Saturday, November 29, 2008

Time and Consensus

When my family and I ate out in the Italy of my youth and early decades of my marriage, we would look for any plain trattoria where we could find the kind of cooking that was closest to what my mother and father were putting on the table at home. The person making the meal may have been the owner or his wife or his mother, or someone working in total anonymity. He or she was never referred to as the chef, but as il cuoco or la cuoca, the cook.

This was the old world of Mediterranean family cooking, a world where satisfying flavors had been arrived at over time and by consensus. That world hasn’t disappeared, but it has receded, making room for a parallel world, one where food is often entertainment, spectacle, news, fashion, science, a world in which surprise — whether it’s on the plate or beyond it — is vital. This is the world of chefs.
see "Rules and Beer" from the 24th, and "Rules vs Trust" from the 22nd, etc.

Marcella Hazan

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Willem Buiter, Financial Times
What is to be done? Banks that don’t lend to the non-financial enterprise sector and to households are completely and utterly useless, like tits on a bull. If they won’t lend spontaneously, it is the job of the government to make them lend. Banks have no other raison d’être. I can think of three ways to get them to lend using the coercive powers of the state.
Helena Cobban
The Security Cooperation and Coordination Committee of Iraq's neighboring countries held its third meeting in Damascus Sunday. This 'Contact Group' brings together representatives of the UN, the US, Iraq's neighbors (including Iran), and other relevant international actors. It has been quietly working behind the scenes since April 2007 to help stabilize Iraq and expedite an orderly transition to the country's full independence. The two earlier meetings of the SCCC were also held in Damascus, in April and August 2007.

Who, consuming only the western MSM, would have known about Sunday's landmark meeting?"
The "MSM" would include Josh Marshall's organization.
Cobban links to Reuters
The United States stood alone at a conference on Sunday in accusing host Syria of sheltering militants attacking Iraq, while other countries adopted a more conciliatory tone, delegates said.
No other state present at the conference on security for Iraq joined Washington in its open criticism, weeks after a U.S. raid on Syria that targeted suspected militants linked to al Qaeda, they told Reuters.

U.S. Charge d'Affaires Maura Connelly... told a closed session that Syria must stop allowing what she called terrorist networks using its territory as a base for attacks in Iraq.

Washington's leading Western ally, Britain, has recently praised Syria for preventing foreign fighters from infiltrating into Iraq, and its foreign secretary, David Miliband, was in Damascus this week pursuing detente with Syria.

"The American diplomat's speech was blunt and short. The United States was the only country at the conference to criticise Syria openly," one of the delegates said.
The Bush administration has adopted a much looser interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday — just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote.

These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.

Officials in Washington said the administration has withheld the official English translation of the agreement in an effort to suppress a public dispute with the Iraqis until after the Iraqi parliament votes.

"There are a number of areas in here where they have agreement on the same wording but different understandings about what the words mean," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Middle East Times
Half of Gaza's bakeries have closed down and the other half have resorted to animal feed to produce bread as Israel's complete blockade of the coastal territory enters its 19th day.
Jerusalem Post
General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann said the international community should consider sanctions against Israel including "boycott, divestment and sanctions" similar to those enacted against South Africa two decades ago.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Weathermen were a small group of bourgeois romantics who committed a few violent but minor acts and then faded away. If they'd been organized enough to blow up an army base and then escape to Cuba or even if they got caught and were executed, unrepentant, they would he heroes to people in many countries. As it is they came home to Mama. But Ayers wants to indulge the romance of radicalism while enjoying the respect society offers a successful reformer. He didn't turn the offer of the title "citizen of the year" made by the city of Chicago. He should state simply that his past efforts were ineffectual and then say either that they should have blown up an army base or that the whole thing was a stupid mistake. If the former then he should stop "palling around" with mainstream politicians. Every time he opened his mouth to clarify, to make things easier for Obama, the more he made things worse. He also makes it worse for those who still harbor a nostalgia for intellectualized violence.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki has said that the only German he ever met who fully understood the significance of the Nazi era to the Jews was Ulrike Meinhof.

Monday, November 24, 2008

There is a distinctly West European flavor to the social calendar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these days, as affluent buyers from France, Germany, Italy and Britain are transforming a neighborhood better known for attracting hipsters, Midwesterners and Polish immigrants.

...Many of the immigrants say they have chosen Williamsburg partly because it is cheaper than Manhattan, but also because it is reminiscent of the cities they left behind. They say they like its cafes, its more muted displays of wealth (well, more muted than Manhattan’s) and an artistic vibe that reminds some of the Marais neighborhood in Paris, or Brighton, England. The sense of community has softened their pain of being far from friends and relatives.

“Most of my friends actually are French,” said Scheyla Carriglio, a transplant from Barcelona who bought her Williamsburg apartment two years ago and is a part owner of Mamalu, a coffee shop with an indoor playground on North 12th Street. “I hardly have any friends who are not European.”

..When Mr. Patel longs for HobNobs biscuits or Branston Pickle relish, he heads to Marlow & Sons, a Williamsburg restaurant. When he wants to watch soccer matches, he hangs out at Spike Hill. Four sets of his British friends are moving to Williamsburg, and he is pleased that the friends he has made in the neighborhood talk less about work when they’re off the job than do most New Yorkers.

“There isn’t that same kind of talk about money and jobs,” he said. “People leave work at work. It’s more like friends back home.”
NY is a great place for immigrants to meet one another; and it's not hard to avoid Americans in social life. Left unmentioned is the fact that the Polish immigrants have been bourgeoisifying their neighborhood in similar ways, ways Americans are incapable of. And even if their sensibility is more vulgar than the new and wealthier western Europeans they have much in common. The statement of preference of Europeans for Europeans as opposed to other non-Americans may be more anomalous than the author realizes.

Marion is, by her description, “a big black woman,” and hardly a retiring type. But when she walks into the new French café in her neighborhood — a place dominated by thin, pale, chic people — nobody sees her. It’s not that she’s being ignored, she says; it’s that “I don’t exist.” In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, her longtime neighborhood, she has become an invisible woman.
On the other hand, theatergoers who attend “Taking Over,” the fiery polemical portrait gallery of a play that opened Sunday night at the Public Theater, will find Marion impossible to overlook and hard to forget. She is embodied by a big white guy named Danny Hoch, the play’s author and sole performer.

...That’s the hard-core group of New Yorkers in Williamsburg, of varying ethnicity and slender means, who have come under siege from a growing army of upper-middle-class invaders. In the segment that begins the show, set during a Community Day celebration, an angry young man of Polish and Puerto Rican descent named Robert takes microphone in hand to denounce the “yuppie alternative-rocker, post-punk white people — and black people too,” who are effectively running him and his family out of town. “Why are you here?” he screams into the audience. “Nobody wants you here!”

For all his flashy rage, Robert, it turns out, is one of the less interesting characters portrayed by Mr. Hoch in “Taking Over,” which zigzags between peaks of brilliance and plateaus of preachiness. Yes, Robert tells it like it is, in the bluest language this side of David Mamet. But he’s still a man on a soapbox, delivering a speech. And when, toward the end, Mr. Hoch shows up as Danny Hoch, a Brooklyn playwright in a fighting mood, you realize that he and Robert have a fair amount in common.
I used to claim that the US didn't have a bourgeoisie, only a lumpenproletariat with extra cash. And as I said above the new Western and Eastern Europeans have a lot in common, the westerners representing in many ways what the easterners aspire to. But there are divisions and tensions within the Polish community as well, between "new people" and "old people," immigrants from the cold war era and their descendants, and those who came more recently not to escape but to climb. The recent arrivals to Greenpoint view this country with the same irony as Mexicans and Ecuadorians, or newer immigrants from anywhere. The Puerto Ricans are a different issue, they're the Chicanos of the east coast, and Hoch's Polish-Puerto Rican character would most likely descend from earlier immigrants on both sides of his family.

And here we get to a discussion of poetry and sincerity. Read the reviewer's critical response to Robert as a character of art. Danny Hoch prides himself on his skills with mimesis, his ability to make characters "true to life."  If you ran into Robert on the street you wouldn't critique him as unpoetic; in the context of Williamsburg he's as articulate or inarticulate as many people in his situation, and his anger is as justified as theirs. To a theater critic Robert the character is "a man on a soapbox, delivering a speech."  He is just being political.

What Hoch and many others before him don't understand is that art made to reinforce political conviction also undermines it. Self-conscious "sincerity" and art don't mix well.
Danny Hoch, Primo Levi and William Ayers. More later.

Rules and Beer: Law is hard convention Convention is soft law

The connection should be clear enough.
note taking. my comments elsewhere. neatened up a bit here.
Between corporate and industrial culture and the cult of individual self-expression there's the culture of community, communication, and language. Nothing that's been made the same way for hundreds of years has actually been made the same way for hundreds of years; that applies to beer as much as law. It’s slow change. You put 20 people in a room you’ll get an argument. You put 3 people in a room followed by 3 more as the first ones leave and 3 more following again on and on for 500 years you might get something interesting, whether it’s or bread or beer or wine or cheese or Homer or the Bible.
Budweiser is not good beer. Microbrewers, by and large, miss the point. Of course they do, they’re beer geeks.

This is the critique from cultural “depth” which some conflate with mysticism or ‘spirituality.’ It’s simpler than that: subtlety takes time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama: Bread and services not principle.

Rules vs Trust: Language always changes, so what are rules?

Communication isn't about ideas, it's about people.
Something Leiter et. al don't understand.

[above (in case it vanishes): Brian Leiter and Scott Shapiro-Hart/Dworkin and theoretical disagreement.]

Crooked Timber and Balkin

A judge is an orator, a public speaker trying to win over his audience, or at least gain their respect for the possible logic of his decision even if they disagree.
The purpose of law is not the search for truth but for for social stability and peace.
The truth itself is unknowable.
[Maybe he killed her, maybe he didn't.]

The foundational Ideological commitment in a democracy is the commitment to getting along. Truth is a function of the social and any conclusion must be socially acceptable.
Dworkin's Hercules is a fictional character, like Socrates.
Laws must be, or appear to be, non-contradictory. Principles are under no such obligation. Legal decisions are public performances in defense of one description of an illusory seamless web: our mythmaking of ourselves and our processes.

Positivists are interested in rules, in numbers and grammar, and of course they mythologize their own positions. Anything in language will be contextualized by history. American legal realism manifests itself as a datable aspect of an era, as does post-war American rationalism. There is no equivalent in physics or mathematics and to say otherwise is to analogize words as numbers, and perception as Platonism. Naturalized epistemology is an inappropriate philosophical basis for a democracy. The only foundation in law in a democracy is theater.

Again (a reminder): If 1 is next to 2, 2 next to 3, 3 next to 4, and 4 next to 5, is 1 therefore next to 5?
No. Numbers in their relations to one another neither evolve or devolve. Language always changes. Law in a democracy is one aspect of the public marking/manifestation of change.

The question in TVA v. Hill was whether the courts or the legislature had the right to make a decision and under what terms. Is it permissible in our system, as we define it at this time that the courts have such authority?
The question is: can we as we imagine ourselves now, get there from here?
Social truth not objective truth.
The argument in law is a public argument over the definition of our language and ourselves in the present, not an argument over external objective truths. The only natural law is the law that says language is and society are artificial.
and again
On general questions: Democratic justice is not justice, but one definition of justice. Justice or law can be defined as a language structure perceived commonly as manifesting a stable order in which things and people have a specific role and place. Law is a roadway and a map to the world. There is law and justice in a monarchy as long as people perceive it. Barbarism is society without law. Fascism is society of the hypocritical pretense of law: law as kitsch. The mechanisms of such an order make it far more violent than simple barbarism.

Art and culture are the history of human self-description and self-definition. This in law [its foundation and penumbra]

This is all so basic it depresses me to need to form it as an argument.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gaza at crisis point

And read the links on the right.

From Arabist

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm reposting this. It seemed apropos.
Notes towards something

The esthetics of oratory: the beautiful argument.
The esthetics of sense: the beautiful shape.
TJ Clark: the falseness of the courtesan/the falseness of cubism.
The falseness of language in TJ Clark's late writing: the beauty of ideas not as representations but as things.
politics is being absorbed back into esthetics as an esthetic criterion. The esthetization of politics, politics for art's sake, so no longer "representative" of anything other than itself as idea. Eliot, Duchamp, reactionary Modernism. The preference for language over the world. TJ Clark in his labyrinth.

There's the world and there's what we make of it. The greatest poetry allows each person to experience the gap between the author's representations and the external (and unknowable) but the greatest poetry is always representative. Ming vases and architecture are secondary form. The poetry of ideas -as opposed to representations- is a secondary hybrid and perverse: the idea as esthetic object, the poetry of reification. The best Modern[ist] art is the art of crisis, of dubious representation overcome by slight of hand: by formal trickery.

The imagery of Modernism is often kitsch [Avant-Garde is Kitsch] and often pornographic. Pornography being a mode of illustration, illustration being a mode of representation, and kitsch being the mode of violently aspirational illustration, poetry must be recuperated by other means. The art of Modernity succeeds, when it does, by describing desperation rather than merely succumbing to it. And when it falls it falls harder than any art before it. Art made after 1800 -art in the age of instrumentalism- is the first to face the risk of "failure." Mozart never failed, but Beethoven did. Mozart's primary interest was in his craft. Beethoven was interested in ideas.

Duchamp's Fountain is a porcelain figurine. Cut to the chase: it's a pussy. It's figurative art. In its vulgarity it's "Manet's Olympia, for 1917" making a -dirty- joke on Ingres' La Source. but it's also a step backwards. It's a step backwards from Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, as an act of representation. Les demoiselles were "Manet's Olympia for 1907" though the painting wasn't shown until 1916, and even then was labeled obscene.

Duchamp's sexuality is closer to Gerome's than Courbet's: Courbet wasn't perverse. Duchamp was always the schoolboy, mischievous or twittering (your pick), to Eliot's fragile and fearful neurasthenic. The neotenization of Modern Art: from late adolescence to early (if that).
Is a readymade installed in a large exhibition anything other than an element collaged into a public space?
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
A "stock" phrase is a readymade, a stock phrase well placed and well timed can be brilliant, and the curves of Duchamp's porcelain whore are as blandly stylized as Picasso's beatific bathers from the 20's.
Kitsch: the choice for desire over craft; wishful thinking; short circuiting a process to achieve results that are in retrospect -lets face it- always silly, even the most evil. What's a happy ending without a story?
Cezanne begins with kitsch, and struggles with it. He was a failed painter before he decided to make his limitations his subject. If his work succeeds as representation it's only in the representation of the space -physical and psychological- between the object and the eye. Only one step away from the representation of "ideas."
Clark is doing Pynchon in reverse: tightening up, ending up Harold Pinter. Ending up a Modernist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kitsch idealism. Idealism as drag performance. Nostalgia

Geek Humanism is an oxymoron.
Note-taking: idiocy
parts of my two comments
”To contemplate the possibility that words like “all men are created equal” might be bigger and more noble and enduring than the flawed men who wrote them. Like George Lucas and the original Star Wars.”

I don’t know what’s more absurd: the belabored effort to make an obvious and simple point about textual interpretation, or that the second text invoked is Star Wars….

The Constitution is a revolutionary text, and its laced with ambiguities. Did you know that in Canada the Living Tree Doctrine states that Originalism is not a valid argument in Constitutional interpretation? Imagine how boring out country would be if the opposite poles of our legal discourse were suddenly shoved that much closer to one another? The moment Scalia opens his mouth to sing, Zero Mostel shouts: "Th…ank you!!"...
From the introductory sentences to this post, referring to:
“a characteristic American tendency to see radical social change as the inevitable expression of values expressed and promises made at the country’s inception”

Divide in two:
1- Radicalism and revolution.
2- The expression of values over time.
There is no necessary relation of one to the other, and the difference between Canada and the US is in the former, not the latter. The debate over interpretation in the United States is one of dynamic extremes, the debate in Canada is not. The process itself is more or less identical.
There will never be one Constitution as there will never be one Bible, or even one King James Version [how many Christian denominations use it?]; as there will never be one history of the Revolutionary War or biography of Winston Churchill. There will never be one Shakespeare or Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In language and communication oneness is banality. Democracy is the culture of language in use. You do honor to an idea or a text by arguing over it. This is something MacDougall can't quite grasp.
I try to explain this maneuver to my students, to show them how it returns again and again in American rhetoric. And then they are free to make up their minds about it. It is logical and entirely defensible to decide, as I think Bercovitch does, that the whole thing is a kind of put on. … But I like my students to at least try to hear the music. To imagine themselves Americans for a day. To contemplate the possibility that words like “all men are created equal” might be bigger and more noble and enduring than the flawed men who wrote them. Like George Lucas and the original Star Wars.
It's not a put-on to make an argument about the meanings of a text. It's not a put-on to make an argument about Shakespeare's sonnets. I'll prove my point by contradicting myself:
Is it a put-on for a lawyer to defend a paying client?

"Rob MacDougall is the king of geek historians.”
Old is the New New. Weird History, Mad Science, Occasional Robots.

As I wrote on his site "You're describing the difference between theater and grand theater, but you're also describing theater as bunk." Historian as ironic Fordist. To a rationalist language is "weird." Look at the banner. There's a whole intellectual culture described in it: the culture of geek academic humanism, or ironic "college" radio stations; of "Cyber" and "Steam" Punk; the literature of invention or inventiveness and inventors; of "Tom Swift Studies". To see it deterministically, it's the culture of the children of idealism who are still in its shadow. It's kitsch idealism, or idealism as drag performance.

I saw all this years ago. It seemed so clear to me that I never bothered describing it, but seeing it in academia over the past few years it just becomes depressing. I'm largely a determinist. But I see it as something to fight against, not to indulge. So I remind people.
As I've said again and again, the mature multiform culture of interpretation and theater is growing, expanding outward.
But still these arguments depress me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Still the culture of desire vs the culture of convention.

Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.
Neoliberalism is the new conservatism and the old conservatism has devolved into open reaction. Arguments for the collective construction of language and of language as foundation come now only from the left. Foucault et al. understand Tocqueville more than American conservatives, or liberals, ever have, and William Blake understood Edmund Burke more than Bill Buckley did. It's hard to overstate the importance of the transition in public discourse [that's been going on for decades] but it's hardly the end of antagonism, even temporarily. To use a phrase Lilla would be happy with it's hardly the end of dynamic tension.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Speech 
I think this is a dream.
Atrios 00:02
Liberals in the US and the old European Colonial powers are ecstatic; American blacks are celebrating; immigrants to this country and many former colonial subjects are impressed. Those who could still be said to fit that description: Iraqis, Afghans, and Palestinians (along with their neighbors) are less sanguine. The best description of my immediate response is relief.

The obvious irony is that as Obama moves to the right he'll be helping to ease racial tensions much more than if he remained loyal to his base. But his options in that direction may be limited by the situation itself. George Bush was forced into partial nationalization of the banks –and we're just lucky that wasn't left for a new Democratic administration, which would have been made to pay for such "radical" and "unnecessary" actions–so the Democrats could choose to see their job as being to stabilize the new reality. They won't choose to see their job that way however, and will lead a retreat.
But how far?

The fact that a black man was elected is not shocking. It's a milestone, but a milestone is only a marker. It's not a leap forward, it's just a step, and one that was going to happen sometime soon. It didn't have to happen now, though it did.