words. He describes the conservative anti-democratic judiciary in the 19th century as non-instrumentalist, as they thought of themselves, and both liberal and conservative anti-democratic courts in the 20th (Warren/Rehnquist) as instrumentalist, which the liberals accept and conservatives deny against all evidence. Of the present he writes [p.97]: "It is increasingly difficult to take the Justices' articulation of the legal grounds for their decisions at face value." But to any serious observer including readers of this book, given the record it describes, that was never possible. What he seems to regret, in references to things once "concealed" and "unspoken", is that we no longer believe our own lies. He has a point but he doesn't take the discussion where it needs to go, which is outside the law and to society.

Tamanaha ignores the overriding fact of crisis, of the struggle among parties to agree on terms when the norms of civil discourse no longer apply. And why should they have for blacks, or other minorities and women, in 1900 or 1965? Formal justice exists only within a unified culture: it's an illusion held in common. The crises of the 20th century originate in large unstable communities with few common interests hence few common illusions. Tamanaha defends official common form without demanding common substance, and ignores unofficial common form entirely. In Tamanaha's telling, judges were once charged both with preserving and adapting the common law, but he ignores the fact that this flexibility was possible only within a unified social order. Adaptation requires instrumentalism, but it's masked by common assent of the enfranchised. Tamanaha ignores the causes of instrumentalism in rebellion. Rehnquist, for one example, was not just an intellectual conservative. As was made clear during his confirmation hearing for Chief Justice, in the testimony of witnesses to acts of voter intimidation in the 1960's, he was, or had been, a racist.

Law is process, not result. The legal process school transposed a formalism of interpretation managed openly by an elite into a model of formalism of argument among a wider group of players. The criticism launched against the process school by CLS and others was that the wider group was not representative enough and that the process was unjust. This was instrumentalism as strategy, not goal. It remains problematic due to the risks of performative reinforcement, but it is not at all the same -does not take the same form [except in extreme cases?]- as the instrumentalism of the legal realists. The realists aim at a scientific understanding of bias, working towards a "reasoned" result. This continues or returns us to the 19th century primacy of the law of an elite, united in a common purpose. What Tamanaha ignores here, and Posner doesn't is that common purpose is always anti-democratic. There can be no long term common purpose in democracy. What's common in democracy is the process of a government defined by representative debate.

All instrumentalism is problematic. As a free-standing doctrine instrumentalism is synonymous with ideology. And ideology is form: content is secondary. But ideology in the service of increasing citizen participation and in the service of its opposite are not the same thing, just as a military in service to a democracy is not a dictatorship. The relations of process and instrumentalism in a democracy are awkward. They need to be: democracies sometimes have need of an army. But the doctrines of law and economics are anti-democratic not just as strategy or means but end.

Law isn't a science or the search for truth, it's a game: a rarefied version of the game of politics. And there are no referees in either, only ranking players. When enough people believe themselves to by slighted by the process they will slight the process in return, the game will become rougher and will risk devolving into war. Idealists dislike democracy as relativist regarding truth. Scientists dislike the rule of law because it reminds them of Galileo and the Church. The Church argued for law and precedent, both still central to law and politics.

Tamanaha criticizes instrumentalism in the advocacy of trial lawyers, though trial lawyers, as professional advocates, are ideologically formalist. Again to Rumpole (and Nir Rosen.) Tamanaha the academic has too much respect for judges. He thinks our judges and philosophers should be wiser; but judges aren't the center of our justice system, lawyers are. And nobody likes lawyers until they need one.

Tamanaha argues from idealism, and "sincerity", rather than flexibility. He idealizes the role of responsible individuals rather than acknowledge the primacy, including the moral primacy, of adversarial process. more later.
Posner Ridicules Right of Citizens To Film Police
"In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability. We’re pleased with that..."

Synecdoche |siˈnekdəkē|
a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland's baseball team”).
synecdochic |ˌsinekˈdäkik| adjective
synecdochical |ˌsinekˈdäkikəl| adjective
synecdochically |-ˈdäkik(ə)lē| adverb
ORIGIN late Middle English : via Latin from Greek sunekdokhē, from sun- ‘together’ + ekdekhesthai ‘take up.’

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Clemency rejected for Troy Davis.
in re: discussions of philosophical naturalism and of the theory of art. NewApps, specifically a comment by Jon Cogburn: his defense of Danto and Noel Carroll. On Criticism reviewed at NDPR See also discussion of naturalism and Rosenberg, incl. my comment, at Leiter

I thought I'd put this put ages ago, but maybe not.

It's from the big paper. I had it on the web, but it's down. Still trying to find a real home for it. Basic notes, here.

The photo collage above is the best simple debunking I know of philosophers' arguments about Duchamp. The images are Ingres' La Source, Courbet's Origin of the World, a Sevres porcelain (1921) after an 18th century original by Etienne Maurice Falconet, and Duchamp's Fountain. The only thing I should need to add is that the Courbet was made for private view. The same holds of course for any urinal.
Duchamp/ Hitchcock. Notes, here.

Hitchcock/Warhol 5/4/09 The whole post is repeated below

Andy Warhol, Double Elvis, 1963

A doubled image of a fake cowboy -a movie image- played by a pop "icon," and beneath that of a person: Elvis Aaron Presley.
Two images of an image, of an image, of a man. And an image of psychosis.

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo, 1958, and Psycho, 1960.

I shouldn't have to point out, but I will, that the spiral image also is from Vertigo.

All of these ended up in the paper.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two links from commenters at CT's discussion of Graeber.

Richard Seaford on money TLS, and a review of his Money and the Early Greek Mind at NDPR. Amusing comments in the review:
Overall, Seaford’s book is interesting, insightful, and combines expertise in ancient sources with careful reasoning. It certainly offers an invaluable discussion of the origins and cultural contexts of early Greek philosophy. But Seaford’s concern with the historical explanations of Greek philosophy suggests that his book may not appeal to scholars interested exclusively in the philosophical content and argumentation of Presocratic texts. The author often explicitly minimizes intellectual explanations of a philosopher’s views in favor of socio-political, religious, and psychological factors (219; 253–4; 273). In fact, he insists that comprehending the relevant cultural factors is necessary for understanding Presocratic metaphysics. We must, he maintains, avoid treating ancient philosophy as if it were created in a “historical vacuum” (10), even if this threatens most Presocratic scholars’ “control of their subject and the autonomy of ’doing philosophy’“
My disagreements with Graeber go back 25 years, to school days and after, and have less to do with his historical research than the arguments he makes from it. Socially and politically, (and regardless of his claims) he's a vanguardist, and vanguardists are exceptionalists. He shrugged off my questions about violence and the adolescent black bloc with the smile of an indulgent father.

A degree of exceptionalism is a fact of culture, of the subjective hierarchies of social interaction. As an ideology it's anti-humanist. Seaford, as -in a sense even ideologically- a humanist, is a conservative by comparison to both Graeber and the professional philosopher who wrote the review for NDPR, both of whom share a preference for rule-giving over observation and description. And Graeber of course is a student of Bourdieu.

Ignore my commentary at the link and read nothing more than the quotes from Bourdieu and Clark. It's clear enough.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The limits of liberalism.
If I were more conspiracy-minded I'd wonder if the plutocrats had agreed to starve all the little fish...
Linking to Joe Nocera
Not long ago, I received an e-mail from David Rynecki, an old friend and former colleague who left journalism a half-dozen years ago to become a small businessman. David’s firm, Blue Heron Research Partners, does research for investment professionals; he was writing to share his frustration in trying to build a business in the aftermath of the recession.

...His problem was — and is — the same one facing millions of small businesspeople. With lending standards extraordinarily tight in the wake of the financial crisis, banks simply aren’t making small business loans, not even to perfectly creditworthy people like David.

...As it happens, around the same time I was hearing from David, a small businessman on the West Coast was sending me very similar e-mails. His name is Bill Schultheis, and he was trying to help his wife start an upscale spa in Bellevue, Wash. He and his wife, Zhiqin Zhang, were looking for $500,000.

“My wife moved here from China 13 years ago,” Bill wrote. She had already built and sold two spas; now she wanted to create something bigger and more luxurious. If all went according to plan, wrote Bill, she would employ between 25 and 35 people — “something Obama would appreciate,” he added with a touch of sarcasm.

Bill sent me the business plan for the new spa. It was impressive. He outlined Zhiqin’s track record. He explained that the cash flow from his day job — he’s an investment manager — could pay off the loan within 18 months. And then he sent me a chronology of his failed efforts, going back to April 2010, to land a loan that would allow Zhiqin to follow her entrepreneurial dream.
"He and his wife, Zhiqin Zhang, were looking for $500,000. ... He explained that the cash flow from his day job — he’s an investment manager — could pay off the loan within 18 months."

Rather than one loan to a millionaire so that his wife can flip another spa, how about ten $50,000 loans to people who actually want to run small businesses?

Found by happenstance: Chris Bertram in 2003
But even walking a few streets around my home and looking at the posters urging people to demonstrate, I’m quickly reminded why I would not. “Bush” is represented on many of them with a swastika in places of the “S”—an absurd implied equivalence anyway, and a grotesque one a few days after the synagogue bombings in Istanbul. The stunt with the statue also suggest the triumph of theatre over political and moral judgement. And then there’s the fact that the Stop the War Coalition calls for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and that some of its components even support what they call the “resistance”. Since the imperative now is to stop Britain and the US from “cutting and running” and to insist that they ensure a transition to stable and constitutional Iraqi self-goverment (and put the infrastructure back together again) what the demostrators largely want is the opposite of what ought to be done.
I don't like vanguardism, and I don't like vanguardism mixed with snobbery and cowardice.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A repeat from a couple of years ago, with a couple of images added.

Reading Steinberg's "The Philosophical Brothel."

Still surprised by the filters used by modern/modernist intellectuals to interpret the preoccupations of themselves and their compatriots. As with Eliot, the theme is not "form" but a fear of the power of representation and of what will be represented if representation is allowed its full weight. And it is allowed that weight here as in Eliot's poetry. That's the greatness and the terror. The painting first and foremost is if not a castration scene then a description of the terror that the act or worse may be in the offing, with the painter/viewer as the victim. Talk of form and formalism was an absurd cover, as absurd as any talk of "advancement" in the arts; and even those who eschew formalist arguments to this day argue from pretensions of progress.

The importance of Les Demoiselles D'Avignon is less that it marks the beginning of Cubism than that it marks the high point. The work after it slides downhill -first gradually, later quickly- away from representation towards formalism, the "meaning" of ideas, and the logic of intention.
...the three central figures address the observer with unsparing directness. Neither active nor passive, they are simply alerted, responding to an alerting attentiveness on our side.
5 lines later
The Picture is a tidal wave of female aggression, one either experiences the Demoiselles as an onslaught, or shuts it off.
It's less that all these terms are mutually exclusive than that Steinberg is still coming to terms with them.

The sharpest melon slice in the history of art.

In reference to recent posts: this painting is not self-consciously "avant-garde". It is not forward-looking but descriptive, less ideologically modernist than simply modern. When academics claim that modernity is a culture of "coining concepts" they're pinning their hopes on an intellectual relation to a common reality, equating one with the other. But concepts emerge at the end of a line as much or more than the beginning: they're result as much as cause. Modernism prizes invention over observation, and invention is referred to now as "creativity". The common model of the contemporary intellectual is Henry Ford when the more appropriate choice is Charles Dickens.

The best understanding of Les Demoiselles D'Avignon begins in the understanding that it is the work of a certain young man, a craftsman, in the year 1906, looking back to the 19th century, and 19th century craft, the only way he can. The painting is considered Picasso's greatest work, though the implications are ignored: he painted it before he became a "modernist".
Genius is observation not invention.
Atrios with a link to Krugman
It has been a decade of shame.

How many people died because of what this country did notionally in response to 9/11, cheered on not just be self-styled neocons but by the "liberals hawks" and the "decent left."

Happy 9/11 day assholes.
Over the past 10 years liberals have moved to the left and right as their fantasies collided with reality of a wider world. But it's all drift. A few years from now Duncan Black will speak openly, and often, about Palestine.

And in 50 years a group of earnest young American intellectuals will start a magazine and call it HAMAS

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New posts on Egypt Israel and the protests @ Arabist. Read the comments too.
Thugs against fascists. Warms the cockles of my heart.
Ursula Lindsey at Arabist
Zamalek and Al Ahly -- the two Cairo teams whose rivalry in Egypt is historic and identity-defining -- came together yesterday to take on the police (who seemingly decided to skip the date) after huge clashes a few days ago following a football match at the end of which the police reportedly shut off the lights and charged the stands. What drove them to it? Apparently, this chant by Ahlawy ultras:
The incredibly disciplined and terrifying hyped-up fans are chanting:

"He was always a loser, a jest/he barely got 50% on his high-school test/with a bribe the rich kid's a fool no more/got 100 diplomas hanging on his door/You crows nesting in our house/why are you ruining all our fun?
We won't do as you tell us/Spare us your face/Cook up your case/That's what the Interior does/I'm arrested and charged as a terrorist/Just for holding a flare and singing Ahly"

The chant is one long taunt of police officers, the "losers" who have to bribe their way through life and who fabricate charges against anyone they lay hands on.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

IDF General General Eyal Eisenberg: "This raises the likelihood of an all-out, total war, with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being used."


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Of all the categories or subsets of culture, Fine art is the most conservative. It's right there in the first word of the name. Conservatism doesn't make it better or worse as such, tout court. It defines the boundaries.

Related: Arguments from the necessity of utopianism are like arguments from the necessity of God.

The politics of theological argument is always conservative. A desire for worldly perfection resolves to the perfection of the desirer, and/or an object.

Two models of worldly perfection, technocratic genius and art objects, are united in the desires of the financier.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Darwish directed a series of PLO-funded films from the early 1970s. He was a pioneer—his shorts that dealt with the armed struggle, first in Jordan, then in Lebanon, were critical documents for any student of the period. More than that, each film text experimented with a particular element of cinematography. They may have all focused on the armed resistance, but the first one was really “about” framing, the second montage, the third sound, and so on. These films had long been forgotten save by old comrades and an enthusiastic group of recent devotees. When I found out that he’d studied at the Moscow Institute, I asked him about Sonallah and Malas, and he told me how they’d all been there together. I asked if he’d worked with Godard in Jordan, “Yes! How’d you guess? I was his production assistant. He was there for only a few months, but while he was here, he worked. He never rested. I’ve never seen that sort of ethic. After what happened, he didn’t know what to do for a couple years with all that footage.” Only later did someone tell me I had been asking the wrong questions.

Mustafa had returned, like so many others, when Oslo opened the door. In 2000 he found out that that door had shut behind him at some point. If he left, there would be no coming back to Palestine during his lifetime. He was working on a film at the moment, the script was ready, the schedule was ready, the budget was ready, the actors were cast. “But, you know, European producers are terrified to work with us. Sundance won’t work with Palestinians unless there are also Israelis involved. It’s so much easier for everybody to work with these lefty Israelis instead. The funny thing is, I read about all these lefty Israeli directors, they’re everywhere. Tel Aviv is filled with them. Jerusalem is filled with them. New York and London are filled with them. Every international film festival is filled with them. My question is this: Where are the right-wing Israeli filmmakers? You’d think that with all this lefty filmmaking, there wouldn’t be an occupation anymore.”
Frank Pasquale: Labor Day Links @ Balkinization
We’d been invited to the Franco-German cultural center to see a film by a leftist Israeli filmmaker. The advance notice had said that “this was perhaps the most important film on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ever made.” It was endorsed by a couple well-known intellectuals from abroad, and all its screenings at the Jerusalem Film Festival were sold out well in advance. I’d never seen his first film, which apparently was a autobiographical work that was “sort of interesting.”

...In short, the film was a total disaster. It was embarrassing. The plot made no sense, except as a primer of Freudian sentimentalism. Its use of symbol was both muddled and heavy-handed. The film’s most coherent and troubling gesture was that John needed Palestinians. He needed Palestinians to help him “work through” the psychological trauma of being a liberal guy who happened to have killed Palestinians. He needed Palestinians to sleep with. And then he needed them again to absolve him of his sins. We wondered why the director thought the film would make Palestinians “think.” When the lights went on, nervous laughter and hushed comments prevailed. There was a short cigarette break after which, the director announced that now the philosopher would speak.

...It was interesting to see this man gesticulate wildly, to see him sweat and speak through his accent. To see him go on about why critical thinking mattered so much in the circumstances here. He said that the more people claimed that it was time to simply “do something,” the more important critical thought became, because it was the only way we would get beyond reactive politics, towards something more strategic and creative. “And that’s the only way you, and I hesitate to say this because I have told you that I did not come here to patronize you by telling you what to do, will get out of your current crisis.”

He then told a story about how his young son had seen the wall and wondered why it had been built. While this was going on, however, we became conscious that something was going on in the room. Many people got up and left, those who stayed were becoming as fidgety as the speaker. The people behind were asking each other why he was insisting so much that he was not patronizing, “What did he mean by saying that, and saying it so often?”
The filmmaker was Udo Aloni.
From last year

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Repeat from April 2010
Update from Greenwald v Kerr
Commenter "Marfrks" @ #287
"Academics, though it sounds odd to say it, don’t take ideas seriously."
What an extraordinarily interesting debate. Thanks to everyone. It seems clear to this reader–who has nothing at stake–that Henry is refusing to see things, while Kerr is smoothly awful (the last line about natural law theory and legal positivism is so absurd that I thought at first it was a joke). I feel a cliched impulse to find something balancing to say about Greenwald, but no impression of him is as strong as those two impressions of the others. My own view of the divide may only reflect that it hits a fault line in my life: the difference between an academic and a non-academic approach to things. I have been a lawyer for many years, and then got a chance to teach at a non-lawyerly academic institution. I loved it; I loved playing in the garden of the mind. Eventually, however, it became clear to me that academics and non-academics have very different approaches to ideas. Academics, though it sounds odd to say it, don’t take ideas seriously. For academics, ideas are games, as Kerr illustrates when he speaks so proudly about how he follows reason wherever it takes him. He seems to find that admirable, whereas I–having now sat through many faculty meetings where the propriety of rules about faculty parking are argued from Platonic first principles–find it both tiresome and puerile. Ideas about the Constitution should not be treated as intellectual exercises only. It is a practical document, with clear principles relating to freedom and the protection of the powerless from the abuses of authority that every government in the history of the world has been tempted to engage in. If someone’s version of reason leads him or her to contemplate the weakening or contravention of those principles, that is not admirable or disciplined or honorable. It is misguided games-playing. It reminds me of all those right wingers who used to talk about the “courageous” decisions to bomb various countries that were made by “serious” people. Academics were playing war games and recommending intellectualized experiments with other people’s lives. That was allowed to happen in part because those people seemed so nice and smooth and academically intriguing. “Don’t be shrill,” we were told, when we pointed out that the war in Iraq was morally wrong. That was lousy advice for the country and for the world. I don’t enjoy being shrill myself, but I’m inclined to think that someone needs to be shrill when intellectuals play games with surveillance, imprisonment, torture and death.
I don't have to agree with his description of the clarity of Constitutional principle to agree with his understanding of the weight of engagement that's required where ideas meet the world.

The next comment
@Marfrks. Let me second seth and move that this thread might as well be closed because imho Marfrks has driven a stake through Henry and Kerr (sorry I can’t — although I deny that I did — mangle a metaphor for you).
My comment of course was removed.

addendum: Orin Kerr in 2007
I haven't studied the legal issues surrounding waterboarding closely enough to have an educated opinion about them.
Some would see this response as based on intellectual humility, but pedants aren't humble and they aren't serious, intellectually or morally. Kerr says he approaches issues as a legal positivist, but he's a practitioner of shallow formalism.
He's a Borgesian reactionary.

Farrell begins to understand, finally, @ #450 and then #463
Orin – as Belle suggests in the post I linked, one can create a hypothetical in which the sound utilitarian thing to do is to torture an innocent three year old to death. Does this tell us anything useful about whether it is right or wrong to torture three year olds to death? Are we merely negotiating over the circumstances under which torturing three year olds is OK and not OK, as per the Churchill quote?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

note taking, various. posted elsewhere. sloppy, on the fly, etc. nothing new.

This post takes us back to the relation of philosophy, the language of concepts, to narrative, and to and art itself, the language of description.
To philosophers narrative is parasitic, in a sense even that the theory of narrative is not. This blog is mostly an attempt to theorize the opposition into subservience, like the biographer tries to conquer his subject. Between Chaplin and Deleuze et al., Chaplin wins. Deleuze is the parasite.

"For Deleuze Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is, as he puts it, 'the first great film of a cinema of time' ”
All cinema is the cinema of time. Film is the greatest argument against modernism (as distinct from the modernity it describes so well).
JW: [Referring to Delacroix] Violence is only a theme in this kind of art; the art itself isn’t violent. That makes it very different from, even opposed to, the art of the avant-garde, which expresses aggression against the idea of art itself. This aggression is no longer viable. I don’t think its necessary or possible to go beyond the idea of bourgeois art -that is of autonomous art- towards a fusion of art and its context. Or if its possible it isn’t very desirable. We have learned how the aggression against autonomous art was consistent with aspects of totalitarianism, from the Stalinist period for example, and how state violence could benefit from that kind of aesthetic. The concept of art as autonomous, and therefore less amenable to that kind of instrumentalization, is a central concern of the modern, and I’m most sympathetic to that.
A-MB/RM: Modernity and avant-garde, to you, are two separate things?

JW: We can’t confuse them anymore.

"A Democratic, a Bourgeois Tradition of Art: a Conversation with Jeff Wall", in Selected Essays and Interviews
Mannerism describes the aristocratic sensibility in an age of incipient democracy. The baroque is the same model of (describes) conservatism in the age of a fully ascendant democracy: the age of theater.
History shows that In art as in democracy (as in all culture whether wise men approve or not) practice precedes theory.

I wish I'd done a better job in the comment above, but I doubt anyone here would get it even if I had.

You're engaged in the attempted reform of the language of concepts, an attempt made in response to larger cultural/historical shifts. The best term to describe your work and of Deleuze etc. in relation to "classical" Modernism is "Mannerism". As Wall reminds us, the arts begin in practice. Attempts to work from theory were catastrophic, for the arts as for society, yet you continue to argue from the primacy of concepts, even the concept of something other than modernism.

As much as you might like to pretend, concepts are not discoveries. Rationalism is not empiricism. Conceptualism is no more than reactionary late modernism. The politics of rationalism have proved monstrous.

"Modernity and avant-garde, to you, are two separate things?"
"We can’t confuse them anymore."

Your arguments continue in the manner of the conceptualizing, prescriptive, and failed, avant-garde.

That's a little more clear at least.

"The point, in other words, is precisely to criticize the classical understanding of concepts, which seems to be the understanding of concepts you presuppose."

And according to this, what replaces concepts? What forms of action and reflection and description are we left with?

"Philosophy is neither film making nor art, nor is it science."

I read all the time here and elsewhere that it's closer to science than to anything else. Concepts are objects almost in a material sense and the goal of philosophy is the development and direct use of objective knowledge. philosophy "invents concepts" and "makes futures possible." That's like saying that our greatest literature predicts the future. it hasn't, not even dystopia (yet).

Philosophy is a branch of literature that posits itself as superior to all other forms of art. The modernist model of philosophy as logic and of logicians as philosophers is the most extreme version of that superiority but that's gone nowhere. It clings to power with the same tenacity as neoclassical economics as a description of the world. It clings on in the arguments of Eric Schliesser, Alex Rosenberg and others. And if clings on in more general ways other ways. I'll give examples I've used before.

"Rationalism and empiricism are not the abstract categories that neatly house philosophers to the exclusion of one another."

Empiricism involves observation of the world, of materials and history.
If feminism were a branch of objective knowledge, than male and female feminists would be interchangeable. They aren't.
Every major change in the moral culture over the past century has been marked first not by concepts but people and actions. American blacks not intellectuals led the civil rights movement. Women not college professors led the feminist movement. Anti-colonialism was powered by the anger of the colonized, not the understanding of the enlightened. In packaging these things after the fact, in conceptualizing them, intellectuals pretend still to have mastered the process of change. They haven't The Palestinians right now are in the position other outsiders have been in the past: they are making themselves heard. Without their own voices there would be no change. The politics of "objective understanding" is void or worse. Intellectuals intellectualize after the fact, not before.

The difference between philosophy and art as practice (including Deleuze and Chaplin) is the difference between players in the the inquisitorial and adversarial systems of justice. A philosopher is like an investigating magistrate. The model is of intellectual superman, these days of the sort to claim to be able to "find the other in myself." The attempt to expand or rewrite the notion of concepts ends up in a fantasy of a sort of hypertrophied self. That's why I make fun of the language of the extended mind hypothesis as fitting for neoliberalism and neocolonialism. As an aside I'll add that if you google the "extended self" you'll get mostly discussions of marketing theory and branding.

Schliesser's model is different in the sense that his model is reduce philosophy to a something like a "linguistic chemistry", when even mediocre minds can push the great process along in small ways. The tensions between these two models, of superman and petty bureaucrat, make for interesting subtext but they don't resolve any of the problems of philosophy as a practice about or in the world.

Art as a model is open ended and descriptive. It's parasitic on language no more or less than the language of a trial lawyer paid to defend a client whether he believes in him or not (lawyers are like actors in that). Literature qua literature is a reflective description of the sensibility of the author in the form of a language shared by writer and audience. It is explicitly a document of its time, in a form that others in a different time and place may be able to recognize things in the form that they may not in the representation itself. To adapt a quote Wilson uses elsewhere the practice of art is to look at the spectacles we're wearing by aid of the spectacles themselves. The model is of intellectual as trial lawyer not as judge. That's a huge difference. Art functions is the explicit and honest description of and from bias. It's either anti-instrumentalist or ironically instrumentalist, as again the irony of the instrumentalism of a lawyer or an actor.

Anglo-American philosophers seem to prize sincerity, when its meaningless. The Other is other and the others judge you. No amount of self-aggrandizing can change that. Calling yourself a nice guy is meaningless. That's for others to decide. Descriptive literature as opposed to the conceptual subgenre acknowledges that separation between writer and reader. It's the same separation liberal legal scholars defend in regards to the Constitution. Conservatives collapse that separation, claiming that there's only one text. There have been many, and there will be more, just as there have been many Hegels. That's the nature of language. And as I say again and again, liberal philosophers track conservative legal scholars.

The other is other and others judge you. How do you engage others? That's a question for philosophy. It's interesting to learn that mathematicians cannot yet model all the actions of water, but I'm not clear why that should have mattered for philosophy, unless philosophers were under the delusion that philosophical language is capable of modeling the world outside of experience. People can't even agree on the meanings of words, so no, language is not like numbers in it's relation to the world.
"Doing these cases I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended."
Those sentences describe the core of our justice system. They're philosophically as profound as it gets. And yet philosophers seem unable to understand or accept their importance.
Naturalism presupposes only that "the world" is structured in logically consistent mechanisms (though few people are willing to follow that to the logical conclusions.) It says nothing about how we go about modeling those mechanisms.

"but doesn’t the Church-Turing thesis affirm successful characterization of rigor in mathematical reasoning?"

What is the relation of mathematical reasoning to lived experience? Can your description of the Arab Spring match that of an Egyptian? Can Steven Weinberg's description of Zionism [chapter 15] match that of a Palestinian? Weinberg claims to defend the scientific "spirit", but power corrupts. "Curiosity, honesty, precision, and rigor" But who watches the watchmen?

Naturalism must therefore model the world first as political and the model must be one of consultation at every level.
That's problematic but less so than "scientific" authoritarianism.

"and this was actually the subject of Catarina's post from earlier today on system imprisonment. The problem in this case is that formalist systems may generate problems that are only significant relative to the formal system itself and not to the real systems being described and modeled."

The central error of Modernism was an assumed (utopian) relation of formalism to representation. The necessity of interpretation implies the plural: interpretations and the multiplicity of "perspectives". The logical consequence of accepting the indeterminacy of translation would seem to be an opening out to a worldly curiosity and an increasing democratization of discourse: a reciprocal, civil, social, "political" world. You're pulling yourselves towards an understanding of this.

"A better approach for naturalists might be to engage with the arguments of scientifically spirited theists,"
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work.”
Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes quoted by Lewontin in the NYRB, Billions and Billions of Demons
Sagan and I drew different conclusions from our experience. For me the confrontation between creationism and the science of evolution was an example of historical, regional, and class differences in culture that could only be understood in the context of American social history. For Carl it was a struggle between ignorance and knowledge, although it is not clear to me what he made of the unimpeachable scientific credentials of our opponent, except perhaps to see him as an example of the Devil quoting scripture.
Lewontin is a naturalist.
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Haaretz: "Polish-Jewish sociologist compares West Bank separation fence to Warsaw Ghetto walls."