Friday, July 15, 2005

Summer Repeats:
A major problem, I want to say the major intellectual problem, with liberal American political thinking is an inability to be both intellectual, in the sense of aspiring to reason, and yet be aware of the inevitability of unreason in human actions. As someone who recently for the first time in five years and only by unhappy necessity got behind the wheel of a car, I'm amazed that the roads of the world are not awash in blood and rusted steel. The fact that they aren't is to our credit but that's no justification for Chomsky's idealism or Steven Weinberg's metaphysical arguments for the superiority of hard science and our need for a new Superconducting Supercollider.
I'm more interested in how we perceive the world than in what that world might actually be, more interested in the history of law than the history of rocks. That's not an argument against medicine or medical research, but since Richard Lewontin keeps reminding us that money spent on public health would save more lives than what's spent on research, I don't think my tastes are irrational.

Two more points on Theory.
American literary theory has its origins, first post-Sputnik and then post Vietnam, in the fears and insecurities of academic readers of literature vis-a-vis the larger academic -technical and scientific- community. What in Europe was a means of ironic self reflection -Before The Revolution and after The War- became first estheticized and depoliticized at Yale, as modern architecture had been 40 years earlier at MoMA, and then in a repeat, as farce, of a simple modernist strategy, repoliticized as defense and self-justification for a younger and even more nervous generation of humanities graduates. This entire process marks the move away from a taste for self-consciously great if eccentric public characters, to the tastes of an equally self-conscious but cloistered academic ghetto. The fantasies of "progress" in the arts qua art, became the fantasy of art as science. I can't begin to calculate the amount of shit I've put up with as a skilled tradesman in the presence of supposedly educated liberals who had no awareness of my double life, and in another context as a painter, a maker of artworks in a supposedly conservative medium, among theory-besotted mediaphiles high on pseudo-Marxism, the faux-aristocratic snobbery of queer theory, and Wall Street cash. 

Paraphrasing something I wrote 20 years ago: After the failures of the sixties, of the last attempt by members of the middle class to associate themselves wholeheartedly with workers and the poor, the next generation, and the same generation grown older, found a way to dedicate themselves to themselves and call it a radical act. All that theory or theory driven art succeeds in doing is documenting its authors' fears and preoccupations. That's fine with me but they pretend it's more than that, and it isn't.

I've been on the scene for a while.


  1. I never realized you were such an old coot. :P

    Lot of good posts this week, btw, starting here abouts.

  2. What can I say? I started young.


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