An Unenviable Situation

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Found on twitter. Shklar to Rawls. So stupid. 

The one issue that does puzzle me is the basic assumption on which you build you[r] edifice: the implicit values of an actual political society. The task you then set yourself is to draw out these intimations and make them explicit. The burden of historical proof then becomes very heavy. You cannot evade the demand for demonstrably accurate historical evidence to show that these are indeed the latent values. How latent? How widely shared? How deeply held and by whom at what times? In peace and In war, in secure and insecure times? Remember that most of your fellow citizens just now think that the Declaration of Independence is too radical for them. And while this is a good time for the First Amendment, It is not always so. One can say that only religion is safe, because no one cares about it that much any longer, and that in a way what is left is all Protestant anyhow. Finally your account of the conflicting beliefs that can overlap may be be out of date. It is not religion and even ideology that now separates us us, but race, language gut-loathing and ethnic incommunicability. Does your model fit that reality, or only one in which tolerance of creedal diversity was in question? My point is simple. If you base you[r] case on history, then contemporary history, which is what the best social science is, must provide you with a far less speculative ground to start from. Those latent values have to be accounted for every bit as much as more overt ones.

The Papers of John Rawls, Box 41, Folder 14. "Shklar, Dita, memorial remarks [1992]". Harvard archives.
Remove yourself from the world in order to think about it, and then you worry about the result.  The refusal to participate in the political world is a political act, and an anti-political act. The letter and its subject are formed out of denial.

Someone once described art history from its beginnings as Jews teaching Catholic theology to Protestants. It's an old quote and I don't remember the source. But now with Shklar, and Moyn, and the rest, the humor and irony are gone. Jewish scholarship, and Jewish liberalism, which was still Jewish even when it was secular, has become Protestant pedantry.

"contemporary history, which is what the best social science is,..." The history of the past is not a science, so neither is the study of the present. But the spread of the "research model" into everything means now that everything can be—and needs to be—academic. This is how we've ended up with "Auto(erotic)ethnography"—the link's from 2012; it's not the new one. It explains why we have PhDs in creative writing, and J School, and reporters holding back important information to use later in books, betraying their obligation as hacks and ambulance chasers to play at being historians—out of pretension or for money—and why people need the state to validate and justify their fantasies.  Passivity and the need to be guided, the end of agency. The need to the elite to grant permission and the need of the masses to be granted it. Corruption is weakness; weakness breeds corruption. 

This was a good one. 


Moyn, again living down to expectations.

More of the same from Andrew Koppelman
Forced pregnancy is totalitarian. It involves the kind of bodily control that America imposed on slaves before the Civil War. Criminal restrictions don’t do much to lower the abortion rate, but endanger all pregnant women by limiting doctors’ ability to treat them.... 

But I just said all that without so much as mentioning my opponents’ motives or treating religious support for a law as a kind of contaminant that makes otherwise legitimate laws invalid.
Forced pregnancy is totalitarian but I'm not calling you a totalitarian. That would be rude.

As I reminded him in an email exchange: politics is a schoolyard before it's a seminar. The schoolyard leads; the seminar follows.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Mada Masr, Interview with Trevor LeGassik,  

HG: Ahmed Amin in Fajr al-Islam (The Dawn of Islam, 1928) and Taha Hussein were interested in writing about this period in the modern way of studying and writing history.

TL: Yes of course, and you know how it all started? It was Mohamed Hussein Heikal Pasha, who was a lawyer, novelist and a senate, and who on holiday in Luxor found Washington Irving’s book about the Prophet Mohamed and it blew him away, because in the 1930s in Cairo and in all the Arab world there was no easy way to find anything much about the Prophet Mohamed. Everyone knew the Quran and serious scholars knew classical manuscripts like Ibn Kathir, but they were not easily accessible or understandable, and so he wrote his own Hayat Muhammed (Life of Mohamed). Curiously then, it was Irving’s writings — who was an American author appointed ambassador to Spain — that inspired all these writers in Cairo in the 1930s, and if it wasn’t for him, it would have taken decades to produce accessible books about the Prophet. Who has time to read four volumes of Ibn Kathir?

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

no one expects the spanish inquisition.

It's hard to know what to say, other than what I've said before. Varieties of decadence, and they're all so earnest. But still...

The Decadents knew that Catholicism pairs well with transgression. The Metropolitan Museum of Art knows it, too: It held an exhibition titled “Heavenly Bodies” in 2018, a show that juxtaposed liturgical iconography with high fashion and BDSM paraphernalia. Catholicism embraces the give-and-take between sin and repentance, formalizing it in the sacrament of confession. 

An open defense of Catholic decadence from a young "senior editor" at First Things.  Homosexuality, and other fun, are welcome, as long as you confess your sodomy on Sunday morning.  John Waters read this and he's laughing; and a lot of others too, all older than Julia Yost and Matthew Schmitz.  Richard John Neuhaus would be horrified. But what about his goddaughter? And Yost name checks Nick Burns (same link).  

Another recent trip down memory lane, because the liberals mocking her are equally so utterly clueless. Left right and center, it's all cosplay. 

Just for fun: Three posts on Alexander McQueen and Giovanni Bellini 

Also, Bronzino, who now has a tag.

In the larger sense I've been describing this for decades—the origins of the reactionary politics of truth. What I didn't predict was a literal return to the Church. I've quoted the popular definition of kitsch as something or someone being "more Catholic than the Pope", and now here we are! 
Also tagged Vermeule

Lorentzen has a series of podcast interviews he labels "Truth & Beauty".
The focus on aesthetics in a time of crisis, the false equivalence with "truth", the mix of puffery and denial, irony hiding sincerity, as if we don't have access to the history.  
Milanovic rt'd a friend on why he didn't listen to stupid podcasts: the directness of listening to the voice as opposed to reading, the insecurity and fakery becomes obvious and almost unbearable.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

"Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired".

For scholars​ of heartbreak and trepidation, the Dolly Parton songbook is a core text. No other singer would say ‘please’ when begging Jolene not to take her man. In Country Music, Ken Burns’s recent documentary series, Parton insists a great song is like an heirloom or a keepsake, essentially a piece of storytelling. A well-written song can dramatise a wonderful character or bring back a singular voice, and in these senses, among others, the siren of East Tennessee is better than most poets. There’s a giggle and a teardrop in her voice, an unmistakeable set of attitudes about life, and I was looking forward to her novel the way lovers of chocolate might look forward to Easter. It was going to be Eudora Welty, Tom Wolfe, Reese Witherspoon and Tammy Faye Bakker in a wild Southern barn dance. It was going to be a roof-raising, hello God hoedown, a complete riot of personal faith, the sentences glinting with rhinestones and Southern Gothic, all of it secured by a narrative raised on sweet tea and Moon Pie. On her own, Dolly can do no wrong, but like many country heroines she sometimes gets into bad company.

Once upon a time I had plenty of admiration for Thérésa. It seemed as if, in that huge voice with its low-pitched notes, there vibrated the soul of the people. She stirred me and made me shiver; more than once she brought tears to my eyes. In the last two years I have gone to her comeback performances as if to visit an old friend, searching for that impression of the past which she cannot reawaken. Her fine diction, so strong and clear, is spoilt now by pretentiousness, pomp, and solemnity. No doubt she imagines she is now a social force, and that each word she drops will have repercussions in the world. She adopts without discernment songs which are inept, and tries to colour their empty words with a redundant sentimentality and a false picturesqueness. Instead of the brutal and sincere art which used to delight me, the singer displays a procedure which has grown uniform and a search for violent effects. 

 There's a lot there, but I'm not going to do your work for you.

The liberals who now call themselves socialists and who accuse others of denying their own pasts are denying their own pasts again.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

This interview is getting a lot of attention among leftist academics. They're linking it and recommending it. They're surprised. It's new to them. All the books they read and they don't know what it was like to be an adult and a leftist-bourgeois-intellectual-blablabla, 50 years ago, or 70. And these are the same people who debate whether Foucault was a conservative.

On that note, one of them, Jäger, retweets Markus Rediker

When I was in graduate school (1979), I wrote a letter to Michel Foucault to ask a question about one of his books. I expected no response. Imagine my astonishment when, ten days later, a pale blue envelope appears in my mailbox, from “MF,” Collège de France.

I was reviewing vol. I, *The History of Sexuality* which said on its back cover that it was the first of six volumes on the subject. I asked, what were the other volumes? He said he had just made that up about six volumes, but added that he was writing *Pleasures of the Self*.

I also asked, how can you deny the existence of conscious, knowing subjects in your work and then use military concepts like “strategy” and “tactics” of power, which imply conscious, knowing subjects? He answered, that is a real contradiction in my thought, I have no answer.

He continued, I just thought we might progress by trying to think about power in a different way. His responses were funny, modest, and honest, genuinely illuminating, although not very satisfying either politically or intellectually.

He answered, that is a real contradiction in my thought, I have no answer. 
The only honest answer. Only a pedant without imagination could think otherwise. 
...not very satisfying either politically or intellectually. 
I haven't read much Foucault, but I understood I wasn't reading the Anglo-American academic model of a thinker who writes; I was reading a writer who thinks. Back to Eliot; it's almost too perfect.
James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation.
And the writer Foucault was responding to the preconceptions described in the interview above.

Branko makes the argument against reading Branko
I am of the opinion that if one wants to learn more about a current problem, one should never read books published now b/c they just reproduce all commonplaces we believe now.
In the next tweet he recommends Milosz. I won't argue. Recently I told him he wasn't a historian and that perhaps he should stop pretending. Maybe he's taken my advice. In re: the interview above, he wrote this only recently

Now, almost half-a-century later, as I was writing about the war, I realized how Marxism in that case really fulfilled the essential functions of a religion.

NFS means No Fucking Shit.  But as I reminded him years ago—and he agreed—he didn't grow up under communism; he grew up under Tito. And as a friend put it: "The Poles came to us to go shopping. We went to Milan"

From the interview above 

AP: The tensions within the party were between a small orthodox group linked to the Soviet Union who strongly opposed the Union of the Left. The main issue in the 1970s was nationalizations. I was in charge of the “Nationalizations and Industrial Policy” department and it’s true that we overplayed the issue of nationalizations. We argued that nationalizations, provided they reached a significant threshold, would allow us to structurally change our economic system. The socialists, opportunists that they often are, adopted our views. I had a friend who was having marital difficulties who was convinced that if the left came to power, her marriage would be fixed. This was the degree of people’s belief in politics.

My slogan was, “Where there is property, there is power.” And that is the primary idea which motivates me to this day. But at the time, we thought public property had a mythical capacity to change everything. The socialists only agreed to nationalize because they saw it as a condition of preserving the Union of the Left. They were ideologically overpowered. Internally, the debate was around the scale and the industries. The socialists were against, for example, nationalizing the banks and financial sector completely. They thought it was enough to nationalize 51 percent—just enough to give us the majority. But we insisted on 100 percent. And given the internal discussions, I was surprised with how far Mitterrand ultimately went....

MA: Maybe we can go back to the history of the party, particularly in 1968. What was the relationship like between the student movement and the labor movement? And how did those conflicts play out in the party’s policy positions?

AP: Until 1968, the Communist Party was influential in the labor movement and among intellectuals. For the latter, the theory of state monopoly capitalism gave us a lot of intellectual capital. I remember getting a drink with Georges Séguy and Georges Marchais right before the adoption of the Common Program, and Marchais informing us that the CGT had just recruited its three-millionth member. Today there are fewer than 300,000. So we had a lot of hope, but we were also distrustful of the socialists (due to their position on the Algerian War and the Suez Affair, among other things) at the same time as we sought a union with them. The events of 1968 bear the mark of these contradictions. We participated in the events at the same time as we witnessed meetings between Mitterrand and Mendès-France and understood that the situation was hopeless. I remember once going to a meeting at the Place du Colonel Fabien and seeing the head of the Economic Section tearing up piles of paper, so as not to leave a trace in case the Gaullists retaliated.

There was also a cultural shift with the emergence of the so-called bohemian bourgeoisie, who pushed the boundaries of morality, sexuality, and so on. The communists didn’t identify with that. Culturally, we were rigid: when you got married, you got married. You never bought your house, you always rented. If you bought a car, it was from Renault, because it was the national company.

Teenagers vs Communists (as moralizing petty bourgeois.)

repeats: Eric Rohmer 

"I wasn’t hostile to May ’68, but whereas the people who participated in it saw it as a beginning, I saw it rather as an end. May ’68 was the first stone thrown into the pond of Marxism. The ideological collapse of Marxism began in ’68. Because I believe that May ’68, paradoxically, cured many people, including perhaps me, of communism and anticommunism. I think that the kind of Marxist fever that took place after May ’68 carried within it its condemnation and its end, it was a last flare-up. That’s how I saw May ’68, and that is why, personally, I remained absolutely indifferent, serene, with regard to what might happen. I continued with my work." 

The same idiots link to a new book of essays.

Where the standard story sees neoliberalism as right-wing, this book points to some left-wing origins, too; where the standard story emphasises the agency of think-tanks and politicians, this book shows that other actors from the business world were also highly significant. Where the standard story can suggest that neoliberalism transformed subjectivities and social lives, this book illuminates other forces which helped make Britain more individualistic in the late twentieth century.

If you follow the link to Rohmer and continue, you'll find these. I'm so bored.

"What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won."

"Perhaps more than an ambiguity, it was an irony of history. The real legacy of May ’68, as we see in France today, is individualism, the rejection of civic sense and ideology, the rehabilitation of the idea that personal and financial success is a worthy pursuit — in short, a revival of capitalism. To borrow an expression of Lenin’s, we were useful idiots. Indeed, the uprising was more a counterrevolution than a revolution."

And all this is why Streeck and the rest have me "banging my fucking head against the wall"

In the order that seems to be emerging [sic!], social bonds are construed as a matter of taste and choice rather than of obligation, making communities appear as voluntary associations from which one can resign if they require excessive self-denial, rather than as ‘communities of fate’ with which one either rises or goes under.   

These people are embarrassing. 

If I'm telling stories I should talk about the night at dinner in the early 70s when my father found out to his chagrin that he was a hero to the local CP. The son of an old friend was in town and staying at the party office. They had places to crash. My father called at the end of dinner and the kid on the line interrogated him: "Who are you? What do you want?" My father gave his name.  "Oh,Yes sir! Yes, Mr Edenbaum. I'll get him sir." Sitting at the table I watched my father move the phone away from his ear, incredulous.

Panofsky, Galileo As A Critic Of The Arts, the original, not the shortened one. The first section.

footnotes—which take up almost as much space as the text—stripped for simplicity, though they're no less fun to read. Greek words marked (...)

The greek passion for debate, legal or not, produced, as early as the fifth century B.C., a peculiar genre of literature, called (... ) in Greek and altercatio, concertatio, dialogus, disputatio or conflictus in Latin; in English, something like "contest" or "debate" would seem to be the most appropriate equivalent. What we witness is, as a rule, not an internecine battle between absolute good and absolute evil (as in the struggle between the Virtues and the Vices, Reason and Lust, Faith and Heresy); rather it is a competition for superiority between two—or, occasionally, more than two— relative values, a competition that may end with a reasonable compromise or even a happy reconciliation.

The contestants may be Virtue and Pleasure but also The Cook and The Pastry Baker, Homer and Hesiod, or Poetry and History but also Lentils Boiled Whole and Lentils Pureed. And in the Hellenistic age, when Plato's theory of ideas was reinterpreted so as to glorify rather than disparage the "imitative arts", the arena was entered by Painting and Sculpture. In Lucian's Dream, Sculpture (...) wages, but loses, a battle against Refined Culture (...); in Dio Chrysostom’s Olympic, Phidias, claiming for sculpture the ”power of the symbol” (...) and the ability to produce ”what cannot be compared to any mortal human being”, wins an imaginary argument with Homer; and in the Introduction to Philostratus’ Imagines we hear the echo of a debate between Sculpture and Painting, the author deciding in favor of the latter. 

In the Western Middle Ages, contest literature was passionately cultivated  in Latin as well as in the vernacular languages, and the number and kind of contestants were varied ad infinitum. Wine competes with Water or Beer; Winter with Summer; The Mountain with The Valley; The Swan with The Crow; The Cleric with the Layman, Peasant or Knight; Worldly Glory with Pious Renunciation; Fortune with Philosophy; The Body with The Soul. Even the case of natural love vs. what the State Department calls "deviationism"—outlined in Plato's Phaedrus and circumstantially developed, from opposite points of view, by Plutarch and Lucian—was kept alive and was amusingly restated in a rhymed debate between Helen of Troy (supported by Nature) and Ganymede (supported by Philology), which ends with the betrothal of the disputants. However, what disappeared from the scene of mediaeval contest literature were the visual arts. Once painting and sculpture had been demoted to the status of artes mechanicae (which adjective was held to derive from Latin moechus, bastard, rather than from Greek (...), their rivalry with each other was no longer of interest while the possibility of their competing with their aristocratic sisters, the liberal arts, was excluded on principle: the Bataille des Sept Arts was a tournament in which mere burghers were not permitted to participate.

It was not until about 1400—when Brunelleschi and Ghiberti competed for the bronze doors of the Baptistry, when Donatello was an apprentice, and when Masaccio was born—that Cennino Cennini came forward with the contention that painting had a legitimate claim to recognition as a liberal art. His reasoning was rather naive: the painter, he says, is equal to the poet in that he can produce imaginary beings as well as reproduce real ones. But his position, expressing a fundamental change in attitude, came to be generally accepted. The privilege obtained by painting was gradually extended to what was later to be called the "Fine Arts"; and for a sixteenth century thinker  it was, again, more natural to illustrate the meaning of Plato's ideas by "that image of a perfectly beautiful body" which lives in the mind of an artist than by the archetype impressed upon the mind of a philosopher.

No sooner, however, had painting and sculpture been promoted to the rank of Art with a capital "A" than they began to fight each other for superiority. In the North, not as yet inclined to theorize about the arts, a certain rivalry between painting and sculpture may reflect itself in those simulated statues which challenge the genuine productions of sculpture in the altarpieces of the Master of Flémalle, Jan van Eyck and their followers. In Italy, it came into the open about 1430. Leone Battista Alberti, the first art theorist in the full sense of the word, clearly alludes to it when he suggests that sculpture and painting, though different in means and aims, were equal in rank and should keep the peace,  and thereafter the competition between the two sister arts remained the favorite topic of contest literature in many lands and for several centuries. A climax was reached in Leonardo da Vinci's "Paragone" where painting carries the offensive deep into the territory of the liberal arts, claiming to be superior not only to sculpture but also to music and poetry. And by the middle of the sixteenth century the discussion about the relative merits of painting and sculpture, by now a kind of intellectual pastime, even gave rise to what is perhaps the earliest public opinion poll: in 1546, preparatory to two lectures published three years later, a Florentine humanist, Benedetto Varchi, elicited statements from a great number of important artists, including  Michelangelo, Benvenuto Cellini and Pontormo, each of them loyally defending his own profession. 

This "Paragone" literature has some importance in that it fomented such notions as "sculptural" and "pictorial," "volume" and "space," "one view composition" and "multiview composition," notions which, when the quarrel for superiority had subsided in favor of a calm appraisal of possibilities and limitations, were to become the basic concepts of what we call "stylistic analysis." But on the whole texts of this kind cannot be said to make inspiring reading. Few l~ter writers went beyond the arguments put forward by Leonardo da Vinci, adopting and, very rarely, amplifying them when they were painters or friends of painting, attempting to refute them when they were sculptors or friends of sculpture. There is, however, one glorious exception: a letter of no less illustrious an author than Galileo Galilei.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Leiter links to Adolph Reed again.


Reed can't help but moralize; he still has fantasies of leading change. And he publishes on a webpage named after Robert Smithson that has Michael Fried on the editorial board. Smithson would be amused. I'm not.

I had an exchange with Fried a year or so ago, with no direct connection to this.  But I sent him another one last night.  I think he understands me now. Reed might as well.

I'll stop here for now, but I think it's time to go off on Leiter, Reed, Clement Greenberg and T.J. Clark, T.S. Eliot and Jeff Wall, Bourdieu and Flaubert.
more. still working.
Fried, talking to Wall, calls this "one of the most brilliant essays in art criticism ever"

Jeff Wall, "'Marks of Indifference': Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art"

This essay is a sketch, an attempt to study the ways that photography occupied Conceptual artists, the ways that photogra­phy decisively realized itself as a modernist art in the experiments of the 1960s and 1970s. Conceptual art played an important role in the transformation of the terms and conditions within which established photog­ raphy defined itself and its relationships with other arts, a transformation which established photography as an institutional­ized modernist form evolving explicitly through the dynamics of its auto-critique.

Photography's implication with modernist painting and sculpture was not, of course, developed in the 1960s; it was central to the work and discourse of the art of the 1920s. But, for the sixties generation, art­ photography remained too comfortably rooted in the pictorial traditions of modern art; it had an irritatingly serene, marginal existence, a way of holding itself at a dis­tance from the intellectual drama of avant­-gardism while claiming a prominent, even definitive place within it. The younger artists wanted to disturb that, to uproot and radicalize the medium, and they did so with the most sophisticated means they had in hand at the time, the auto-critique of art identified with the tradition of the avant­-garde. Their approach implied that photog­raphy had not yet become "avant-garde" in 1960 or 1965, despite the epithets being casually applied to it. It had not yet accom­plished the preliminary autodethronement, or deconstruction, which the other arts had established as fundamental to their devel­opment and their amour-propre.

Through that auto-critique, painting and sculpture had moved away from the prac­tice of depiction, which had historically been the foundation of their social and aesthetic value. Although we may no longer accept the claim that abstract art had gone "beyond" representation or depiction, it is certain that such develop­ments added something new to the corpus of possible artistic forms in Western culture. In the first half of the 1 960s, Minimalism was decisive in bringing back into sharp focus, for the first time since the 1930s, the general problem of how a work of art could validate itself as an object among all other objects in the world. Under the regime of depiction, that is, in the history of Western art before 1910, a work of art was an object whose validity as art was constituted by its being, or bearing, a depiction. In the process of developing alternative proposals for art "beyond" depiction, art had to reply to the suspicion that, without their depictive, or representa­tional function, art objects were art in name only, not in body, form, or function. I Art projected itself forward bearing only its glamorous traditional name, thereby enter­ ing a troubled phase of restless searching for an alternative ground of validity. This phase continues, and must continue.

Photography cannot find alternatives to depiction, as could the other fine arts. It is in the physical nature of the medium to depict things. In order to participate in the kind of reflexivity made mandatory for modernist art, photography can put into play only its own necessary condition of being a depiction-which-constitutes­ an-object.

In its attempts to make visible this condi­tion, Conceptual art hoped to reconnect the medium to the world in a new, fresh way, beyond the worn-out criteria for pho­tography as sheer picture-making. Several important directions emerged in this process. In this essay I will examine only two. The first involves the rethinking and "refunctioning" of reportage, the dominant type of art-photography as it existed at the beginning of the 1960s. The second is related to the first, and to a certain extent emerges from it. This is the issue of the de­ skilling and re-skilling of the artist in a con­ text defined by the culture industry, and made controversial by aspects of Pop art.


Through that auto-critique, painting and sculpture had moved away from the prac­tice of depiction, which had historically been the foundation of their social and aesthetic value. 

Clement Greenberg

The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.

Bullshit in both cases. The question is why that bullshit came to be. 

repeats: T.J. Clark on Pollock and Flaubert. I'm adding highlights this time.

Farai un vers de dreit nien:
non er de mi ni d'autra gen,
non er d'amor ni de joven,
ni de ren au, 
qu'enans fo trobatz en durmen,
sus un chivau.

(I shall make a poem out of [about] nothing at all:/it will not speak of me or others,/of love or youth, or of anything else,/for it was composed while I was asleep/riding on horseback.)

William IX of Aquitaine

Once Upon a Time. When I first came across the lines by the duke of Aquitaine some years ago, naturally I imagined them in Jackson Pollock’s mouth. They put me in mind of modernism; or of one moment of modernism which I realized I had been trying (and failing) to get in focus ever since I had read Harmonium or looked at Le Bonheur de vivre. Two things were clarified. Not just that modern artists often turned away from the detail of the world in order to revel in the work of art's "essential gaudiness," but that the turning away was very often associated with a class attitude or style not unlike Duke William's, or, at least, an attempt to mimic that style - its coldness, brightness. lordliness, and nonchalance. Its "balance, largeness, precision, enlightenment, contempt for nature in all its particularity."' Its pessimism of strength.

You might expect such an effort at aristocratic world-weariness on the part of bourgeois and even petty-bourgeois artists, operating in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not the eleventh and twelfth, to bear some strange fruit.

Largeness and lordliness, after all, were not likely to be these artists' forte. Take the novelist Gustave Flaubert, for (central) example, at the beginning of work on Madame Bovary in 1852: already chafing at the he bit of reference that seemed to come with the form he had chosen and dreaming of "a book a about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would he held together by the internal strength of its style ... a book which would have almost no subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.” What strikes me as truly strange in Flaubert's case is not so much the project he outlined for himself - though as an ambition for a novel rather than a sestina or a set of haiku it has its own pathos – as the distance between the book he imagined and the one he actually wrote. No book has ever been fuller than Madame Bovary of the everything external which is the bourgeois world. Fuller in its heart of hearts, I mean; fuller in its substance; in the weight it gives to words themselves. It is as if the more intense a bourgeois artist's wish to dispense with externals and visibilities, the stronger will be their hold an the work's pace, structure, and sense of its own objectivity. Or maybe we could say that what brings on the word "bourgeois" at all as a proper description of Madame Bovary is exactly the deadlock within it between a language so fine and cold that it hopes to annihilate the emotions it describes as it describes them, and an absolute subjugation to those emotions and the world of longing they conjure up. A deep sentimentality, not relieved but exacerbated by a further (ultimate) sentimentality about language – call it belief in the arbitrariness of the sign.

Clicking through the links you'll find the quotes below


One and the same civilization produces simultaneously two such different things as a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover. All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of the same culture and products of the same society. 

T.S. Eliot:

Marie Lloyd was the greatest music-hall artist in England: she was also the most popular. And popularity in her case was not merely evidence of her accomplishment; it was something more than success. It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest.

Wall is, or was, tempted by the delusions Flaubert claimed for his art, and that Greenberg and Bourdieu valued, and that Fried still does. But watch him here. 

Look at the editorial board for Nonsite, almost all in literature and art history, and you can guess their interests. I won't quote Bourdieu—click the links. His arguments are laughable.

Wall didn't want to be a filmmaker; he wanted to make an art that fit into a category descending from painting—"Fine Art"—but he had a sense of what film could do and that painting could not, and photography, as it had been understood, was not enough. He found a way to resolve the conflict of his desires and his intelligence. That's not the same as resolving larger conflicts. Art doesn't do that.

"I want to do This!"
"Oh god, that's so stupid. It doesn't work anymore!"
You can call that glib, but not if you take seriously both Flaubert's claims—what he felt he needed to claim—and the novels that resulted. 

The second post I wrote on his blog is transcribed from a note.
On my way home. On the train from Boston to Penn Station. Looking out the window thinking about Pissarro and Anarchism. Passing through a suburban industrial landscape Jeff Wall’s images of Vancouver come to mind, and I have a thought that I regret that now we are able to blame ourselves for everything. Our mistakes are now more deadly than God’s. We are becoming used to the bureaucratization of disaster. But those problems which fall into the category ‘what is to be done’ are the preoccupation of only a few, and if most people are no closer to controlling their own destiny, they are also no more interested in it than they ever were. It makes no difference to them if a few men put themselves in God’s place. Their passivity is their freedom. And that freedom will never be taken away.

Josh Marshall's TPM: "An Antidemocratic Philosophy Called ‘Neoreaction’ Is Creeping Into GOP Politics"

But in recent months, a strand of conservative thought whose adherents are forthright in their disdain for democracy has started to creep into GOP politics. It’s called “neoreaction,” and its leading figure, a software engineer and blogger named Curtis Yarvin, has ties to at least two GOP U.S. Senate candidates, along with Peter Thiel, a major GOP donor.

Yarvin is now writing in Tablet: "The Cathedral or the Bizarre: America’s experiments with democracy and oligarchy have both failed, leaving only one option"

Marshall named his first son for a war criminal.  Beinart was willing to "sacrifice his liberalism" for a Jewish state. How long until Marshall changes his mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Parents and children/Dying is easy, comedy is hard

Reading the first reminded me of the second.  

Anne Carson

One cold dark night​ there was a story about a knocking at the outer gate. Despite cries of Yes! Yes! Coming! someone still knocked and the snow that had piled on the gate was blown halfway up the door itself, with no meaning as to the blind knocking or the thick snow or why it did not stop. I knew I should be writing a straightforward story, or even a poem, but I didn’t. I should get back to words, I thought, plain words.

I had been looking at the New Testament in an 1801 edition of Johannes Leusden’s side-by-side (Greek and Latin) version, which I’d found on my bookshelf in a fragile state that did not allow the pages to be turned quickly. Little flecks broke off. I opened it at random to 1 Corinthians 10, a letter of Paul’s about idolatry. The letter spoke of people who wandered in the wilderness eating ‘pneumatic’ bread and drinking from a ‘pneumatic’ rock – or so I was translating it in my head, the word for ‘spiritual’ being pneumatikos in Greek, from pneuma, ‘breath’. Can either bread or rock be made of breath? Anyway who can drink from a rock? A sort of dreariness, like a heavy smell of coats, comes down on the word ‘spiritual’ and makes religion impossible for me. The page is turned. Flecks fall.

Before turning the page though, I noticed that Paul’s text, in the verse following the pneumatic rock, was at pains to identify the rock with Christ (that is, God) and to explain that the rock was ‘following’ these people through the desert so they could drink from it. How very awkward, I thought. I wondered why God couldn’t come up with a better water arrangement for these people and why Paul couldn’t find a more graceful image of God’s care. Presumably Paul wants people to seek and cherish God’s care? But to visualise the longed-for Other bumping along behind your desert caravan in the form of a rock might just make you morose or confused.

Confused and morose myself, not least of all because of that continued knocking at the gate, and in need of a fresh idea, I opened the Bible again and found Psalm 119:81-3. This seemed to be another text about people in the wilderness:

My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
Mine eyes fail for thy word saying, When wilt thou comfort me?
For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.

And all at once I recognised it as a passage I had worked on before, at a time when snow was not my concern – I’d been invited to give a lecture on (as I recall) ‘the idea of the university’, a topic about which I knew little, and so began to compose a lecture more concerned with the word ‘idea’ than the concept of the ‘university’. I’m not clear on whether I ever delivered this lecture: I can’t find it among my papers. Three days before the lecture date my mother died. I fell to my knees in the kitchen. Astoundedness was like a silvery-white fog that seeped up and over all those days. I had visited her only a week before, the long train, then bus, then taxi trip. She seemed OK. Forbidden by her doctor from her nightly glass of Armagnac she’d taken to dabbing it behind her ears. The word ‘idea’ comes from ancient Greek ‘to see’. Was there a way to get out of giving that lecture, I wondered. 

J.M. Coetzee

She is visiting her daughter in Nice, her first visit there in years. Her son will fly out from the United States to spend a few days with them, on the way to some conference or other. It interests her, this confluence of dates. She wonders whether there has not been some collusion, whether the two of them do not have some plan, some proposal to put to her of the kind that children put to a parent when they feel she can no longer look after herself. So obstinate, they will have said to each other: so obstinate, so stubborn, so self-willed—how will we get past that obstinacy of hers except by working together?

They love her, of course, else they would not be cooking up plans for her. Nevertheless, she does feel like one of those Roman aristocrats waiting to be handed the fatal draft, waiting to be told in the most confiding, the most sympathetic of ways that for the general good one should drink it down without a fuss.

Her children are and always have been good, dutiful, as children go. Whether as a mother she has been equally good and dutiful is another matter. But in this life we do not always get what we deserve. Her children will have to wait for another life, another incarnation, if they want the score to be evened.

Her daughter runs an art gallery in Nice. Her daughter is, by now, for all practical purposes French. Her son, with his American wife and American children, will soon, for all practical purposes, be American. So, having flown the nest, they have flown far. One might even think, did one not know better, that they have flown far to get away from her.

It's a bit much: from the LRB to the NYRB... "from the LRB to the NYRB"

Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I wanted to see what showed up, but that's it. LOL as the kids say. With Liberal Fascism I called Goldberg the poor man's Foucault. 

Adam Kirsch
Interwar German thought exercised an enormous influence in the late-twentieth-century US, from Martin Heidegger’s existentialism to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School to the Marxist mysticism of Walter Benjamin. But the apocalyptic radicalism that made these thinkers so fascinating—the product of a period that felt like, and in a sense really was, the end of the world—is absent in Cassirer.

Goldberg and Kirsch are both tribalists, but won't admit it.

The blacks in America are the first to abjure the idea of assimilation, to realize the inherent lie in the concept of melting pot. Through black nationalism has developed a new black pride and hence the ticket to liberation. 
Today’s young American Jew is a good bit slower. He desperately wants assimilation: Jewishness embarrasses him.

Goldberg and Kirsch are more embarrassed.

The anti-Jewish prejudice in America in various areas of life, such as the universities, had quickly become evident to the émigrés. Conservative East Coast society above all clung to a clear distinction between Jew and non-Jew.  As early as 1936 a disillusioned Panofsky wrote to Fritz Saxl in London that he was reckoning on “a reunion of our whole circle of friends in Honduras or Liberia, probably in 1940. By then things will have gone so far here too that Jews and Liberals will no longer be welcome.”

No mention of Palestine, because the meaning of such a choice is obvious.

Panofsky contra Benjamin's indulgence, "love of the arcane," and "pretense".  

Judith Shklar, After Utopia, Chapter IV-The End of Radicalism 

What answers can be offered to these counsels of social despair? Romanticism refuses to analyze the social world with any degree of thoroughness, and Christian fatalism subjects modern history to an excess of simplification in order to satisfy its sense of outrage. But to have noted all these shortcomings is not a reply. In fact, no reply is forthcoming. The spirit of rational optimism which alone could furnish a reply does not flourish at present. 
"The spirit of rational optimism", and "liberal perfectionism" is pure romance. 
The liberalism of Cassirer and Panofsky, of humanism, is lost, forgotten, irrelevant.

Leusder retweeted this yesterday
There are many things the left has abandoned at its peril. One of them is certainly the abandonment of confident high modernism: large projects, space exploration, scientific and technological progress for it's own sake, the creation of a rational order etc.

quoting Jäger: 

Zero Lies detected

quoting Sarah Zedig: 

"skyscraper" is such a cool word. pure modernist idealism. they just don't make em like that anymore. if they invented the skyscraper today they'd call it some shit like "vertical housing" or "enhanced elevation office space." culture in decline 


Addendum: this is not Fordist nostalgia, but a non-aesthetic plaidoyer for 'scientific optimism' about the creation of a rational order that can harness distributed resources within political and ecological means. It's not motivated by the technological sublime. 
"a non-aesthetic"advocacy. Because aesthetics is something you can indulge or not.
So says Max Weber.

The fact that there are works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find out under what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise the question whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm of diabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in its core, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocratic spirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics does not ask whether there should be works of art.

Contra Weber, your aesthetic is the manifestation of your ethic. Your ethic is recorded in the history of your actions. Academia is an aesthetic and an ethic; a cafe revolutionary is a creature of the cafe, not the revolution, etc. etc. 

Leusder is an economist and club kid. That takes me back to 2008 and Henry Farrell: Leusder's "minimaldamage" to Farrell's "My Bloody Valentine"

The tweet includes a quote from James C. Scott, a variety of the same decadence: anarchism as a hobby for tenured technocrats.

And to the recent past, and the LSE again—Xenofeminism, "Storm the Heavens and Conquer Death"—it's always just a hop from rational optimism to violence and utopian kitsch. 

Sarah Zedig: @hmsnofun,"trans communist goat, she/her. 33. does video essays, writes @godfeelsCanon"
“godfeels”-an ongoing experimental homestuck fanfiction that starts with a depressed young man becoming a woman to mixed approval from her friends, and culminates in a macrocosmic war between every body and every mind.
The London School of Economics; Storm the Heavens and Conquer Death; a macrocosmic war between every body and every mind; minimal damage; My Bloody Valentine. 
Expressionism in the atomic age is the product of technocracy and the bomb, the emotion escaping the denial of emotion; it's the melodrama behind positivism, from Vienna to Weimar to New York, the relation of Strangelove to von Neumann.

I forgot about this one. It goes back to 2007 this time.  

The institutionalization of narcissism 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Blyth. It's good from the beginning but I wanted to start here

At about 18:30 you get to here: "Very hard to defend a low-lying beach. Eventually people will come for you."

"I've always been allied to the followers of the materialist long view,..." Tooze has a tag, and so does Milanovic. Now Blyth. And Streeck

History isn't kind to optimists. Economists are optimists; economic historians look over a history of failure. But intellectual historians continue a history of narcissism.  
"I say this now to remind myself how words can squirt sideways, mute and mad; you think they are tools, or toys, or tame, and all at once they burn all your clothes off and you’re standing there singed and ridiculous in the glare of the lightning."
Anne Carson
No poet is read after they're gone as the author of projects. Or they're read that way by a minority with a preference for philosophy and intellectual history over poetry.

"For twelve centuries social rank in China has been determined more by qualification for office than by wealth."  Max Weber
Mass hysteria, wave after breaking wave
Blueblooded Cantonese upon these shores

Left the gene pool Lux-opaque and smoking
With dimestore mutants. One turned up today.

Plum in bloom, pagoda, blue birds, plume of willow—
Almost the replica of a prewar pattern—

The same boat bearing the gnat-sized lovers away,
The old bridge now bent double where her father signals

Feebly, as from flypaper, minding less and less.
Two smaller retainers with lanterns light him home.

Is that a scroll he carries? He must by now be immensely
Wise, and have given up earthly attachments, and all that.

Soon, of these May mornings, rising in mist, he will ask
Only to blend—like ink in flesh, blue anchor

Needled upon drunkenness while its destroyer
Full steam departs, the stigma throbbing, intricate—

Onlv to blend into a crazing texture.
You are far away. The leaves tell what they tell.

But this lone, chipped vessel, if it fills,
Fills for you with something warm and clear.
Around its inner horizon the old odd designs
Crowd as before, and seem to concentrate on vou.

They represent, I fancy, a version of heaven
In its day more trouble to mend than to replace:

Steep roofs aslant, minutely tiled;
Tilted honeycombs, thunderhead blue.
James Merrill, Willowware Cup

There will always be a stratum of managers. The question is how people become a part of that group, and what kind of people they are. Technocrats are bureaucrats after Saint-Simon and Bentham, TaylorismFordism, Weber's value-free science and "big children in university chairs", who think words are tools, or toys, or tame.

I've been repeating myself for longer than I've had this page. I think for a few years it was just filing away the record of other people's stupidity. I don't want to be a file clerk of shit. That was my mistake.

Tell me a story


Narratives that engage the emotions, not arguments, are more effective at producing charitable behavior

Interesting study, confirming what all Humeans and Nietzscheans already suspected. As Nietzsche quips (in Twilight of the Idols), "Nothing is easier to erase than a dialectical effect."

History is written by the winners. What does that tell you?

Leiter, Joseph Raz, and David Enoch, Chomsky, and Bernie Sanders, all rationalize the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in defense of a narrative. To that end, facts are forgotten. Leiter says academic freedom is more important than freedom of speech for the rest of us. 

Leiter opposes "diversity blather" because other people's storytelling undermines his own.

Eric Schwitzgebel et al: "Engaging charitable giving: The motivational force of narrative versus philosophical argument"


Are philosophical arguments as effective as narratives in influencing charitable giving and attitudes toward it? In four experiments, we exposed online research participants to either philosophical arguments in favor of charitable giving, a narrative about a child whose life was improved by charitable donations, both the narrative and the argument, or a control text (a passage from a middle school physics text or a description of charitable organizations). Participants then expressed their attitudes toward charitable giving and were either asked how much they would hypothetically donate if given $10 (Experiment 1) or told they had a 10% chance of winning $10 and given the opportunity to donate from their potential winnings (Experiments 2–4). Across the four experiments, participants in all of the narrative conditions and in some of the argument conditions tended to express more positive attitudes toward charitable giving and donated about $1 more on average than did participants in the control conditions. These effects appear to have been mediated by the “narrative transportation” scale, which suggests that appeals to donate can be effective if they engage participants’ emotions, imagery, and interest.

Rationalists discover empiricism and claim it as their own. And they reinvent the wheel.

Schwitzgebel, earlier this year. Still hilarious.

philosophers vs lawyers and historians, every fucking day.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Paragraphs from "Militant Nudes", Elizabeth Hardwick, in the NYRB in 1971

Troubling Images: 1.) Professor Theodor W. Adorno, at the University of Frankfurt, was, not long before his death, the audience for—or the object of—a striking bit of symbolic action. Adorno, a distinguished philosopher and the teacher of many leftist students, had come to be worried about student zeal for immediate action, about spontaneity, random rebellion, and, of course, the possibility of repressive actions by the government. And how was the sacred old father rebuked? A girl got up in the classroom and took off all her clothes.

A bit of The Blue Angel here? No, perhaps the key is found in the famous scene in Swann’s Way. Mlle. Vinteuil, making love to her girl friend, puts the photograph of her doting, gifted father on the table next to the sofa so that the girl can spit on it. Proust says about the scene: “When we find in real life a desire for melodramatic effect, it is generally the ‘sadic’ instinct that is responsible for it.”

“Sexuality”—the word has become a sort of unfleshed abstraction as it trails along with liberty, fraternity, and equality in the youth revolution—is suddenly political. The body, the young one at least, is a class moving into the forefront of history.

In Gimme Shelter, a brilliant documentary film about the Rolling Stones and their concert outside San Francisco that ended in murder, several accidental deaths, and an outburst of desolation, anger, and danger that is thought to have signaled the end of something in the rock and roll scene—in this film a number of people, mostly girls, take off their clothes. Each has an expression both blank and yet sure that something is being done, accomplished, signified. They stand there in the crowd, enclosed in their sad flesh, as lonely as scarecrows among the angry, milling thousands. The gestures did not cause a head to turn and all one could feel was that the body, the feet, the breasts were foolishly vulnerable, not because of any attractions they might have for the crowd, but merely due to the lack of protecting clothing. The nude bodies were no match in dramatic interest to the fabulously dressed performers, whose tight pants, scarves, snakeskin boots, spangled boleros, red silk ruffled shirts, represented what is meant in the entertainment world by a “personal statement.”

2.) Huey Newton in New Haven, visiting Bobby Seale in jail. “If Ericka and Bobby are not set free, if the people can’t set them free, then we’ll hold back the night, there won’t be day—there’ll be no light.” The eschatological mode has in modern times wearied the Christian world, but it served them well enough for centuries and so perhaps militant leaders sensibly feel there is some life left in this style. At the Black Panther convention recently—a small and dispirited gathering according to journalists—Huey Newton outlined the program: “First, focus on closing down Howard University, second on liberating Washington, and third the seizure of the White House.” Liberating Washington. The seizure of the White House. For a little group of the faithful these words perfectly represent the “schizophrenic bind” R. D. Laing writes about. If the words are not genuinely taken seriously and only a pretense about them is kept up, this creates an impossible and corrupting cynicism very difficult for all except leaders to live with; if the commands are treated as genuine their insane and sadistic nature will unhinge all who try to act them out. This is perhaps what is truly meant by the phrase, revolutionary suicide—the killing in oneself of the uses of reality by submitting to “the program.”

The film, Ice, and the novel, Dance the Eagle to Sleep, are both imaginary projections of revolutions and civil wars to come, and there is a coercive and mystical inevitability claimed, not directly but aesthetically, that links them with the program Huey Newton gives to his followers. And the concentration upon revolutionary “balling” in the novel goes back in my mind to the poor professor in his classroom, to the mysteriousness of the girl’s answer to the professor’s worries. 

...The activism in Ice and Dance the Eagle to Sleep is not a replacement of deadening alienation but simply an addition to it. Even though Ice was filmed in the basements and bookstores and streets of New York City, one often feels in it a memory of the suffocating boredom and darkly sexual crowdings of an old army post, the kind of waiting and frustration that made soldiers before Vietnam long for some action. So, after a few years of threats and promise of revolution, rebellion, change, militant encounter, Ice and Dance the Eagle to Sleep are tours of active duty at last.

...Trash is a homosexual film produced by Andy Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. The Groupies has to do with deranged, obscene girls who follow rock stars around, hoping to sleep with them, if one may use such a drowsy, untimely phrase for these wandering, never-sleeping hunters. The Groupies is a documentary, although there is considerable staginess in it; Trash is a concoction that is also a real life thing part of the time.

The nature of sexuality is repetition. Phallic compulsiveness is an exaltation of repetition and yet a reduction to routine of the most drastic kind. Still novelty and challenge never lose their hold on the imagination and in the phallic hell, the center of interest will be reserved for the refusing, even for the impotent. The hero of Trash is an impotent junkie. He wanders through the long hours of the film, quiet, handsome, mysterious, stoned, but arousing almost insane desire in everyone he meets. In a world of compulsive sex, dramatic interest can only be achieved by complications, particularly since every frontier of practice has been crossed.

...In Gimme Shelter, Mick Jagger, Grace Slick, Tina Turner—the rock stars—are a disturbing contrast to the dull, sullen, angry hundreds of thousands who have come to hear them. For one thing the performers are working and even if the pay is outrageous, the acts somewhat tarnished by time, there is still discipline, energy, travel, planning, and talent. Each one is a presence, unique, competitive, formed by uncommon experiences. The crowd, however, is just a huge clot of dazed swayings, fatuous smilings, empty nightmares, threatening hallucinations, and just plain meanness. 

There is death everywhere, and of every sort, in the dead, drugged eyes and in the jostling, nervous kicks and shoves. Everyone is a danger to himself and to others. One could be stabbed by a “mystic” who thought he was God or Satan; or choked by the lowering, alcoholic violence of the Hell’s Angels just for brushing against one of their sweating arms. Someone is having a baby—another corny freakout, you find yourself thinking. The owner of the Altamont Speedway, where the concert took place, wants the birth mentioned in the media as a “first.” “Easy, easy,” Grace Slick pleads from the stage. “Why are you people fighting?” Mick Jagger wants to know. After the concert, two young boys were killed when a car left the highway and crashed into their campfire. Another young man, drugged, fell into a canal and was drowned. 

Thinking about the predatory girls who call themselves “the groupies,” remembering their obscene reveries and their moronic self-exploitation, one wants to hold back from description. One of the young men connected with the film said, in a press interview, that he was horrified by the girls and that they were stoned out of their minds all of the time. The girls are hoarse and coarse and not one arouses pity of the kind we feel for the pimply, snaggletooth synthetic girl. Holly Woodlawn, in Trash. All are despised by everyone, by the cameramen, the producers, the rock stars, just as Holly is despised by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey.

The main life of Trash comes from the perverse, proletarian vitality of Holly Woodlawn, who comes across to us as rotting skin and bones, kept alive by the blood of mascara and the breath of discarded clothing from the city’s trash barrels. Still, the people in charge of the film show their hatred by a long, boring, hideous scene in which Holly buggers herself to some sort of satisfactory exhaustion with a beer bottle. This scene is pure sadistic contempt and is also gratuitous, since it is unreal, even strangely unconvincing. Or not strangely.

The groupies take plaster casts of the parts of rock stars—or they claim the stars as the origin of their “collection.” The idea came to one of them, she says into the waiting microphones, when an art teacher said one could make a plaster cast of “anything hard.” “Wow,” grunts the groupie. She later describes herself in the more delicate moments of the casting as being “very gingerly.”

Certainly these girls are in extremity, pushing out beyond the horizon. Yet they are not much more freakish nor are they more obscene than the teen radicals in Dance the Eagle to Sleep. In the novel, Joanna, the girl most admired and desired by the boys, is serenaded with a little song that goes:

Joanna has a hairy cunt.
It’s the kind of cunt I want.
I get on my knees and grunt 
For a touch of Jo-Jo’s hairy cunt!

Still the groupies contain in every swagger and delusion genetic reminders of their parents, longing for the kiss of celebrity; aging Stalinists seem to haunt the memories in Ice; Holly Woodlawn says in the film she was born on welfare and while that is probably a fiction there is no reason why she might not have been. Hell’s Angels and the vaguely disoriented crowds are both caught up in mindless anarchy. What can one make of these deaths, since death is the feeling most clearly projected by radical and freak, girl and boy: death by drugs, by the misery and dreariness of the commune; death by political enemies, death to political enemies, death in “regional actions,” by helicopters raining destruction on teen tribes, death at the free rock festival, in the eyes of Miss Harlow, the little groupie with frizzy hair.

At his trial, perhaps feeling the sorrow of his complicity in the death of Che Guevara, Regis Debray said: “The tragedy is that we do not kill objects, numbers, abstract or interchangeable instruments, but, precisely, on both sides, irreplaceable individuals, essentially innocent, unique….”

Something pitiless and pathological has seeped into youth’s love of itself, its body, its politics. Self-love is an idolatry. Self-hatred is a tragedy. But the life around us is not a pageant of coldness and folly to which we have paid admission and from which we can withdraw as it becomes boring. You feel a transcendental joke links us all together; some sordid over-soul hangs out there in the heavy air. No explanation—the nuclear bomb, the Vietnam war, the paralyzing waste of problems and vices that our lives and even the virtues of our best efforts have led to—explains. Yet it would be dishonorable to try to separate ourselves from our deforming history and from the depressing dreams being acted out in its name.

After the squalor of Trash, The Groupies, and Dance the Eagle to Sleep, one comes back to the girl in Professor Adorno’s class. What did she think her bare breasts meant? What philosophy and message could this breathing nude embody? In one of his last essays Adorno wrote, “Sanctioned delusions allow a dispensation from comparison with reality….” And he also said, “Of the world as it exists, one cannot be enough afraid.” The students may have known all about the second idea, but perhaps they could not forgive him the first.

“Sanctioned delusions..." including his own.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The mediocrity of John Ganz—again—the failed painter in Bushwick. His highlighting

Peter Thiel is a fascist. There’s really no better word for what he is. For some reason, people have a lot of trouble grasping this or just coming out and saying it. 

In his biography of Thiel, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power, Max Chafkin writes, “The Thiel ideology is complicated and, in parts, self-contradictory, and will take many of the pages that follow to explore, but it combines an obsession with technological progress with nationalist politics—a politics that at times has seemingly flirted with white supremacy.” Let’s see, we’ve go some futurism, nationalism, maybe a little bit of racism here and there…hmm, what does that all add up to? What a mystery this guy is!

...But being anti-democratic is one thing, but how could the libertarian, the defender of individual freedom, the believer in the market ever really be a fascist, an ideology that celebrates the collective masses and the state? I think part of the problem is that there is still a very cartoonish notion of what actually-existing fascism looked like.

Back to Bacharach: "I was a Gay Jewish Teenage Nazi"; also Milo Yiannopoulos, and Jörg Haider,
Michael Kühnen et al.

"For Kuhnen, there was something supermacho about being a Nazi, as well as being a homosexual, both of which enforced his sense of living on the edge, of belonging to an elite that was destined to make an impact. He told a West German journalist that homosexuals were 'especially well-suited for our task, because they do not want ties to wife, children and family.'" 

"Should a homosexual be a good citizen?" Leo Bersani asked in Homos in 1995, expressing a gay skepticism that has dogged every upsurge of gay politics. Bersani's doubt results from his diagnosis of "the rage for respectability ... in gay life today." He locates that rage in postmodern dissolutions of gay identity, in clamors for gay marriage and gay parenting, in queer antisepticizings of gay sex. "Useful thought," Homos suggests, might result from "questioning the compatibility of homosexuality with civic service." And from questioning more: Bersani makes a claim about social being itself. He hypothesizes "that homo-ness ... necessitates a massive redefining of relationality," that it instances "a potentially revolutionary inaptitude perhaps inherent in gay desire for sociality as it is known." If there is anything "politically indispensable" in homosexuality, it is its "politically unacceptable" opposition to community. Thus Homos paradoxically formulates what might be called "the antisocial thesis" in contemporary queer theory.

The contradictions are the point. Conservatism is anti-individualist but not destructive of the individual as such. Fascism is the cult of individualism and the destruction of individuality. The destruction of the self. 

"Self-hated is the foundation of fascism. Self-hatred directed outward: the Catholic Integralists and faggots disgusted by the fact that most people don't know enough to hate themselves." 

Bersani: "No one wants to be called a homosexual."
Yiannopoulos:  "If I could choose, I wouldn't be a homosexual."  
On the other side of Brooklyn, a hipster lesbian discovers the pleasures of pleasure.
Initially, Fishman’s narrator is herself an aspiring ascetic. A young barista adrift in Brooklyn, Eve is concerned by the various evils of modern life – capitalism, sexism, environmental degradation – but remains unsure what, if anything, she can do about them. “My friends and I were raised without real religion and without a comparable ethics of living through which to filter our beliefs and ambitions,” she reports. “We were encouraged to care deeply about the state of our world but our ability to affect it personally was very much in doubt.” What Eve can control is her own wayward desire, or so she is committed to believing. She belongs to a set “to whom queerness meant a specific type of ethical awareness”, and lesbianism arises in her life “like a faith”. Her girlfriend, Romi, represents her ideal. A doctor of withering virtuousness, Romi is “so preoccupied with her vocation that she [is] immune to beauty. The concept [hasn’t] occurred to her outside an introductory art-history course.”

Review by Becca Rothfeld.  It's all so silly, or just sad. 

I'm not sure why people are surprised and even upset that some teenagers don't know who the hell bin Laden is.
...The kids are fine. It's our elite overlords that are all screwed up.

The kids are idiots, and so are their overlords. 

Friday, July 22, 2022

still writing, maybe

repeat from 2003

Earlier tonight my neighbor told me he's gotten a break; he's not going to do any time. He was arrested a few months ago for pistol-whipping someone on the subway in a drunken rage, and he's going to be able to keep his job. I told him I was happy for him, which I am. He showed me the head of Jesus that he's having tattooed on the left side of his chest and stomach. He said the one his mother won't be so happy about, also of Jesus, will be on the other side; the face will have horns and will be screaming in pain. I said Jesus had had a hard life. He said it was probably closer to the expression Jesus had on his face before he died. We talked for a few minutes. He said it doesn't matter what side you worship, you'll will be taken care of, but that now he's worshiping "the better angel." I said life is complex. He said no, it's simple. It's just hard.

I just wasted an hour at a bar listening to a couple of slackers doing an open mike tribute to Johnny Cash. At one point I watched a shaggy ex-suburbanite, who could probably pass as Matthew Yglesias' kid brother, singing along—"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die"—pointing a cocked finger at the head of a friend next to him, laughing with an expression that betrayed no knowledge of violence. The 12 years olds on my block have a better understanding of the world.

He was my landlady's son. He was a court officer. A year earlier he'd talked to me about a judge he'd been assigned to who he thought didn't like him. "A little Jewish lady." Later he said he'd changed his mind, that maybe she'd changed hers, because of the way he handled the people who appeared before her. It was criminal court, and he saw himself as someone who could easily be in their situation, so he told them simply that they had to get through this, and that the fastest way was the best. He respected them, and he told me he thought she'd understood how he was helping her. He kept his job and his assignment, but without the gun.  

Around the same time, the same few years, a couple of Latino kids kids walking down the street, 12 or 13, a boy and a girl, the girl angry that someone had brought coke to a party—"I don't want to see that shit!"—passing two white suburban 20-somethings, dressed like children at a church picnic, sitting outside a laundromat, now wearing expressions of near panic. 


Born in Greenpoint.
Father, born Austria-Hungary.
Father worked in the mines in Homestead PA before moving to New York. She says he never wanted to talk about it. I told her my grandfather was a Pinkerton.
—My grandfather was born in the Bronx. My grandmother was born on South 6th Street
in Williamsburg—
25 years on the floor at Leviton.
11 years as the manager of a small store on Manhattan Ave.
Wanted to be a doctor.
Languages: English, Polish, Slovak, Russian, French.
Maintains a correspondence since 1947, in French, with a woman who knew and now tends the grave of her brother, killed and buried just before the end of the war, in 1945.


A few nights ago I sat in cafe owned by a half-German Cypriot from London, listening to a discussion of Arabic diacriticals between a Bulgarian raised in Morocco and an Iranian-Bangladeshi fashion stylist who's just broken up, again, with her Afro-Scottish boyfriend. The Bulgarian studied kickboxing in Thailand and has an MBA from France. Between them they speak 12 languages. 
The next night I sat in a Bosnian wine bar drinking with an Israeli fascist and a Croatian ex-Nazi. Next to them were an Indian pharmacologist, a former dancer for Dolly Parton, his Moroccan roommate, and a gay ex-priest.  The bartender was from Macedonia; the Afro-Swedish waitress has the number one blues album in France, and the uncle of another led Serbian battalions in Kosovo. She's studying international law. The father of a Serbian waitress at the Cypriot cafe was indicted at the Hague. She does stand up. She started a gig at an AIDS benefit by wishing her ex-boyfriend was HIV positive and dying. About the new one she says "My boyfriend is black, and I'm from Serbia.  Once you go black, you can't go back." The Croatian Nazi has great stories about the war. "Cover me! I'm going for a beer."

Monica opened her cafe in 1995. She's been back in Cyprus since 2016 and closed the place in 2020.  The wine bar's been gone for years. In 2005 a Bulgarian/Irish bartender from the Bronx, working at a small lounge on Broadway asked me if I thought the Manhattanites would take over, adding: "I hope not. I like the diversity." The same year a European gallery owner in Manhattan told me she'd stopped coming out to Astoria. "The Americans are moving in". Astoria had been a place to go for Europeans in Manhattan. But it was the Mediterranean from Spain to Beirut, and north and south, and then the Caribbean and South America. The French were among the first to move out, not forced by gentrification but by choice. I have more stories than I can count. At 2 AM one night an Egyptian restaurant owner ran into to a Croatian bar yelling "Bourdain came in!" A few months later he did a show there.  A trio of Mexican kids, early 20s, young and loud walk in and look at the bar menu—it was the wine list—and say something to the German owner. She comes back with a bottle of wine and three glasses, pours a little in the glass in front of the kid who placed the order, who while still talking to his friends, puts two fingers on the base of the glass and moves it on a tight circle. He took a sip and nodded. She poured wine in the three glasses. He wasn't being an asshole; he was a restaurant worker in a good restaurant and someone had taken the time to teach him. And the owner wasn't annoyed. It was all polite, professional, but it took place on grounds most of the Americans moving into the neighborhood can't recognize. I dated a Croatian women I met at that bar—opened by a Croatian and a woman born in East Berlin—she was  artist and lived in Paris, and made extra money every year as a translator at Cannes. Her father had built large projects in Yugoslavia. At the Cypriot bar I met a Bosnian from Sarajevo whose grandfather had been recruited into Tito's partisans, by Tito. She was reading his autobiography, which is unpublishable now. There's too much dirt on too many people.

I used to see Maseratis on 30th Avenue on Saturday nights. One of my neighbors owns a BMW i8. In winter of 2003 or 4 a Greek tile man on a job told everyone his summer plan: home to get his motorcycle then ride from Athens to the Spanish Riviera. He talked about riding in the US, in the south, the midwest, going to small towns. "In any country you go somewhere, you ask, what do you drink here? What do you eat? I want to know!" He had an audience of 10, carpenters, plasterers, laborers, people from 5 countries, all nodding."And here they don't want you! What a stupid country!" 

The German moved back to Berlin with her Dominican husband. His mother was Dominican Japanese and he could never speak to his grandmother growing up because she didn't speak Spanish. At 20 he got on a freighter and went to Japan. He spent a year working in a restaurant working for a man who treated him like shit. At the end his boss told him he'd done it because you have to be tough to survive. It was never personal. And he learned what he needed to learn. After seven years he owned a diving company and he could go back to the Dominican Republic and talk to his grandmother. In NY he worked for a Japanese software company. He didn't speak German when they moved to Berlin, but I'm sure it took less that a year; I know a Bulgarian woman who learned English after six months in Rancho Cucamonga. 

I walked into another bar, underdressed in an old hoodie, and the man walking in behind me, grey-haired, in jeans, a crisp white shirt and suit jacket looked at me with annoyed contempt. The only empty seat was next to mine. I frowned and tugged at my cuffs, and he laughed. Five minutes later he launched into a speech: "They killed babies!! Both of them! Murderers!" Milosevic and Tudjman. He wanted to unburden himself to an outsider. "Tito put my father in jail... My father loved Tito!" Some dogs need a leash.

I got drunk with a former finance minister of Bangladesh, at at Irish bar owned by a cop. He had the hots for the Polish bartender, the daughter of former high ranking officers in the secret police in communist Poland, who had the hots for me. He was introduced by a neighbor who remembers the famine in 1974, looking out the window of father's Mercedes. My neighbor has land on three continents, but the crash in Florida hurt him. His five children, all top of their classes, will be going to the Ivy League or Trinity Dublin. His wife's sister is still a bit confused, "She was the conservative one". His parents were relieved. Hard drinking Muslim men and Irish Catholic wives. I've seen it more than once. It seems to work. 

I have plenty of stories where I don't come off well. But these are different from the stories where I'm the butt of jokes. "You think you're any better than any of those other gringo assholes!" The grill man at a Mexican coffee shop is yelling at me." I yell back: But you're saying that to my face!" He tilts his head to one side and laughs. His nephew went to Russia for the World Cup, and then to Germany and the Netherlands. "You said Europe was different! But they all want to be America!" The crowd went wild at Octoberfest singing along with Four Non Blondes. Later his descriptions became more specific and softer. He'd been to Canada years before he went to Europe and felt the difference. He's going to Spain in November. About the changes here he says, "We make Taco Bell tacos now." 

I've been ridiculed by people from 20 countries, many of whom are used to being treated like shit by people who look and sound like me. "You're not a real New Yorker. You're from Queens", says an NYU student with high school French, to a woman who speaks 6 languages and is married to a Frenchman. The man behind the counter at a Yemeni deli who now puts up with white suburban brats, has family in Algiers, Istanbul and Milan, and went on a family vacation to Amsterdam. He shrugs it off. But the nice Americans behave like social workers, wanting to help the weak.

That's just a short list, a few stories stripped of details about people I've met, some of whom don't like me, and the comparison, of these descriptions and those lives, with the flatness of the American political imagination, or the serious and earnest political imagination, mocked by Tocqueville and others. Immigrants think Americans are idiots. And when I say they came here so that their children will be idiots, they agree. 

On the subway a couple of days ago after work and after the end of of Roe v Wade I passed a couple of earnest young activists, the man with a placard, "Ban Guns" and a frown. I kept walking, and sat down across from two black women, well dressed, with expensive braids. They were fuming. I was a white guy in work clothes covered in dust, and I engaged them, as I do. Fifteen minutes later they got off the train; one of them looked back and we said goodbye to each other. I'd argued class over race, but without denying it's a racist country. The second woman focused on race. She attacked the democrats and I said—not asking a question— "including Obama", and she said "Yes!" She said she didn't see a reason for voting for them anymore. I didn't ask her what her other options were, but I'll take her anger, defending her interests, over the earnest young activists defending their ideals. You can argue with anger but you can't argue with faith.