Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Debating free speech in Egypt.
More serious than in the US and Europe because there's more at stake.

AA, on his first day of classes: of 130 students, 40 had heard of Lebanon.
Duncan Black: "The kids are alright"
“It’s not a living document. It's dead, dead, dead," Scalia said during a guest lecture at Southern Methodist University, while promoting his new book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Text.
The New Oxford American Dictionary
Interpretation |inˌtərpriˈtāSHən|
the action of explaining the meaning of something: the interpretation of data.
• an explanation or way of explaining: this action is open to a number of interpretations.
• a stylistic representation of a creative work or dramatic role: two differing interpretations, both bearing the distinctive hallmarks of each writer's perspective.
If you interpret, you bring the dead to life. If you want to leave it dead there's nothing to interpret.
The Constitution is a "living" text because language is "alive".

Meanings change; pedants persist.

Leiter is enthused by "Marx's comeback": the Times profiles the publisher of Hamas
Mr. Sunkara also plans to keep writing for Vice magazine, where he has compared outrage over rich professional athletes to outrage over “overpaid” public-sector employees, all of whom he sees as just trying to negotiate their fair share.

That time, Mr. Sunkara’s editor wrote the headline, the Vice-like “Jeremy Lin Is Not Greedy, You’re Just Stupid.” But when it comes to Jacobin’s goal of smuggling radical analysis out of the intellectual ghetto and into the mainstream Mr. Sunkara’s motto seems to be: by any means necessary.

It helps, he said, “that liberals think we are relatively sane.”
The Times piece includes a link to Chris Hayes and Yglesias: HayesYglesiasetc.

From Vice:
Say we do manage to lower player salaries or restrict their mobility—who’s saying we’re going to get lower ticket prices or anything but higher margins for already wealthy owners?

So what’s to gain from the politics of resentment? It’s the same type of politics that fuels anger at teachers, firefighters, and other public sector employees. “Why them?” is the petty loser’s version of “Good for them. Why not me?”

And if Lin’s still earning a bit too much for our tastes, instead of waiting for him to funnel his bounty into the community and name youth basketball camps after himself, why not just tax his (and his boss’) income at a higher rate? We can take some of the money, trustee our favorite sports teams, and give away shares to players and fans jointly.

Lower ticket prices, better swag, less hating.
A hipster G.A. Cohen

Jacobin on Django. A profile of the author, at The Crimson.
Some friends of Remeike J.B. Forbes ’11 joke that he is the most patriotic guy they know. He is a talented banjo player who is committed to learning the national folk songs of the American Left—and when he plays them at home in the Dudley Co-op, of which he is a co-president, the whole community gathers around to join in.

But Forbes has found his politics to be far more controversial than his music. Born in Jamaica and raised in New York City, he earned himself a place at Phillips Exeter Academy. During his senior year there, after serving as president of the Exeter Socialist Club, he founded an anarchist magazine that substituted antiwar slogans for advertisements.
I wrote a book called "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" And the final chapter discusses fourteen reasons people give for not giving away their money when they're rich but they profess belief in equality, twelve of which are, well, rubbish. I think there are two reasonable answers that a person who doesn't give too much of it away can give and one of them has to do with the burden of depressing yourself below the level of your peer group with whom you're shared a certain way of life, and in particular, depriving your children of things that the children around them favor. And also, and slightly separately, the transition from being wealthy to being not wealthy at all can be extremely burdensome and the person who has tasted wealth will suffer more typically from lack of it than someone who's had quote unquote the good fortune never to be wealthy and therefore has built up the character and the orientation that can cope well with it.
We need a return of Marx only in the context of a return to philology.
Arabist, Ursula Lindsey, The Black Bloc
"The Black Bloc is the new black," blogger Zeinobia has said. These masked young anarchist (?) militias (?) had everyone intrigued and scratching their heads last weekend. The group, inspired by international protest tactics, said their mission was to protect protesters from Muslim Brotherhood attacks (such as those that took place in December outside the Presidential Palace). But -- as exemplified by the menacing motto on their Facebook page ("Retribution or Chaos"), and their methods (bringing tires to burn to block traffic) -- their posture is more than defensive. 

Quite a few activists were immediately skeptical of the group, noting that: 1) they will be easy to infiltrate 2) they will be cat-nip to the Islamist media 3) they will be disturbing to the general public. All three propositions are already seemingly been proven right. 
The supposedly anti-media Bloc has made several media appearances. In this interview, members describe methods that are very similar to those of hard-core soccer fans, or ultras,...

The whole Black Bloc phenomenon is pretty silly. It's a symptom of the immaturity, lack of foresight and drift from peaceful (and seemingly fruitless) protesting to glamorized, indiscriminate, anti-authoritarian violence that has characterized a wing of the protest movement. And I fear these kids could end up paying a high price for their bravado. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Arabist and Cynical Islamist on Twitter

CI also here

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Corey Robin: "The White Moderate: The Greatest Threat to Freedom", quoting the letter from Birmingham jail and fantasizing himself our most eloquent and outspoken white critic of the occupation. And of course the Palestinian citizens of Israel are still on the back of the bus.

John Quiggin dreams of Shangri-La/ Ecotopia with images of city planning for the People's Republic of China, designed by architects from Singapore. It would be beyond him to recognize the irony. We're back to Shalizi, remembering previous examples of Quiggin's genius. If "Art" is "an enemy of the people", then Henning Mankell has nothing to tell us about social democracy or asocial technocracy: neither Mankell, nor Steig Larsson nor Tim Parks, nor history.

Oscillating between parody and fetish, animation and live action, ranging from the childlike to the infantile, at once hilariously crude and remarkably accomplished, this two hour assemblage (involving nearly 500 individual filmmakers) is played out on table-tops, beaches, and computer screens, in kitchens, vacant lots, and garages, by a cast ranging from Lego-landers and Japanese robots to infants, ferrets, and Pez dispensers, with cameos by Barack Obama and Sherlock Holmes. Steadily improving as it chugs towards a sublimely frantic action climax, “Star Wars Uncut” demonstrates a principle I associate with current “gentrification” of the Bowery. One badly-designed building is a grotesque eye-sore; a street offering 20 or 30 such misconceived, totally mismatched buildings is … a rich, discordant urban environment.

Anticipated by the “sweded” productions of Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind, Rewind,” “Star Wars Uncut” has intimations of Halloween parties, Sunday school pageants and amateur porn — not that you will find any of that! However outlandish, the movie is essentially well-behaved. The cross-dressing is discreet, the bathroom humor very mild — as is the blasphemy. (No one is so tasteless as to call George Lucas’s bluff by inserting a clip from “Triumph of the Will” into the closing sequence that quotes it so memorably.) It’s a midnight-unfriendly “G” and yet, the sense of libidinal investment, with 500 unconscious minds masticating the material, presents the possibility that, as Jack Smith wrote of the midnight classic “Pink Flamingos,” the screen might at any moment “erupt into a gilded torrent of filth.” Perhaps that job belongs to the spectators.
Le Corbusier, and Leni Riefenstahl. I doubt many of the the Star Wars fans would know enough to make the "tasteless" choice, though maybe the man who put it all together chose not to use the footage from the few who knew enough and did.

We are made for this moment

WaPo: "CIA drone strikes will get pass in counterterrorism ‘playbook,’ officials say"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week. He was 26, a genius and my friend." 
Bradley Manning has not committed suicide. He's 25, of average intelligence by all accounts,  and someone I've never met. He's also done more and risked more than Swartz could possibly imagine. Manning has been imprisoned for almost 3 years; in the opinion of many he's been tortured, and he's threatened with lifetime imprisonment under maximum security. Swartz was threatened with 6 months in what prosecutors have said would be a low security federal pen. Swartz acted in defense of an abstraction; Manning acted on principle and in the memory of the dead, specifically the foreign dead. Swartz was accused of breaking the law; Manning is accused of betraying his country. Swartz left it to his lover to find his shit-stained corpse. His last act was ridiculous, petty and selfish. He was not, nor would be ever have been imprisoned in Guantanamo. His suicide was an insult to the people who've been there for years. It was an insult to Bradley Manning. More than anything it's a monument to the narcissism of the American "creative class". [the comment was deleted]
Lawrence Lessig on Mark Zuckerberg:
"In 2004, a Harvard undergraduate got an idea (yes, that is ambiguous) for a new kind of social network. Here’s the important point: He built it. He had a bunch of extremely clever clues for opening up a social space that every kid (anyone younger than I am) would love. He architected that social space around the social life of the kids he knew. And he worked ferociously hard to make sure the system was stable and functioning at all times. The undergraduate then spread it to other schools, then other communities, and now to anyone. Today, with more than 500,000,000 users, it is one of the fastest growing networks in the history of man. That undergraduate is now a billionaire, multiple times over. He is the youngest billionaire in the world."
Rick Perlstein on Aaron Swartz:
"I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied—a millionaire, I had to have guessed, given his early success building a company sold to Condé Nast, but one who seemed to live on other people’s couches. (Am I misremembering that someone told me he crashed in his apartment for a while, curling up to sleep under a sink?)
Only slowly, it seems, did he come to learn that he possessed a body."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Art Market Maneker links to N+1 for a "hard to locate analysis" of Steven Cohen, markets, art making and collecting, by Gary Sernovitz, novelist and Managing Director of Lime Rock Partners

Maneker doesn't understand the criticism; the author of the piece doesn't understand the contradictions. Capitalism has always been theorized as permanent revolution. The aristocratic arts, following the ethos of the aristocracy, were signposts of stability. Following the logic of the new economic aristocracy (based on money not on land) the aristocratic arts now celebrate change, while the bourgeois arts -literature, theater- defend continuity, through memory, in the context of change.  The banker as novelist sees himself as the honorable bourgeois; the banker as collector of avant-garde art lives a bourgeois fantasy of individual pseudo-monarchic authority. The avant-garde artists fantasizes revolution in the cafe; the theoretician does the same in the faculty lounge; and the fine arts devolve into design, aesthetics, and fashion.

Edge and the Art Collector
Mandatory newness—and oceans of commentary on it—is an old problem. It’s now coming into its second century. After the March to Abstraction came the March of Ideas, when art became, in Harold Rosenberg’s words, “a species of centaur—half art materials, half words.” Yet the art world is still thriving, the papers report. The money is still flowing. The parties still glitter. New artists are declared important and great. And sometimes, they are.

But how hard it must be now for an artist when it seems that not only has every material form and format imaginable been tried to express Truth and Beauty but every idea has now also found material form. I watch in awe as artists rise to face that challenge, and even more so when they succeed. But sometimes I feel like I’m witnessing the strain. All artists respond to their inner life and the outer world and other art in some mix. These basic ingredients have not changed. But too often, after leaving a contemporary art exhibition, having hungrily wanted a powerful aesthetic experience, I wonder why I was left cold. It could be that I am not versed enough in the ideas of the centaurs to see the intellectual beauty. It could be, I remind myself, that most art in most times is just so-so; there never was an age of the ubiquitous masterpiece. But it also feels, sometimes, as if an edge has become the only ante to be exhibited at all. As if the edge has become the whole point.

...My guess is that the Art Collector himself is one of the rare people who can beat the market, given his intelligence, his ability to anticipate and exploit changes in patterns, and maybe most important his intuitive “stock sense.” But the Art Collector may have bought Hirst’s glass box because it reminded him of one of Wall Street’s favorite clichés: like a shark, if you’re not moving, you die. If you’re not managing more money, you’re managing less. His firm now manages $14 billion, with a reported $8 billion coming from the Art Collector and his employees. At times, the firm has managed significantly more. This is beyond the capital the Art Collector can trade himself. And so the Art Collector has built a cold-blooded strategy around becoming a trader of traders. When he hires you, a fuse is lit. At some point, whether years later or just as likely months, the bomb will be detonated by your own poor trading results. And you will be fired. But if before that happens you can generate good returns, you get to keep a remarkable share of the trading profits. (Bloomberg reports that it varies from 15 to 25 percent.) If you make a lot of money, you get to keep 15 to 25 percent of the profits of hundreds of millions of dollars at work: the Art Collector will give you more capital to trade. Freelance Nation, the Winner-Takes-All Society: the business model is like the hypertrophied organ of the pathologies of American life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I’ve been thinking of writing some version of this post since the days immediately after the Newtown shootings. It overlaps with but is distinct from the division between people who are pro-gun or anti-gun or pro-gun control or anti-gun control. Before you even get to these political positions, you start with a more basic difference of identity and experience: gun people and non-gun people.
So let me introduce myself. I’m a non-gun person. And I think I’m speaking for a lot of people.
Josh Marshall is a Zionist

Again: This is Zionism at its most liberal
I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian. I'm not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state.
"I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis."
Israel has never been a country for all its people. It has never been modern or democratic, and has only gotten worse.

Zionist liberalism in America is equal rights for all where you live and Jim Crow back home, in Alabama, or Tel Aviv: Jim Crow and the gun.

Commenter Sebastian H at Crooked Timber
If you really want anything good to come out of the Aaron Swartz case, I would be loathe to link it to the Manning case. I believe that Manning is being mistreated. I believe that he has a legitimate case with respect to some of the disclosures he made. But he also dumped essentially all of the diplomatic secrets he could get his hands on. I have no idea what Aaron believed in his heart of hearts. Maybe he was a full on Wikileaks supporter. But his actions were a lot easier to defend. The data he liberated in the Pacer investigations was already public domain. The JSTOR data was widely available scientific data. Aaron’s actions are easily distinguishable from Manning’s. The argument against prosecutorial overreach, nasty plea bargaining tactics, and unjust piling of charges for jury effect is already going to be almost impossible. Saddling it with the freight of the Manning case seems like a very bad idea.
Also the comments by "rea"

Manning is more important and more deserving of the effort.
posted elsewhere. the second of two
It amazed me how quickly my annoyance at the YBAs faded the moment my teenage niece in the UK rattled off their names. "Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley, and Damien Hirst. Not to mention Gilbert & George. Which is, to put it bluntly, fucking awesome!" I don't get angry at pop stars; Gilbert and George of course are avowed monarchists. 
Fine art has always functioned as part of the social life of money, but the aristocratic arts in the age of capitalism have been defended as philosophy, as if that rendered them something other than complicit. The "unsustainable contradiction" refers more to Fraser than to Hirst, since both represent the nadir of the same school and both make their living proclaiming the seriousness of art, while of the two she seems most committed, while Hirst is torn, as someone who wants to believe his own con. His best work puts that tension right in front. 
But the YBAs are the younger siblings of the Pictures Generation, a generation envious of film but wracked by guilt at the indulgence. Not for nothing does their mentor Baldessari call himself "a closet formalist". Formalism: from Greenberg, to Baldessari to Fraser. That's why there was no reference to Hitchcock in the Duchamp catalogue: he's neither an artist nor a philosopher. It's also why Art Forum is now a cross between October and Vogue. 
The contradictions of the art market are part and parcel of the art world. If only Nixon could go to China, only oligarchs are capable of making the art world less boring than it is. If Colin de Land was America's answer to Martin Kippenberger, Adam Lindemann is its answer to Maurizio Cattelan.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stephen Marche, Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities.

Attacking Moretti etc. He refers to "desacralization", using the standard religious tropes against scientism, but he quotes Borges to make the case for literature, in retrospect—to me—an obvious choice, but something I've never done since Borges is so obviously a literary dilettante and nihilist. But he can be that precisely because his arguments succeed—correctly, logically—in undermining certainties, idealisms and linguistic "philosophies", while Borges himself as a lapsed idealist can't replace them with anything, the result being not non-idealism but a mirroring negative idealism. I've referred to all of this (over 30 years) but never telegraphed as Marche does how much Borges, if only in the first part of his argument was right.  I'm leaving in Marche's introductory fluff and his sharp conclusion
The process of turning literature into data removes distinction itself. It removes taste. It removes all the refinement from criticism. It removes the history of the reception of works. To the Lighthouse is just another novel in its pile of novels.

Borges predicted this phenomenon, as he seems to have predicted so many of our current predicaments. His story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” practically reads like a polemic against the premise of the digital humanities. Pierre Menard decides to write Don Quixote — not a revamped Don Quixote or a transcription of the original, but the same exact text of Don Quixote as if it were written by a contemporary author. Borges writes:
It is a revelation to compare Menard’s Don Quixote with Cervantes’s. The latter, for example, wrote (part one, chapter nine): “truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.” Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “lay genius” Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical praise of history.

Menard, on the other hand, writes: “truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.” History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases — exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor — are brazenly pragmatic.
The data are exactly identical; their meanings are completely separate.
Distinction, Taste, Refinement are red flags. Judgement is not.
The argument for the living constitution, for the living tree doctrine that is codified in Canadian law (Marche is Canadian), begins in the understanding of living language. Borges belongs with Duchamp and Quine, avatars of a pragmatism they could never accept. The argument with Balkin is whether we need to sacralize questions in order to avoid sacralizing things.

The argument for separating propositional and non-propsitional speech, philosophy from literature, stems from a misunderstanding of language and from that of what democracy requires. I'm not going to repost everything I've written on all this.
Swartz, again

During plea talks held in the months before his death, federal prosecutors told Aaron Swartz and his attorney that the computer prodigy must spend six months behind bars and plead guilty to 13 federal crimes in order to resolve the criminal case short of a trial.

Swartz’s lead defense attorney, Elliot Peters, said today that both he and Swartz rejected the plea deal offered by the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, and instead were pushing for a trial where federal prosecutors would have been forced to publicly justify their pursuit of Swartz.
The whole thing is an insult to the poor schmucks doing time for petty theft, and to the truly tragic cases living half their lives in prison under Rockefeller drug laws, who were never millionaires and never worked for Conde Nast and never got to go to Stanford or Harvard or hang out at MIT.  I couldn't help but be reminded of this. Josh Marshall posts a letter from a reader, on a different subject.

Marshall:  "It’s a ‘complicated issue’ as we all say about pretty much every issue. But when I read it I could not help think, ‘Yeah, you’re definitely on to something.’"
I view gun control from the prism of the gender wars. It’s a last-gasp attempt by lower-income men to hold onto some shred of self-respect: at least a capacity for autonomous violence, if they are left with nothing else. And they are being left with nothing else, since the job market is increasingly feminized on all but the highest levels, most remaining male-gendered work (except uniformed public service) is increasingly losing income and status, and patriarchy is no longer a particularly strong legal or cultural norm. This is responsible for many things: almost all bad. I call it the Scots-Irishization of lower-income white men.
The politics of this are miserable, at least in the short and medium terms. In a democracy rife with veto points, a passionate small group will preserve the status quo every time. About the only exception to this (and the only small ray of hope) was the civil rights movement of 1915-67. But that’s fifty years, folks. And that movement at least had the advantage of extreme sectionalism: there were no passionate segregationists outside the South.

I despair of rational gun control until some progress is made with this situation. And I only see it getting worse.
I have more respect for lower-income men than I had for Aaron Swartz. More and more it reminds me of a sadder version of the fiasco of Henry Louis Gates.

A friend has been saying I've been too hard on Swartz and not hard enough on his "enablers". He's right. Swartz was never prepared for this fight; he was too fragile, done in by his friends more than his enemies. "I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied."  He was a human being.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I've joked twice already that at some point an earnest art critic was going to attack the economic elite for not upholding the standards of the Medici.
Take, for example, fifteenth-century Florence, where the Medici banking family held sway. At that time, bankers worked in long-term partnerships with one another, and painters had workshops that were passed down from master to apprentice. Ongoing relationships with men of standing were very valuable. The exchange between, say, Lorenzo the Magnificent and Botticelli took the form of an enduring patronage relationship with large-scale commissions for churches and palazzi. Much of the value exchanged was not monetary but religious or reputational. Both the banker and the painter were understood to be more pious and significant men as a result of their relationship.
It's still common to hear Cubism described as a parallel to the theory of relativity, but this is the first time I've heard it related to the rise of modern banking.
In the period when Cézanne, whose father was a banker, was at work on this painting, French financial life was wracked by a series of spectacular failures that bankrupted many hundreds of thousands of households. Finance had discovered that to leverage funds for large projects, like the building of the railroads or the Panama Canal, the Rothschilds and the Warburgs had insufficient capital. New schemes involved the investment, in many small increments, of giant numbers of households. Many of these initial schemes were ill-founded or corrupt, and soon bankers found that they were having trouble persuading investors to have confidence in the future of stock offerings. Nothing that the bankers presented could distract investors from their conviction that, if companies were going to go belly-up, they wanted to be sure that they would get paid back. They expected the value of a company to be based on its present value alone, the sum of its graspable parts, its inventory or its physical plant, things that could be resold. But this produced a very limited idea of the value of a company and did not generate the kind of liquidity to which the bankers aspired. 
In 1906, Philip Lehman, then the head of Lehman Brothers, joined together with Goldman Sachs, where Paul Sachs was then a partner, and the two banks instigated a small revolution. They made an initial public offering of the Sears Roebuck company that changed the way the value of a corporation was represented: based not on its total assets but on its price-to-earnings ratio. The relationship between a corporation’s stock price and its annual earnings was

one that allowed time, and changes over time, to be incorporated into the valuation. The level of this ratio is still part of what allows bankers to make predictions about future earnings and growth. Both large- and small-scale investors could see that this new method produced, as the painters had done, a convincing representation of the present and future together. Vast amounts of new liquidity were generated, and one of the things that the new financiers had money to buy was paintings.
From Maneker, who catches some of the silliness but misses what isn't.

Experience shapes the forms of our awareness. It doesn't change the world but it changes how we see it.  The Cubism/relativity argument has been laughed off for a long time; that both were the product of imaginations shaped by capitalist culture seems almost unremarkable.
continuing Aaron Swartz

Mr. Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, first discussed a possible plea bargain with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann last fall. In an interview Sunday, he said he was told at the time that Mr. Swartz would need to plead guilty to every count, and the government would insist on prison time.
...insist on prison time. I'm almost back to my earliest response.

A commenter at CT links to Orin Kerr.  Farrell says: "IANAL"
Good to remember their history

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I've had a few hits for Aaron Swartz. My two mentions of him are here and here.

The federal charges were vindictive and corrupt, but he should have fought. He had a lot of friends, and he wasn't going to end up waterboarded in Guantanamo. He left behind family, friends, even a lover. He was a lonely isolato: asocial but needy, bright, brittle, blindly arrogant, but forever wanting to help.

I'm more annoyed by the celebration of geekdom than I am by geeks. If animals differ from computers, as machines who operate through sensory response and feedback and not only calculation, then autistic intelligence is an oxymoron [too simple and too cruel]. Objectivity is a myth; it's more than a simple mistake to make it a fetish.

Rick Perlstein
I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied—a millionaire, I had to have guessed, given his early success building a company sold to Condé Nast, but one who seemed to live on other people’s couches. (Am I misremembering that someone told me he crashed in his apartment for a while, curling up to sleep under a sink?)

Only slowly, it seems, did he come to learn that he possessed a body. This is my favorite thing he wrote: about the day “I looked up and realized I couldn’t read the street sign. I definitely used to be able to read that sign, but there it was, big and bright and green along the highway, and all I could make out was a blur. I had gone blind.” Legally blind, it turned out; and then when he got contact lenses, he gave us an account of what it felt like to leave Plato’s cave: “I had no idea the world really looked like this, with such infinite clarity. It looks like a modernist photo or a hyperreal film, everything in focus everywhere. Everyone kept saying ‘oh, do you see the leaves now?’ but the first thing I saw was not the leaves but the people. People, individuated, each with brilliant faces and expressions at gaits, the sun streaming down upon them. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s much harder being a misanthrope when you can see people’s faces.”

This man is dead now.

...I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him, which also means hospitable to people like us. I like what the blogger Lambert Strether wrote on my Facebook page (in Aaron’s memory, friend me!): “Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street’s youngest investment banker, he would be alive today.”
Our society should be "selecting" for people like Swartz. The unknowing use of the language of fascism.

Corey Doctorow
In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food.
And everything his friends found otherworldly and charming made it easier for the Feds to break him. He was coddled when he should have been forced to grow up.

Earlier: on Lessig;  on other examples of the fondness for fascist tropes;  the tag, Futurism and Data Culture; most recently, on a fondness knowingly and not, for fascism itself.

The tech geek as Holly Golightly connects also to the early popularity of Belle de Jour, who when she started wrote from the fragile sensitivity that courted obliterating sensation, if in a different sense than that romanticized above.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Art Market Monitor
Shane Ferro has post on Artinfo recapitulating the New York Times’s debate on the art market before migrating to an earlier exchange of views that started here on Art Market Monitor. She quotes Felix Salmon taking me to task for missing that “ prices are quantitatively completely bonkers.”
Ferro adds:
This question — whether paying wild sums for contemporary art signifies a healthy market or not — is where the real debate is.
I can see why the very large sums of money being paid for works of art is startling and unsettling. But I don’t actually think the nominal figure is indicative of whether the market is healthy. A person buying an airplane for their own use at $30 million is no more or less bonkers than buying a work of art for $30m. The plane may seem more substantial but if it costs a lot to maintain, isn’t used often and the same function could be served by . There is no way for economics to measure the value of that purchase to the person.
My comments at Artinfo
Maneker thinks spending 30 million on an artwork is like sending 30 million on a private jet. With a mind like his I wonder if he was working at Bear Stearns. 
A $30 million jet, as a luxury item -Warren Buffett's “indefensible”- fitted (let's just say) for 8 people with private bedrooms, a movie theater and rec. room, can be refitted for commercial use as a non-luxury item. A $30 million bauble that cost $300,000 to make is priced based on the desire of a small number of people, a very limited fan base. The question is: how long can it last? 
Maneker is happy to stipulate that the price has no relation to long term cultural importance. "The art market isn’t a measure of art historical value or worth." But the bet in speculating on art is that other people in the long run will agree. If they don't you end up losing money, or your kids do. Nahmad is given credit for a great sense of timing, in unloading first Marie Laurencin[!!] and now late Picasso. I doubt he paid that much to pick them up. What's the rule? If someone's selling you should ask why. 
Felix Salmon agrees with Gopnik: "The market for art is unlike any other, because it’s built on some notion of true, underlying value."
The market for fine art built on "a notion", and claims of seriousness of purpose. But Gerome, Bouguereau and Winterhalter were vewy, vewy seweous pepew. The stars of the Salon were every bit as serious as the Refusés. I witnessed a somewhat faded art star reminded gently of this fact. He didn't respond. 
I don't care about the money, I'm only interested in art. So for me the question is Hirst or Tarantino? Who's the biggest badass white boy on the block? 
One year Damien Hirst has a show entitled "No Sense of Absolute Corruption" The next year contradicts himself by covering a skull in diamonds guaranteed not to be blood diamonds. They should have been guaranteed blood diamonds, with certificates of authenticity and the names of dead children engraved on each facet. And all Tarantino did was make a movie with a psychotic Nazi as the hero. "Wait for the cream." Das ist die ewige Kunst.
I'll add one more comment. I have no argument with anything lcgarllery wrote, but it deserves expansion. He's describing a small, elite market populated by self-interested parties who share also a common enthusiasm for art as such, if specifically the kind of art that can be bought and resold for profit.  The 19th and 20th century avant-gardes saw themselves as separating themselves from the past, and from common opinion, but there was the same sense that the makers and audience for the new work were part of the same group.  That's both a market model and a social model, and it can work.
But it's a problem now that the "avant-garde" and "respectable" art communities have collapsed into one another. There no tension between starving artists and rich patrons when starving artists are happily currying favor. The result of this is not that new art necessarily is banal, though much of it is, but all of it is weaker.

The model for fine art now is high style and haute couture, as fashion or outré anti-fashion. That's less an attack on the art than on claims to importance. Art objects made today have nowhere near the importance of objects made 400 years ago, because objects themselves are less important. Art journals are closer now to Vogue than to the New York Review of Books or LRB, but there's still the pretense.  Jim Hoberman as a film critic is a critic of visual art. The art he reviews has a market model, and one on a much larger scale than the market for fine art, which means that he doesn't hang out much with Hollywood producers. His social world is the world of the audience for art and for some degree also its makers. The funders are elsewhere. Meanwhile art critics who are not openly style critics become parodies. The most important intellectual defender of Gerhard Richter is a Marxist only the art world could produce: who writes catalogue essays for boutiques in 57th St.

Kipling put the problem well. "Every one knows every one else far too well for business purposes."

I have no brief against  Koons. If I want to bemoan the state of the world, it's all there. He makes art out of it. But he's not Bernini.  To talk seriously about Koons you have to talk about Warhol, and to talk seriously about Warhol you have to talk about Hitchcock.  To talk seriously about Gursky you have to talk about Zhang Yimou's opening of the Beijing Olympics. To talk about visual art today you have to be able to talk about Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. Will anything by Matthew Barney outlast "Terminator II"?  I doubt it, and I doubt it should.

There's good art in the galleries these days, but most of it isn't made in the US. The Chinese boom reminds me of NY in the 80s, when Larry Gagosian posed for Robert Longo: the dark poetry of capitalism. But Bladerunner came out in 1982, and it will outlast most if not all of the art of that decade. I think recent Chinese work is better too, but I am not going to get my investment advice from Vogue or Elle Decor.  A writer for the Economist cited the failure of a Sherrie Levine to crack a million at auction as a sign of trouble. The fact that she chose Levine's work as a model of anything shows how little she understands either art or markets.  There's more than one bubble operating here.
see previous

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Not sure what IHE was thinking in running an interview with an obscure philosopher about a project that another philosopher describes, not obviously unfairly, as "the worst piece of incoherent and morally reprehensible tripe I think I’ve ever read in my life." Very odd!
From the interview
Q: Why do you write that affirmative action is an "unnatural fit with egalitarian philosophy"? What other arguments (if any) can be made for it? 
A: Contrary to the usual rhetoric, I don’t think “fairness” helps us navigate the affirmative action issue. Is it more “fair” to privilege people of color in affirmative action scenarios, or is it more fair to treat everyone in a color-blind unbiased fashion? The concept of fairness won’t help resolve this, but we might make real progress if we jettisoned the fairness lingo and replaced it with the pursuit of social health.
The "obscure philosopher" is not particularly obscure.  The author of the piece at Counterpunch, Prof. M.G. [EmManuelle?] Piety, is an idiot. Leiter is just sloppy.

2009... last June... August... etc. ...

Monday, January 07, 2013

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny  The original 1956 recording
Music from my childhood. I don't remember ever not understanding that the lyrics and music both exemplified everything they could be thought of as mocking or undermining. Before opposing the decadence of Weimar, they were and are Weimar. I've always wanted to stage Der Jasager, which was written as a Schuloper or "school-opera" with the students as Hitlerjugend.  [Brecht, and Pinter, from 2004]

The recording is from 1993. I don't like it much. I have the 1965 recording on Polydor, which I love, again from childhood.
Act I

The chorus announces the theme of the work: When you agree to a course of action, you must understand it fully ("Wichtig zu lernen"). The teacher, who keeps a school in the city, enters. He hopes to bid farewell to one of his students before he goes off on a trip over the mountains ("Ich bin der Lehrer"). At the house, he asks the boy why he has not been to school recently, and the boy replies that his mother has been ill. The teacher describes his trip to the mother, who asks if he wants to bring the boy along ("Ich bin lange nicht hier gewesen"). The boy asks to make the trip ("Ich muss etwas sagen"). The teacher forbids him--the journey is too long and difficult and he should stay home. But the boy reminds him that he is visiting a great physician, who might be able to help his mother. His mother reluctantly allows the boy to make the trip ("Ich bin noch einmal zurückgekommen"). The chorus reinforces the decision ("Sie sahen, dass keine Vorstellungen").

Act II

The chorus explains that the teacher, the boy, and three older students are on the way back, and the boy is exhausted ("Die Leute haben die Reise in die Berge"). As they approach their shelter, the boy confesses that he is not well ("Wir sind schnell hinangestiegen"). The teacher tells him it is forbidden to say such things on the journey, but the three students have overheard and demand to speak to the teacher. He admits that the boy is ill, and the students remind him of the strict old custom that whoever falls ill during the journey over the mountains must be hurled into the valley ("Wir wollen es dem Lehrer sagen"). The teacher reminds them that the sick person may also demand that the entire party turn back. Then he goes to the boy and offers him the choice ("Höre gut zu"). The boy decides that he knew the risks and should not impede the expedition. He asks only that the three students fill his jar with medicine and take it to his mother, and they agree. Then the three students bear him gently to the cliff and throw him over. The chorus reiterates the theme ("Wichtig zu lernen" reprise).


Martin Puchner, Stage Fright  Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama

What is neglected in these accounts of Brecht’s lasting success in the theater is that his work is not so much a modernist reform of the theater as one directed against it. Indeed, the most central features of Brecht’s theater arise from a vehement and at times fundamental polemic against actors and the audience. And so we must recognize that Brecht counts as one of modernism’s most successful theater reformers because he was most successful in making his resistance to the theater productive for a reform of the theater. This resistance to the theater is visible in Brecht’s attacks on expressionist plays, on the theater industry, and on Max Reinhardt’s seductive spectacles. His most categorical and fundamental condemnation of the theater emerges, however, when he, like many turn-of-the-century and early-twentieth-century reformers, speaks against the figure whose ex- ploitation of theatricality never ceased to haunt modern theater, namely, Richard Wagner. 

What was neglected was what I took for granted, because felt in my bones, as a ten year old. 

I found Puchner's book years later after deciding I should try to distinguish Brechtian decadence from classical Japanese theater, formalism from formality. Brecht's theater is mannerist: simultaneously moralizing and corrupted. 

Richard Taruskin. For use here and maybe elsewhere. Annotations here and in the links.
..."The relation of the music to the action is unaccountable," he thought, unable to comprehend the reason why Shostakovich would have "the heroine and her lover strangle her husband on a large stage-sized four-poster bed to a lively dance tune." But the reason is clear enough: the dance tune is there to dehumanize the husband, and to diminish the heroine's crime to a matter of cruelty to animals at worst. What condemns him is nothing more than the fact of his being a part of Katerina's hated environment: he is the beneficiary of the social system that oppressed his wife, and that suffices to just justify his "liquidation." And all of this is conveyed to us by the music alone….

In one way only was Shostakovich faithful to Leskov: in his shockingly
naturalistic portrayal of Katerina's sexual passion. It is lust, pure and
simple, that he portrays; ignited by a rape, it turns Katerina into a love-slave, giving the lie to the claim that she is a liberated, aggressive woman in an age of feminine passivity, that her audacity is another justification for her crimes. In fact, the carnal theme is exaggerated in the opera beyond anything in Leskov. The rape music reaches its climax with an unmistakable ejaculatio praecox, followed by a leisurely detumescence. The salacious trombone glissandos that portray the behavior of Sergei's member achieved instant world fame when an American magazine dubbed them an exercise in "pornophony."...

"The music croaks and hoots and snorts and pants in order to represent the scenes as naturally as possible. And 'love' in its most vulgar form is daubed all over the opera. The merchant's double bed is the central point on the stage. On it all the 'problems' are solved…. This glorification of merchant-class lasciviousness has been described by some critics as satire. But there can be no question of satire here. The author uses all the means at his disposal and his power of musical and dramatic expression to attract the sympathy of the spectators for the coarse and vulgar aims and actions of the merchant's wife, Katerina Ismailova.  Lady Macbeth is popular among bourgeois audiences abroad. Is it not because the opera is so confused and so entirely free of political bias that it is praised by bourgeois critics? Is it not perhaps because it titillates the depraved tastes of bourgeois audiences with its witching clamorous, neurasthenic music?"
The third paragraph is Stalin. The quote at the top is Elliot Carter.
"The Opera and the Dictator: the peculiar martyrdom of Dmitri Shostakovich", The New Republic, March 20, 1989. The last paragraph.
In the liberal West, as we have been proudly reminded in recent weeks, we do not believe in banning works of art. If it is because we believe that they cannot threaten life and morals, then we are more vulnerable than we imaged to the dehumanizing message of this great opera. If it's because we believe that ethics has no bearing on aesthetics, then the process of dehumanization has already begun. If, for its inspired music and dramatic power, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is to hold the stage today, it should be seen and heard with an awareness of history, with open eyes and ears, and with hearts on guard.
Moralists are a confused bunch. "If it is because we believe that they cannot threaten life and morals" It isn't.  [leading here].  "Democracies have freedom of speech not because governments grant it but because the government is not granted the power to take it away." [leading here] The speech of both members of the American Nazi Party and of Sarah Silverman, on stage or on the street, is protected by the 1st amendment.

Taruskin on John Adams' Klinghoffer
"Music's Dangers And The Case For Control" NYT Dec 2001
In a fine recent essay, the literary critic and queer theorist Jonathan Dollimore writes that ''to take art seriously -- to recognize its potential -- must be to recognize that there might be reasonable grounds for wanting to control it.'' Where should control come from? Unless we are willing to trust the Taliban, it has to come from within. What is called for is self-control. That is what the Boston Symphony laudably exercised; and I hope that musicians who play to Israeli audiences will resume exercising it. There is no need to shove Wagner in the faces of Holocaust survivors in Israel and no need to torment people stunned by previously unimaginable horrors with offensive ''challenges'' like ''The Death of Klinghoffer.''

Censorship is always deplorable, but the exercise of forbearance can be noble. Not to be able to distinguish the noble from the deplorable is morally obtuse. In the wake of Sept. 11, we might want, finally, to get beyond sentimental complacency about art. Art is not blameless. Art can inflict harm. The Taliban know that. It's about time we learned.
More from, the Guardian  Interview with the librettist in 2012.   Taruskin attacked Barenboim in the same piece. Barenboim responds.  See also Nir Rosen and Joan Rivers

[if the video's gone: Sarah Silverman, The Aristocrats]

The Musical Mystique TNR, 2007
Belief in the transcendent human value of creative labor has always invested German romantic aesthetics with the trappings of a secular or humanistic religion. In the twentieth century, such a theory of art could be seen as a bulwark against totalitarianism. Adorno held it up as a counterforce also to the instrumentalizing and rationalizing tendencies of "administered" capitalist society, which turns human subjects into objects of economic exploitation. Since he was trained in music, he held up classical music in its least compromising forms (epitomized in the famously esoteric work of Arnold Schoenberg) as the chief example of "truth-bearing" art, as opposed to the dehumanizing popular music churned out by the culture industry for mass dissemination. 
Skeptics of this viewpoint, while often appreciating the loftiness of its aspirations, have pointed to the ease with which high ideals can shade into complacency, autonomy into irrelevance, and disinterestedness into indifference. My admittedly tendentious diction ("serve," "vehicle") signals my own skepticism as to the genuineness of its disinterestedness. This skepticism is not mine alone. Many have noted the relationship between this highly individualistic and self-celebrating concept of art and the social emancipation (or more accurately, the social abandonment) of artists with the demise of reliable aristocratic patronage, and suspected it of seeking a compensatory advantage. "Materialist" historians have long investigated the relationship between its high-minded claims and actual marketing strategies. 
Particularly as it pertains to music, the doctrine of aesthetic autonomy was pre-eminently a congeries of German ideas about German art that consoled and inspired the Germans at a particular point in German history. Even in the nineteenth century, it never won much credence in France or Italy or Russia (though Britain was susceptible). Now that the whole twentieth century has run its course and German music has run aground, the claim of universality is threadbare...
["...it never won much credence in France" (a link to Baudelaire). "L'art pour l'art". Nietzsche, in the original, uses the French]

And then later
To ask "what does it mean?" is death for music; but to ask "what has it meant?" can be illuminating. The one imposes arbitrary limits, the other welcomes all comers to share in the pleasure of engagement and response…. 
Higher is not automatically better; but opponents of snobbish pretension would be foolish to lose sight of the reality of the high-low gamut.
From the introduction to On Russian Music
It is yet another unfortunate consequence of the "poietic fallacy" that these pieces should have been read as attacks on Prokofiev–and "personal" ones at that, since they do not always reflect my opinion of the quality of the music, but rather my reaction to the ethical issues that its performance raises. He may not be altogether spared, but the "blame", if that is what one choose to call it (or the "problem", as I would prefer), is shared by all of the participants in our contemporary art world: composer, performer, audience, critics, mediating structures and institutions. “What is under critique in these pieces is not ‘the music itself’ but the whole network of social relations that comes into play in the maintenance of the activity we call ‘classical music’
Continuing an argument made first in an op-ed in the NY Times in 1991 that's not on the web, though the letters to the editor are.

Taruskin defines the "poietic" fallacy as "the conviction (or in practice the default assumption) that composers are the only significant historical agents in music and that scholarship should be an aspect of their defense against social mediation." 

The first paragraphs of Chapter 20, "Prokofieff's Return"
In January of 1990 Kurt Masur, soon to be appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, led the San Francisco Orchestra in a program that included Sergey Prokofief's familiar cantata based on his music to Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film, Alexander Nevsky. The program had been set long in advance, and I was hired to write the notes for it. I did so during the summer of 1989, and was forced to confront anew the old problem of "political" art.
… Both film and music were shamelessly hyperbolic, dramaturgically blatant. They were, in short, propaganda. Could such a project possibly give rise to a first class work of art?  
"Like it or not, the answer is yes" I wrote in 1989, and went on to praise Prokofieff's music for its outstanding stylist and technical qualities, particularly the deftness, the originality, and the expressiveness of the orchestration. I felt I was making an effective answer to that complacent dictum that we tend to mouth in the West without reflecting: that art, to be authentic, must be politically or even morally "disinterested" (read: aloof). I quoted a letter that Ned Rorem had recently written to the editor of the New York Times, in which he had rehearsed his old refrain that "the more an artwork succeeds in politics the more it fails as art". Alexander Nevsky, I contended, succeeded both as politics and as art, and put the lie to what I called Mr. Rorem's smug and self-validating platitude. 
And then I went to the concert. Between the summer of 1989 and the beginning of 1990 the world had changed. Not three weeks before the performance, the contorted corpses of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu had shown up on television, the most startling evidence yet that totalitarian authority in Europe had suddenly collapsed.
The last
"Suffering and great as the ninetenth century whose complete expression he is, the mental image of Richard Wagner stands before my eyes," wrote Thomas Mann at the beginning of an immortal essay. We might not wish to claim a comparable greatness for Prokofieff. His sufferings were imposed, and his century was awful, the most atrocious and spiritually vacant in human history. But between man and times there was the same fatal congruence. As we say good riddance to the century, we may also find ourselves saying farewell, and sorry, to the man.
I'm not much interested in John Adams' music or in contemporary "classical" music. It's either academic or vulgar. And the struggle of Zionists to allow themselves to come to terms with their culpability is not something I'm able to take very seriously, at least intellectually. But art is concerned with honesty more than intellect. I love Titian's paintings for Philip II; I wouldn't expect a 17th c. European Protestant or an Amerindian to enjoy standing in front of a portrait of the leader of his torturers. That's another issue. Velazquez, in his works, has a conflicted even ironic distance from his own claimed beliefs that adds an intellectual aspect to his art, but I wouldn't use that to demand more. If I refuse to see Zero Dark 30, as I refused to see The Hurt Locker it's more from the fact that I'm too near to the events while at the same time too aware of world outside the American imagination to have the patience to watch America begin -and no more than that- to come to grips with the events of the past 10, 40 or 100 years. The US is responsible for more destruction than bin Laden was ever be capable of.  Chomsky is right: "Uncontroversially" George Bush's crimes "vastly exceed bin Laden's." But that says nothing about the films as art, only about my ability to be a disinterested observer, not objective but removed. There's an issue when a culture becomes so insular and defensive that even a disinterested viewer finds little to look at, but there's a lot to look at in American culture.

I can't help but add Charles Rosen's review of Taruskin's Oxford History, in the NYRB.
Quoting Taruskin
William, (Guillaume), seventh count of Poitiers and ninth duke of Aquitaine (1071–ca. 1127), was the first European vernacular poet whose work has come down to us. The tradition, socially speaking, thus began right at the top, with all that that implies as to “highness” of style, tone, and diction…. A troubador’s subject matter was the life he led, viewed in terms of his social relations, which were ceremonial, idealized, and ritualized to the point of virtual sacralization. In keeping with the rarefied subject matter, the genres and styles of troubadour verse were also highly formalized and ceremonious, to the point of virtuosic complexity of design and occasional, sometimes deliberate, obscurity of meaning.
while adding this
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.
And this, and this. The last is hanging on the wall above my desk. It cost a pretty penny.
Taruskin now has his own tag, including posts where he's not mentioned, but where his association with law is relevant.

I saw Zero Dark 30

Sunday, January 06, 2013

John Richardson, 2004
Asked what he thought of the price, Mr. Richardson answered, without missing a beat, "I don't think any painting in the world is worth $100 million.
Robert Hughes

Friday, January 04, 2013

Scientists are now going to teach us the importance of studying history, something historians could never do because they're not scientists.
…They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” According to their research, which involved more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68, the illusion persists from teenage years into retirement.

“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
As with scientists, so with philosophers. The "Euthyphro dilemma" is one of the founding themes of any literature.  In the "western canon" that means from the story of Moses and Aaron through Euripides' Alcestis, Plato's dialogue, and up to the present.  But it's named by philosophers after the words of a philosopher.

Literature is made of  characters and their authors observing the foibles of others and themselves; literature is the history of its present. If science is going to be credited with discovering the need for retrospective observation that says more about the slow fading of the culture of science, as scientism, than it does about facts of our behavior in the world. We now have the geek's critique of geekdom

Bertram reads the same article.
This wouldn’t have come as any surprise to Montaigne, whose whole project was predicated on the idea of constant change in the self:
I am unable to stabilize my subject: it staggers confusedly along with a natural drunkenness. I grasp it as it is now, at this moment when I am lingering over it. I am not portraying being but becoming: not the passage from one age to another … but from day to day, from minute to minute. I must adapt this account of myself to the passing hour. (“On repenting”, Screech trans 908-9)
But how much this contradicts the central presupposition of much intellectual biography, which is to find as much consistency as possible among the attitudes and doctrines adopted by a person throughout their life.
Even with the quote -from Montaigne!-  he misses the point: it's not how we interpret the works and lives of the past it's how we live in the present.  I spend far too much time documenting the drift of liberalism to the left over the past 10 years. Liberals have drifted away from neoliberalism without noticing or at very least acknowledging the change (as they drifted towards it years before).  Zionists are learning, finally, that they cannot be both zionist and liberal, but it's taken a long time, and those who've spent the same time drifting towards fascism won't admit it till they get there. These idiots read Tolkien, you'd think they'd learn something at least.  Duncan Black's anti-intellectual, know-nothing, knee-jerk, arrogant "common sense" tone hasn't changed, even as his tastes have, as have Farrell's.

Repeats of repeats of repeats. Bertram 2003
But even walking a few streets around my home and looking at the posters urging people to demonstrate, I’m quickly reminded why I would not. “Bush” is represented on many of them with a swastika in places of the “S”—an absurd implied equivalence anyway, and a grotesque one a few days after the synagogue bombings in Istanbul. The stunt with the statue also suggest the triumph of theatre over political and moral judgement. And then there’s the fact that the Stop the War Coalition calls for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and that some of its components even support what they call the “resistance”. Since the imperative now is to stop Britain and the US from “cutting and running” and to insist that they ensure a transition to stable and constitutional Iraqi self-goverment (and put the infrastructure back together again) what the demostrators largely want is the opposite of what ought to be done.
Berube in 2002
The antiwar left once knew well that its anti-imperialism was in fact a form of patriotism -- until it lost its bearings in Kosovo and Kabul, insisting beyond all reason that those military campaigns were imperialist wars for oil or regional power. And why does that matter? Because in the agora of public opinion, the antiwar left never claimed to speak to pragmatic concerns or political contingencies: for the antiwar left, the moral ground was the only ground there was. So when the antiwar left finds itself on shaky moral ground, it simply collapses.
To his credit in some sense, Berube hasn't changed.

Determinism should argue that the decline of scientism was as inevitable as its rise. I can't think of a logical argument against physicalism.

A determinist will or will not be soft on crime but he will have no choice either way. He will or will not write books or teach philosophy or have a drink at 5pm on April 23rd 2112, but he will have no choice. He will or will not coin the term "nice nihilism" but he has no choice.
Physicalism requires that Alex Rosenberg and Lady Gaga have no choice but to be what they are. Lady Gaga might agree, but she's smarter than he is.
Rosenberg (2009)
As for the disenchanted naturalist’s take on ethics, it certainly has no interest in undermining Tamler Sommers’ love for his daughter, Eliza. It’s no part of the disenchanted naturalists agenda to explain away the reality of love or any other emotion. Indeed, emotions are essential to the disenchanted explanation of how norms motivate us.
I tried to explain to Rosenberg. "Love is a form of enchantment. Why backtrack?" Physicalism demands not just that history is bunk but that consciousness is bunk: ideas, explanations, and ethics are bunk.
If you want to be a full on materialist then do so. But then even your arrogance is just a function of some determined series of events (and as such does not exist).
It makes no sense to claim to undermine everything and then back away from it just to keep friendships. Or if you want to keep friendships, you should acknowledge that friendship like love has a function. Again: enchantment has a function for you and everyone else. But that's not to say that love or that ideas "exist" outside of that function.
Of course compatibilism is a joke. But then this letter is the pretense at free will.
If there are no beliefs there are no ideas. I tend to think that's true. And behaviorism and physicalism are not in conflict. So we live the need to eat and reproduce supported by calculation (a mechanical process) and behavioral conditioning.
That was in an email. He sent a two word response more polite than Protevi's "fuck you". His operant conditioning is stronger than his drive to follow the calculational imperative. His "nice nihilism" as he calls it is either a monument to faith or to mechanics.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
The reciprocal relations of high and low, elite and popular, intellectual and not, or
the condescension of arrogant schoolmen and their students, of the best and the brightest.

The arts are Burkean.
videos: Debussy plays Debussy, Golliwog's Cakewalk. Motörhead, 1916

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber,  Feb. 2008
In one of the early chapters of Seeing Like a State, Scott gives us a Foucauldian view of how formal knowledge increases the power of the state.
Legibility implies a viewer whose place is central and whose vision is synoptic. State simplifications of the kind we have examined are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a view not afforded to those without authority. Rather like U.S. highway patrolmen wearing mirrored sunglasses, the authorities enjoy a quasi-monopolistic picture of selected aspects of the whole society. This privileged vantage point is typical of all institutional settings where command and control of complex human activities is paramount. The monastery, the barracks, the factory floor, and the administrative bureaucracy (private or public) exercise many statelike functions and often mimic its information structure as well. (Scott, p. 79)
NB that this isn’t one of the later chapters that deals with the specific phenomenon of ‘high modernism’ – as I read it, this is a generalized claim about how increases in legibility enhance the power of the state (or of whoever the eye-in-the-pyramid/dude at the center of the Panopticon) is. But it’s also wrong.
Tom Slee, Crooked Timber, June 2012
In the state of Tamil Nadu, near the town of Marakkanam, right next to a reserved forest, lies a contested plot of land. Records say these three acres belong to a member of the Mudaliar caste, but lower-caste Dalits living nearby claim the plot should be part of the reserved forest, which is not privately owned. The Dalits claim that the Mudaliars have pulled a fast one, using their influence in the local bureaucracy to fix the land records, and that older records will bear out the Dalit claim. Complicating the case, officials say that boundaries between land parcels in the area are often difficult to ascertain.

...A new generation of land developers grew up alongside the digitized records: firms with the skills and information to make efficient use of this new resource. These developers lobbied effectively for records and spatial data to be made open, and then used their advantages to displace smaller firms who, as Raman writes, "relied on their knowledge of local histories and relationships to assemble land for development". The effects went far beyond the three-acre plot near Marakkanan: newly visible master plans became used as "the reference point to label legal and illegal spaces and as a justification for evicting the poor from their economic and residential spaces." The "pro-poor" initiative turned out to be anything but. Tamil Nadu was not alone in running an open data project that made life harder for the poor; neighbouring Karnataka’s "Bhoomi" (or ‘land’) e-governance program has had similar effects: a 2007 publication concluded that "the digitization of land records led to increased corruption, much more bribes and substantially increased time taken for land transactions. At another level, it facilitated very large players in the land markets to capture vast quantities of land at a time when Bangalore experiences a boom in the land market."
Henry Farrell, January 2013.
I’m bullish about how experimentalism can improve democratic practice, when it happens under conditions of rough power equality. But it can equally be used to improve techniques of manipulation.
I'll begin here:
"The genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one."

Every actor is a traditionalist and knows it. Every lawyer is a traditionalist and knows it. Every novelist worth his weight, or hers, is a traditionalist and knows it.

I've repeated this more than enough:
In the five lectures on psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by "a condemning judgment". He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother"?
Our audience is the judge.
"Of course I'm a feminist! …  Honey could you get me another beer?"
Call it moral quasi-realism without individualist assumptions.

Farrell, Bertram et al. so obviously begin with what they want or need to be true. Arguments careen between attempts to design technologies to regulate self-interest, and fantasies of human selflessness.
The only constant is the certainty of their own superiority.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Seeing motion pictures is a matter of perception; understanding them is the perception of that perception. For the American motion picture industry, the spring of 1947 was the season certain perceptions changed.

The box office receipts that peaked in 1946 began their exorable decline. Charlie Chaplin, the world’s most popular man, reintroduced himself as a serial killer in Monsieur Verdoux; the House Committee on Un-American Activities went to Hollywood to look for Communists; Darryl Zanuck bested Jack Warner for control of the title The Iron Curtain, script to follow. And in the spring two books were published that, each in its way, put the beleaguered medium on the couch and would permanently alter the way people saw it: Parker Tyler’s Magic and Myth of the Movies and Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film.

The two books were bracketed in The New York Times Book Review. Favorably considering both, albeit with certain caveats, reviewer Eric Bentley summarized their overlapping theses: “The film is the most popular art of this or perhaps any age.”
Professor who Learns from Peasants:  "'I just love raising animals,' he said before inviting a departing visitor to pluck a dozen freshly laid eggs from his ramshackle chicken coop. 'It’s good to have something that requires your body and leaves your mind alone.'”

...After a reasonable training, the yeoman life throve well with us. Our faces took the sunburn kindly; our chests gained in compass, and our shoulders in breadth and squareness; our great brown fists looked as if they had never been capable of kid gloves. The plough, the hoe, the scythe, and the hay-fork grew familiar to our grasp. The oxen responded to our voices. We could do almost as fair a day's work as Silas Foster himself, sleep dreamlessly after it, and awake at daybreak with only a little stiffness of the joints, which was usually quite gone by breakfast-time.

To be sure, our next neighbors pretended to be incredulous as to our real proficiency in the business which we had taken in hand. They told slanderous fables about our inability to yoke our own oxen, or to drive them afield when yoked, or to release the poor brutes from their conjugal bond at nightfall. They had the face to say, too, that the cows laughed at our awkwardness at milking-time, and invariably kicked over the pails; partly in consequence of our putting the stool on the wrong side, and partly because, taking offence at the whisking of their tails, we were in the habit of holding these natural fly- flappers with one hand and milking with the other. They further averred that we hoed up whole acres of Indian corn and other crops, and drew the earth carefully about the weeds; and that we raised five hundred tufts of burdock, mistaking them for cabbages; and that by dint of unskilful planting few of our seeds ever came up at all, or, if they did come up, it was stern-foremost; and that we spent the better part of the month of June in reversing a field of beans, which had thrust themselves out of the ground in this unseemly way. They quoted it as nothing more than an ordinary occurrence for one or other of us to crop off two or three fingers, of a morning, by our clumsy use of the hay-cutter. Finally, and as an ultimate catastrophe, these mendacious rogues circulated a report that we communitarians were exterminated, to the last man, by severing ourselves asunder with the sweep of our own scythes! and that the world had lost nothing by this little accident.

But this was pure envy and malice on the part of the neighboring farmers. The peril of our new way of life was not lest we should fail in becoming practical agriculturists, but that we should probably cease to be anything else. While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It was to
be our form of prayer and ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden from the sun. Pausing in the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture from our foreheads, we were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the far-off soul of truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out quite so well as we anticipated. It is very true that, sometimes, gazing casually around me, out of the midst of my toil, I used to discern a richer picturesqueness in the visible scene of earth and sky. There was, at such moments, a novelty, an unwonted aspect, on the face of Nature, as if she had been taken by surprise and seen at unawares, with no opportunity to put off her real look, and assume the mask with which she mysteriously hides herself from mortals. But this was all. The clods of earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and over, were never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing, and left us mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening. Intellectual activity is incompatible with any large amount of bodily exercise. The yeoman and the scholar—the yeoman and the man of finest moral culture, though not the man of sturdiest sense and integrity—are two distinct individuals, and can never be melted or welded into one substance.

Zenobia soon saw this truth, and gibed me about it, one evening, as Hollingsworth and I lay on the grass, after a hard day's work.

"I am afraid you did not make a song today, while loading the hay-cart," said she, "as Burns did, when he was reaping barley."

"Burns never made a song in haying-time," I answered very positively. "He was no poet while a farmer, and no farmer while a poet."

"And on the whole, which of the two characters do you like best?" asked Zenobia. "For I have an idea that you cannot combine them any better than Burns did. Ah, I see, in my mind's eye, what sort of an individual you are to be, two or three years hence. Grim Silas Foster is your prototype, with his palm of sole-leather, and his joints of rusty iron (which all through summer keep the stiffness of what he calls his winter's rheumatize), and his brain of—I don't know what his brain is made of, unless it be a Savoy cabbage; but yours may be cauliflower, as a rather more delicate variety. Your physical man will be transmuted into salt beef and fried pork, at the rate, I should imagine, of a pound and a half a day; that being about the average which we find necessary in the kitchen. You will make your toilet for the day (still like this delightful Silas Foster) by rinsing your fingers and the front part of your face in a little tin pan of water at the doorstep, and teasing your hair with a wooden pocket-comb before a seven-by-nine-inch looking-glass. Your only pastime will be to smoke some very vile tobacco in the black stump of a pipe."

"Pray, spare me!" cried I. "But the pipe is not Silas's only mode of solacing himself with the weed."

"Your literature," continued Zenobia, apparently delighted with her description, "will be the 'Farmer's Almanac;' for I observe our friend Foster never gets so far as the newspaper. When you happen to sit down, at odd moments, you will fall asleep, and make nasal proclamation of the fact, as he does; and invariably you must be jogged out of a nap, after supper, by the future Mrs. Coverdale, and persuaded to go regularly to bed. And on Sundays, when you put on a blue coat with brass buttons, you will think of nothing else to do but to go and lounge over the stone walls and rail fences, and stare at the corn growing. And you will look with a knowing eye at oxen, and will have a tendency to clamber over into pigsties, and feel of the hogs, and give a guess how much they will weigh after you shall have stuck and dressed them. Already I have noticed you begin to speak through your nose, and with a drawl. Pray, if you really did make any poetry to-day, let us hear it in that kind of utterance!"

"Coverdale has given up making verses now," said Hollingsworth, who never had the slightest appreciation of my poetry. "Just think of him penning a sonnet with a fist like that! There is at least this good in a life of toil, that it takes the nonsense and fancy-work out of a man, and leaves nothing but what truly belongs to him. If a farmer can make poetry at the plough-tail, it must be because his nature insists on it; and if that be the case, let him make it, in Heaven's name!"

"And how is it with you?" asked Zenobia, in a different voice; for she never laughed at Hollingsworth, as she often did at me. "You, I think, cannot have ceased to live a life of thought and feeling."

"I have always been in earnest," answered Hollingsworth. "I have hammered thought out of iron, after heating the iron in my heart! It matters little what my outward toil may be. Were I a slave, at the bottom of a mine, I should keep the same purpose, the same faith in its ultimate accomplishment, that I do now. Miles Coverdale is not in earnest, either as a poet or a laborer."

"You give me hard measure, Hollingsworth," said I, a little hurt. "I have kept pace with you in the field; and my bones feel as if I had been in earnest, whatever may be the case with my brain!"

"I cannot conceive," observed Zenobia with great emphasis,—and, no doubt, she spoke fairly the feeling of the moment,—"I cannot conceive of being so continually as Mr. Coverdale is within the sphere of a strong and noble nature, without being strengthened and ennobled by its influence!"

This amiable remark of the fair Zenobia confirmed me in what I had already begun to suspect, that Hollingsworth, like many other illustrious prophets, reformers, and philanthropists, was likely to make at least two proselytes among the women to one among the men. Zenobia and Priscilla! These, I believe (unless my unworthy self might be reckoned for a third), were the only disciples of his mission; and I spent a great deal of time, uselessly, in trying to conjecture what Hollingsworth meant to do with them—and they with him! 

It is not, I apprehend, a healthy kind of mental occupation to devote ourselves too exclusively to the study of individual men and women. If the person under examination be one's self, the result is pretty certain to be diseased action of the heart, almost before we can snatch a second glance. Or if we take the freedom to put a friend under our microscope, we thereby insulate him from many of his true relations, magnify his peculiarities, inevitably tear him into parts, and of course patch him very clumsily together again. What wonder, then, should we be frightened by the aspect of a monster, which, after all,—though we can point to every feature of his deformity in the real personage,—may be said to have been created mainly by ourselves.

Thus, as my conscience has often whispered me, I did Hollingsworth a great wrong by prying into his character; and am perhaps doing him as great a one, at this moment, by putting faith in the discoveries which I seemed to make. But I could not help it. Had I loved him less, I might have used him better. He and Zenobia and Priscilla—both for their own sakes and as connected with him—were separated from the rest of the Community, to my imagination, and stood forth as the indices of a problem which it was my business to solve. Other associates had a portion of my time; other matters amused me; passing occurrences carried me along with them, while they lasted. But here was the vortex of my meditations, around which they revolved, and whitherward they too continually tended. In the midst of cheerful society, I had often a feeling of loneliness. For it was impossible not to be sensible that, while these three characters figured so largely on my private theatre, I—though probably reckoned as a friend by all—was at best but a secondary or tertiary personage with either of them.

I loved Hollingsworth, as has already been enough expressed. But it impressed me, more and more, that there was a stern and dreadful peculiarity in this man, such as could not prove otherwise than pernicious to the happiness of those who should be drawn into too intimate a connection with him. He was not altogether human. There was something else in Hollingsworth besides flesh and blood, and sympathies and affections and celestial spirit.

This is always true of those men who have surrendered themselves to an overruling purpose. It does not so much impel them from without, nor even operate as a motive power within, but grows incorporate with all that they think and feel, and finally converts them into little else save that one principle. When such begins to be the predicament, it is not cowardice, but wisdom, to avoid these victims. They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them, and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path. They have an idol to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious; and never once seem to suspect—so cunning has the Devil been with them—that this false deity, in whose iron features, immitigable to all the rest of mankind, they see only benignity and love, is but a spectrum of the very priest himself, projected upon the surrounding darkness. And the higher and purer the original object, and the more unselfishly it may have been taken up, the slighter is the probability that they can be led to recognize the process by which godlike benevolence has been debased into all- devouring egotism.

Of course I am perfectly aware that the above statement is exaggerated, in the attempt to make it adequate. Professed philanthropists have gone far; but no originally good man, I presume, ever went quite so far as this. Let the reader abate whatever he deems fit. The paragraph may remain, however, both for its truth and its exaggeration, as strongly expressive of the tendencies which were really operative in Hollingsworth, and as exemplifying the kind of error into which my mode of observation was calculated to lead me. The issue was, that in solitude I often shuddered at my friend. In my recollection of his dark and impressive countenance, the features grew more sternly prominent than the reality, duskier in their depth and shadow, and more lurid in their light; the frown, that had merely flitted across his brow, seemed to have contorted it with an adamantine wrinkle. On meeting him again, I was often filled with remorse, when his deep eyes beamed kindly upon me, as with the glow of a household fire that was burning in a cave. "He is a man after all," thought I; "his Maker's own truest image, a philanthropic man!— not that steel engine of the Devil's contrivance, a philanthropist!" But in my wood-walks, and in my silent chamber, the dark face frowned at me again.
The U.S. is the only country in the world where playwrights and novelists are not considered intellectuals.
“An anthropologist goes in and tries to have as few prejudices as possible and be as open as possible to where the world leads you,” he said, “whereas a political scientist would go in with a questionnaire.”
The division between manual and mental work, as intellectual work, isn't the division between farmer and scientist but between carpenter and architect.  Scientists and engineers aren't intellectuals: they're technicians.  Hawthorne was a craftsman and an ethnographer in the only way possible to be an ethnographer of one's own world.  Scott is an engineer of ideas defending the moral importance of a hobby.