Saturday, December 31, 2016

"That's like saying no one will judge our Khmer Rouge policy kindly. What choices did we have?"
Major Crispin Burke

I'm not sure what else there is to say.

Friday, December 30, 2016

argumente ab homine

 pretty poison
The 2016 elections gave thoughtful Americans plenty of reasons to despair about the state of our democracy. The looming Donald Trump presidency has forced us to confront ugly truths about racism, misogyny and economic inequality. But according to a new paper published in the prestigious academic journal “Philosophy & Public Affairs,” there is at least one more heretofore undetected poison floating in the cocktail that is our politics. If the philosophers behind the paper are right, this problem is amplifying every other malady afflicting American culture.

They call it “moral grandstanding.”

“Moral grandstanding is the use of moral talk for self-promotion,” says Justin Tosi, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Michigan’s philosophy department. “It’s people using moral conversation, making moral claims, to present an impressive image of themselves to others.”
"prestigious academic journal"

Moral Grandstanding [™®© etc.]
Our basic contention is that one grandstands when one makes a contribution to public moral discourse that aims to convince others that one is “morally respectable.” By this we mean that grandstanding is a use of moral talk that attempts to get others to make certain desired judgments about oneself, namely, that one is worthy of respect or admiration because one has some particular moral quality—for example, an impressive commitment to justice, a highly tuned moral sensibility, or unparalleled powers of empathy. To grandstand is to turn one's contribution to public discourse into a vanity project.
"To grandstand is to turn one's contribution to public discourse into a vanity project."

I will resist naming the professional philosophers who should read this.

The philosophical divisions between written and spoken, between propositional and expressive, and then the discovery[!] of subtext, of the possibility of pomposity, the existence of narcissism.

Pretentious, Moi?

"Our attitudes to artworks are much more unpredictable and surprising than a lot of social theories allow for."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Problem of Whiteness, 2003,  2015 and 2016

University stands by 'Problem of Whiteness' course
...Wisconsin Rep. Dave Murphy, who is also the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, has asked the university to cancel the course, saying it prompts racial division.

"I am extremely concerned that UW-Madison finds it appropriate to teach a course called, 'The Problem of Whiteness,' with the premise that white people are racist," Murphy said in a statement this week. He even threatened to pull funding for the state university.

The course, taught by Professor Damon Sajnani, is part of the African Cultural Studies program at the university's College of Letters and Science.
"Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white? If you're like most people, the answer is probably 'no.' But here is your chance!," reads the course description
"In this class, we will ask what an ethical white identity entails, what it means to be #woke, and consider the journal Race Traitor's motto, 'treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.'" 
The course description says it includes readings from W.E.B. Du Bois, Ta-Nehisi Coates and the professor's own article analyzing Rachel Dolezal
Murphy said the university must discontinue the class.
 from the course description
Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy. Our class will break away from the standard US-centric frame, and consider how whiteness is constructed globally, with particular attention to paradigmatic cases like South Africa. Whereas disciplines such as Latino/a, African, and Asian American studies focus on race as experienced by non-whites, whiteness studies considers how race is experienced by white people. It explores how they consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism and how this not only devastates communities of color but also perpetuates the oppression of most white folks along the lines of class and gender. In this class, we will ask what an ethical white identity entails, what it means to be #woke, and consider the journal Race Traitor’s motto, “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”
"Rachel/Racial Theory: Reverse Passing in the Curious Case of Rachel Dolezal"
There is no question that Rachel has appropriated Black culture. We may agree in the end that she has done so unethically. But before reaching this conclusion we need to recognize what is different about her case. After all, not all appropriation is qualitatively equal,[v] and she most definitely is not your run-of-the-mill case. Hill stretches the credible boundaries of the term “a little while” when suggesting she was “trying on” a Black identity. We don’t condemn white appropriation of Black culture because whites are unwelcome to participate. Rather, we condemn it because the history of cultural appropriation by whites is part and parcel of racial domination in which whites exploit Black culture, reap its rewards, and take those rewards back to the socio-economic white world. But, Dolezal was not taking it back to the white world. As in the historical instances of passing where Blacks assimilated into the white world permanently, Dolezal appears to have necessarily estranged herself from her white family. She appears to have been living her life as a Black person, living and working within the Black community, and there is no reason to believe she had any intention of reverting. This cultural appropriation is qualitatively distinct from all the instances we know so well, from Minstrelsy to Presley and beyond. In other words, Dolezal is more Anatole Broyard than Elvis Presley.
The pedantry is fucked and the attacks on Presley are absurd; the academic priesthood attacking the vulgar.
repeats: Reed,  From Jenner to Dolezal 

The author links to Reed's piece in a footnote...
In a longer article I intend to address the transgender verses transracial comparison. In the interim, I refer the reader to the following two excellent essays on the topic which are both in line with my thinking: Kai M. Green’s “'Race and gender are not the same!' is not a Good Response to the 'Transracial'/Transgender Question” and Adolph Reed Jr.’s “From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much.”
but neither article are in line with the author's views, and they contradict one another.

puerile cultural studies prattle about "cultural appropriation"

Monday, December 26, 2016

How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art
Serge Guilbaut
"A provocative interpretation of the political and cultural history of the early cold war years. . . . By insisting that art, even art of the avant-garde, is part of the general culture, not autonomous or above it, he forces us to think differently not only about art and art history but about society itself."—New York Times Book Review
The Philosophy Scare: The Politics Of Reason In The Early Cold War
John McCumber

From the rise of formalist novels that championed the heroism of the individual to the proliferation of abstract art as a counter to socialist realism, the years of the Cold War had a profound impact on American intellectual life. As John McCumber shows in this fascinating account, philosophy, too, was hit hard by the Red Scare. Detailing the immense political pressures that reshaped philosophy departments in midcentury America, he shows just how radically politics can alter the course of intellectual history.

McCumber begins with the story of Max Otto, whose appointment to the UCLA Philosophy Department in 1947 was met with widespread protest charging him as an atheist. Drawing on Otto’s case, McCumber details the hugely successful conservative efforts that, by 1960, had all but banished the existentialist and pragmatist paradigms—not to mention Marxism—from philosophy departments all across the country, replacing them with an approach that valorized scientific objectivity and free markets and which downplayed the anti-theistic implications of modern thought. As he shows, while there have since been many instances of definitive and even explosive rejection of this conservative trend, its effects can still be seen at American universities today.
A search inside the new one at google books; regardless of the blurb's reference to formalist novels and abstract art I found none. The blurb writer just assumed they'd be there. Change is slow. Too fucking slow.

Friday, December 23, 2016

a repeat from a little over a year ago.
Another reason to hate political "science".
One way to understand this is as a manifestation of what political scientists call the expressive, as opposed to the instrumental, theory of voting. If voting is instrumental then it’s presumed that voters are primarily motivated by the results they hope to achieve: leaders and parties who can deliver real benefits. If it’s expressive then voters are more interested in signalling who they are and what they value. The case for expressive voting is partly driven by the thought that instrumental voting is a waste of time, since in any significant election no one’s vote ever decides the outcome (if your candidate wins or loses it is always by more than one vote, making your contribution incidental). But it also seems to chime with the world of social media and online communication, where self-expression rules and echo chambers proliferate.
Are social movements expressive, or instrumental?
See also "propositional" and "high-value" speech.

Objectivity is neutrality and passivity; you can only refuse to participate when participation is an option. Refusal plays a role in the outcome of events: it is still participation.
Do we all have a right to cross borders?
...But I think these philosophical arguments against a right to move are ultimately unconvincing. They fail to give sufficient weight to the essential interest that all of us have in being able to live, love, study, work and settle without being restricted by the coercive and often violent imposition of borders. In the context of massive inequality, the current border regime is even more unjustified, akin to the arbitrary and anti-human character of a global caste system.
Do we have the right to keep the jobs we were trained for?
The economics of open borders
On the first question, I’ll offer a bold Maybe. Kennan’s core assumption is that immigrant workers with a given level of education and (I think) experience will have the same productivity as already resident workers. So a move from a low productivity country to a high productivity country produces a big increase in their effective labor capacity. That benefits those workers, but also produces a shift in global income from labor to capital since the supply of labor has increased.
"with a given level of education and (I think) experience will have the same productivity as already resident workers."
Given the opportunity, immigrants will outpace them.
Nobel economist Angus Deaton on a year of political earthquakes
Over trout in Princeton, the laureate says he’s glad the Clinton era is over and it isn’t only Trump voters who feel ‘excluded’.

...Deaton is gracious about my bind and offers some advice. It helps that he looks like he has been plucked from central casting for emeritus professors: requisite tweed jacket, jumper and wire-rimmed glasses; white hair just unkempt enough to give a flicker of Ivy League eccentricity. He is also wearing a blue bow tie with vivid red stars that once belonged to one of his mentors, the late Richard Stone, fellow Nobel Prizewinner and the godfather of British national accounts.

Mistral is bright and airy despite the rain outside, and filled with music, cheer and the clanging of cutlery and plates. The noise forces us — two slightly rumpled large men — to lean across the small table to hear each other. I can’t help thinking that we are also, in the parlance of 2016, two “metropolitan elites”, sipping a smooth Oregon pinot noir and pondering death, pain and Donald Trump.
I can’t help thinking he's right.
Regional Policy and Distributional Policy in a World Where People Want to Ignore the Value and Contribution of Knowledge -and Network- Based Increasing Returns
All of this "what you deserve" language is tied up with some vague idea that you deserve what you contribute--that what your work adds to the pool of society's resources is what you deserve. 
This illusion is punctured by any recognition that there is a large societal dividend to be distributed, and that the government can distribute it by supplementing (inadequate) market wages determined by your (low) societal marginal product, or by explicitly providing income support or services unconnected with work via social insurance.
Instead, the government is supposed to, somehow, via clever redistribution, rearrange the pattern of market power in the economy so that the increasing-returns knowledge- and network-based societal dividend is predistributed in a relatively egalitarian way so that everybody can pretend that their income is just "to each according to his work", and that they are not heirs and heiresses coupon clipping off of the societal capital of our predecessors' accumulated knowledge and networks.

On top of this we add: Polanyian disruption of patterns of life--local communities, income levels, industrial specialization--that you believed you had a right to obtain or maintain, and a right to believe that you deserve. But in a market capitalist society, nobody has a right to the preservation of their local communities, to their income levels, or to an occupation in their industrial specialization. In a market capitalist society, those survive only if they pass a market profitability test. And so the only rights that matter are those property rights that at the moment carry with them market power--the combination of the (almost inevitably low) marginal societal products of your skills and the resources you own, plus the (sometimes high) market power that those resources grant to you.
...Now I think it is an open question whether it is harder to do the job via predistribution, or to do the job via changing human perceptions to get everybody to understand that:
  • no, none of us is worth what we are paid.
  • we are all living, to various extents, off of the dividends from our societal capital
  • those of us who are doing especially well are those of us who have managed to luck into situations in which we have market power--in which the resources we control are (a) scarce, (b) hard to replicate quickly, and (c) help produce things that rich people have a serious jones for right now.
  • "Speaking as a card-carrying neoliberal and as a proud member of the Rubinite wing of the Democratic Party,..."
  • "a welcome and tasty and affordable simulacrum of the tomato-eating experience."
new tags for DeatonDeLong,  QuigginNoah Smith, also Dani Rodrik. It's easier than linking and relinking to earlier posts, and I'm not going to make a tag for economics.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

 Leiter, "The Case Against Free Speech",  again
This long-gestating paper has finally appeared in the Sydney Law Review (it was the 2013 Julius Stone Address in Jurisprudence at Sydney), and can be downloaded here for those who are interested. This year's electoral catastrophe just underlines the crucial Millian point, namely, that well-being in America will remain in danger as long as Breitbart, Drudge, Fox and the other fact-free media are allowed to operate freely.
The fish rots from the head; Weimarization seeps down from above; philosophy is authoritarian by definition; "the melancholy superiority of a schoolmaster of a school for wayward youth." etc., etc.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Because people are saying it's going to win a Pulitzer.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

This is not a pseudo-epic of redemption or revenge, with boxers and gangsters and their churchgoing moms and wives. It’s a masculine melodrama that doubles as a fable of social catastrophe. Lee, Joe and their friends would never define themselves as privileged. They have proletarian tastes and sensibilities. But they also have paid-up houses and boats, kids on track for college, decent medical care and an ironclad entitlement to the benefit of the doubt. (Observe what happens to Lee in the Manchester police station and you’ll see what I mean.) Their main problems come from women, who spoil the parties, don’t get the jokes and sometimes can’t control their drinking or keep their pants on. Some are good moms or good sports, and anyway, a man can always steal away to the boat or the basement with the guys and some beers.

Cast out of this working man’s paradise, Lee is also exiled from the prerogatives of whiteness. He lives in a basement room, earning minimum wage, answering to an African-American boss and accepting a tip from a black tenant whose toilet he has cleaned and repaired. He doesn’t complain, but it is also clear that he has chosen these conditions as a form of self-abasement, as punishment for his sins.

Maybe its sounds like I’m over-reading, or making an accusation. But to deny that “Manchester by the Sea” has a racial dimension is to underestimate its honesty and overlook its difficult relevance. Lee is guilty and angry, half-convinced that what happened was not his fault and half-certain that it was, unable to apologize or to accept apologies, paralyzed by grief and stung by a sense of grievance. He’s broken, and he’s also smart enough to realize — and Mr. Lonergan is wise and generous enough to allow him to understand — that nothing will make him whole again.
In his approach to work, Seb is a proud purist, perpetually oppressed and affronted by the prospect of compromise. To pay the rent, he is obliged to take what he regards as demeaning gigs: tickling out Christmas carols and show tunes at a restaurant (the manager is J. K. Simmons, the fearsome Oscar-winner from “Whiplash”); doing ’80s pop hits with a knowingly cheesy cover band; touring with a combo fronted by an old friend who has made it big.

That friend, Keith, is played by the real-life R&B star John Legend, whose affable participation presents an interesting challenge to Seb’s dogmatic traditionalism. It seems doubtful that Mr. Legend would have shown up to perform music that he thought was bad, and Keith’s unapologetic commercialism is less a strawman for Seb’s high-mindedness than a plausible counterargument. The difference between selling out and breaking through is not always clear, and “La La Land” is not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise.

This is especially true in Mia’s case. She works as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros.’ lot, dashing off to audition for small roles in dubious films and television shows. But, of course, the line between art and junk is also blurry, partly because to qualify for the junk you must be absolutely dedicated to your art. Which Mia is, in a way that magnifies Ms. Stone’s extraordinary discipline, poise and naturalness.

The real tension in “La La Land” is between ambition and love, and perhaps the most up-to-date thing about it is the way it explores that ancient conflict. A cynical but not inaccurate way to put this would be to describe it as a careerist movie about careerism. But that would be to slight Mr. Chazelle’s real and uncomfortable insight, which is that the drive for professional success is, for young people at the present time, both more realistic and more romantic than the pursuit of boy-meets-girl happily-ever-after. Love is contingent. Art is commitment.
Other than some fanciful nonsense that dribbles out of Bobby Kennedy (Mr. Sarsgaard), the film mostly avoids presidential politics and policies, as well as the grim scandals, sex parties and popped pills. Instead, it explores the fantasy that becomes that scandalous house’s own double: Camelot, as Mrs. Kennedy christened it. The idea of the Kennedy years as Camelot became an enduring trope and, for some, a maddening lie. In a 2011 essay in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens took a whack at Jacqueline Kennedy, arguing that her “winsome innocence,” as he put it, was “a soft cover for a specific sort of knowingness and calculation.” This knowingness seemed to repulse him; it galvanizes “Jackie.”

The film takes Jackie’s cunning and dissimulations as much for granted as it does her elegance and love of couture. Put differently, it takes her personhood for granted, which may be why Mr. Larraín shows all the snot, tears and blood, all the desperate bodily mess. In “Jackie,” Kennedy’s body — the object of obsessive inquiries — is replaced by hers in a kind of symbolic transfiguration as she assumes the role of his dignified representative, the guardian of a shining legacy. The assassination was a national and personal tragedy, one which she answered with a myth which was an act of radical will and sovereignty. She married John F. Kennedy; she also helped invent him.
Peluchonneau is a tragically constricted soul, but not an entirely unsympathetic character. Neruda is a heroic figure — comic and Dionysian, brilliant and naughty — but his personal Javert is in some ways the film’s protagonist. Neruda is annoyed and sometimes amused by the detective’s doggedness, but Peluchonneau is haunted by the poet’s mystique, and by a growing sense of his own incompleteness. A curious symbiosis develops between them, a dynamic more complex and strange than the simple conflict of good and evil.

Mr. Larraín is a master of moral ambiguity. His previous films about Chile — “Tony Manero,” “No” (which also starred Mr. Bernal) and “The Club” — are interested in collaboration as well as resistance, in the inner lives of the corrupt as well as the actions of the virtuous. Those movies, in particular “Tony Manero,” set during the military dictatorship in the 1970s, and “The Club,” about a group of disgraced priests, are studies in claustrophobia, with cloudy cinematography and grubby behavior.

“Neruda” has a looser story, richer colors and a more buoyant spirit. It is less abrasive than Mr. Larraín’s Chilean trilogy, and less intensely focused than “Jackie,” his new English-language film about Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. But like that unorthodox foray into history, this one approaches political issues from an oblique angle, looking for the idiosyncrasies and ironies that humanize the pursuit of ideals and the exercise of power.

The period details cast a romantic glow over Neruda’s flight, which feels more swashbuckling than desperate. But the film casts a shadow forward in time, into the darkness of Chile’s later, bloodier period of military rule, and beyond that into the political uncertainties of the present, in Latin America and elsewhere. Mr. Larraín invites us to believe that history is on the side of the poets and the humanists, and that art will make fools of politicians and policemen. But he is also aware, as Pablo Neruda was, that history sometimes has other plans.
Playwrights are scriptwriters more now than in the past. The author of the autobiographical story that became the basis for Moonlight is the new head of playwrighting at Yale. He'd already won a MacArthur. The man behind Penny Dreadful is the author of Red.  I google one of the scriptwriters of Gotham on a hunch.

NY Times, November, 2010
Craig Wright, who has written and produced for shows like “Six Feet Under,” “Lost” and “Brothers and Sisters,” said working in television has made him a better playwright. His new comic drama “Mistakes Were Made,” now at the Barrow Street Theater, is a taut work in which Michael Shannon plays an opportunistic Broadway producer, loosely based on the multiple Tony-winner Kevin McCollum. That it’s a sympathetic portrait of the usually demonized producer, Mr. Wright says, is partly because of his work in Hollywood. “One of the things you experience creating television,” he said, “is that there’s this fake vanity sometimes on the part of the writers who still labor under this old idea that the writers are Artists with a capital A, and the producers and studio executives are businessmen who just want to make a buck.”
This extends from the UK model. Joe Orton's first play began as a radio play. Mike Leigh started in theater and then made television plays. I've said before that the UK did television better than film; that TV was visually uninteresting because of the format; film is pictorial, and English is a literary culture. Widescreen changes things but not that much; long form TV is still visual prose. Film now sometimes risks becoming pictorial formalism

Thursday, December 15, 2016

FACT (Black's Law Dictionary)
The terms “fact” and “truth” are often used in common parlance as synonymous, but as employed in reference to pleading, they are widely different. A fact in pleading is a circumstance, act, event, or incident; a truth Is the legal principle which declares or governs the facts and their operative effect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

continuing the previous post.

Kazin again.

And again it's not that he's brilliant but that his writing fits a model opposed to the academy, and what it's become. Repeats of repeats.

Bureaucrats thought of literature as parasitic and now that they champion it they become parasites themselves, as biographers live off on their subjects. Philosophers always see themselves as proscribing or granting permission.

Kazin: The Language of Pundits
It is curious that Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, remains the only first-class writer identified with the psychoanalytic movement. It was, of course, Freud's remarkable literary ability that gave currency to his once difficult and even "bestial" ideas; it was the insight he showed into concrete human problems, the discoveries whose force is revealed to us in a language supple, dramatic, and charged with the excitement of Freud's mission as a "conquistador" into realms hitherto closed to scientific inquiry, that excited and persuaded so many readers of his books. Even the reader who does not accept all of Freud's reasoning is aware, as he reads his interpretation of dreams, of the horror associated with incest, of the Egyptian origins of Moses, that this is a writer who is bent on making the most mysterious and unmentionable matters entirely clear to him-self, and that this fundamental concern to get at the truth makes dramatis personae out of his symbols and dramatic episodes out of the archetypal human struggles he has described. It is certainly possible to read Freud, even to enjoy his books, without being convinced by him, but anyone sensitive to the nuances and playfulness of literary style, to the shaping power of a great intellectual conception, is not likely to miss in Freud the peculiar urgency of the great writer; for myself, I can never read him without carrying away a deeply engraved, an unforgettable sense of the force of human desire.

By contrast, many of the analysts who turn to writing seem to me not so much writers as people clutching at a few ideas. Whenever I immerse myself, very briefly, in the magisterial clumsiness of Dr. Gregory Zilboorg, or the slovenly looseness of Dr. Theodore Reik,or the tensely inarticulate essays of Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan, or the purringly complacent formulas of Dr. Edmund Bergler, or even the smoothly professional pages of Dr. Erich Fromm, I have a mental picture of a man leaping up from his chair, crying with exultation, "I have it! The reason for frigidity in the middle-aged female is the claustrophobic constitution!," and straightway rushing to his publisher. Where Freud really tried to give an explanation to himself of one specific human difiiculty after another, and then in his old-fashioned way tried to show the determination of one new fact by another, it is enough these days for Dr. Bergler to assert why all writers are blocked, or for Dr. Theodore Reik, in his long-winded and inconsequential trek into love and lust, to announce that male and female are so different as to be virtually of different species. The vital difference between a writer and someone who merely is published is that the writer seems always to be saying to himself, as Stendhal actually did, "If I am not clear, the world around me collapses." In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a curious anticlimax.

Of course, there are psychoanalyst-writers who aim at understanding for themselves, but don't succeed. Even in Freud's immediate circle, several of the original disciples, having obtained their system from the master, devoted themselves to specialties and obsessions that, even if they were more than private idees fixes, like Otto Rank's belief in the "birth-trauma," were simply not given the hard and lucid expression necessary to convince the world of their objectivity. Lacking Freud's striking combination of intellectual zeal and common sense, his balanced and often rueful sense of the total image presented by the human person, these disciples wrote as if they could draw upon Freud's system while expanding one or two favorite notions out of keeping with the rest. But so strongly is Freud's general conception the product of his literary ability, so much is it held together only in Freud's own books, by the force of his own mind, that it is extraordinary how, apart from Freud, Freudianism loses its general interest and often becomes merely an excuse for wild-goose chases.

Obviously these private concerns were far more important to certain people in Freud's own circle than was the validity of Freudianism itself. When it came to a conflict between Freudianism and their own causes (Otto Rank) or their desire to be uninhibited in mystical indefiniteness (C. G. Jung), the body of ideas which they had inherited, not earned, no longer existed for them. Quite apart from his personal disposition to remain in control of the movement which he had founded, Freud was objectively right in warning disciples like Ferenczi, Rank, Adler, and Stekel not to break away from his authority. For the analyst's interest in psychoanalysis is likely to have its origin in some personal anxiety, and some particularly unstable people (of whom there were several in Freud's circle), lacking Freud's unusual ability not only to work through his own neuroses but to sublimate everything into the grand creative exultation of founding a movement, committed themselves fruitlessly to the development of their unsystematic ideas, found it impossible to heal themselves by the ad hoc doctrines they had advanced for this purpose, and even relapsed into serious mental illness and suicide.

Until fairly recently, it was perfectly possible for anyone with a Ph.D. (in literature or Zen or philology) to be a "psychotherapist"in New York State. I have known several such therapists among the intellectuals of New York, and I distinguish them very sharply from the many skillful and devoted lay analysts, with a direct training in psychoanalysis, who are likely to have an objective concern with the malady of their patients. The intellectuals with Ph.D.'s who transferred from other professions to the practice of psychoanalysis still seem to me an extreme and sinister example of the tendency of psychoanalysis to throw up the pundit as a type. Like modern intellectuals everywhere, intellectuals as self-made analysts are likely to have one or two ruling ideas which bear obvious relation to their private history, but which, unlike intellectuals generally, they have been able to impose upon people who came to them desperately eager for orientation in their difficulties. In short, the ruling weakness of intellectuals, which is to flit from idea to idea in the hope of finding some instrument of personal or world salvation, has often become a method of indoctrination. All the great figures in psychoanalysis have been egotists of the most extreme sort; all the creative ones, from Freud himself to the late unfortunate Dr. Wilhelm Reich, were openly exasperated with the necessity of having to deal with patients at all. They were interested only in high thinking, though Freud at least tempered his impatience enough to learn from his patients; the objective power, the need to examine symptoms in others, never left him.

By contrast, the intellectual who is looking for an audience or a disciple has often, as a psychotherapist, found one in his patient. And the obvious danger of exploiting the credulous, the submissive, the troubled (as someone said, it is the analyst's love that cures the patient, and certain intellectuals love no one so much as a good listener), which starts from a doctrine held by the analyst in good faith but which may be no less narrow-minded or fanatical for all that, seems to me only an extension of the passion for explaining everything by psychoanalysis which literary intellectuals have indulged in so long. When I think of some of the intellectuals who have offered their services as therapists, I cannot but believe that to them the patient is irrelevant to their own passion for intellectual indoctrination. My proof of this is the way they write. Ever since Freud gave the word to so many people less talented than himself, it has become increasingly clear that, whatever psychoanalysis may have done for many troubled people, it has encouraged nonwriters to become bad writers and mediocre writers to affect the style of pundits. For the root of all bad writing is to be distracted, to be self-conscious, not to have your eye on the ball, not to confront a subject with entire directness, with entire humility, and with concentrated passion. The root of all bad writing is to compose what you have not worked out, de haut en has, for yourself. Unless words come into the writer's mind as fresh coinages for what the writer himself knows that he knows, knows to be true, it is impossible for him to give back in words that direct quality of experience which is the essence of literature.

Now, behind the immense power and authority of psychoanalytical doctrines over contemporary literature — which expresses itself in the motivation of characters, the images of poetry, the symbol hunting of critics, the immense congregation of psychiatric situations and of psychiatrists in contemporary plays and novels — lies the urgent conviction, born with modern literature in the romantic period, the seedbed of Freudian ideas, that literature can give us knowledge. The Romantic poets believed in the supremacy of imagination over logic exactly as we now believe that the unconscious has stories to tell which ordinary consciousness knows nothing of. And just as the analyst looks to free association on the part of the patient to reveal conflicts buried too deep in the psyche to be revealed to the ordi- narily conscious mind, so the Romantic poets believed that what has been buried in us, far from the prying disapprovals of culture, stands for "nature," our true human nature. A new world had been re- vealed to the Romantics, a world accessible through the imagination that creates art. And Freud, who also felt that he had come upon a new world, said that his insights had been anticipated by literary men in particular; he felt that he had confirmed, as scientific doctrine, profound discoveries about our buried, our archetypal, our passionate human nature that philosophers and poets had made as artists.

Had made as artists. Nietzsche, who also anticipated many of Freud's psychological insights, said that Dostoevsky was the only psychologist who had ever taught him anything. No doubt he meant that the characters Dostoevsky had created, the freshness of Dostoevsky's perceptions, the powerful but ironic rationality of Dostoevsky's style had created new facts for him to think of in comparison with the stale medical formulas of psychiatry in his time. Similarly, Freud said of Dostoevsky that "before genius, analysis lays down its arms," indicating that with the shaping power of the artist who can create characters like old Karamazov and Prince Myshkin, with the genius that in its gift of creation actually parallels life instead of merely commenting on it, analysis cannot compete. And in point of fact we do learn more about the human heart from a stupendous creation like the Karamazov family than we ever do from all the formulary "motivations" of human nature. Just as each human being, in his uniqueness, escapes all the dry formulas and explanations about human nature, so a great new creation in imaginative literature, a direct vision of the eternal like William Blake's or an unprecedented and unassimilable human being like old Karamazov, automatically upsets and rearranges our hardened conceptions of human nature.

There is no substitute for life, for the direct impression of life; there is no deep truth about life, such as writers bring home to us, that does not come in the form of more life. To anyone who really knows how rare and precious imaginative creation is — how small, after all, is that procession which includes Dante's Paolo and Francesca, Shakespeare's Othello, and Tolstoy's Natasha — how infinitely real in suggestion is the character that has been created in and through imagination, there is something finally unbearable, the very opposite of what literature is for, in the kind of metallic writing which now so often serves in a novel to "motivate" a character.

Maybe the only tenable literary role which novelists and poets, as well as critics and psychologists, now want to play is that of the expert — the explainer, the commentator, the analyst. Just as so many psychoanalysts want to be writers, so many writers now want to be analysts. And whenever I rise up at intervals from my dutiful immersion in certain specimens of contemporary literature, I find it hard to say who has less to contribute to literature, the psychiatrist who wants to push a few small ideas into a book or the novelist who in the course of a story breaks down into writing like a psychoanalyst.

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The deterioration of language in contemporary fiction into the language of pundits is not often noticed by critics — perhaps because the novelists have taken to writing like critics. But it is by no means the highbrow or intellectual novelist — like Mary Mc- Carthy, who in a single story for Partisan Review is likely to produce so many deliberate symbols — who is the only offender against art. John O'Hara in From the Terrace wrote, of the mother of his hero, that "What had happened to her was that she unconsciously aban doned the public virginity and, again unconsciously, began to function as a woman." Of the Eaton brothers, O'Hara made it clear that "If William slapped Alfred or otherwise punished him, the difference in ages was always mentioned while William himself was being punished; and each time that that occurred the age separation con- tributed to a strengthening of the separation that was already there because of, among other considerations, the two distinct personalities." This is a novelist? Frankly, I have the impression that many of the younger novelists have learned to write fiction from reading the New Critics, the anthropologists and psychologists. I cannot begin to enumerate all the novels of recent years, from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man to Vance Bourjaily's recent Confessions of a Spent Youth, which describe American social customs, from college up, as fulfilling the prescription of tribal rites laid down by the anthropologists. But whereas an angry and powerful novelist, as Ellison is in Invisible Man, whatever helpful hints he may get from psychiatrically oriented literary critics, will aim at the strongest pos-sible image of Negro suffering and confusion in a hostile society, Vance Bourjaily, in his recent novel, has his hero preface his description of a business smoker by apologizing that "it would take the calm mind of an anthropologist to describe objectively the rites with which the advertising tribe sent its bachelor to meet his bride."

I don't know what repels me more in such writing, the low spirits behind such prosiness or the attempted irony that is meant to disguise the fact that the writer is simply not facing his subject directly but is looking for something to say about it. No wonder that a pas- sage like this sounds not like fiction but a case history: "I had a good time with Vicky during those two or three months; at the same time, I was learning about the social structure of the town and that of the school which, with certain exceptions for unusual individuals, reflected it; Vicky was more or less middle middle. As a friend of hers, since my own status was ambiguous, it seemed to me that I must acquire hers by association." And Mr. Bourjaily's book is a case history, though so meanderingly self-absorbed, for the most part, that it comes splendidly alive when the hero describes a visit to his relatives in the Near East; for a few pages we are onto people whom Mr. Bourjaily has to describe for us, since they are new types, and then we get free of the motivational analysis that is the novelist's desperate response to people who he thinks are too familiar to be conveyed directly. This is a curious idea of a novel — as if it were the subject, rather than the point of view, which made it boring. The true writer starts from autobiography, but he does not end there; and it is not himself he is interested in, but the use he can make of self as a literary creation. Of course, it is not the autobio- graphical subject that makes such books as Mr. Bourjaily's flat; it is the relatively shallow level from which the author regards his own experience. The mark of this is that the writer does not even bother to turn his hero into a character; he is just a focus for the usual "ironic" psychological comment. If the writer nowadays sees himself as a pundit, he sees his hero as a patient. What, in fact, one sees in many contemporary American novelists today is the author as analyst confronting his alter ego as analysand. The novel, in short, becomes simply an instrument of self-analysis, which may be privately good for the writer (I doubt it) but is certainly boring to his readers.

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The deterioration of language in contemporary "imaginative" literature — this reduction of experience to flat, vaguely orphic loose statements — seems to me most serious whenever, in our psychiatri- cally centered culture, spontaneity becomes an arbitrary gesture which people can simulate. Among the Beat writers, spontaneity be- comes a necessary convention of mental health, a way of simulating vitality, directness, rough informality, when in fact the literary works produced for this pose have no vitality, are not about anything very significant, and are about as rough as men ever are using dirty words when they cut themselves shaving. The critic Harold Rosenberg once referred scathingly to the "herd of independent minds"; when I read the Beat and spontaneous poets en bloc, as I have just done in Donald Allen's anthology of the "new" American poetry, I feel that I am watching a bunch of lonely Pagliaccis making themselves up to look gay. To be spontaneous on purpose, spontaneous all the time, spontaneous on demand is bad enough; you are obeying not yourself but some psychiatric commandment. But to convert this artificial, constant, unreal spontaneity into poetry as a way of avoiding the risks and obligations of an objective literary work is first to make a howling clown out of yourself and then deliberately to cry up your bad literature as the only good literature.

The idea of the Beat poets is to write so quickly that they will not have to stand up for the poem itself; it is enough to be caught in the act of writing. The emphasis is not on the poem but on themselves being glimpsed in the act of creation. In short, they are func- tioning, they are getting out of the prison house of neurosis, they are positive and free. "Look, Ma, no hands!" More than this, they are shown in the act of writing poems which describe them in the act of living, just about to write poems. "Morning again, nothing has to he done/ maybe buy a piano or make fudge/ At least clean the room up, for sure like my farther / I've done flick the ashes & buts over the bedside on the floor." This is Peter Orlovsky, "Second Poem."

Elsewhere, the hysterical demand for spontaneity as an absolute value means that everything in the normal social world becomes an enemy of your freedom. You want to destroy it so as to find an image of the ecstasy that has become the only image of reality the isolated mind will settle for. It is a wish for the apocalypse that lies behind the continued self-righteous muttering that the world is about to blow up. The world is not about to blow up, but behind the extreme literary pose that everything exists to stifle and suppress and exterminate us perhaps lies the belief, as Henry Miller plainly put it in Tropic of Cancer, that "For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. . . . The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens. . . . We are going to put it down — the evolution of this world which has died but which has not been buried. We are swimming on the face of time and all else has drowned, is drowning, or will drown."

The setting of this apocalyptic wish is the stated enmity between the self and the world, between the literary imagination and mere reality — a tension which was set up by Romanticism and which Freudianism has sharpened and intensified to the point where the extreme Romantic, the Beat writer, confesses that the world must be destroyed in order that the freedom of his imagination proceed to its infinite goal. Romanticism put so much emphasis on the personal consciousness that eventually the single person came to consider himself prior to the world and, in a sense, replacing it; under Romanticism, the self abandoned its natural ties to society and nature and emphasized the will. The more the single conscious mind saw the world as an object for it to study, the more consciousness was thrown back on itself in fearful isolation; the individual, alone now with his consciousness, preoccupied in regarding himself and studying himself, had to exercise by more and more urgent exertions of will that relationship to the world which made consciousness the emperor of all it could survey — the world was merely raw material to the inquiring mind.

Freud, himself a highly conservative and skeptical thinker with a deeply classical bias in favor of limitation, restraint, and control, could not have anticipated that his critique of repression, of the admired self-control of the bourgeoisie, would in time, with the bank- ruptcy of bourgeois values, become a philosophy for many of his followers. Freudianism is a critique of Victorian culture; it is not a prescription for hving in the twentieth century, in a world where the individual finds himself increasingly alienated from the society to which he is physically tied. Freud once wrote in a letter to Romain Rolland: "Psychoanalysis also has its scale of values, but its sole aim is the enhanced harmony of the ego, which is expected successfully to mediate between the claims of the instinctual life [the id] and those of the external world; thus between inner and outer reality.

"We seem to diverge rather far in the role we assign to intuition. Your mystics rely on it to teach them how to solve the riddle of the universe; we believe that it cannot reveal to us anything but primitive, instinctual impulses and attitudes . . . worthless for orientation in the alien, external world."

It was the Romantics who handed down to modern writers the necessity to think of the world as "ahen and external." By now so many writers mechanically think of it this way that it is no wonder that they look for a philosophy of life to the "primitive, instinctual impulses and attitudes," though, as Freud knew, they are "worthless for orientation in the alien, external world." Man cannot cheat his own mind; he cannot bypass the centrality of his own intelligence. Yet is not sole reliance on the "primitive, instinctual impulses" exactly the raison d'etre of so many Beat poems and novels; of neurotic plays dealing with people whose only weakness, they think, is that they are repressed; of literary studies whose whole thesis is that the American novel has always been afraid of sex? What is wrong with such works is not that the single points they make are incorrect, but that they rely upon a single point for a positive philosophy of life. It is impossible to write well and deeply in this spirit of Sisyphus, pushing a single stone up the mountain. It is impossible to write well if you start from an arbitrary point of view, and in the face of everything that is human, complex, and various, push home your idee fixe. It is impossible for the haunted, the isolated, the increasingly self-absorbed and self-referring self to transcend it" self sufficiently to create works of literature.

Literature grows out of a sense of abundant relationships with the world, out of a sense that what is ugly to everyone else is really beautiful to you, that what is invisible to many men is pressingly alive and present to your writer's eye. We can no longer, by taking thought, transcend the life that consists in taking thought. The English novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch has recently helped clear the air of desperate self-pity by saying that "We need to return from the self-centered concept to the other-centered concept of truth. We are not isolated free choosers, monarchs of all we survey, but benighted creatures sunk in a reality whose nature we are constantly and overwhelmingly tempted to deform by fantasy. Our current picture of freedom encourages a dream-like facility; whereas what we require is a renewed sense of the difficulty and complexity of the moral life and the opacity of persons."

By now the self-centered mind fashioned by romanticism, constantly keeping itself open only to adjurations of absolute freedom and spontaneity, has traveled about as far along the road of self- concern as it can; it has nothing to discover further of itself but fresh despair. The immediate proof of this is in the quahty of so much of the hterature that has been shaped by Freudianism — only because all other creeds have failed it. It is not possible to write well with one's own wishes as the only material. It is not possible any longer to think anything out without a greater reality than one-self constantly pressing one's words into dramatic shape and unexpected meaning. All our words now are for our own emotions, none for the world that sustains the writer. And this situation is impossi- ble, for it was never the self that literature was about, but what transcended the self, what comes home to us through experience. 
Kazin's opinions were bog-standard in the world I grew up in. It wasn't until I was older, reading Panofsky and Arendt, Huizinga and bits of Auerbach, that I discovered the tradition his writing descends and devolves from. When I read that Panofsky laughed at the New Critics I understood, not because I'd read Kazin, but because I was raised by people who did. But reading him after rather than before, I sensed the defensiveness and snobbery, the need to push back. The older tradition didn't grow up overshadowed by positivism. They had the luxury of sadness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Our attitudes to artworks are much more unpredictable and surprising than a lot of social theories allow for"

Comic. Absurd. Pathetic. Embarrassing.

Daily Nous
Ingrid Robeyns, professor of philosophy and holder of the Ethics and Institutions Chair at the Utrecht University, has won a 2 million euro grant from the European Research Council to pursue her research on “limitarianism” over the next five years.

Her project is called “Can Limitarianism Be Justified? A Philosophical Analysis of Limits on the Distribution of Economic and Ecological Resources,” or Fair Limits, for short. Here is a little about it:

Inequalities in wealth are significant and on average increasing, and various ecological sinks and resources are overused. These circumstances should prompt us to rethink what fairness entails in the distribution of economic and ecological material resources. In particular, are there good grounds to opt for upper limits in the distribution of those resources? Are there, from a moral point of view, certain limits in our appropriation or use of material resources that should not be crossed? Can we say, either individually or collectively, that at some point we are polluting too much and using too many natural resources, or that we are having too much wealth? If so, why—and if not, why not?…

The Fair Limits project will not only push the boundaries of the philosophy of distributive justice, but also pose some fundamental questions of the contemporary dominant paradigm in thinking about justice. Methodologically, this will be done by developing methods for normative political philosophy in non-ideal conditions. In addition, Fair Limits also entails a critical dialogue with non-liberal philosophies, such as Confucian philosophy, African Philosophy, and Indigenous philosophies, to reconsider the soundness of basic assumptions in contemporary liberal theories of justice. Fair Limits thus has the potential to contribute to a paradigm shift in philosophical analysis of questions of distributive justice. 
You can learn more about the project and the award here.
Chronicle of Higher Education

What's Wrong With Literary Studies?
Some scholars think the field has become cynical and paranoid
In the low-budget realm of humanities grantmaking, a University of Virginia press release this May came as a shock. The Danish National Research Foundation had awarded roughly $4.2 million to a literary-studies project led by an English professor at Virginia, Rita Felski. And this wasn’t yet another big-ticket digital-humanities effort to map the social history of the United States or crunch the cultural data stored in five million books. This money would help Felski assemble a team of scholars to investigate the social uses of literature.
For Felski, the windfall validates a nearly decade-long push to change the way literature and other art forms are studied. In a series of manifestoes, she has developed a sophisticated language for talking about our attachments to literature and prodded literary scholars to reconsider their habit of approaching texts like suspicious detectives on the hunt for hidden meanings. Felski’s message boils down to prefixes. Literary critics have emphasized "de" words, like "debunk" and "deconstruct." But they’ve shortchanged "re" words — literature’s capacity to reshape and recharge perception.

"There’s actually quite a diverse range of intellectual frameworks, politically, theoretically, philosophically," says Felski, who specializes in literary theory and method. "Yet there’s an underlying similarity in terms of this mood of vigilance, wariness, suspicion, distrust, which doesn’t really allow us to grapple with these really basic questions about why people actually take up books in the first place, why they matter to people."

Though the size of her grant may be unique, Felski’s sense of frustration is not. Her work joins a groundswell of scholarship questioning a certain kind of critique that has prevailed in literary studies in recent decades. "Critique" can be a blurry word — isn’t all criticism critique? — but in Felski’s usage it carries a specific flavor. Critique means a negative commentary, an act of resistance against dominant values, an intellectual discourse that defines itself against popular understanding.

Felski sketches the shake-up of literary studies that started in the ’60s as a shift from criticism ("the interpretation and evaluation of literary works") to critique ("the politically motivated analysis of the larger philosophical or historical conditions shaping these works"). Most frameworks taught today in a literary-theory class, such as feminism, Marxism, deconstruction, structuralism, and psychoanalysis, would count as variants of critique. 
Contemporary literary scholarship has never lacked for detractors: Down with politics in the academy! Back to the Great Books! What’s different now is that the questioning of critique is coming from people steeped in its theories. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a founder of queer theory and sexuality studies, galvanized this soul-searching with a 2003 essay arguing that theory had spawned a paranoid mood in literary studies. The debate gained momentum with a special issue of the journal Representations in 2009, when Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus challenged a method of interpretation known as symptomatic reading, in which critics read texts like psychoanalysts probing for repressed meanings.

Then, last year, came Lisa Ruddick’s essay "When Nothing Is Cool," a hand grenade lobbed at her field.
I didn't catch that last reference at first. "A tortured milquetoast epistle".

It gets worse.
...That question of attachments — to novels and films, paintings and music — is at the heart of Felski’s next book. She operates from the premise that people’s everyday experience of art is much more mysterious than commonly thought. Consider the story of Zadie Smith’s changing relationship to Joni Mitchell. The novelist once dismissed Mitchell’s music as, in Felski’s words, "a white girl’s warbling." Then one day Smith could no longer listen to Mitchell’s songs without crying. Why? To think about such questions, Felski draws on the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, looking closely at first-person experience. So, in that musical epiphany, Smith is in her 30s. She and her husband are driving to a wedding in Wales, with Mitchell playing on the car radio. They bicker. They spend an afternoon at Tintern Abbey, where Smith gazes out at the green hills. And suddenly she’s humming Joni Mitchell. Felski writes about the way such different strands of experience come together to shape perceptions of art.

"Our attitudes to artworks are much more unpredictable and surprising than a lot of social theories allow for," she says. "And therefore we need to look at these specific examples of a relationship to an artwork. A lot of specific examples are going to explode our theories rather than confirm them."
The academic "discovery" of Zadie Smith is perverse of course. We're begun to move on from Shalizi and Moretti, but just slightly.

continuing in the next post.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Rorty and Geuss, two kinds of philosophical foolishness: the metaphysics of intimacy, and the metaphysics of the macroscopic and the pseudo-universal. Rorty could have chosen to be a writer, but obviously that wasn't enough. He needed to make generalizations; he tried in his depressed half-assed way to make them stick, like Derrida, another passive-aggressive.
Nevertheless, I think that we should hold our noses, separate the life from the work, and adopt the same attitude to Heidegger’s books as we have to other people’s. We should test them not against our moral intuitions but against competing books. An original story about the history of Western philosophical thought is not all that easy to come by – no easier than an original story about the movement of the heavens or the structure of matter. Stories of the former sort try to explain why we use the words we do, and thus, among other things, why we have the moral intuitions we have. When a genuinely new story of this sort comes along, we cannot afford to dismiss it. We will do so only if we have the sort of egomaniacal faith in our own noses that Nietzsche and Heidegger had in theirs. Such faith may be a necessary condition for the production of works of genius, but we non-geniuses who think of ourselves as tolerant and open-minded had better try to lose this faith. 
We will be willing to separate someone’s life from his or her work precisely insofar as we think of moral character – our own and that of others – as varying independently of the possession and deployment of talents. To help ourselves think in this way, we should remind ourselves of a lesson Freud helped us learn: a person’s moral character – his or her selective sensitivity to the pain suffered by others – is shaped by chance events in his or her life. Often, perhaps usually, this sensitivity varies independently of the projects of self-creation which the person undertakes in his or her work.

I can clarify what I mean by ‘chance events’ and by ‘independent variation’ by sketching a slightly different possible world – a world in which Heidegger joins his fellow anti-egalitarian, Thomas Mann, in preaching resistance to Hitler. To see how this possible world might have been actual, imagine that in the summer of 1930 Heidegger suddenly finds himself deeply in love with a beautiful, intense, adoring philosophy student named Sarah Mandelbaum. Sarah is Jewish, but Heidegger, dizzy with passion, barely notices. After a painful divorce from his first wife, Elfride – a process which costs him the friendship of, among other people, the Husserls – Heidegger marries Sarah in 1932. In January 1933 they have a son, Abraham. ...
It's goes downhill from there.

Geuss: another form of morose self-aggrandizing self-pity (via Leiter and also the essay itself [pdf])
[One day] Dick happened to mention that he had just finished reading Gadamer's Truth and Method. My heart sank at this news because the way he reported it seemed to me to indicate, correctly as it turned out, that he had been positively impressed by this book. I had a premonition, which also turned out to be correct, that it would not be possible for me to disabuse him of his admiration for the work of a man, whom I knew rather well as a former colleague at Heidelberg and whom I held to be a reactionary, distended wind-bag. Over the years, I did my best to set Dick right about Gadamer, even resorting to the rather low blow of describing to him the talk Gadamer had given at the German Embassy in occupied Paris in 1942, in which Gadamer discussed the positive role Herder could play in sweeping away the remnants of such corrupt and degenerate phenomena as individualism, liberalism, and democracy from the New Europe arising under National Socialism. All this had no effect on Dick. His response to this story was that Gadamer had probably wanted to finance a trip to Paris—a perfectly understandable, indeed self-evidently laudable aspiration—and, under the circumstances, getting himself invited to the German Embassy was the only way to do this. As I persisted in pointing out that this in itself might “under the circumstances” not exactly constitute an exculpation, I came up against that familiar shrug of the shoulders which could look as if it meant that Dick had turned his receiving apparatus off. In this case, the shrug also made me feel that I was being hysterically aggressive in pursuing a harmless old gent for what was, after all, no more than a youthful indiscretion. In retrospect, I am not sure but that I don't now think Dick was right about this last point, but that was not my reaction at the time....

As the years went by, and we both left Princeton, I am afraid the incipient intellectual and emotional gulf between us got wider, especially after what I saw as Dick’s turn toward ultranationalism with the publication of Achieving Our Country. Dick had always been and remained to the end of his life a “liberal” (in the American sense, i.e., a “Social-Democrat”): a defender of civil liberties and of the extension of a full set of civic rights to all, a vocal supporter of the labor unions and of programs to improve the conditions of the poor, an enemy of racism, arbitrary authority, and social exclusion. On the other hand, I found that he also enjoyed a spot of jokey leftist-baiting when he thought I was adopting knee-jerk positions which he held to be ill-founded. That was all fair enough. I tried not to rise to the bait, and usually succeeded, but this did not con- tribute to making our relations easier or more comfortable for me. The high (or low, depending on one’s perspective) point of this sort of thing occurred some time in the 1980s when Dick sent me a postcard from Israel telling me he had just been talk- ing with the Israeli official responsible for organizing assassinations of Arab mayors on the West Bank. He closed by saying he thought this was just what the situation required. I often wondered whether in acting in this provocative way he was treating me as he would have liked to have treated his father, a well-known poet, and man of the (relatively) hard Left, who eventually, as Dick put it, “became prey to very powerful fan- tasies on which he was perfectly willing to act”; Dick had to have him institutionalized after some potentially murderous outbreak. Probably by wondering about this, I was trying to convince myself that I had an importance in Dick’s imagination that I surely did not have.

Achieving Our Country, though, represented a step too far for me. The very idea that the United States was “special” has always seemed to me patently absurd, and the idea that in its present, any of its past, or any of its likely future configurations it is in any way exemplary, a form of gross narcissistic self-deception which was not transformed into something laudable by virtue of being embedded in a highly sophisticated theory which purported to show that ethnocentrism was in a philosophically deep sense unavoidable. I re- main very grateful to my Catholic upbringing and education for giving me relative immunity to nationalism. In the 1950s, the nuns who taught me from age five to twelve were virtually all Irish or Irish-American with sentimental attachment to certain elements of Celtic folklore, but they made sure to inculcate into us that the only serious human society was the Church, which was an explicitly international organization. The mass, in the international language, Latin, was the same everywhere; the religious orders were international. This absence of national limitation was something very much to be cherished. “Catholica” in the phrase “[credo in] unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam” should, we were told, be written with a lower-case, not an upper-case, initial because it was not in the first instance part of the proper name of the church, but an adjective meaning “universal,” and this universality was one of the most important “marks of the true Church.” The Head of the Church, to be sure, and Vicar of Christ on earth, was in fact (at that time) always an Italian, but that was for contingent and insignificant reasons. The reason most commonly cited by these nuns was that, as Bishop of Rome, the Pope had to live in the “Eternal City,” but only an Italian could stand to live in Rome: it was hot, noisy, and overcrowded, and the people there ate spaghetti for dinner everyday rather than proper food, i.e., potatoes, so it would be too great a sacrifice to expect someone who had not grown up in Italy to tolerate life there. I clearly remember being unconvinced by this argument, thinking it set inappropriately low standards of self-sacrifice for the higher clergy; a genuinely saintly character should be able to put up even with pasta for lunch and dinner every day. I have since myself adopted this diet for long periods of time without thinking it gave me any claim on the Papacy. In any case, it was obvious even to a child of six or seven that none of these sisters had ever been within a thousand kilometers of Rome.

Similarly, the (mostly) Hungarian priests who taught me from age twelve in a boarding school near Philadelphia had some residual Hapsburg loyalties—Grillparzer and Nestroy played a larger part in the curriculum than they would have in some other schools—but they were all very distinctly tri- or quadri-lingual men of the world, who knew very well that it was the accidents of history—specifically the closure of their schools by the Hungarian Communist regime in the late 1940s, and the failure of the uprising of 1956—that had brought them to a culturally insignificant place they would in the normal course of events never have chosen even to visit. They were not in any doubt but that the us (in the 1950s and early 1960s) was an empire which engaged in continuous dis- plays of exaggerated self-praise, as all such empires had always done, showed its soft side when that was politically expedient, but was as capable of impatient, insouciant, or fully-intended brutality as any other empire. These points were driven home pretty sharply in between discussions of the syntax, lexis, and meter of Vergil’s Aeneid. “His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono / imperium sine fine dedi” (1.277–78); that’s what they all think (in their prime), the “rerum domini et gentes togatae.” The two Spanish priests on the staff had had some experience in Central America and did not refrain from enlightening anyone interested about the operations of the United Fruit Company (and the cia) there and about some of the uses to which the us Marines were put. All the priests made the assumption which was all the more effective for not usually even being at all explicitly articulated that American power, influence, and prosperity, and the relatively relaxed and tolerant regulation of the non-political aspects of everyday life which they permitted, were highly contingent and transitory, a result of a geographical and historical conjunction that would not last or recur. McCarthy had recently shown how thin and fragile the culture of tolerance was. We were all encouraged to get on with our lives as quickly as possible: the prosperity and relative freedom might last twenty, even thirty or forty years, but that would be it, and the bubble could unexpectedly burst even more quickly than that, so it was best to make the most of the resources on offer at the moment. Philadelphia in 1960 was a pale shadow of Vienna in 1830: City Hall was a sec- ond-rate imitation of Vienna’s Rathaus, the Lyric Opera a poor provincial cousin of the Volksoper, and the orchestra, like virtually all the other major American orchestras in the era of Szell and Solti, was directed by a Hungarian (E. Ormandy). The recently departed John Foster Dulles was a kind of latter-day Metternich, and nato was the Holy Alliance. One might in the final analysis prefer the Holy Alliance to its opponents, but that was no reason to idealize it.
but before that, Geuss again (and another pdf)
of course, every philosopher will have his or her own favourite topics, periods, and themes, and in a book like the one envisaged it will not be inappropriate to allow these to guide the choice of gures to be treated, at least to some extent. My own favourites included Rosa Luxemburg, Ghandi [sic], Frantz Fanon, Julian the Apostate, and the Sphinx,...

I originally suggested that Arendt and Ricoeur, who did feature in Critchley’s book, be excluded on the grounds that the first was certainly not a philosopher at all, and had not even been a particularly good practitioner of her chosen profession of historically oriented political journalist, and that the second had been utterly unmemorable either for his writing or, as far as I could tell, for his life—I had been his colleague for a couple of years at the University of Chicago in the very late 1970s, and had had some conversations with him, had jointly examined some doctoral dissertations, etc. and so felt that I had some basis for this judgment. I then realised that in fact both of those deaths could, contrary to first appearance, be seen as somehow ‘enlightening’ in that they were both especially appropriate to the lives the people in question had lived. Arendt died in a kind of traffic accident, an appropriately trivial conclusion to a singularly uninspired intellectual life, and I had not noticed the reports of Ricoeur’s demise until several years after the fact, as I had failed to notice his publications.
The misspelling of Gandhi is repeated. It's not a typo. I was curious about Geuss until I realized his universalism was anti-political; his "real politics" is an ideal and an absolute. He's a modernist. His contempt for Arendt makes perfect sense.

This came back to me after reading the paragraphs by Rorty, from Achieving Our Country,  being handed around in reference to Trump. He wasn't wrong, but he wasn't alone.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Scholem, A Life in Letters
at Mondoweiss

Scholem to Arendt
[W]hat stands between us… is the heartless, the downright malicious tone you employ in dealing with the topic that so profoundly concerns the center of our life [the Holocaust].  There is something in the Jewish language that is completely indefinable, yet fully concrete — what the Jews call ahavath Israel, or love for the Jewish people.  With you, my dear Hannah, as with so many intellectuals coming from the German left, there is no trace of it.
Arendt replies
How right you are that I have no such love, and for two reasons: first, I have never in my life "loved" some nation or collective — not the German, French or American nation, or the working class, or whatever else might exist.  The fact is that I love only my friends and am quite incapable of any other sort of love.  Second, this kind of love for the Jews would seem suspect to me, since I’ve Jewish myself.  I don’t love myself or anything I know belongs to the substance of my being… [T]he magnificence of this people once lay in its belief in God — that is, in the way its trust and love of God far outweighed its fear of God.  And now this people believes only in itself?  In this sense I don’t love the Jews, nor do I "believe" in them…. We would both agree that patriotism is impossible without constant opposition and critique.  In this entire affair I can confess to you one thing: the injustice committed by my own people naturally provokes me more than injustice done by others.
Arendt, The Jewish Writings
To come to the point: let me begin, going on from what I have just stated, with what you call "love of the Jewish people" or Ahahath Israel. (Incidentally, I would be very grateful if you could tell me since when this concept has played a role in Judaism, when it was first used in Hebrew language and literature, etc.) You are quite right–I am not moved by any "love" of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life "loved" any people or collective–neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love "only" my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this "love of the Jews" would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect. I cannot love myself or anything which I know is part and parcel of my own person. To clarify this, let me tell you of a conversation I had in Israel with a prominent political personality*  who was defending the–in my opinion disastrous–nonseparation of religion and state in Israel. What he said–I am not sure of the exact words anymore–ran something like this: "You will understand that, as a Socialist, I, of course, do not believe in God; I believe in the Jewish people." I found this a shocking statement and, being too shocked, I did not reply at the time. But I could have answered: The greatness of this people was once that it believed in God, and believed in Him in such a way that its trust and love toward Him was greater than its fear. And now this people believes only in itself? What good can come out of that?–Well, in this sense I do not "love" the Jews, nor do I "believe" in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

We could discuss the same issue in political terms; and we should then be driven to a consideration of patriotism. That there can be no patriotism without permanent opposition and criticism is no doubt common ground between us. But I can admit to you something beyond that, namely, that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples. This grief, however, in my opinion is not for display, even if it should be the innermost motive for certain actions or attitudes. Generally speaking, the role of the "heart" in politics seems to me altogether questionable. You know as well as I how often those who merely report certain unpleasant facts are accused of lack of soul, lack of heart, or lack of what you call Herzenstakt. We both know, in other words, how often these emotions are used in order to conceal factual truth. I cannot discuss here what happens when emotions are displayed in public and become a factor in political affairs; but it is an important subject, and I have attempted to describe the disastrous results in my book On Revolution in discussing the role of compassion in the formation of the revolutionary character.
*This "personality" was Golda Meir, then foreign minister and later prime minister of Israel. At Scholem's urging, Arendt deleted her name and changed the feminine pronoun when the letters were first published. -Ed.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Memphis Jookin
I posted a video in 2010. It's interesting to see changes over time
Lil Buck’s very few numbers on Saturday ended with his most celebrated number, “The Dying Swan.” It’s said that Anna Pavlova, the most legendary exponent of the ballet version of this solo, never did it the same way twice; I’d guess from the few times I’ve seen Lil Buck that the same may well be true of him. He always ends, on the floor, wrapping his bent legs like hooks around his shoulders, but this time he gazed out at the audience while so doing, perhaps as if aware that this feat was part of his own legend and that he was trapped by it. Earlier, he reared up hugely and opened his body out to the air with a more amazingly throwaway speed than I have seen from him before; he spun around the stage on his knees; and inevitably his feet took him across the stage in gliding variants on the moonwalk.

If there was one feat on Saturday I hope I never forget, however, it occurred in an earlier solo, in which, with his torso angled toward the audience, he moved his shoulders in seeming orbit around his head as if they were a loose loop, an amoeba anchored only by his neck. I noticed too that he is achieving a new mastery of slow motion; he delivered some phrases as if showing us frame-by-frame breakdowns of running or gesturing.

These and other features were physically astounding. But, though there’s no doubt he shows the mind and musicality of an artist, his movement on Saturday never felt like sustained poetry; and his “Swan” has become — perhaps has always been — a collage of wow effects. Although Lil Buck comes from the world of jookin, I’ve seen, in Memphis, other jookin performers less physically accomplished but more entrancing in rhythmic continuity and witty invention. Most of his music, a collaboration with the violinist Yoon Kwon, was poorly chosen. Before his “Swan,” Ms. Kwon gave us a chunk from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” over a taped rock version of the familiar orchestration; and too much of the event felt like a synthetic assortment of clichés, lollipops and razzle-dazzle.

The famous/forgotten SNL video doesn't stay up very long. This is another one.
Toni Basil and The Lockers.

Basil's pretension got in the way. Break dancing was always loaded with irony and humor. At it's best, like the best hip-hop, it wasn't "pop". Camp humor is the self-depracating humor of insecurity, as opposed to the playful arrogance, and generosity, of confidence.

"I’ve seen, in Memphis, other jookin performers less physically accomplished but more entrancing in rhythmic continuity and witty invention." Macaulay doesn't slum. He's not a snob.
Brilliant pop stars are in a situation always verging on tragedy. Fame and genius become mixed. And there's the genius of Barnum and the genius of performance. Barnum was a stage manager not the lion jumping through hoops; Prince became both. And unlike most pop stars he was a brilliant musician. 
Bowie's performance as persona was more interesting than what became Prince's pop theatrics, but Bowie was more actor than musician. Dirty Mind came out as Bowie was fading into celebrity, but Dirty Mind wasn't pop. And when Prince became pop, it was with all the seriousness that Bowie gave up on. 
See also Marie Lloyd and Thérésa.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


"In the course of the year 1838, the peaceful island of Barbados was rocked by a strange and bloody revolt. About two hundred Negroes of both sexes, all of whom had recently been emancipated by the Proclamations of March, came one morning to beg their former master, a certain Glenelg, to take them back into bondage. An Anabaptist minister, acting as spokesman for the group, read out a list of grievances which he had compiled and recorded in a notebook. Then the discussion began. But Glenelg, either from timidity or because he was scrupulous, or simply afraid of the law, refused to be swayed. At which point he was at first mildly jostled, then set upon and massacred, together with his family, by the Negroes, who that same evening repaired to their cabins, their palavers, their labors, and customary rituals. Swift action on the part of Governor MacGregor succeeded in suppressing the matter, and the emancipation pursued its course. As for the notebook of grievances it has never been recovered."

- Jean Paulhan, "Happiness in Slavery," from the preface to The Story of O.
Weber [Parsons]
The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage. 
Weber ‎[Baehr/Wells]
The Puritans wanted to be men of the calling—we, on the other hand, must be. For when asceticism moved out of the monastic cells and into working life, and began to dominate innerworldly morality, it helped to build that mighty cosmos of the modem economic order (which is bound to the technical and economic conditions of mechanical and machine production). Today this mighty cosmos determines, with overwhelming coercion, the style of life not only of those directly involved in business but of every individual who is born into this mechanism, and may well continue to do so until the day that the last ton of fossil fuel has been consumed.

In Baxter's view, concern for outward possessions should sit lightly on the shoulders of his saints like a thin cloak which can be thrown off at any time." But fate decreed that the cloak should become a shell as hard as steel [stahlhartes Gehause]. As asceticism began to change the world and endeavored to exercise its influence over it, the outward goods of this world gained increasing and finally inescapable power over men, as never before in history. Today its spirit has fled from this shell—whether for all time, who knows? Certainly, victorious capitalism has no  further need for this support now that it rests on the foundation of the machine. Even the optimistic mood of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems destined to fade away, and the idea of the "duty in a calling" haunts our lives like the ghost of once-held religious beliefs. Where "doing one's job" [Berufserfullung] cannot be directly linked to the highest spiritual and cultural values—although it may be felt to be more than mere economic coercion—the individual today usually makes no attempt to find any meaning in it. Whom capitalism is at its most unbridled, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth [Enuerbsstreben], divested of its metaphysical significance, today tends to be associated with purely elemental passions, which at times virtually turn it into a sporting contest.
stahlhartes Gehause. Baehr: The "Iron Cage" and the "Shell as Hard as Steel"

repeats: Weber and Kafka