Monday, February 08, 2010

note taking [comments removed]
179 Gandhi said that if you find a starving child and all there is around is meat then the child should be allowed to starve. If an open society built on questions and argument -the most important of which is: "Utility for what?"- is attacked and puts its defense in the hands of an army run on standard military utilitarianism -meaning: “Get it done!”- does that mean the society itself is now founded on utilitarian principles? 188 “He is saying that personal virtues are not virtuous if they are practiced without regard for the larger system they are supporting or opposing. There’s really no other way to read it.” “Yes. That’s because he’s a consequentialist, an ends-justify-the-means type-guy. That’s my point, anyway. The larger ‘system’ is the greater good. So what’s the objection to my reading?” So the choice is between consequentialism and hypocrisy and you’re choosing hypocrisy. "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; It’s better to wait." [I should have added: "In the meantime I'll continue to help little old ladies cross the street and never litter"] 189 Zizek described the last section of a holocaust novel: Jews are being loaded on a train, packed in like cattle. The train goes east for 3 days in freezing temperatures; by the time it reaches its destination only a small group of children are left alive, kept warm by the bodies of the adults who had moved them to the center of the car. When the children are discovered the SS set the dogs on them. Two escape and run off in the snow. Of the two of them the younger one stumbles and the elder reaches back to help. He pulls him up as the dogs find them and attack. How do justice to the fact of the crime and the inability to do anything but read or watch, how do justice to memory and at the same time to the moral imperative of hope? Zizek says the novel succeeds, but wonders how one could make the film. The easy solution to the ending is to freeze on the image of the clasped hands, but that makes hope too easy, protecting us from the real end. One answer would to freeze the frame but not the sound. “So idealism in the context of narrative.” “Yes!”
The last comment is from memories of conversation. Explained here. Zizek is trying to come to terms with conflicted desire. He's a popularizer of what was once the high intellectualism of anxious uncertainty, practiced in this country now only in the arts and seen in philosophy only in retrospect, since contemporary philosophers say "history is bunk", notwithstanding the fact that history has always shown that to be untrue.
History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it.
It's boring at this point but I'll say this again, since it remains an object lesson in failure: John Holbo cannot talk about the political situation in Singapore -where he lives and teaches- without threatening his career, which is why Henry Farrell and not Holbo himself responded to my comments a couple of years ago, replying that academic philosophy doesn't concern itself with real politics. That wasn't Farrell's term but that was the argument.
In The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling approves the text of J. S. Mill’s “prayer of every true partisan of liberalism”: “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies . . . sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength.” Being such a partisan, having now said my prayer, I consider possible beneficiaries. I pluck from the crowd one Slavoj Zizek, anti-liberal intellectual.
Zizek was a dissident in Tito's Yugoslavia. My parents risked prison time in the US, in defense of their beliefs. When Holbo's not attacking Zizek and Jonah Goldberg he writes about comic books and fonts. Holbo defends non-contradictory propositions contradicted by his actions. He refuses to deal in contexts because the result would be damning, showing his "revealed preference". He claims to live an examined life, but he's a liar and a hypocrite, fundamentally corrupt not because he's a realist but because his life and career are predicated on proffering the illusion that he isn't. As I said at the time, the dinner for Zizek and ten or so others was good and not cheap. As we were leaving Zizek said the next time he was in town he'd take our host out to his favorite Scottish restaurant: McDonalds. --- I haven't spent much time with Derrida, but I'm reading Signature Event Context and I'll follow up with Searle and Limited Inc. For all that I knew what I was in for I'm still a little shocked to see the understanding standard to literature and history regurgitated by a philosopher as melodrama. Presence/Absence. A father writes a letter to his son, for him to find and read only after the father is dead. Or Yul Brenner.

There's nothing new here. The teenage son of a true believer in the myth of objectivity, on discovering that it's a myth, will react still as a teenager, with an immature and desperate exuberance. His response is a function of reaction not understanding. Language is synchronic and diachronic order. Only in an age of science, of the mythification of externalities, will the rediscovery of internalities, the inevitable subjectivity of perception and the inevitability of perception itself cause a ruckus. Where are the motherfucking adults? Perception is biological conflict. That's original I guess but hardly out of the blue.

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