Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Promoting Untruths and
Tangled Webs

Rough draft. Just a short one I hope. It's a nice evening and I've got a good reason to go out and enjoy it.

Both the links above are to posts at Crooked Timber, both of which in turn are responses to posts on other sites, one by Norman Geras and one by the teenage philosopher, Matthew Yglesias.
I was going to do something earlier, but the best I could do was add a link to my old post on the Donmar Warehouse productions I saw last year. My comments on den Beste and Laura from "Apt 11d" also apply. You may as well reread everything I've posted since Friday to understand the context. And as I write this, I remember another post from the week before in response to Brian Leiter, on the notion of sophistication and the a defense of the notion of connoisseurship and "depth."
...there's something illogical in shallow presumptions of one's own logic. One does not learn by subsuming oneself in systems, one learns by using systems to organize information; but there are always things that do not fit.
I'll put this simply. As Laura from Apartment 11d is not a sophisticated judge of human nature, neither Matthew Yglesias nor Henry Farrell are particularly sophisticated readers of art, while Norman Geras in his similarly programmatic response to Paul Krugman's piece in the Times on Fahrenheit 911, comes off almost as a political vulgarian.
So, how I read all this is that it's OK, according to Krugman, to promote untruths, unproven conspiracy theories, other tendentious stuff, in the service of partisan political judgements. This reminds me of three things. One is what was recently said by some on behalf of Piers Morgan when he published pictures of British brutality in Iraq that were not authentic. Another is this snatch of conversation from Sleepless in Seattle:
Co-Worker: It's easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40!
Annie: That statistic is not true!
Becky: That's right it's not true, but it feels true.
The third are the reasons in favour of political honesty, especially over issues that are highly controversial.
First of all, Spiderman 2 is intelligent hackwork. It's smart but sloppy: everything in it done by the numbers, by people who know how to do better but have no need to. Farrell and Yglesias know those numbers, not the cinematic but the thematic variety, and debate the ways and manners of servitude. They aren't debating movies, they're arguing over systems. As for Geras, he seems to forget the reasons we have a system of adversarial justice. As someone said in the comments at CT, Moore is acting as a prosecutor. He is 'telling a story.' There may be arguments to be made about the esthetics and ethics of storytelling in the courtroom, or the public sphere -I remember from my childhood the dinner table discussions of the rhetorical styles of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King- but Geras has an attachment to an analysis from systems of meaning, whereas lawyers -trial lawyers if not legal philosophers- make use of systems of form. Krugman's qualified defense of Moore's film is not an invitation to nihilism, any more than my qualified defense of den Beste is an invitation to rude behavior. And my defense of art against the rule of illustration is not an argument for obscurity but for due process, something Geras in his moralizing claims is unnecessary.

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