Monday, February 26, 2018

The irony of the masters

The Enlightenment: History of an Idea
Vincenzo Ferrone

It just doesn't stop.
Paraphrasing the great Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, one might say that a specter is haunting Europe: it is the specter of the Enlightenment. It looks sad and emaciated, and, though laden with honors, bears the scars of many a lost battle. However, it is undaunted and has not lost its satirical grin. In fact it has donned new clothes and continues to haunt the dreams of those who believe that the enigma of life is all encompassed within the design of a shadowy and mysterious god, rather than in the dramatic recognition of the human being’s freedom and responsibility.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, some thought that it was time to liquidate what was le of the heritage of the Enlightenment. Surely they could now, nally, lay to rest that ambitious and troublesome cultural revolution, a movement that in the course of the eighteenth century had overcome a thou- sand obstacles to overthrow the seemingly immutable tenets of Ancien Régime Europe. One could at last put paid to the fanciful Enlightenment notion of the emancipation of man through man, i.e., to the idea that human beings could become enfranchised by their own forces alone, including the deployment of knowledge old and new that had been facilitated by the emergence of new social groups armed with a formidable weapon: critical thought.

Sapere aude—dare to know. Come of age. Do not be afraid to think with your own head. Leave aside all ancient auctoritates and the viscous condition- ing of tradition. us wrote the normally self-controlled Immanuel Kant in a moment of rare enthusiasm in 1784, citing the Enlightenment motto. However in our day, under the disguise of modern liberals, some eminent reactionaries have even entertained the dream that it might be possible to restore all the Ancien Régime’s reassuring certainties without ring a single shot. ey would all come ooding back: God’s rights (and therefore those of ecclesiastical hierarchies), inequality’s prescriptive and natural character, legal sanction for the rights of the few, the primacy of duties over rights, the clash of communities and ethnicities against any cosmopolitan or universalistic mirage.
"...it is the specter of the Enlightenment. It looks sad and emaciated, and, though laden with honors, bears the scars of many a lost battle. However, it is undaunted and has not lost its satirical grin."

Alex Rosenberg says academic philosophy is non-hierarchical, or "flat". Younger academic pedants disagree.  Leiter calls it a "slave rebellion"

"Irony is the glory of slaves." Milosz was a humanist. The satirical grin of the Enlightenment was the grin of those who lost.

Pinker's book is being mocked. Ferrone's is being taken very seriously.

How many times?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"So, too, our Collegiate Gothic, which may be seen in its most resolutely picturesque (and expensive) phase at Yale, is more relentlessly Gothic than Chartres, whose builders didn't even know they were Gothic and missed so many chances for quaint effect."

Enlightenment/enlightenment
The Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
Age of Reason
The jump in the last, courtesy of Tom Paine.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The second is recent. He wasn't being facetious. The exchanges continued; he had to be convinced.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

… But now we have another problem.
What is that?
What if we find out what makes each of us internally consistent? What if I find your proper name, that thing which describes exactly what you are?
Than I will always be honest, or predictable at least. And you will be able to interpret everything I say and never be wrong. And of course I’ll know your name as well.
No dishonesty, no subterfuge, no Freud, no art… Then we can all be logical positivists.
But it doesn’t matter. That dream’s irrelevant.
I want unification.
It’s an illusion.
I want the illusion.
Do you want the illusion or do you want the illusion to be real?
What’s the difference?
One means that you have an appreciation of the arts. The other means that you’re a fascist.
still writing this shit...
I thought the above was obvious when I wrote it, and I ignore the fact that people never get the joke, or laugh but are unwilling to admit what it means. I have to turn a paragraph of dialogue into a book for people to take it seriously and think. And even that won't do any good.

The fact is that every artist knows that they're the god of their imaginary world, and knows also that that world exists on as the result of craft, a world in words or paint or stone. Art as craft is the communication of sensation, it's not sensation itself. All artists admit to this ironic understanding, and are no less committed. A work of art squares the circle for its maker/s and no one else.

Art is the creation and recreation of this world as a richer one, of animate and inanimate objects suffused with meaning. It's the construction of a moral world, where every aspect manifests the unity of the whole. That world could be a Hell, but it will have the integrity of a hell beyond any hell that could ever exist outside human imagination.

It is a hell crafted out of a medium: language, paint, stone, or silver halide, and it cannot exist outside the material. A successful work of art is an artifice that pulls us into an illusion and reminds us that it is one. A writer of hells is a writer, not a hell-maker. "A Holbein portrait is first a painting, second a Holbein, third a portrait, and fourth a portrait of.  Art is first artifice and the medium carries the weight and the responsibility of presence." Art is a lie that tells us it is a lie and still makes us want to believe. And it is a work of craft that reminds us it is a work of craft and asks for our acknowledgment and respect. The pleasure of art comes from the tension between the two.

A culture, or a period in any culture will manifest its ethos, and contradictions, in its art. Art history is comparative. We don't share the fantasies of people of the past, but we can read the records, and we experience the sensibilities, the ethea -having looked up the plural of ethos- in art. The work we value of the past and the work of the present that will be valued in the future, describe, and make manifest, desires and contradictions that we, in reading, or looking, can still feel. We study and re-study art because we continue individually to experience it, even as we're taking it apart and examining it. In studying the  art of the past or present, we learn about ourselves, but we remember that people in the future will be better judges  of our art, and of us than we are. The value of art is the value of the honesty that can come with drunkenness. But the people who make it are reminding us and themselves, constantly, that in fact we're all still sober, and also that we are never sober.

The modern invention, kitsch, is the ideal of a fantasy world without mediation, without craft or medium. It's a dream that the dreamer asks or demands to be taken as reality.

Fascism is living life as art, believing your own lies, and mandating that others believe them too: it's the weakling with a gun, the pederast from Opus Dei. Offering a drag queen the courtesy of the female pronoun is an acknowledgement of art, a compliment for an artful lie. His demand to be called a woman is fascist.

Art is a lie that reminds us that it's a lie, even as it temps us. It's how we learn about our hopes and temptations and ourselves. Fascism is the choice to follow the lie and demand that others follow.

a new draft of something. I'm still writing the post.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I'd always thought of Teachout as a overly earnest and shallow, self-serving, moral conservative, but now nihilism is a moral option.

Friday, February 09, 2018

rationalism v empiricism, theory v practice, legal philosophers v lawyers, universalism v particularism (or universalism as such v universalism in the context of particular experience), blablabla, etc. etc, just to keep the links handy.  The case and the Ginsburg quote specifically is well known.

1- Academic Ethics: Is ‘Diversity’ the Best Reason for Affirmative Action?
What went unnoted is that most Anglophone philosophy departments offer little or no coverage of most of Western philosophy of the past two centuries, from Hegel to Nietzsche to Habermas. Leading philosophy departments from Princeton to Oxford are, indeed, not very intellectually diverse, but their lack of diversity reflects no submerged racial or ethnic motivation: It reflects, instead, the evolution of a discipline — hugely shaped by refugees from Nazism, ironically — that moved closer to the natural sciences than the other humanities in its conception of method.

No one, to my knowledge, is complaining about lack of attention to "Chinese" physics in American physics departments, which suggests that here, again, diversity is being invoked opportunistically to avoid a substantive debate about the merits of alternative methods and substantive views, or the virtues of specialization in a particular method. As Thomas Kuhn famously observed many years ago, "normal science" often makes great progress when there is not diversity, but convergence on methods, assumptions, and problems.
2- Supreme Court Rules Strip Search Violated 13-Year-Old Girl's Rights
Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old girl when they strip-searched her on the suspicion she might be hiding ibuprofen in her underwear, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The decision put school districts on notice that such searches are "categorically distinct" from other efforts to combat illegal drugs.

In a case that had drawn attention from educators, parents and civil libertarians across the country, the court ruled 8 to 1 that such an intrusive search without the threat of a clear danger to other students violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable search or seizure.

Justice David H. Souter, writing perhaps his final opinion for the court, said that in the search of Savana Redding, now a 19-year-old college student, school officials overreacted to vague accusations that Redding was violating school policy by possessing the ibuprofen, equivalent to two tablets of Advil.

What was missing, Souter wrote, "was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear."

It was reasonable to search the girl's backpack and outer clothes, but Safford Middle School administrators made a "quantum leap" in taking the next step, the opinion said. "The meaning of such a search, and the degradation its subject may reasonably feel, place a search that intrusive in a category of its own demanding its own specific suspicions," Souter wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter. "Judges are not qualified to second-guess the best manner for maintaining quiet and order in the school environment," he wrote.

He said administrators were only being logical in searching the girl. "Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments," he wrote. "Nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school."

The court's virtual unanimity was in contrast to the intense oral argument that seemed to exasperate the court's only female member, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She later said her male colleagues seemed not to appreciate the trauma such a search would have on a developing adolescent.

"They have never been a 13-year-old girl," she told USA Today when asked about her colleagues' comments during the arguments. "It's a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn't think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood."

But yesterday's opinion recognized just that. "Changing for gym is getting ready for play," Souter wrote. "Exposing for a search is responding to an accusation reserved for suspected wrongdoers" and is so degrading that a number of states and school districts have banned strip searches. The Washington region's two largest school districts are among them.
I've linked to Ginsburg before, making the same point; ditto Leiter.
But it's not often Leiter's so direct in defending scientistic arguments for philosophy. But saying that would be ignoring his reference to Kuhn.

Sunday, February 04, 2018


1-
You know,…it is easy in America to take a very tiny sum like five hundred thousand dollars and turn it into three hundred million! So easy! But you know what? I don’t want to. Because eet means raping those poor fuckers the American public even more than they are already. You know what ees the difference between the European peasant and the American peasant? The American peasant eats sheet, wears sheet, watches sheet on TV, looks out of his window at sheet! How can we go on raping them and giving them more sheet to buy!
2
Omygod, I think, this is the man who dragged Cambodia into the Vietnam War, but of course I say nothing, even when a waitress comes by to ask what we want to eat.

“What’s on the menu?” asks Kissinger, and I can barely restrain myself from shrieking, “What’s on the menu, Henry? Would that be Operation Menu?

Instead I obsequiously offer to go and fetch some nibbles. With success comes compromise, and it’s amazingly easy to forget two million massacred Cambodians as one is passing around the cheese straws.
Context

The first passage above is "an unnamed Italian art dealer" in NY, as quoted by Tina Brown; the second is from a memoir by Rupert Everett, used by the author of the review as a comparison and model of what a chatty jet set memoir should be. I'm not sure he's fully aware of the relation.

"Craig Brown has been a columnist for Private Eye since 1989." His first piece for the NYRB, courtesy of Ian Baruma.

According to Wikipedia, Everett is a former sex worker, supporter of legalized prostitution, opponent of gay marriage and Starbucks, and a patron of the British Monarchist Society.
He's there, right between Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson, just above John Barrowman.

a gentleman never lets politics get in the way of a friendship etc.

new tag for Aristocrats.