Monday, July 26, 2021

Mailer, "The White Negro", Dissent, Fall 1957

Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years. For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted. and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonored, and unremarked, a death which could not follow with dignity as a possible consequence to serious actions we had chosen, but rather a death by deus ex machina in a gas chamber or a radioactive city; and so if in the midst of civilization—that civilization founded upon the Faustian urge to dominate nature by mastering time, mastering the links of social cause and effect—in the middle of an economic civilization founded upon the confidence that time could indeed be subjected to our will, our psyche was subjected itself to the intolerable anxiety that death being causeless, life was causeless as well, and time deprived of cause and effect had come to a stop. 

The Second World War presented a mirror to the human condition which blinded anyone who looked into it. For if tens of millions were killed in concentration camps out of the inexorable agonies and contractions of super-states founded upon the always insoluble contradictions of injustice, one was then obliged also to see that no matter how crippled and perverted an image of man was the society he had created, it wits nonetheless his creation, his collective creation (at least his collective creation from the past) and if society was so murderous, then who could ignore the most hideous of questions about his own nature?  

Worse. One could hardly maintain the courage to be individual, to speak with one's own voice, for the years in which one could complacently accept oneself as part of an elite by being a radical were forever gone. A. man knew that when he dissented, he gave a note upon his life which could be called in any year of overt crisis. No wonder then that these have been the years of conformity and depression. A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve. The only courage, with rare exceptions, that we have been witness to, has been the isolated courage of isolated people.

II  

It is on this bleak scene that a phenomenon has appeared: the American existentialist—the hipster. the man who knows that if our collective condition is to live with instant death by atomic war, relatively quick death by the State as l'univers concentrationnaire. or with a slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stifled (at what damage to the mind and the heart and the liver and the nerves no research foundation for cancer will discover in a hurry) , if the fate of twentieth century man is to live with death from adolescence to premature senescence. why then the only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death. to live with death as immediate danger. to divorce oneself from society. to exist without roots. to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self. In short. whether the life is criminal or not. the decision is to encourage the psychopath in oneself. to explore that domain of experience where security is boredom and therefore sickness. and one exists in the present, in that enormous present which is without past or future. memory or planned intention. the life where a man must go until he is beat. where he must gamble with his energies through all those small or large crises of courage and unforeseen situations which beset his day. where he must be with it or doomed not to swing. The unstated essence of Hip, its psychopathic brilliance. quivers with the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one's power for new kinds of perception; and defeats. the wrong kind of defeats. attack the body and imprison one's energy until one isjailed in the prison air of other people's habits. other people’s defeats. boredom. quiet desperation. and muted icy self- destroying rage. One is Hip or one is Square (the alternative which each new generation coming into American life is beginning to feel) one is a rebel or one conforms. one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life. or else a Square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society. doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.

A totalitarian society makes enormous demands on the courage of men, and a partially totalitarian society makes even greater demands for the general anxiety is greater. Indeed if one is to be a man. almost any kind of unconventional action often takes disproportionate courage. So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries. But the presence of Hip as a working philosophy in the sub-worlds of American life is probably due to jazz. and its knife-like entrance into culture, its subtle but so penetrating influence on an avant-garde generation —that post-war generation of adventurers who (some consciously. some by osmosis) had absorbed the lessons of disillusionment and disgust of the Twenties, the Depression, and the War. Sharing a collective disbelief in the words of men who had too much money and controlled too many things, they knew almost as powerful a disbelief in the socially monolithic ideas of the single mate, the solid family and the respectable love life. If the intellectual antecedents of this generation can be traced to such separate influences as D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Wilhelm Reich, the viable philosophy of Hemingway fits most of their facts: in a bad world, as he was to say over and over again (while taking time out from his parvenu snobbery and dedicated gourmandise), in a bad world there is no love nor mercy nor charity norjustice unless a man can keep his courage, and this indeed fitted some of the facts. What fitted the need of the adventurer even more precisely was Hemingway’s categorical imperative that what made him feel good became therefore The Good.

So no wonder that in certain cities of America, in New York of course, and New Orleans, in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in such American cities as Paris and Mexico, D.F., this particular part of a generation was attracted to what the Negro had to offer. In such places as Greenwich Village, a ménage-a-trois was completed—the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to—face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life. If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry. Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual to him, no Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk. The cameos of security for the average white: mother and the home, lob and the family, are not even a mockery to millions of Negroes; they are impossible. The Negro has the simplest of alternatives: live a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger. In such a pass where paranoia is as vital to survival as blood, the Negro had stayed alive and begun to grow by following the need of his body where he could. Knowing in the cells of his existence that life was war, nothing but war, the Negro (all exceptions admitted) could rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for his survival the art of the primitive, he lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations ofjoy, lust, languor, growl, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm. For jazz is orgasm, it is the music of orgasm, good orgasm and bad, and so it spoke across a nation, it had the communication of art even where it was  watered, perverted, corrupted, and almost killed, it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication by art because it said, “I feel this, and now you do too."

Baldwin, "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy Norman Mailer" Esquire, 1961

I First met Norman Mailer about five years ago, in Paris, at the home of Jean Malaquais. Let me bring in at once the theme that will repeat itself over and over throughout this love letter: I was then (and l have not changed much) a very tight, tense, lean, abnormally ambitious, abnormally intelligent, and hungry black eat. It is important that I admit that, at the time I met Norman, 1 was extremely worried about my career; and a writer who is worried about his career is also fighting for his life. I was approaching the end ofa love affair, and I was not taking it very well. Norman and I are alike in this, that we both tend to suspect others of putting us down, and we strike before we‘re struck. Only, our styles are very different: I am a black boy from the Harlem streets, and Norman is a middle-class Jew. I am not dragging my personal history into this gratuitously, and I hope I do not need to say that no sneer is implied in the above description of Norman. But these are the facts and in my own relationship to Norman they are crucial facts.

Also, I have no right to talk about Norman without risking a distinctly chilling self-exposure. I take him very seriously, he is very dear to me. And I think I know something about his journey from my black boy's point of View because my own joumey is not really so very different, and also because I have spent most of my life, after all, watching white people and outwitting them, so that I might survive. I think that I know something about the American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one‘s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing

There is a difference, though, between Norman and myself in that I think he still imagines that he has something to save, whereas I have never had anything to lose. Or, perhaps, I ought to put it another way: the thing that most white people imagine that they can  salvage from the storm of life is really, in sum,  their innocence; It  was this commodity precisely which I had to get rid of at once, literally at pain of death I am I am afraid that most of the white people I have ever known impressed me as being in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order, against which dream, unfailingly and unconsciously, they tested and very often lost their lives. It is a terrible thing to say, but I am afraid that for a very long time the troubles of white people failed to impress me as being real trouble. They put me in mind of children crying because the breast has been taken away. Time and love have modified my tough~boy lack of charity, but the attitude sketched above was my first attitude and I am sure that there is a great deal of it left.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki said the only German he ever met who fully understood the significance of  the Holocaust to Jews was Ulrike Meinhof.

Baldwin can't recognize that Jews aren't white. He can't see Mailer's desire—Jews' desire—to assimilate, and the ability to pass.  It's the central theme of Zionism and of Ashkenazi Jewish life after the founding of Israel. It's the subtext to everything Mailer wrote.

"For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history,..." Mailer can't imagine the millennia of nameless slaves, serfs, and peasants. And Mailer and Baldwin both can't see a France beyond the tasteful intellectual bourgeoisie of talk and food and wine, oblivious to the romance of determinism and revolution, nihilism and utopia that was modernism. For both, America and Americanism is the center of the universe, and Europe is the other.

The White Negro begins with a passage from "Born 1930: The Unlost Generation", by Caroline Bird, Harper's Bazaar, Feb., 1957

Our search for the rebels of the generation led us to the hipster. The hipster is an enfant terrible turned inside out. In character with his time, he is trying to get back at the conformists by lying low. . . . You can’t interview a hipster because his main goal is to keep out of a society which, he thinks, trying to make everyone over in its own image. He takes marijuana because it supplies him with experiences that can’t be shared with “squares.” He may affect a broad-brimmed hat or a zoot suit, but usually he prefers to skulk unmarked. The hipster may be a jazz musician; he is rarely an artist, almost never a writer. He may earn his living as a petty criminal, a hobo, a carnival roustabout or a free-lance moving man in Greenwich Village, but some hipsters have found a safe refuge in the upper income brackets as television comics or movie actors. (The late James Dean, for one, was a hipster hero.) . . . it is tempting to describe the hipster in psychiatric terms as infantile, but the style of his infantilism is a sign of the times, he does not try to enforce his will on others, Napoleon-fashion, but contents himself with a magical omnipotence never disproved because never tested. . . . As the only extreme nonconformist of his generation, he exercises a powerful if underground appeal for conformists, through newspaper accounts of his delinquencies, his structureless jazz, and his emotive grunt words.

Before the hipster, Bird describes other types. 

The Corporate Man

Corporate man is easy to find. We found him through the personnel director of a multi-million dollar corporation. As an executive trainee, twenty-eight years old. he was used to being probed. polled and tested, and he answered our inquiries with a poise beyond his years.  He took his present job. he volunteered. because the company had a reputation for treating everybody fairly and taking a real interest in you. He's happy in personnel work because he likes people. His wife likes them too—they have lots of friends in the new suburban develop- ment where they live. Her photo. graph comes easily out of his wallet and shows a pleasantly pretty. some what earnest girl in babushka and slacks. holding a baby. He talks easily. too. of their life together. He has no objections to the standardization of his home. The builders did a fair job. and he has built in his own touches of individuality—flan outdoor barbecue that is different in design from his neighbor's. a storage wall  a that neatly includes the TV set. He speaks of the friendliness of development living, of block parties. shared responsibility for baby-sitting and car pools. He makes it clear that his is no life of quiet desperation. Its similarity to that of his neighbors doesn't depress him. In fact. he finds it reassuring: neither he nor his wife believe in being “cliquey.”  Religion? They go to the Presbyterian Church because they like the minister and the Sunday school is the most popular, even though he himself was born a Unitarian. Politics? He guesses both parties are pretty much alike, but he voted Republican because he liked Ike and he's never forgotten that Ike ended the Korean War. It was the only war he was ever in, and it was enough. Reading? He wishes he had more time for it, though he subscribes to a weekly news magazine and the Reader’s Digest. His wife manages to read most of the best-selling novels. but he prefers nonfiction. He read Love Or Perish, and thought there was a lot of truth in it, but in general he likes books that give you information.

The interviewer can’t help feeling he’s really much nicer than Babbitt—more sensitive, less ambitious, more genuine. He is a good listener, attentive to nuances of personality. Personality, in fact, is one of his words. He speaks of it as if it were a commodity, something that can be manufactured and sold. It’s what he likes in entertainment figures. It’s what helps you to get along (he never says “get ahead"). His own personality seems so smooth that, for all his ingenuous frankness, the interviewer has a hard time getting a purchase on him. If he had gone to Princeton, he would have been known approvingly as “tweed"—the Ivy League slang for “regular guy" which describes him in terms of his uniform and leaves one wondering whether there is an unknown and possibly quite different man inside the clothing.

The Intellectual 

While today’s young intellectuals would. for the most part, repudiate the notion of conformity. they are certainly less in conflict with the conventional ethos of their time— less adventurous and less embattled —than the intellectuals of the 1920’s and ’30's: the maverick and the Bohemian are becoming increasingly rare species among the young.  Like his contemporary in the business world, the young intellectual prefers the security of working for a large institution to the hazards and high hopes of independence. and his sights are firmly set on the universities and the foundations. As a writer, he is more apt to devote his energies to scholarship and criticism, which will further his professional status. than to fiction and poetry. As a social animal. his style of dress and living, while informal. is more likely to be conventional than not. As a voter, he was probably for Stevenson, but by and large he is leery of political involvement. For one thing. the "loyalty" inquiries of recent years—though he had strong feelings about the issues at stake—impressed upon him the danger of going out on a political limb. In the second place, the whole climate of the age is not one in which causes are flourishing.... 

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the young intellectuals—an unusual one for this tribe—is their modesty. They are distinctly less dogmatic, assertive, exhibitionistic  than their counterparts in previous eras. They are interested in their inner life, but they do not expect to interest everyone else in it.

She begins her list of categories with this

The Revolt Against Sexual Experiment

“I'm sick of hearing almut my father's generation as the lost generation.“ the heroine of William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness says of her philandering father. "They weren't lost. They were losing us." To the generation born 1930 sexual laxity no longer seems smart. Too many of today's young people have felt its results. They have rediscovered—and for the children of divorce, the hard way—that sex has social as well as individual consequences. They are less interested in experiment than in building lasting marriages, and they fervently believe that the proper end of love is a child. Their actions speak even louder than their words. More young women are marrying: in 1920 almost half the girls aged 20 to 24 were single, while in 1953 the figure was down to 21 per cent. Both men and women are marrying earlier: between 1930 and 1955, the median age of marriage dropped a year and a half to 22.7 for men and a little over a year. to 20.2 for women. They are also having babies sooner: 56 per cent of women 21 to 25 are mothers, compared with 42 per cent in 1920.  

The Revolt Against Criticism 

The generation of 1930 grew up awash in words, victims of a generation hell-bent on explaining itself—in books, on canvas and in endlessly speculative palaver. In contrast, today's young adults are certainly not afflicted by the urge to communicate. Conversationally, they believe in playing it safe...

And ends... 

The Future  

Where are these silent, smooth young people going? To their elders. they seem to be building a somewhat savorless society, lacking in individual idiosyncrasy, intellectual vitality, or even political responsibility. Certainly they raise troubling questions for the sociologist. How. he asks, can our capitalist economy sustain its dynamism if so few are willing to take risks? What will happen to our culture if there is a continued decline in the American tradition of protest?

There is a chance that while the young seem tame, uncommitted, they may be invisibly moving in a direction so radical that we cannot as yet conceive it. For, as the phenomenon of the United States moved Alexis de Tocqueville to say so long ago: “Time. events, or the unaided individual action of the mind will sometimes undermine or destroy an opinion. without any outward sign of the change. As its enemies remain mute or only interchange their thoughts by stealth, they are themselves unaware for a long period that a great revolution has actually been effected; and in this state of uncertainty they take no steps; they observe one another and are silent." 

See also

still writing. typos etc.

Friday, July 23, 2021

updated a bit, to make things clear.

A historian at Oxford. More of the thread, my highlights 

-I’m sharing this bc how schools treat their staff hugely impacts their students -

-(sorry this is quite a long thread but please stick with it if you can!)

-a bit of context: anyone who knows (or sees) me irl will know that I have historic self harm scars on my arms and legs. It’s fairly obvious what they are, but I’ve become less self-conscious about them over time. Nowadays, I barely even think about them, let alone cover them up -

-during the January lockdown, I was in school every day supervising the vulnerable & key worker kids. One day, a kid asked about my scars + I explained that they were from a time I was unwell. As per school policy, I reported this conversation to a safeguarding lead &

-asked for support with future conversations of this nature. 

Below is a selection of the responses I received from members of the school’s senior leadership team:... 

The medicalization of deviance, of discourse, and the bureaucratization of everything. She submitted to it, asking to be policed, and complains at the result. The woman above should have trusted herself and her "lead" should have trusted her to be able to communicate her history to the kids going through the same struggles. She chose to be weak and regulated by authority. Passivity as behavior reinforces itself: her submission is another form of "self-harm". On the other other side of the coin: the earnest acceptance of self hatred as body and gender dysphoria.

 
Thug life is barbarism. It needs no written philosophy. It needs no defense. It's not opposed to art. As I've said more than once, maybe not here, if art were about morality, killers wouldn't know how to dance.

The philosophical, academic and intellectual defense of barbarism, the theory of barbarism, is no longer barbarism. It's fascism.

That's for Dembroff. Look at the photograph she posted, at the photo of her, and her self-description. Jenner by comparison is merely an idiot male misogynist playing dress up. Drag is the equivalent of gender Orientalism, a fetish for the other. Conscious fakery renders it comic. That's why it's called The Queer Art of Failure. The need to impose the acceptance of fakery on others as reality is...  I've said it all before. 

The ubiquity of "leads", and "lead investigators" 

Professor Insole is the Lead Investigator for a major five-year programme, called ‘Redeeming Autonomy: Agency, Vulnerability, and Relationality’, funded and hosted by the Australian Catholic University, with co-investigators Dr David Kirchhoffer (ACU), Professor Jennifer Herdt (Yale), Professor Kristin Heyer (Boston), and Professor Yves De Maeseneer (Leuven).

Professor Lambert is internationally renowned for his scholarly writings on critical theory and film, the contemporary university, Baroque and Neo-Baroque cultural history, and; especially for his work on the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida. He has lectured internationally and was recently invited as a Visiting Distinguished Professor at Ewha University, Seoul National University, and in the winter of 2010 was appointed as the BK21 Visiting Distinguished Scholar at Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea.

He has also served as a lead investigator of several other major multi-institutional research and interdisciplinary initiatives in addition to the Humanities Corridor Project, including the Trans-Disciplinary Media Studio (with SU School of Architecture) and The Perpetual Peace Project, a multi-lateral curatorial initiative partnered with Slought Foundation (Philadelphia), the European Union National Institutes of Culture, the International Peace Institute, and the United Nations University.
"Research" in philosophy. "Doing philosophy". The empirical study of hot air. 

Related: liberals, including the liberals who call themselves leftists, screaming about covid denialists, anti-vaxxers, while ignoring their own history of decrying neoliberal pseudoscience. Trump or "Objectivity" and "Truth". We're back to the liberal fantasies of a reality based community.

The hip young literary editor of The Nation
Too bad for Arendt but likely the checkers on her pieces made them better and I can think of a couple others that might have also been improved with a bit more checking...
contra Arendt,  Dwight Macdonald and Alfred Kazin.
This piece could be worse.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory

This collection of essays argues that any valid theory of the modern should—indeed must—reckon with the medieval. Offering a much-needed correction to theorists such as Hans Blumenberg, who in his Legitimacy of the Modern Age describes the "modern age" as a complete departure from the Middle Ages, these essays forcefully show that thinkers from Adorno to Žižek have repeatedly drawn from medieval sources to theorize modernity. To forget the medieval, or to discount its continued effect on contemporary thought, is to neglect the responsibilities of periodization.
I'm so fucking bored.

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.

 etc.

To the world when it was half a thousand years younger, the outlines of all things seemed more clearly marked than to us. The contrast between suffering and joy, between adversity and happiness, appeared more striking. All experience had yet to the minds of men the directness and absoluteness of the pleasure and pain of child-life. Every event, every action, was still embodied in expressive and solemn forms, which raised them to the dignity of a ritual. For it was not merely the great facts of birth, marriage and death which, by the sacredness of the sacrament, were raised to the rank of mysteries; incidents of less importance, like a journey, a task, a visit, were equally attended by a thousand formalities: benedictions, ceremonies, formulae.

Calamities and indigence were more afflicting than at present; it was more difficult to guard against them, and to find solace. Illness and health presented a more striking contrast; the cold and darkness of winter were more real evils. Honours and riches were relished with greater avidity and contrasted more vividly with surrounding misery. We, at the present day, can hardly understand the keenness with which a fur coat, a good fire on the hearth, a soft bed, a glass of wine, were formerly enjoyed.

Then, again, all things in life were of a proud or cruel publicity. Lepers sounded their rattles and went about in processions, beggars exhibited their deformity and their misery in churches. Every order and estate, every rank and procession, was distinguished by its costume. The great lords never moved about without a glorious display of arms and liveries, exciting fear and envy. Executions and other public acts of justice, hawking, marriages and funerals, were all announced by cries and processions, songs and music. The lover wore the colours of his lady ; companions the emblem of their confraternity ; parties and servants the badges or blazon of their lords. Between town and country, too, the contrast was very marked. A medieval town did not lose itself in extensive suburbs of factories and villas ; girded by its walls, it stood forth as a compact whole, bristling with innumerable turrets. However tall and threatening the houses of noblemen or merchants might be, in the aspect of the town the lofty mass of the churches always remained dominant

The contrast between silence and sound, darkness and light, like that between summer and winter, was more strongly marked than it is in our lives. The modern town hardly knows silence or darkness in their purity, nor the effect of a solitary light or a single distant cry.

All things presenting themselves to the mind in violent contrasts and impressive forms, lent a tone of excitement and of passion to everyday life and tended to produce that perpetual oscillation between despair and distracted joy, between cruelty and pious tenderness, which characterize life in the Middle Ages.

One sound rose ceaselessly above the noises of busy life and lifted all things unto a sphere of order and serenity: the sound of bells. The bells were in daily life like good spirits, which by their familiar voices, now called upon the citizens to mourn and now to rejoice, now warned them of danger, now exhorted them to piety. They were known by their names: big Jacqueline, or the bell Roland. Every one knew the difference in meaning of the various ways of ringing. However continuous the ringing of the bells, people would seem not to have become blunted to the effect of their sound.

Throughout the famous judicial duel between two citizens of Valenciennes, in 1465, the big bell, "which is hideous to hear," says Chastellain, never stopped ringing. What intoxication the pealing of the bells of all the churches, and of all the monasteries of Paris, must have produced, sounding from morning till evening, and even during the night, when a peace was concluded or a pope elected.

The frequent processions, too, were a continual source of pious agitation. When the times were evil, as they often were, processions were seen winding along, day after day, for weeks on end. In 1412 daily processions were ordered in Paris, to implore victory for the king, who had taken up the oriflamme against the Armagnacs. They lasted from May to July, and were formed by ever-varying orders and corporations, going always by new roads, and always carrying different relics. The Burgher of Paris calls them " the most touching processions in the memory of men." People looked on or followed, " weeping piteously, with many tears, in great devotion." All went barefootted and fasting, councillors of the Parlement as well as the poorer citizens. Those who could afford it, carried a torch or a taper. A great many small children were always among them. Poor country-people of the environs of Paris came barefooted from afar to join the procession. And nearly every day the rain came down in torrents.

Then there were the entries of princes, arranged with all the resources of art and luxury belonging to the age. And, lastly, most frequent of all, one might almost say, uninterrupted, the executions. The cruel excitement and coarse compassion raised by an execution formed an important item in the spiritual food of the common people. They were spectacular plays with a moral. For horrible crimes the law invented atrocious punishments. At Brussels a young incendiary and murderer is placed in the centre of a circle of burning fagots and straw, and made fast to a stake by means of a chain running round an iron ring. He addresses touching words to the spectators, "and he so softened their hearts that every one burst into tears and his death was commended as the finest that was ever seen." During the Burgundian terror in Paris in 1411, one of the victims, Messire Mansart du Bois, being requested by the hangman, according to custom, to forgive him, is not only ready to do so with all his heart, but begs the executioner to embrace him." There was a great multitude of people, who nearly all wept hot tears."

When the criminals were great lords, the common people had the satisfaction of seeing rigid justice done, and at the same time finding the inconstancy of fortune exemplified more strikingly than in any sermon or picture. ... 


Every age yearns for a more beautiful world. The deeper the desperation and the depression about the confusing present, the more intense that yearning. Towards the end of the Middle Ages the ground tone underlying life is one of bitter despondency. The note of an assertive joy of life and of a strong confidence in an individual’s powers, which permeates the history of the Renaissance and that of the age of Enlightenment, is barely audible in the French-Burgundian world of the fifteenth century. Was life really more unhappy then than usual? It may, at times, seem to be the case. Wherever one looks in the sources of that period, in the chronicles, in poetry, in sermons and religious tracts and even official documents—with few exceptions, only the traces of strife, hatred and malevolence, greed and poverty seem to have survived. One may well ask, was this age incapable of enjoying nothing but cruelty, arrogant pride, and intemperance? Is joyfulness and quiet happiness nowhere to be found? To be sure, the age left in its records more traces of its suffering than of its happiness. Its misfortunes became its history. But an instinctive conviction tells us that the sum total of happiness, serene joy, and sweet rest given to man cannot differ very much in one period from that in another. The splendor of late medieval happiness has still not completely vanished; it survives in folk song, in music, in the quiet horizons of landscape paintings and in the sober faces seen in the portraits.

But in the fifteenth century, it is tempting to say, it was not yet customary, it was not in good taste, to loudly praise life and the world. Those given to the serious contemplation of the course of daily events, and who subsequently pronounced judgment on life, were accustomed to dwell on only suffering and despair. They saw time coming to an end and everything earthly inclining to ruin. The optimism that was to rise beginning with the Renaissance, and to fully bloom during the eighteenth century, was still unknown to the French mind of the fifteenth century. 

etc. 

It’s the public proclamation of loyalty to a subculture; documenting the need to belong; atomization and the rise of pathologically over-determined imagined communities etc.
 etc. etc. It’s the sociality of baroque individualism.

We now have food geeks as well as science geeks, all with the moral philosophy of Asperger’s patients: so fixated on their mania for [tube amps/Pouilly-Fuissé/Ducati two-stroke engines] that you’d be a fool not to hire them for your [high-end audio store/restaurant/Soho motorcycle salon]. Why be a well rounded adult when you can be an eternal [pre]adolescent and expert, and a happy cog and servant? 

I'll quibble with Haskell, and with Huizinga. The Renaissance was lost to the Enlightenment. Descartes was an anti-humanist; Huiizinga was a humanist. And "Baroque" individualism was the wrong term. I was using Jason Stanley's definition against him, but scholasticism is not Baroque. 

For, though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that implied in the word ‘mortality.’ 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Against nature is fascism

For utopia, is anti-politics

The clueless narcissism of the American bourgeoisie.

WHEN I FOUND MYSELF in Chicago, I used to meet Lauren Berlant for a drink. I asked Lauren to pick a place, and the place they chose was a bar in a Whole Foods grocery. This is one of the thousands of things I learned from my intellectual hero Lauren Berlant: in Chicago, the Whole Foods has a bar.

It’s not what I would call a charming bar, but Lauren seemed to appreciate the genericness. Genre was one of their favorite topics, after all, and anyway why should we pretend to be people who would never set foot in Whole Foods? Lauren told me they liked to write here. The supermarket was crowded and fluorescent; I think it was a hideout, too.

I drank beer. To tell the truth, I would have preferred a cocktail, but I wasn’t sure whether this bar would serve me one, and I wanted to get my drink quickly, inconspicuously. I didn’t want any fuss. On this point, it turned out, my philosophy differed from Lauren Berlant’s.

I remember Lauren asking for a sparkling water with bitters. It wasn’t on the menu. It disturbed the flow of our transaction at the Whole Foods bar. In fact Lauren tried to engage the bartender in a whole conversation about bitters. What flavors were available? Any unusual ones? The bartender didn’t have very much to say on the topic, but Lauren kept at it. The exchange turned awkward a long time before it ended. At least once, Lauren and I exited the bar and walked out into the grocery part of the Whole Foods, where there were more bitters to choose from. 

And this was hilarious

Berlant clarified the relationship between the “commons” and sensibility, challenging the normie “structure of feeling” framework that pervades much cultural Marxism,...

"Cultural Marxism!"  And on and on.

THE FIRST TIME I met Lauren Berlant a bottle of Diet Sprite exploded in their hands.  

Friday, July 16, 2021

Hamid is a putz. For the rest it's the radical international hereditary PMC, with no sense of self-awareness.  I don't want to have to fucking add this: Bella Freud is the daughter of Lucian Freud and the great granddaughter of Sigmund. 
Omar's review of the Said biography, and of Said, is good, but again, blind. And now that he's at UCD Omar gets to indulge a romantic, aestheticized, mix of anti-colonial nationalisms and leftism. It's all very 20th century. Focusing on Israel, US and UK makes it easy. He doesn't say much about Iran, Lebanon or Syria, where romance fails. If I choose Assad over Saudi there's nothing romantic about it.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Recommended by John McCormick

There is a long history of controversy concerning the best way to vindicate democracy as a desirable and legitimate and/or authoritative political regime.1

1 Political legitimacy and authority have a complex relationship. In democratic theory, most scholars take the two to be related: John Rawls refers to the ‘legitimacy of the general structure of authority’ (1993, p. 136); Tom Christiano, following Joseph Raz, explicitly states that ‘the idea of legitimate authority as a right to rule to which citizens owe obedience gives each citizen a moral duty to obey, which it owes to the authority’ (2008, p. 242); Fabienne Peter uses legitimacy to qualify the notion of political authority, which under democratic institutions belongs to the people—‘democratic legitimacy thus qualifies the right of the democratic constituency to impose laws and regulations on itself’ (2009, p. 56); according to Philip Pettit, authority and legitimacy go together (2012, p. 149). However, some are more resistant to tying up the two. Allen Buchanan famously distinguishes political legitimacy from authority, claiming that the latter concept is dispensable (2002, p. 703) and he takes democratic decision- making to be a condition for both legitimacy and obligation (2002, p. 714). Daniel Viehoff refers only to ‘genuine authority’ and avoids talk of legitimacy altogether (2014, p. 340). David Estlund (2008) and Niko Kolodny (2014a, b) distinguish between legitimacy, which identifies moral permissibility of coercion, and authority, which constitutes the moral power to issue authoritative commands. For the purposes of this article, however, no distinction is required.

—What exactly is the definition of a "long" history? 
—Legitimate, to whom?
The university belongs, like the church and the military, to the social institutions that are situated at a considerable distance from democracy and adhere to premodern power structures.

Democracy doesn't need the vindication of philosophers, of John Rawls, Joseph RazDavid Estlund, John Roemer, or Chiara Destri, never mind Locke or Mill. Democracy doesn't reduce to a "truth". It's an amalgam, cobbled together by participants in a vulgar theater philosophers claim to rise above.

Googling Destri I found a video with Jan-Werner Mueller. It makes sense.

Following academics, the whole thing becomes depressing. I used to defend Jadaliyya but it still ends up the elite pretension to leftism without irony, because academics now are incapable of it.

I've met two men who came to the US from Europe at the beginning of WWII, got off the boat, signed up and returned to fight. One was a director of Wildenstein and Co. and the other was Leo Castelli. The director of Wildenstein was a third generation dealer; he sold to the rich but was bourgeois to the core. He told me his history while standing in the hallway of the building.  He raised his foot on an antique chair and leaned on his knee. "This country has been at war almost continuously since 1945". He shook his head. The American revolution was one of the few that hadn't devolved into tyranny, and this is what it had become.  He was an antifascist because like the tattooed and scarred Parisian pimp, he "understood", but he despaired at Cold War militarism. He was a high bourgeois anti-anti-communist.

The first time I met him I'd walked in off the street and he'd come out of an office. He said they didn't get much traffic without appointment, but it was a public gallery. He was smiling. Anyone who knew enough to want to be there should be welcome. I asked him the next time I saw him if he was a Wildenstein. His eyes widened "Oh no!". It seemed less a denial of wealth than of vulgarity.

---
It's a little embarrassing that I have to add links to every name. Reading a reference by a writer for The Nation to "the critic Hilton Cramer" reminded me how little people know these days about even the recent past. Being famous for fifteen minutes means being forgotten fifteen minutes later.

I've said it before: idiots who call themselves socialists now would have been Clintonites in 92, with the same enthusiasm of the present.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Something new at the end of this.

Another example of the same argument, the product of the same drift, without the scholastic's need to separate philosophy from literature, pretend theory precedes practice. In both the religiosity is just under the surface, but rationalism is always the religion of mandates, looking down, and the metaphysics of empiricism looks out and up: iconic/hieratic vs narrative/demotic.

Monday, July 05, 2021

updated once or twice
Nwanevnu responds: Parklife! Lindsay replies, and then:
A lot of the fears and phobias of the American "intellectual right", are founded in their willingness to take the "intellectual left" at their word: "materialist Hermetic gnosticism" for "apocalyptic radicalism", then and now

Syka's response is pretty good—"...we are contingent products of our culture and times, which therefore means we don't actually have agency"—confirming Lindsay's point. But "demongodkid" identifies as "Progressive. SocDem" while his header is from Beat Takeshi's one attempt at American success. The kid's more than a little confused.

Determinism and free will recently... and... back to Kant: repeats  and repeats.
Nwanevu the liberal, and "leftists' whining about attacks on "Cultural Marxism." etc....  etc....
nothing's changed. Looking for Neiwert, who was popular once,  I also found this.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

I discovered something new today. Latour, Chalmers [repeats of repeats of..], and now, Lambros Malafouris: "Material Engagement Theory"

The only way for pedants raised with the assumptions of liberal individualism to escape atomization is a return to religion. I'd originally added "animism" in this case, but he hedges. The thought of formative relations with other people is impossible.

Switch out the pot on the wheel in the first paragraph with another human being on a bed. "Focus, for instance, on the first minutes of action..." Imagine fucking.     

Consider a potter throwing a vessel on the wheel. Think of the complex ways brain, body, wheel and clay relate and interact with one another throughout the different stages of this activity and try to imagine some of the resources (physical, mental or biological) needed for the enaction of this creative process. Focus, for instance, on the first minutes of action when the potter attempts to centre the lump of clay on the wheel. The hands are grasping the clay. The fingers, bent slightly following the surface curvature, sense the clay and exchange vital tactile information necessary for a number of crucial decisions that are about to follow in the next few seconds. What is it that guides the dextrous positioning of the potter’s hands and decides upon the precise amount of forward or downward pressure necessary for centring a lump of clay on the wheel? How do the potter’s fingers come to know the precise force of the appropriate grip? What makes these questions even more fascinating is the ease by which the phenomena which they describe are accomplished. Yet underlying the effortless manner in which the potter’s hand reaches for and gradually shapes the wet clay lies a whole set of conceptual challenges to some of our most deeply entrenched assumptions about what it means to be a human agent.

There are two obvious ways to proceed in order to meet these challenges and answer these questions: the first is to turn and ask the potter directly. As a great deal of cross-cultural ethnographic observation will testify, confronted with the ‘how do you do it?’ question, potters would prefer to ‘show you’ rather than simply ‘tell you’ their answer. If, however, the question gets very precise, for instance, ‘how did you decide the force of the grip?’ or ‘how did you decide the appropriate speed of the wheel’ or ‘when and how much water to add on the clay?’, they usually have very little to say. They can do it but they do not know how they do it or they simply lack the means to express or communicate this form of tacit knowledge. No one – not even the potter himself – can have access to this type of information because no one – not even the potter himself – can tell the fingers how hard they can press the clay in and up so that the walls of the vessel will not collapse. When it comes to embodied skill, potters are no exception to the rules of action and material engagement. Potters know more than what they can tell or explain and their hands often have reasons of which their mind is not aware and which the clay may resist or accommodate. Verbal description, however detailed, can hardly capture the phenomenological perturbations of real activity and the reciprocality between the crafted and the crafter. This is also why the affordances of the wheel throwing technique need to be discovered each time, in real time and space, within the totality of the interactive parameters.

Let us now turn to the second way of answering our previous questions, namely to look for some ‘internal’ mental and inaccessible mechanism. From such a perspective, the potter’s fingers do nothing but execute the orders of the potter’s brain and it is there that we should be looking for an answer. The potter’s fingers simply receive information from the clay and transmit it to the appropriate area inside the potter’s brain; they have nothing to do with the central ‘executive’ mechanism responsible for the ‘executive processing’ and decision making. The moment you subscribe to the above popular scenario, you have already com- mitted yourself also to a specific agency judgement. That is, you have already implicitly answered another question, what in this chapter I shall be calling the ‘agency question’, ie, who did it? Who is the author of the act? The paradox is that although the potter may again be totally unaware about how or when his brain is making all these fine small decisions or even about what precisely they consist of, this time, he is, more often than not, going to answer that question, with the ease of a natural-born dualist: ‘I’ did it. The following example from G. Bateson nicely illustrates this anthropocentric ‘I did it-stance’ that I shall be calling in this chapter the ‘agency problem’:

Consider a man felling a tree with an axe. Each stroke of the axe is modified or corrected, according to the shape of the cut face of the tree left by the previous stroke. This self-corrective (i.e., mental) process is brought about by a total system, trees-eyes- brain-muscles-axe-stroke-tree; and it is this total system that has the characteristics of immanent mind. . .But this is not how the average Occidental sees the event sequence of tree felling. He says, ‘‘I cut down the tree’’ and he even believes that there is a delimited agent, the ‘‘self’’, which performed a delimited ‘‘purposive’’ action upon a delimited object (Bateson 1973, 318).

But what is this agency problem really about? Subject to the level of analysis (micro-macro), the agency problem can take many different forms. However, what hold those different forms together are two categorical errors that they have in common: The first is an error of apparent mental causation and the second and correlated one is that of agency attribution. According to Wegner, both errors pertain to the fact that people tend to experience conscious will, and thus agency, quite independently of any actual causal connection between their thoughts and actions (Wegner 2004, 654). The following example can take us to the heart of the issue:

Imagine for a moment that by some magical process, you could always know when a particular tree branch would move in the wind. Just before it moved, you knew it was going to move, in which direction, and just how it would do it. Not only would you know this, but let us assume that the same magic would guarantee that you would happen to be thinking about the branch just before each move. You would look over, and then just as you realized it was going to move, it would do it! In this imaginary situation, you could eventually come to think that you were somehow causing the movement. You would seem to be the source of the distant branch’s action, the agent that wills it to move. The feeling that one is moving the tree branch surfaces in the same way that one would get the sense of performing any action at a distance (Wegner 2004, 654).

The above example embodies the crux of Wegner’s famous ‘illusion of conscious will argument’ (Wegner 2003; 2002) which directly relate to the crucial questions about ‘what is the origin of an event we need to explain?’ (see Law, this volume) and about ‘who is the author of an act’? However, I should clarify that despite using Wegner’s example as my starting point to the agency problem, my strategy for tackling this problem and my interpretation of the reasons behind it would be rather different and to a large extent contradictory to Wegner’s account. In particular, following the Material Engagement approach (Malafouris 2004), I will suggest that the agency problem is not so much the product of human illusion or some other attribution error of our left hemisphere ‘interpreter’ (Gazzaniga 1998) but of a certain acquired imbalance between mental and physical causality that destabilises the human cognitive equation.

To redress this imbalance at the root of the agency problem in this chapter I shall be introducing the notion of material agency. The concept itself, that is, material agency, is to some extent a misnomer, yet I believe it serves well my basic hypothesis which can be very simply expressed as follows: If human agency is then material agency is, there is no way that human and material agency can be disentangled. Or else, while agency and intentionality may not be properties of things, they are not properties of humans either: they are the properties of material engagement, that is, of the grey zone where brain, body and culture conflate.

To explore my working hypothesis and develop the argument for material agency, I shall be looking in between, rather than within, persons and things. Specifically, I shall be focusing on the brain-artefact interface (BAI) and using the potter’s wheel as a good illustration of such a bio-interface....

"the brain-artefact interface (BAI)" Always a new concept. 

Why not? From the manuscript, p 52, at least for now. 

[T.J. Clark] quotes Picasso later in his life saying he preferred The Three Dancers to Guernica because he painted it “sans arrière-pensée”, without ulterior motive. Clark refers to this as cryptic.

Maybe he meant, again with Rimbaud’s dictum in the background, that the work happened essentially without him –him the thinking individual- and all that he could do was look at it as baffled (and admiring) as the rest of us.

Rimbaud’s dictum is not his. Picasso is following Rimbaud only as Rimbaud followed Baudelaire, and as Baudelaire followed Homer: “Goddess, sing me the anger of Peleus' son, Achilles.” A craftsman follows his training and his reflexes. A dancer follows the rules of the dance, and in performing them, hopes for more. A batter at the plate has no time to articulate thought, but in the moments before swinging the bat, he’s thinking. When Soccer players from Catholic countries look up and cross themselves after scoring a goal, it’s not just faith or false humility, it’s an acknowledgement of their own surprise. This is how most decisions are made, for better or worse, and in the arts it’s standard practice. You don’t have to indulge in romance, 19th century or otherwise, to understand how these acts function in relation to philosophy and morality. It’s the history of art, contra pedantry, that I’ve laid out here before.

Humility doesn't require religious belief beyond faith in free will, only the awareness of something bigger than yourself that's nonetheless constitutive of what you are—the relation of a writer to a language and the distinction between writers and reporters. Also as I've said, determinism doesn't mandate individualism. I haven't read Wegner but I hope he's better than Alex Rosenberg, who defends determinism and still thinks "he" "thinks". I hope he has a sense of humor—or that fate granted him one.
---

Another example of the same argument, the product of the same drift, without the scholastic's need to separate philosophy from literature, pretend theory precedes practice. In both the religiosity is just under the surface, but rationalism is always the religion of mandates, looking down, and the metaphysics of empiricism looks out and up: iconic/hieratic vs narrative/demotic.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Janet Malcolm was famous for reminding American journalists that journalism is sleazy.
She was sophisticated enough to understand the distinction between journalists and writers, but was always more the former, with the passive self-effacement of self-hatred.

Marr: a passage I've used as a screen shot elsewhere, but never quoted.
Certainly British journalism is not a profession. Over the years they have tried to make it one. In the United States they have mostly succeeded. There, every year, tens of thousands of journalism graduates are turned out in a sophisticated production process – Squish, gloop, plonk journalist! Squish, gloop, plonk journalist! They are taught about the technical skills and the ethics, the heroes of American journalism and its theory. In the process they are moulded and given a protective gloss of self-importance. They have Standards and, in return, they get Status. In Britain it isn’t like this at all. Journalism is a chaotic form of earning, ragged at the edges, full of snakes, con artists and even the occasional misunderstood martyr. It doesn't have an accepted career structure. necessary entry requirements or an effective system of self-policing. Outside organized crime it is the most powerful and enjoyable of the anti-professions. No country in the world has been as journalism-crazed as Britain. Yet. broadly. we do not respect the people who deliver us the very thing we ache for.   
People get into journalism by mistake; or via some obscure trade magazines, or through writing pornography, or family connections. There are well-known journalists today who got in by starting as telephonists, printers or secretaries. Others, the winged ones, floated in from Oxbridge colleges straight to The Economist or Financial Times. Yet others had, besides their talents, the happy good fortune to be brought up in journalistic dynasties - to be a Coren, Lee-Potter, Lawson, Dimbleby, Wintour, Carvel or Dacre.   
However they got in, the vast majority are journalists because of an irresistible, scratchy need. People will sit for years in local news paper offices cold-calling the police and hospitals, try desperately to stay awake in local council planning or water and sewerage meetings, write about garden ornament design, accountancy vacancies for trade journals, and sit being bellowed at by drunken old news editor tyrants. And in the end many fail. We fail sideways; we go off and do something with easier hours and better pay, such as becoming a press officer or public affairs consultant for a company or public body. Or we fail upwards, discovering that we have a greater talent for writing novels, plays or film scripts, and then the good things of life, from mossy territories to first-class plane seats and daughters who know what Verbier is, fall softly into our laps. Or we…just plain. ordinary. everyday damn-it-can’t-pay-the-bills fail. But for those who want to be journalists, the wanting, the urgent desperation to be a hack is the only thing that really matters. 

repeats. back to the beginning.

Monday, June 21, 2021

power concedes nothing if you're not polite.

 A recipe from/for an intellectual bubble economy.

"Moral Accounting" and good governance

Robert J. Bloomfield--an accounting professor at Cornell, who has written a number of papers tying accounting to philosophical issues, including limits to speech, and pragmatics of language--is seeking feedback from philosophers about his current project on "moral accounting" and governance.  Professor Bloomfield discusses the philosophical issues here, and some practical implications here.   These blog posts also include his email address, for those who would like to offer Professor Bloomfield comments.

And it's right below a post about the Rosenbergs, which is right below this.
He's so confused.
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I made a comment at the third link, without reading it; I was responding to Leiter's description. Bloomfield responded in a new post. I replied and he's refused to allow it, which proves the obvious point.
Bloomfield: "[W]ith power comes obligation." The burdens of power. It's all a bit much. 

If I'd read the original post I would have been crueler but he wouldn't have accepted it.
One line from my failed response: most people think police are necessary; few would want to live in a state where everyone's a cop. After writing it I remembered I've said it before.
---
Here.  the post and the link at the bottom: serendipity.

Take away the sophistication of the language and the argument itself is at the level a bright and very serious 20-year-old.  

Marx and Nietzsche, the two lodestars of modern philosophical anthropology, differ most interestingly not in their moral outlooks--which are indeed contradictory--but in their explanatory methods. Marx has, as it were, no psychology, only an anthropology and economics, while Nietzsche relies almost exclusively on explanation in terms of individual psychology, appearing at times willfully blind to social and economic causes. This difference is most apparent in their contrasting approaches to human suffering. Marx understands suffering to be primarily a consequence of socio-economic circumstances, while Nietzsche traces it primarily to defects in individual psychology and physiology (the latter manifesting themselves at the psychological level). To put it crudely, for Nietzsche, most people are by nature “sick” and thus disposed to suffer, regardless of socio-economic circumstances, while for Marx, people’s suffering is an artifact of their socio-economic circumstances, and thus amenable to amelioration. 

I consider various kinds of evidence for Nietzsche’s thesis—including the existence of religious orthodoxy among the affluent; the social phenomenon of “aggrievement hunters”; and the prevalence of ascetic moralities and of non-guilty means for assuaging suffering—concluding that it does not clearly support Nietzsche’s explanation for suffering against Marx’s. Along the way, I show that Nietzsche (like Marx) views religion as an “opiate,” but (unlike Marx) he deems it a necessary one given the socio-economic prerequisites for great culture. I also examine Nietzsche’s opposition to blame for suffering. I conclude with a diagnosis of Nietzsche’s own antipathy towards the “sick” as a kind of Freudian reaction formation.

Most bright, serious 20-year-olds would disagree with Leiter's claim that "Marx’s general view about suffering... has prevailed in popular culture", but so does Leiter, which is why the paper is marked "not for quotation or citation". It's a draft; the line won't last. 

Nietzsche allows here that some human misery is due to socio-economic causes, but denies, by implicature, that all is--and that would clearly be true if most people suffer because of their innate condition.

Implication  The conclusion that can be drawn from something although it is not explicitly stated.
Implicature  The action of implying a meaning beyond the literal sense of what is explicitly stated.
Both definition from Oxford Languages.
Re-nouning a verb form. 

Implicature dates from 1975.  (Grice)
What's a distanced understanding of distancing as methodology? Is it Marxist? Nietzschean? Freudian?

repeats, ad infinitum:
Thoughts have become concepts.
Concepts are called objects.
Writers of financial contracts are called financial engineers.
Contracts are called instruments.
Banking has become an industry.
Politics and economics are called science.
Rationalism has become empiricism.
Metaphysics has become physics.

All that is solid melts into air, and all that is ephemeral becomes manifest in form.
Late capitalism as 12th century nonsense, without irony.

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.

"Capitalism, in an irony Marx would have enjoyed, returns us to the ancient past, the Bronze Age: the age of stories. The Golden Age is the age of kings, or at the very least aristocrats; capitalism at its grandest is gilded. Architects now are stage designers. The museum of capitalism is the shopping mall, our greatest art made from the conversations of observers of the scene, sitting and talking under the palm trees at Starbucks."

Leiter's on a roll.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

 In the Berkshires with my dying stockbroker. 

“A nice gin and tonic, with four cubes of ice and a slice of lime.”

Monday, June 14, 2021

I tried, and gave up. If no one gets my jokes. It's no use going anywhere else. 
I write for myself. 

I'm not even sure it's interesting that so many members of the left wing intellectual class, including those I want to like, mostly non-American, continue to refer to old figures of the high bourgeois left without reference to their heroes' class, and indulge revolutionary romance without reference to their own. It's impossible to read an angry Oxbridge academic, proud scion of the old Egyptian elite, without noticing a disconnect. Leiter and AbuKhalil were never earnest defenders of democracy. They contradict themselves openly; that was always the fun of it. But the younger crew are as oblivious, if at a higher level of "discourse", as the most self-righteous hipster. All part of the academicization of politics: authoritarianism without admitting to it.
But Sibylle does begin at the beginning: her childhood memories, her father’s infrequent visits, come early in the book and appear almost dreamlike. Thibaut nearly fell to his death during a visit to a castle in Brittany, but was saved when Lacan grabbed hold of his clothes at the last second – ‘a miracle!’ Lacan would treat Sibylle to extravagant dinners – her first taste of oysters and lobster and meringue glacée. Her memories sharpen when her barely there father turns out to be someone else’s. On the girls’ first meeting, Judith is so beguiling that Sibylle is thrown into a jealous anguish: ‘She was so pleasant, so perfect, and I so awkward and bungling. She was all sociability and poise, I was the Peasant of the Danube. She had a womanly air, I still looked like a child ... I was overwhelmed, ashamed. Moreover, she was studying philosophy and I was only studying languages.’ She was mortified to learn that Judith also went to the Sorbonne, that she had probably known who Sibylle was, had passed her in the courtyard, pretending not to recognise her. Sibylle was boyish, with a turned-up nose, short mousey hair and a brow often fixed in a furrow. She was ‘cute’, but Judith was beautiful, inheriting Lacan’s dark hair, which she wore long and held in place with an Alice band. When the girls holidayed together with their father in Italy, Judith relayed stories of her many admirers in the philosophy department, stories that Lacan seemed to take pride in hearing. At a village fête in Saint-Tropez, Sibylle watched as he and Judith danced together ‘like two lovers’. In the eyes of their father, Judith ‘was Queen’. It didn’t help that in his consulting room at 5 rue de Lille there were no photographs of ‘the Lacan children’ – indeed, no photos at all – except for one of Judith as a young girl, ‘presiding over the fireplace’ in a neat sweater and skirt....

To those familiar with Lacan’s work, it may come as no surprise that he could be vexing and cocksure – a womaniser. But what A Father does reveal is Lacan’s avarice and his tendency to treat those of a lower social class – he referred to them as ‘subalterns’ – with contempt. He was rude to waiters and would send his housekeeper, Paquita, into a frenzy: ‘a spinning top, first twirling this way, then that, to keep up with her employer’s painful demands’. Sibylle once saw him ask some passers-by to lift his car out of an especially tight parking spot: ‘He made not the slightest gesture to help, instead standing to the side and giving orders.’

Switch out Lacan for someone else, or some other kind of hero, the issue is the same: the relation of people and ideas.

Never without a book, whether bound for a tutorial or the local A&E, for decades he disappeared off for tramping holidays or conferences anywhere from Catalonia to Cuba the moment term ended. One friend, on holiday in southern Italy in 1957, saw two men in a field and said to her husband: ‘But look, it’s Eric!’ And, she recalled, ‘it really was Eric, with a peasant. He was interviewing the peasant.’

Maybe he was just talking to him. 

I like Hobsbawm. I'm a hardass not a moralist. Moralists have more friends than I do.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Ozark, the art of the times.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Blyth in 2006. And on the pop-technocratic happy-talk 3QD. It makes sense in a way that they’d let it slip through. Popular is sloppier for worse and for better. 

Towards the end of this year, The American Political Science Review will publish its 100th anniversary issue. In researching for a submission to this centennial issue, I examined what political scientists have been saying for the past 100 years, and in doing do something very odd struck me: that the arguments that I have been having for a decade with my colleagues about the idea of a science of politics being at all possible are the same arguments that have been going on in the pages of The American Political Science Review since its inception.

Then and now, political scientists tend to fall into two camps. In the first camp are those who wear the badge of ‘scientist’ and see their field as a predictive enterprise whose job it is to uncover those general laws of politics that ‘must’ be out there. The second camp contains those who think the former project logically untenable. For years now I have tried (largely in vain) to convince my colleagues in the first camp that the idea of a political ‘science’ is inherently problematic. I have marshaled various arguments to make this case, and each of these has been met by a some variant of; ‘political science is a young science’; ‘what we face are problems of method’; and that ‘more ‘basic research is required’. Then, with ‘more and better methods’ we will make ‘sufficient’ progress and ‘become’ a science. I remain unconvinced by this line of argument, but it was enlightening to see it played out again and again over a century....

From its inception in 1906 until World War One American political scientists took ‘public administration’ as its object and the Prussian state as the model of good governance. Sampling on this particular datum proved costly to the subfield however when the model (Germany) became the enemy during World War One and the guiding models of the field collapsed. Following this debacle, political science retreated inwards during the 1920s and 1930s. One can scan the American Political Science Review throughout these tumultuous decades for any sustained examination of the great events of the day and come up empty. What I did find however were reports on constitutional change in Estonia, committee reform in Nebraska, and predictions that the German administrative structure will not allow Hitler to become a dictator.

After World War Two this lack of ‘relevance’ haunted the discipline and its post-war re-founders sought to build a predictive science built upon the process notions of functionalism, pluralism, and modernization. These new theories saw societies as homeostatic systems arrayed along a developmental telos with the United States as everyone’s historical end. Paradoxically however, just as the field was united under these common theories, they were suddenly, and completely, invalidated by the facts of the day. At the height of these theories’ popularity, the United States was, contrary to theory, tearing itself apart over civil rights, Vietnam, and sexual politics while ‘developing’ countries were ‘sliding back’ along the ‘developmental telos’ into dictatorships. Despite these events being the world’s first televised falsification of theory, once again political science turned inward and ignored the lesson waiting to be learned – that prediction in the social world is far more difficult than we imagine, and the call for more ‘rigor’ and ‘more and better methods’ will never solve that problem. Our continuing prediction failures continue to bear this out. Since its ‘third re-founding’ in the 1980s till today, political science has predicted the decline of the US (just as it achieved ‘hyper-power’ status); completely missed the decade long economic stagnation of Japan (just as it was supposed to eclipse the US); missed the end of the Cold War, the growth of international terrorism, and the rebirth of religion in politics. 

After reviewing this catalog of consistently wrong calls, a very simple question occurred to me. If political science is a science by virtue of its ability to predict, and its prediction rate is so awful, can it be a science even in its own terms? I would say that it cannot. But this answer itself begged another, and I think more interesting, question; why is my field’s ability to predict so bad? The answer to this question is not found in the pages of the American Political Science Review. Rather, it is found in how political science as a discipline, through its training, thinks about probability in the social world.

Political scientists haven’t predicted the future, but history repeats.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The poverty of positivism/ the poverty of originalism

"There is no better way of finding out what a writer meant than to attempt to state his meaning in different words, preferably in another language."

Gombrich, "Aby Warburg: His Aims and Methods"

We may accept the doctrine that associates having a language with having a conceptual scheme. The relation may be supposed to be this: if conceptual schemes differ, so do languages. But speakers of different languages may share a conceptual scheme provided there is a way of translating one language into the other. Studying the criteria of translation is therefore a way of focussing on criteria of identity for conceptual schemes. If conceptual schemes aren't associated with languages in this way, the original problem is needlessly doubled, for then we would have to imagine the mind, with its ordinary categories, operating with a language with its organizing structure. Under the circumstances we would certainly want to ask who is to be master. 

Donald Davidson, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme" 

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I Choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things." .
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—‘that’s all.”

I never paid much attention to Davidson—the argument itself was enough for me to laugh—but the Lewis Carroll connection above was clear. 

Carroll and Borges and Aaronson, Nabokov, Nino Scalia, and Scott Soames. Aesthetics is the manifestation of ethics. Hooray for induction.

I'd written "every writer knows language is the master", but that separates writers from philosophers and artists from illustrators: those who recognize that language is the master, and those who refuse to admit it. Writers are craftspeople.

"But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject." Ursula K. Le Guin
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I know I repeat myself, but anyone finding one page would miss the full argument.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Ta-Nehisi Coates: "The Negro Sings of Zionism", 2008

As a dude who came up banging Malcolm's "Ballot or The Bullet" like it was the Wu-Tang Forever, who recited Garvey's "Look For Me In The Whirlwind" at the school assembly, Israel is like a parallel universe, what Liberia could have been with the alteration of a few key historical variables.

I'd mentioned it before, and updated my response, but it still didn't sink in. He apologized later for ignoring Palestinians. I don't think he's said anything about Liberia. I encouraged people to follow the links, but that's my father on the right of the bottom pic, with my uncle and grandmother. And I guess I should add at this point that the upper left is Ed Koch.

Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It, 2014 

The UNIA envoy soon uncovered something even more insidious at work. “While in Monrovia, I went to a dry goods and bought several yards of khaki to have two pairs of trousers made,” Garcia reported to Garvey. “As I was stepping out of the store, my companion (an Americo-Liberian) told [me]: ‘Why, I don’t suppose you are going to carry this bundle yourself?’ ‘Why not?’ said I; ‘it is a very small parcel.’ He answered that it was not the custom in Liberia for any gentleman to carry parcels; therefore the usefulness of having slaves.” Visitors to Liberia, particularly white ones, had long accused the Americoes of mistreating the natives, but a similar assessment from Garcia would likely spark a controversy.
A South African filmmaker on Key and Peele, 2013 
What’s not included in the video above was their introduction to the live studio audience where Peele announces: “OK, so Africa is a fucked up place.” To which Key, seemingly surprised, responds in a disingenuous defense of Africa: “You wouldn’t want to see the Nile? The plains of the Serengeti?” Which is really just the vehicle for which Peele’s lambasting can continue: “You have flyover states. Now, to me that’s a flyover continent.” And the pièce de résistance: “Slavery was an awful thing. Silver lining? It got my ass out of Africa.” The follow up to which was the skit depicting two slaves who get increasingly jealous that no one is bidding for them at the slave auction.

Garvey in 1924

"we are asking the world for a fair chance to assist the people of Liberia in developing that country as the world is giving the Jew a fair chance to develop Palestine" 

Yogita Goyal, "Black Nationalist Hokum: George Schuyler's Transnational Critique", 2014

Du Bois in 1919: 

"The African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to Jews, the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial front"  

In 1924 on Liberia

"[I]t was absolutely necessary for the Government to take a high handed with them [indigenous peoples] in order to assure them that it really was a government otherwise the tribal chiefs would take matters into their own hands."

Tamba E. M'bayo, "W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Pan-Africanism in Liberia, 1919–1924", 2004

Du Bois May 1948: 

"Young and forward thinking Jews, bringing a new civilization into an old land and building up that land out of the ignorance, disease and poverty into which it had fallen, and by democratic methods to build a new and peculiarly fateful modern state".

Michael W. Williams, "Pan-Africanism and Zionism: The Delusion of Comparability", 1991

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Almost no trauma was powerful enough to shake Du Bois' faith in Liberia. In 1931, an investigation by the League of Nations revealed the extensive use of unpaid labor in Liberia and the continuing trade in forced labor between Liberia and the Spanish cocoa plantations on Fernando Po, conducted under the tolerant eyes of President King and Vice-President Allen Yancey. Nevertheless, Du Bois did not direct the main force of his criticism at Liberia. In March, 1931, he lashed out at those who singled out Liberia for attack while ignoring forced labor in European-occupied Africa. Du Bois' apology for the Liberians moved George Schuyler to pose a rhetorical question for the editor of the Crisis: "are we not to expect that Negro colonists who are so excessively religious and shout 'The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here' will be more humane to their black native wards than would white colonists?" "Right is right and wrong is wrong," Schuyler insisted, "regardless of the color of the individuals or groups involved, and admiring you immensely as I do for your courage and tenacity in persistently championing the cause of colored he informed Du Bois, "I am sorry that you permitted your belligerent and commendable Negrophilism to warp your vision in the case of the Liberian racketeers."

Frank Chalk, "Du Bois and Garvey Confront Liberia: Two Incidents of the Coolidge Years", 1967

Cedric Robinson "W.E.B. Du Bois and Black Sovereignty", 1990, at Verso