Saturday, July 30, 2022

Leiter links to Adolph Reed again.


Reed can't help but moralize; he still has fantasies of leading change. And he publishes on a webpage named after Robert Smithson that has Michael Fried on the editorial board. Smithson would be amused. I'm not.

I had an exchange with Fried a year or so ago, with no direct connection to this.  But I sent him another one last night.  I think he understands me now. Reed might as well.

I'll stop here for now, but I think it's time to go off on Leiter, Reed, Clement Greenberg and T.J. Clark, T.S. Eliot and Jeff Wall, Bourdieu and Flaubert.
more. still working.
Fried, talking to Wall, calls this "one of the most brilliant essays in art criticism ever"

Jeff Wall, "'Marks of Indifference': Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual Art"

This essay is a sketch, an attempt to study the ways that photography occupied Conceptual artists, the ways that photogra­phy decisively realized itself as a modernist art in the experiments of the 1960s and 1970s. Conceptual art played an important role in the transformation of the terms and conditions within which established photog­ raphy defined itself and its relationships with other arts, a transformation which established photography as an institutional­ized modernist form evolving explicitly through the dynamics of its auto-critique.

Photography's implication with modernist painting and sculpture was not, of course, developed in the 1960s; it was central to the work and discourse of the art of the 1920s. But, for the sixties generation, art­ photography remained too comfortably rooted in the pictorial traditions of modern art; it had an irritatingly serene, marginal existence, a way of holding itself at a dis­tance from the intellectual drama of avant­-gardism while claiming a prominent, even definitive place within it. The younger artists wanted to disturb that, to uproot and radicalize the medium, and they did so with the most sophisticated means they had in hand at the time, the auto-critique of art identified with the tradition of the avant­-garde. Their approach implied that photog­raphy had not yet become "avant-garde" in 1960 or 1965, despite the epithets being casually applied to it. It had not yet accom­plished the preliminary autodethronement, or deconstruction, which the other arts had established as fundamental to their devel­opment and their amour-propre.

Through that auto-critique, painting and sculpture had moved away from the prac­tice of depiction, which had historically been the foundation of their social and aesthetic value. Although we may no longer accept the claim that abstract art had gone "beyond" representation or depiction, it is certain that such develop­ments added something new to the corpus of possible artistic forms in Western culture. In the first half of the 1 960s, Minimalism was decisive in bringing back into sharp focus, for the first time since the 1930s, the general problem of how a work of art could validate itself as an object among all other objects in the world. Under the regime of depiction, that is, in the history of Western art before 1910, a work of art was an object whose validity as art was constituted by its being, or bearing, a depiction. In the process of developing alternative proposals for art "beyond" depiction, art had to reply to the suspicion that, without their depictive, or representa­tional function, art objects were art in name only, not in body, form, or function. I Art projected itself forward bearing only its glamorous traditional name, thereby enter­ ing a troubled phase of restless searching for an alternative ground of validity. This phase continues, and must continue.

Photography cannot find alternatives to depiction, as could the other fine arts. It is in the physical nature of the medium to depict things. In order to participate in the kind of reflexivity made mandatory for modernist art, photography can put into play only its own necessary condition of being a depiction-which-constitutes­ an-object.

In its attempts to make visible this condi­tion, Conceptual art hoped to reconnect the medium to the world in a new, fresh way, beyond the worn-out criteria for pho­tography as sheer picture-making. Several important directions emerged in this process. In this essay I will examine only two. The first involves the rethinking and "refunctioning" of reportage, the dominant type of art-photography as it existed at the beginning of the 1960s. The second is related to the first, and to a certain extent emerges from it. This is the issue of the de­ skilling and re-skilling of the artist in a con­ text defined by the culture industry, and made controversial by aspects of Pop art.


Through that auto-critique, painting and sculpture had moved away from the prac­tice of depiction, which had historically been the foundation of their social and aesthetic value. 

Clement Greenberg

The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.

Bullshit in both cases. The question is why that bullshit came to be. 

repeats: T.J. Clark on Pollock and Flaubert. I'm adding highlights this time.

Farai un vers de dreit nien:
non er de mi ni d'autra gen,
non er d'amor ni de joven,
ni de ren au, 
qu'enans fo trobatz en durmen,
sus un chivau.

(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.)

William IX of Aquitaine

Once Upon a Time. When I first came across the lines by the duke of Aquitaine some years ago, naturally I imagined them in Jackson Pollock’s mouth. They put me in mind of modernism; or of one moment of modernism which I realized I had been trying (and failing) to get in focus ever since I had read Harmonium or looked at Le Bonheur de vivre. Two things were clarified. Not just that modern artists often turned away from the detail of the world in order to revel in the work of art's "essential gaudiness," but that the turning away was very often associated with a class attitude or style not unlike Duke William's, or, at least, an attempt to mimic that style - its coldness, brightness. lordliness, and nonchalance. Its "balance, largeness, precision, enlightenment, contempt for nature in all its particularity."' Its pessimism of strength.

You might expect such an effort at aristocratic world-weariness on the part of bourgeois and even petty-bourgeois artists, operating in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not the eleventh and twelfth, to bear some strange fruit.

Largeness and lordliness, after all, were not likely to be these artists' forte. Take the novelist Gustave Flaubert, for (central) example, at the beginning of work on Madame Bovary in 1852: already chafing at the he bit of reference that seemed to come with the form he had chosen and dreaming of "a book a about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would he held together by the internal strength of its style ... a book which would have almost no subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.” What strikes me as truly strange in Flaubert's case is not so much the project he outlined for himself - though as an ambition for a novel rather than a sestina or a set of haiku it has its own pathos – as the distance between the book he imagined and the one he actually wrote. No book has ever been fuller than Madame Bovary of the everything external which is the bourgeois world. Fuller in its heart of hearts, I mean; fuller in its substance; in the weight it gives to words themselves. It is as if the more intense a bourgeois artist's wish to dispense with externals and visibilities, the stronger will be their hold an the work's pace, structure, and sense of its own objectivity. Or maybe we could say that what brings on the word "bourgeois" at all as a proper description of Madame Bovary is exactly the deadlock within it between a language so fine and cold that it hopes to annihilate the emotions it describes as it describes them, and an absolute subjugation to those emotions and the world of longing they conjure up. A deep sentimentality, not relieved but exacerbated by a further (ultimate) sentimentality about language – call it belief in the arbitrariness of the sign.

Clicking through the links you'll find the quotes below


One and the same civilization produces simultaneously two such different things as a poem by T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover. All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of the same culture and products of the same society. 

T.S. Eliot:

Marie Lloyd was the greatest music-hall artist in England: she was also the most popular. And popularity in her case was not merely evidence of her accomplishment; it was something more than success. It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest.

Wall is, or was, tempted by the delusions Flaubert claimed for his art, and that Greenberg and Bourdieu valued, and that Fried still does. But watch him here. 

Look at the editorial board for Nonsite, almost all in literature and art history, and you can guess their interests. I won't quote Bourdieu—click the links. His arguments are laughable.

Wall didn't want to be a filmmaker; he wanted to make an art that fit into a category descending from painting—"Fine Art"—but he had a sense of what film could do and that painting could not, and photography, as it had been understood, was not enough. He found a way to resolve the conflict of his desires and his intelligence. That's not the same as resolving larger conflicts. Art doesn't do that.

"I want to do This!"
"Oh god, that's so stupid. It doesn't work anymore!"
You can call that glib, but not if you take seriously both Flaubert's claims—what he felt he needed to claim—and the novels that resulted. 

The second post I wrote on his blog is transcribed from a note.
On my way home. On the train from Boston to Penn Station. Looking out the window thinking about Pissarro and Anarchism. Passing through a suburban industrial landscape Jeff Wall’s images of Vancouver come to mind, and I have a thought that I regret that now we are able to blame ourselves for everything. Our mistakes are now more deadly than God’s. We are becoming used to the bureaucratization of disaster. But those problems which fall into the category ‘what is to be done’ are the preoccupation of only a few, and if most people are no closer to controlling their own destiny, they are also no more interested in it than they ever were. It makes no difference to them if a few men put themselves in God’s place. Their passivity is their freedom. And that freedom will never be taken away.

Josh Marshall's TPM: "An Antidemocratic Philosophy Called ‘Neoreaction’ Is Creeping Into GOP Politics"

But in recent months, a strand of conservative thought whose adherents are forthright in their disdain for democracy has started to creep into GOP politics. It’s called “neoreaction,” and its leading figure, a software engineer and blogger named Curtis Yarvin, has ties to at least two GOP U.S. Senate candidates, along with Peter Thiel, a major GOP donor.

Yarvin is now writing in Tablet: "The Cathedral or the Bizarre: America’s experiments with democracy and oligarchy have both failed, leaving only one option"

Marshall named his first son for a war criminal.  Beinart was willing to "sacrifice his liberalism" for a Jewish state. How long until Marshall changes his mind.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Parents and children/Dying is easy, comedy is hard

Reading the first reminded me of the second.  

Anne Carson

One cold dark night​ there was a story about a knocking at the outer gate. Despite cries of Yes! Yes! Coming! someone still knocked and the snow that had piled on the gate was blown halfway up the door itself, with no meaning as to the blind knocking or the thick snow or why it did not stop. I knew I should be writing a straightforward story, or even a poem, but I didn’t. I should get back to words, I thought, plain words.

I had been looking at the New Testament in an 1801 edition of Johannes Leusden’s side-by-side (Greek and Latin) version, which I’d found on my bookshelf in a fragile state that did not allow the pages to be turned quickly. Little flecks broke off. I opened it at random to 1 Corinthians 10, a letter of Paul’s about idolatry. The letter spoke of people who wandered in the wilderness eating ‘pneumatic’ bread and drinking from a ‘pneumatic’ rock – or so I was translating it in my head, the word for ‘spiritual’ being pneumatikos in Greek, from pneuma, ‘breath’. Can either bread or rock be made of breath? Anyway who can drink from a rock? A sort of dreariness, like a heavy smell of coats, comes down on the word ‘spiritual’ and makes religion impossible for me. The page is turned. Flecks fall.

Before turning the page though, I noticed that Paul’s text, in the verse following the pneumatic rock, was at pains to identify the rock with Christ (that is, God) and to explain that the rock was ‘following’ these people through the desert so they could drink from it. How very awkward, I thought. I wondered why God couldn’t come up with a better water arrangement for these people and why Paul couldn’t find a more graceful image of God’s care. Presumably Paul wants people to seek and cherish God’s care? But to visualise the longed-for Other bumping along behind your desert caravan in the form of a rock might just make you morose or confused.

Confused and morose myself, not least of all because of that continued knocking at the gate, and in need of a fresh idea, I opened the Bible again and found Psalm 119:81-3. This seemed to be another text about people in the wilderness:

My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word.
Mine eyes fail for thy word saying, When wilt thou comfort me?
For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.

And all at once I recognised it as a passage I had worked on before, at a time when snow was not my concern – I’d been invited to give a lecture on (as I recall) ‘the idea of the university’, a topic about which I knew little, and so began to compose a lecture more concerned with the word ‘idea’ than the concept of the ‘university’. I’m not clear on whether I ever delivered this lecture: I can’t find it among my papers. Three days before the lecture date my mother died. I fell to my knees in the kitchen. Astoundedness was like a silvery-white fog that seeped up and over all those days. I had visited her only a week before, the long train, then bus, then taxi trip. She seemed OK. Forbidden by her doctor from her nightly glass of Armagnac she’d taken to dabbing it behind her ears. The word ‘idea’ comes from ancient Greek ‘to see’. Was there a way to get out of giving that lecture, I wondered. 

J.M. Coetzee

She is visiting her daughter in Nice, her first visit there in years. Her son will fly out from the United States to spend a few days with them, on the way to some conference or other. It interests her, this confluence of dates. She wonders whether there has not been some collusion, whether the two of them do not have some plan, some proposal to put to her of the kind that children put to a parent when they feel she can no longer look after herself. So obstinate, they will have said to each other: so obstinate, so stubborn, so self-willed—how will we get past that obstinacy of hers except by working together?

They love her, of course, else they would not be cooking up plans for her. Nevertheless, she does feel like one of those Roman aristocrats waiting to be handed the fatal draft, waiting to be told in the most confiding, the most sympathetic of ways that for the general good one should drink it down without a fuss.

Her children are and always have been good, dutiful, as children go. Whether as a mother she has been equally good and dutiful is another matter. But in this life we do not always get what we deserve. Her children will have to wait for another life, another incarnation, if they want the score to be evened.

Her daughter runs an art gallery in Nice. Her daughter is, by now, for all practical purposes French. Her son, with his American wife and American children, will soon, for all practical purposes, be American. So, having flown the nest, they have flown far. One might even think, did one not know better, that they have flown far to get away from her.

It's a bit much: from the LRB to the NYRB... "from the LRB to the NYRB"

Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I wanted to see what showed up, but that's it. LOL as the kids say. With Liberal Fascism I called Goldberg the poor man's Foucault. 

Adam Kirsch
Interwar German thought exercised an enormous influence in the late-twentieth-century US, from Martin Heidegger’s existentialism to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School to the Marxist mysticism of Walter Benjamin. But the apocalyptic radicalism that made these thinkers so fascinating—the product of a period that felt like, and in a sense really was, the end of the world—is absent in Cassirer.

Goldberg and Kirsch are both tribalists, but won't admit it.

The blacks in America are the first to abjure the idea of assimilation, to realize the inherent lie in the concept of melting pot. Through black nationalism has developed a new black pride and hence the ticket to liberation. 
Today’s young American Jew is a good bit slower. He desperately wants assimilation: Jewishness embarrasses him.

Goldberg and Kirsch are more embarrassed.

The anti-Jewish prejudice in America in various areas of life, such as the universities, had quickly become evident to the émigrés. Conservative East Coast society above all clung to a clear distinction between Jew and non-Jew.  As early as 1936 a disillusioned Panofsky wrote to Fritz Saxl in London that he was reckoning on “a reunion of our whole circle of friends in Honduras or Liberia, probably in 1940. By then things will have gone so far here too that Jews and Liberals will no longer be welcome.”

No mention of Palestine, because the meaning of such a choice is obvious.

Panofsky contra Benjamin's indulgence, "love of the arcane," and "pretense".  

Judith Shklar, After Utopia, Chapter IV-The End of Radicalism 

What answers can be offered to these counsels of social despair? Romanticism refuses to analyze the social world with any degree of thoroughness, and Christian fatalism subjects modern history to an excess of simplification in order to satisfy its sense of outrage. But to have noted all these shortcomings is not a reply. In fact, no reply is forthcoming. The spirit of rational optimism which alone could furnish a reply does not flourish at present. 
"The spirit of rational optimism", and "liberal perfectionism" is pure romance. 
The liberalism of Cassirer and Panofsky, of humanism, is lost, forgotten, irrelevant.

Leusder retweeted this yesterday
There are many things the left has abandoned at its peril. One of them is certainly the abandonment of confident high modernism: large projects, space exploration, scientific and technological progress for it's own sake, the creation of a rational order etc.

quoting Jäger: 

Zero Lies detected

quoting Sarah Zedig: 

"skyscraper" is such a cool word. pure modernist idealism. they just don't make em like that anymore. if they invented the skyscraper today they'd call it some shit like "vertical housing" or "enhanced elevation office space." culture in decline 


Addendum: this is not Fordist nostalgia, but a non-aesthetic plaidoyer for 'scientific optimism' about the creation of a rational order that can harness distributed resources within political and ecological means. It's not motivated by the technological sublime. 
"a non-aesthetic"advocacy. Because aesthetics is something you can indulge or not.
So says Max Weber.

The fact that there are works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find out under what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise the question whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm of diabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in its core, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocratic spirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics does not ask whether there should be works of art.

Contra Weber, your aesthetic is the manifestation of your ethic. Your ethic is recorded in the history of your actions. Academia is an aesthetic and an ethic; a cafe revolutionary is a creature of the cafe, not the revolution, etc. etc. 

Leusder is an economist and club kid. [And now he's shut it down.] That takes me back to 2008 and Henry Farrell: Leusder's "minimaldamage" to Farrell's "My Bloody Valentine"

The tweet includes a quote from James C. Scott, a variety of the same decadence: anarchism as a hobby for tenured technocrats.

And to the recent past, and the LSE again—Xenofeminism, "Storm the Heavens and Conquer Death"—it's always just a hop from rational optimism to violence and utopian kitsch. 

Sarah Zedig: @hmsnofun,"trans communist goat, she/her. 33. does video essays, writes @godfeelsCanon"
“godfeels”-an ongoing experimental homestuck fanfiction that starts with a depressed young man becoming a woman to mixed approval from her friends, and culminates in a macrocosmic war between every body and every mind.
The London School of Economics; Storm the Heavens and Conquer Death; a macrocosmic war between every body and every mind; minimal damage; My Bloody Valentine. 
Expressionism in the atomic age is the product of technocracy and the bomb, the emotion escaping the denial of emotion; it's the melodrama behind positivism, from Vienna to Weimar to New York, the relation of Strangelove to von Neumann.

I forgot about this one. It goes back to 2007 this time.  

The institutionalization of narcissism 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Blyth. It's good from the beginning but I wanted to start here

At about 18:30 you get to here: "Very hard to defend a low-lying beach. Eventually people will come for you."

"I've always been allied to the followers of the materialist long view,..." Tooze has a tag, and so does Milanovic. Now Blyth. And Streeck

History isn't kind to optimists. Economists are optimists; economic historians look over a history of failure. But intellectual historians continue a history of narcissism.  
"I say this now to remind myself how words can squirt sideways, mute and mad; you think they are tools, or toys, or tame, and all at once they burn all your clothes off and you’re standing there singed and ridiculous in the glare of the lightning."
Anne Carson
No poet is read after they're gone as the author of projects. Or they're read that way by a minority with a preference for philosophy and intellectual history over poetry.

"For twelve centuries social rank in China has been determined more by qualification for office than by wealth."  Max Weber
Mass hysteria, wave after breaking wave
Blueblooded Cantonese upon these shores

Left the gene pool Lux-opaque and smoking
With dimestore mutants. One turned up today.

Plum in bloom, pagoda, blue birds, plume of willow—
Almost the replica of a prewar pattern—

The same boat bearing the gnat-sized lovers away,
The old bridge now bent double where her father signals

Feebly, as from flypaper, minding less and less.
Two smaller retainers with lanterns light him home.

Is that a scroll he carries? He must by now be immensely
Wise, and have given up earthly attachments, and all that.

Soon, of these May mornings, rising in mist, he will ask
Only to blend—like ink in flesh, blue anchor

Needled upon drunkenness while its destroyer
Full steam departs, the stigma throbbing, intricate—

Onlv to blend into a crazing texture.
You are far away. The leaves tell what they tell.

But this lone, chipped vessel, if it fills,
Fills for you with something warm and clear.
Around its inner horizon the old odd designs
Crowd as before, and seem to concentrate on vou.

They represent, I fancy, a version of heaven
In its day more trouble to mend than to replace:

Steep roofs aslant, minutely tiled;
Tilted honeycombs, thunderhead blue.
James Merrill, Willowware Cup

There will always be a stratum of managers. The question is how people become a part of that group, and what kind of people they are. Technocrats are bureaucrats after Saint-Simon and Bentham, TaylorismFordism, Weber's value-free science and "big children in university chairs", who think words are tools, or toys, or tame.

I've been repeating myself for longer than I've had this page. I think for a few years it was just filing away the record of other people's stupidity. I don't want to be a file clerk of shit. That was my mistake.

Tell me a story


Narratives that engage the emotions, not arguments, are more effective at producing charitable behavior

Interesting study, confirming what all Humeans and Nietzscheans already suspected. As Nietzsche quips (in Twilight of the Idols), "Nothing is easier to erase than a dialectical effect."

History is written by the winners. What does that tell you?

Leiter, Joseph Raz, and David Enoch, Chomsky, and Bernie Sanders, all rationalize the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in defense of a narrative. To that end, facts are forgotten. Leiter says academic freedom is more important than freedom of speech for the rest of us. 

Leiter opposes "diversity blather" because other people's storytelling undermines his own.

Eric Schwitzgebel et al: "Engaging charitable giving: The motivational force of narrative versus philosophical argument"


Are philosophical arguments as effective as narratives in influencing charitable giving and attitudes toward it? In four experiments, we exposed online research participants to either philosophical arguments in favor of charitable giving, a narrative about a child whose life was improved by charitable donations, both the narrative and the argument, or a control text (a passage from a middle school physics text or a description of charitable organizations). Participants then expressed their attitudes toward charitable giving and were either asked how much they would hypothetically donate if given $10 (Experiment 1) or told they had a 10% chance of winning $10 and given the opportunity to donate from their potential winnings (Experiments 2–4). Across the four experiments, participants in all of the narrative conditions and in some of the argument conditions tended to express more positive attitudes toward charitable giving and donated about $1 more on average than did participants in the control conditions. These effects appear to have been mediated by the “narrative transportation” scale, which suggests that appeals to donate can be effective if they engage participants’ emotions, imagery, and interest.

Rationalists discover empiricism and claim it as their own. And they reinvent the wheel.

Schwitzgebel, earlier this year. Still hilarious.

philosophers vs lawyers and historians, every fucking day.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Paragraphs from "Militant Nudes", Elizabeth Hardwick, in the NYRB in 1971

Troubling Images: 1.) Professor Theodor W. Adorno, at the University of Frankfurt, was, not long before his death, the audience for—or the object of—a striking bit of symbolic action. Adorno, a distinguished philosopher and the teacher of many leftist students, had come to be worried about student zeal for immediate action, about spontaneity, random rebellion, and, of course, the possibility of repressive actions by the government. And how was the sacred old father rebuked? A girl got up in the classroom and took off all her clothes.

A bit of The Blue Angel here? No, perhaps the key is found in the famous scene in Swann’s Way. Mlle. Vinteuil, making love to her girl friend, puts the photograph of her doting, gifted father on the table next to the sofa so that the girl can spit on it. Proust says about the scene: “When we find in real life a desire for melodramatic effect, it is generally the ‘sadic’ instinct that is responsible for it.”

“Sexuality”—the word has become a sort of unfleshed abstraction as it trails along with liberty, fraternity, and equality in the youth revolution—is suddenly political. The body, the young one at least, is a class moving into the forefront of history.

In Gimme Shelter, a brilliant documentary film about the Rolling Stones and their concert outside San Francisco that ended in murder, several accidental deaths, and an outburst of desolation, anger, and danger that is thought to have signaled the end of something in the rock and roll scene—in this film a number of people, mostly girls, take off their clothes. Each has an expression both blank and yet sure that something is being done, accomplished, signified. They stand there in the crowd, enclosed in their sad flesh, as lonely as scarecrows among the angry, milling thousands. The gestures did not cause a head to turn and all one could feel was that the body, the feet, the breasts were foolishly vulnerable, not because of any attractions they might have for the crowd, but merely due to the lack of protecting clothing. The nude bodies were no match in dramatic interest to the fabulously dressed performers, whose tight pants, scarves, snakeskin boots, spangled boleros, red silk ruffled shirts, represented what is meant in the entertainment world by a “personal statement.”

2.) Huey Newton in New Haven, visiting Bobby Seale in jail. “If Ericka and Bobby are not set free, if the people can’t set them free, then we’ll hold back the night, there won’t be day—there’ll be no light.” The eschatological mode has in modern times wearied the Christian world, but it served them well enough for centuries and so perhaps militant leaders sensibly feel there is some life left in this style. At the Black Panther convention recently—a small and dispirited gathering according to journalists—Huey Newton outlined the program: “First, focus on closing down Howard University, second on liberating Washington, and third the seizure of the White House.” Liberating Washington. The seizure of the White House. For a little group of the faithful these words perfectly represent the “schizophrenic bind” R. D. Laing writes about. If the words are not genuinely taken seriously and only a pretense about them is kept up, this creates an impossible and corrupting cynicism very difficult for all except leaders to live with; if the commands are treated as genuine their insane and sadistic nature will unhinge all who try to act them out. This is perhaps what is truly meant by the phrase, revolutionary suicide—the killing in oneself of the uses of reality by submitting to “the program.”

The film, Ice, and the novel, Dance the Eagle to Sleep, are both imaginary projections of revolutions and civil wars to come, and there is a coercive and mystical inevitability claimed, not directly but aesthetically, that links them with the program Huey Newton gives to his followers. And the concentration upon revolutionary “balling” in the novel goes back in my mind to the poor professor in his classroom, to the mysteriousness of the girl’s answer to the professor’s worries. 

...The activism in Ice and Dance the Eagle to Sleep is not a replacement of deadening alienation but simply an addition to it. Even though Ice was filmed in the basements and bookstores and streets of New York City, one often feels in it a memory of the suffocating boredom and darkly sexual crowdings of an old army post, the kind of waiting and frustration that made soldiers before Vietnam long for some action. So, after a few years of threats and promise of revolution, rebellion, change, militant encounter, Ice and Dance the Eagle to Sleep are tours of active duty at last.

...Trash is a homosexual film produced by Andy Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey. The Groupies has to do with deranged, obscene girls who follow rock stars around, hoping to sleep with them, if one may use such a drowsy, untimely phrase for these wandering, never-sleeping hunters. The Groupies is a documentary, although there is considerable staginess in it; Trash is a concoction that is also a real life thing part of the time.

The nature of sexuality is repetition. Phallic compulsiveness is an exaltation of repetition and yet a reduction to routine of the most drastic kind. Still novelty and challenge never lose their hold on the imagination and in the phallic hell, the center of interest will be reserved for the refusing, even for the impotent. The hero of Trash is an impotent junkie. He wanders through the long hours of the film, quiet, handsome, mysterious, stoned, but arousing almost insane desire in everyone he meets. In a world of compulsive sex, dramatic interest can only be achieved by complications, particularly since every frontier of practice has been crossed.

...In Gimme Shelter, Mick Jagger, Grace Slick, Tina Turner—the rock stars—are a disturbing contrast to the dull, sullen, angry hundreds of thousands who have come to hear them. For one thing the performers are working and even if the pay is outrageous, the acts somewhat tarnished by time, there is still discipline, energy, travel, planning, and talent. Each one is a presence, unique, competitive, formed by uncommon experiences. The crowd, however, is just a huge clot of dazed swayings, fatuous smilings, empty nightmares, threatening hallucinations, and just plain meanness. 

There is death everywhere, and of every sort, in the dead, drugged eyes and in the jostling, nervous kicks and shoves. Everyone is a danger to himself and to others. One could be stabbed by a “mystic” who thought he was God or Satan; or choked by the lowering, alcoholic violence of the Hell’s Angels just for brushing against one of their sweating arms. Someone is having a baby—another corny freakout, you find yourself thinking. The owner of the Altamont Speedway, where the concert took place, wants the birth mentioned in the media as a “first.” “Easy, easy,” Grace Slick pleads from the stage. “Why are you people fighting?” Mick Jagger wants to know. After the concert, two young boys were killed when a car left the highway and crashed into their campfire. Another young man, drugged, fell into a canal and was drowned. 

Thinking about the predatory girls who call themselves “the groupies,” remembering their obscene reveries and their moronic self-exploitation, one wants to hold back from description. One of the young men connected with the film said, in a press interview, that he was horrified by the girls and that they were stoned out of their minds all of the time. The girls are hoarse and coarse and not one arouses pity of the kind we feel for the pimply, snaggletooth synthetic girl. Holly Woodlawn, in Trash. All are despised by everyone, by the cameramen, the producers, the rock stars, just as Holly is despised by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey.

The main life of Trash comes from the perverse, proletarian vitality of Holly Woodlawn, who comes across to us as rotting skin and bones, kept alive by the blood of mascara and the breath of discarded clothing from the city’s trash barrels. Still, the people in charge of the film show their hatred by a long, boring, hideous scene in which Holly buggers herself to some sort of satisfactory exhaustion with a beer bottle. This scene is pure sadistic contempt and is also gratuitous, since it is unreal, even strangely unconvincing. Or not strangely.

The groupies take plaster casts of the parts of rock stars—or they claim the stars as the origin of their “collection.” The idea came to one of them, she says into the waiting microphones, when an art teacher said one could make a plaster cast of “anything hard.” “Wow,” grunts the groupie. She later describes herself in the more delicate moments of the casting as being “very gingerly.”

Certainly these girls are in extremity, pushing out beyond the horizon. Yet they are not much more freakish nor are they more obscene than the teen radicals in Dance the Eagle to Sleep. In the novel, Joanna, the girl most admired and desired by the boys, is serenaded with a little song that goes:

Joanna has a hairy cunt.
It’s the kind of cunt I want.
I get on my knees and grunt 
For a touch of Jo-Jo’s hairy cunt!

Still the groupies contain in every swagger and delusion genetic reminders of their parents, longing for the kiss of celebrity; aging Stalinists seem to haunt the memories in Ice; Holly Woodlawn says in the film she was born on welfare and while that is probably a fiction there is no reason why she might not have been. Hell’s Angels and the vaguely disoriented crowds are both caught up in mindless anarchy. What can one make of these deaths, since death is the feeling most clearly projected by radical and freak, girl and boy: death by drugs, by the misery and dreariness of the commune; death by political enemies, death to political enemies, death in “regional actions,” by helicopters raining destruction on teen tribes, death at the free rock festival, in the eyes of Miss Harlow, the little groupie with frizzy hair.

At his trial, perhaps feeling the sorrow of his complicity in the death of Che Guevara, Regis Debray said: “The tragedy is that we do not kill objects, numbers, abstract or interchangeable instruments, but, precisely, on both sides, irreplaceable individuals, essentially innocent, unique….”

Something pitiless and pathological has seeped into youth’s love of itself, its body, its politics. Self-love is an idolatry. Self-hatred is a tragedy. But the life around us is not a pageant of coldness and folly to which we have paid admission and from which we can withdraw as it becomes boring. You feel a transcendental joke links us all together; some sordid over-soul hangs out there in the heavy air. No explanation—the nuclear bomb, the Vietnam war, the paralyzing waste of problems and vices that our lives and even the virtues of our best efforts have led to—explains. Yet it would be dishonorable to try to separate ourselves from our deforming history and from the depressing dreams being acted out in its name.

After the squalor of Trash, The Groupies, and Dance the Eagle to Sleep, one comes back to the girl in Professor Adorno’s class. What did she think her bare breasts meant? What philosophy and message could this breathing nude embody? In one of his last essays Adorno wrote, “Sanctioned delusions allow a dispensation from comparison with reality….” And he also said, “Of the world as it exists, one cannot be enough afraid.” The students may have known all about the second idea, but perhaps they could not forgive him the first.

“Sanctioned delusions..." including his own.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The mediocrity of John Ganz—again—the failed painter in Bushwick. His highlighting

Peter Thiel is a fascist. There’s really no better word for what he is. For some reason, people have a lot of trouble grasping this or just coming out and saying it. 

In his biography of Thiel, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power, Max Chafkin writes, “The Thiel ideology is complicated and, in parts, self-contradictory, and will take many of the pages that follow to explore, but it combines an obsession with technological progress with nationalist politics—a politics that at times has seemingly flirted with white supremacy.” Let’s see, we’ve go some futurism, nationalism, maybe a little bit of racism here and there…hmm, what does that all add up to? What a mystery this guy is!

...But being anti-democratic is one thing, but how could the libertarian, the defender of individual freedom, the believer in the market ever really be a fascist, an ideology that celebrates the collective masses and the state? I think part of the problem is that there is still a very cartoonish notion of what actually-existing fascism looked like.

Back to Bacharach: "I was a Gay Jewish Teenage Nazi"; also Milo Yiannopoulos, and Jörg Haider,
Michael Kühnen et al.

"For Kuhnen, there was something supermacho about being a Nazi, as well as being a homosexual, both of which enforced his sense of living on the edge, of belonging to an elite that was destined to make an impact. He told a West German journalist that homosexuals were 'especially well-suited for our task, because they do not want ties to wife, children and family.'" 

"Should a homosexual be a good citizen?" Leo Bersani asked in Homos in 1995, expressing a gay skepticism that has dogged every upsurge of gay politics. Bersani's doubt results from his diagnosis of "the rage for respectability ... in gay life today." He locates that rage in postmodern dissolutions of gay identity, in clamors for gay marriage and gay parenting, in queer antisepticizings of gay sex. "Useful thought," Homos suggests, might result from "questioning the compatibility of homosexuality with civic service." And from questioning more: Bersani makes a claim about social being itself. He hypothesizes "that homo-ness ... necessitates a massive redefining of relationality," that it instances "a potentially revolutionary inaptitude perhaps inherent in gay desire for sociality as it is known." If there is anything "politically indispensable" in homosexuality, it is its "politically unacceptable" opposition to community. Thus Homos paradoxically formulates what might be called "the antisocial thesis" in contemporary queer theory.

The contradictions are the point. Conservatism is anti-individualist but not destructive of the individual as such. Fascism is the cult of individualism and the destruction of individuality. The destruction of the self. 

"Self-hated is the foundation of fascism. Self-hatred directed outward: the Catholic Integralists and faggots disgusted by the fact that most people don't know enough to hate themselves." 

Bersani: "No one wants to be called a homosexual."
Yiannopoulos:  "If I could choose, I wouldn't be a homosexual."  
On the other side of Brooklyn, a hipster lesbian discovers the pleasures of pleasure.
Initially, Fishman’s narrator is herself an aspiring ascetic. A young barista adrift in Brooklyn, Eve is concerned by the various evils of modern life – capitalism, sexism, environmental degradation – but remains unsure what, if anything, she can do about them. “My friends and I were raised without real religion and without a comparable ethics of living through which to filter our beliefs and ambitions,” she reports. “We were encouraged to care deeply about the state of our world but our ability to affect it personally was very much in doubt.” What Eve can control is her own wayward desire, or so she is committed to believing. She belongs to a set “to whom queerness meant a specific type of ethical awareness”, and lesbianism arises in her life “like a faith”. Her girlfriend, Romi, represents her ideal. A doctor of withering virtuousness, Romi is “so preoccupied with her vocation that she [is] immune to beauty. The concept [hasn’t] occurred to her outside an introductory art-history course.”

Review by Becca Rothfeld.  It's all so silly, or just sad. 

I'm not sure why people are surprised and even upset that some teenagers don't know who the hell bin Laden is.
...The kids are fine. It's our elite overlords that are all screwed up.

The kids are idiots, and so are their overlords. 

Friday, July 22, 2022


repeat from 2003

Earlier tonight my neighbor told me he's gotten a break; he's not going to do any time. He was arrested a few months ago for pistol-whipping someone on the subway in a drunken rage, and he's going to be able to keep his job. I told him I was happy for him, which I am. He showed me the head of Jesus that he's having tattooed on the left side of his chest and stomach. He said the one his mother won't be so happy about, also of Jesus, will be on the other side; the face will have horns and will be screaming in pain. I said Jesus had had a hard life. He said it was probably closer to the expression Jesus had on his face before he died. We talked for a few minutes. He said it doesn't matter what side you worship, you'll will be taken care of, but that now he's worshiping "the better angel." I said life is complex. He said no, it's simple. It's just hard.

I just wasted an hour at a bar listening to a couple of slackers doing an open mike tribute to Johnny Cash. At one point I watched a shaggy ex-suburbanite, who could probably pass as Matthew Yglesias' kid brother, singing along—"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die"—pointing a cocked finger at the head of a friend next to him, laughing with an expression that betrayed no knowledge of violence. The 12 years olds on my block have a better understanding of the world.

He was my landlady's son. He was a court officer. A year earlier he'd talked to me about a judge he'd been assigned to who he thought didn't like him. "A little Jewish lady." Later he said he'd changed his mind, that maybe she'd changed hers, because of the way he handled the people who appeared before her. It was criminal court, and he saw himself as someone who could easily be in their situation, so he told them simply that they had to get through this, and that the fastest way was the best. He respected them, and he told me he thought she'd understood how he was helping her. He kept his job and his assignment, but without the gun.  

Around the same time, the same few years, a couple of Latino kids kids walking down the street, 12 or 13, a boy and a girl, the girl angry that someone had brought coke to a party—"I don't want to see that shit!"—passing two white suburban 20-somethings, dressed like children at a church picnic, sitting outside a laundromat, now wearing expressions of near panic. 


Born in Greenpoint.
Father, born Austria-Hungary.
Father worked in the mines in Homestead PA before moving to New York. She says he never wanted to talk about it. I told her my grandfather was a Pinkerton.
—My grandfather was born in the Bronx. My grandmother was born on South 6th Street
in Williamsburg—
25 years on the floor at Leviton.
11 years as the manager of a small store on Manhattan Ave.
Wanted to be a doctor.
Languages: English, Polish, Slovak, Russian, French.
Maintains a correspondence since 1947, in French, with a woman who knew and now tends the grave of her brother, killed and buried just before the end of the war, in 1945.


A few nights ago I sat in cafe owned by a half-German Cypriot from London, listening to a discussion of Arabic diacriticals between a Bulgarian raised in Morocco and an Iranian-Bangladeshi fashion stylist who's just broken up, again, with her Afro-Scottish boyfriend. The Bulgarian studied kickboxing in Thailand and has an MBA from France. Between them they speak 12 languages. 
The next night I sat in a Bosnian wine bar drinking with an Israeli fascist and a Croatian ex-Nazi. Next to them were an Indian pharmacologist, a former dancer for Dolly Parton, his Moroccan roommate, and a gay ex-priest.  The bartender was from Macedonia; the Afro-Swedish waitress has the number one blues album in France, and the uncle of another led Serbian battalions in Kosovo. She's studying international law. The father of a Serbian waitress at the Cypriot cafe was indicted at the Hague. She does stand up. She started a gig at an AIDS benefit by wishing her ex-boyfriend was HIV positive and dying. About the new one she says "My boyfriend is black, and I'm from Serbia.  Once you go black, you can't go back." The Croatian Nazi has great stories about the war. "Cover me! I'm going for a beer."

Monica opened her cafe in 1995. She's been back in Cyprus since 2016 and closed the place in 2020.  The wine bar's been gone for years. In 2005 a Bulgarian/Irish bartender from the Bronx, working at a small lounge on Broadway asked me if I thought the Manhattanites would take over, adding: "I hope not. I like the diversity." The same year a European gallery owner in Manhattan told me she'd stopped coming out to Astoria. "The Americans are moving in". Astoria had been a place to go for Europeans in Manhattan. But it was the Mediterranean from Spain to Beirut, and north and south, and then the Caribbean and South America. The French were among the first to move out, not forced by gentrification but by choice. I have more stories than I can count. At 2 AM one night an Egyptian restaurant owner ran into to a Croatian bar yelling "Bourdain came in!" A few months later he did a show there.  A trio of Mexican kids, early 20s, young and loud walk in and look at the bar menu—it was the wine list—and say something to the German owner. She comes back with a bottle of wine and three glasses, pours a little in the glass in front of the kid who placed the order, who while still talking to his friends, puts two fingers on the base of the glass and moves it on a tight circle. He took a sip and nodded. She poured wine in the three glasses. He wasn't being an asshole; he was a restaurant worker in a good restaurant and someone had taken the time to teach him. And the owner wasn't annoyed. It was all polite, professional, but it took place on grounds most of the Americans moving into the neighborhood can't recognize. I dated a Croatian women I met at that bar—opened by a Croatian and a woman born in East Berlin—she was  artist and lived in Paris, and made extra money every year as a translator at Cannes. Her father had built large projects in Yugoslavia. At the Cypriot bar I met a Bosnian from Sarajevo whose grandfather had been recruited into Tito's partisans, by Tito. She was reading his autobiography, which is unpublishable now. There's too much dirt on too many people.

I used to see Maseratis on 30th Avenue on Saturday nights. One of my neighbors owns a BMW i8. In winter of 2003 or 4 a Greek tile man on a job told everyone his summer plan: home to get his motorcycle then ride from Athens to the Spanish Riviera. He talked about riding in the US, in the south, the midwest, going to small towns. "In any country you go somewhere, you ask, what do you drink here? What do you eat? I want to know!" He had an audience of 10, carpenters, plasterers, laborers, people from 5 countries, all nodding."And here they don't want you! What a stupid country!" 

The German moved back to Berlin with her Dominican husband. His mother was Dominican Japanese and he could never speak to his grandmother growing up because she didn't speak Spanish. At 20 he got on a freighter and went to Japan. He spent a year working in a restaurant working for a man who treated him like shit. At the end his boss told him he'd done it because you have to be tough to survive. It was never personal. And he learned what he needed to learn. After seven years he owned a diving company and he could go back to the Dominican Republic and talk to his grandmother. In NY he worked for a Japanese software company. He didn't speak German when they moved to Berlin, but I'm sure it took less that a year; I know a Bulgarian woman who learned English after six months in Rancho Cucamonga. 

I walked into another bar, underdressed in an old hoodie, and the man walking in behind me, grey-haired, in jeans, a crisp white shirt and suit jacket looked at me with annoyed contempt. The only empty seat was next to mine. I frowned and tugged at my cuffs, and he laughed. Five minutes later he launched into a speech: "They killed babies!! Both of them! Murderers!" Milosevic and Tudjman. He wanted to unburden himself to an outsider. "Tito put my father in jail... My father loved Tito!" Some dogs need a leash.

I got drunk with a former finance minister of Bangladesh, at at Irish bar owned by a cop. He had the hots for the Polish bartender, the daughter of former high ranking officers in the secret police in communist Poland, who had the hots for me. He was introduced by a neighbor who remembers the famine in 1974, looking out the window of father's Mercedes. My neighbor has land on three continents, but the crash in Florida hurt him. His five children, all top of their classes, will be going to the Ivy League or Trinity Dublin. His wife's sister is still a bit confused, "She was the conservative one". His parents were relieved. Hard drinking Muslim men and Irish Catholic wives. I've seen it more than once. It seems to work. 

I have plenty of stories where I don't come off well. But these are different from the stories where I'm the butt of jokes. "You think you're any better than any of those other gringo motherfuckers!" The grill man at a Mexican coffee shop is yelling at me." I yell back: You're saying that to my face!" He tilts his head to one side and laughs. His nephew went to Russia for the World Cup, and then to Germany and the Netherlands. "You said Europe was different! But they all want to be America!" The crowd went wild at Octoberfest singing along with Four Non Blondes. Later his descriptions became more specific and softer. He'd been to Canada years before he went to Europe and felt the difference. He's going to Spain in November. About the changes here he says, "We make Taco Bell tacos now." 

I've been ridiculed by people from 20 countries, many of whom are used to being treated like shit by people who look and sound like me. "You're not a real New Yorker. You're from Queens", says an NYU student with high school French, to a woman who speaks 6 languages and is married to a Frenchman. The man behind the counter at a Yemeni deli who now puts up with white suburban brats has family in Algiers, Istanbul and Milan, and went on vacation with his wife and kid to Amsterdam. He shrugs it all off. But the nice Americans behave like social workers, wanting to help the weak.

That's just a short list, a few stories stripped of details about people I've met, some of whom don't like me, and the comparison, of these descriptions and those lives, with the flatness of the American political imagination, or the serious and earnest political imagination, mocked by Tocqueville and others. Immigrants think Americans are idiots. And when I say they came here so that their children will be idiots, they agree. 

On the subway a couple of days ago after work and after the end of of Roe v Wade I passed a couple of earnest young activists, the man with a placard, "Ban Guns" and a frown. I kept walking, and sat down across from two black women, well dressed, with expensive braids. They were fuming. I was a white guy in work clothes covered in dust, and I engaged them, as I do. Fifteen minutes later they got off the train; one of them looked back and we said goodbye to each other. I'd argued class over race, but without denying it's a racist country. The second woman focused on race. She attacked the democrats and I said—not asking a question— "including Obama", and she said "Yes!" She said she didn't see a reason for voting for them anymore. I didn't ask her what her other options were, but I'll take her anger, defending her interests, over the earnest young activists defending their ideals. You can argue with anger but you can't argue with faith.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

I've said it before and I'l say it again: cosmopolitanism doesn't follow the tenets of philosophical liberalism. It's the common ground shared by conservatives of varying beliefs. And that connects to the irony of art against the pedantry of philosophy. 

Somewhere in the archives of this page there's a mention of a famous European political scientist's concern about religion and assimilation, and his missing the point because his data comes from mosques and not restaurants. 
I've remembered the name. Ulrich Beck is an idiot. See also Shadi Hamid.
Hamid's ideal of secularism comes out of Protestant theology. It's a transition within the elite. But Protestant secularism also comes against theology: the secularism of the demos. The division between the church and street becomes the division between the academy and the theater.

Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic secularism all come from the street. Unlike Protestantism there's no possible smooth transition. Religious scholars continue their role only as readers of secular books. 

"Hey Kabir. Its Ramadan!"
"Began today." He raises his glass.
"I'm watching you! Yeah. I'm the Irish mullah. Muslims. Just like everyone else. Full of shit!"
Kabir, getting out of his chair: "See you tomorrow."
"What else you gonna do?"

A friend tells a story about an old woman, wealthy and devout, and her dinnerware: one for meat, one for dairy. And for special occasions: one for meat, one for dairy. And for high holidays: one for meat, one for dairy. And for high holidays with guests: one for meat, one for dairy. And one for shellfish, because she loved oysters. The owner of a Brazilian restaurant had breakfast every morning at a Cuban one. One day he told us—I was there, as I was at the bar—about a man who came in for lunch and complimented him on the Feijoada, a pork stew. The owner thanked him, then the customer took off his hat, revealing a yarmulke, showing his seriousness as a critic. They both laughed. 

Emmanuel Todd says the end of the Rassemblement National will be sex, because fucking is the drug that destroys ideologies.

I was raised to refer to anyone much older than myself as Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms. Any old man or woman was the equivalent of a grandparent. They may have been someone else's grandmother or grandfather, but I owed them the same courtesy. It was never hammered into me; I followed my parents' example. I had a sense of a world divided between people who lived their lives as members of a specific community and those who, distancing themselves from any one tribe, served a larger one. Individualism as such was disdained. When we moved into the neighborhood I grew up in we were viewed as blockbusters: Jews buying from a Jewish realtor who were going to fix up and sell, or otherwise change the neighborhood. But the neighborhood didn't change. My sister became friends of our neighbor's daughters—our neighbors whose arrival had been the cause of white flight 25 years before—and my bother made friends of his own. They'd grown up in public school; for them it was nothing new.  But the neighborhood changed me. I remember being in rooms with mothers who were bemused to see a polite 7 year old white boy who was now friends with their son. And the woman was a Mrs and I owed her the obeisance due an elder. I bowed my head. The fathers were more incredulous. But I'm left to say that the first community I ever knew, as a community, who accepted me, even tangentially as an outsider, was black and working class. 

What this means is that when I was living with Graeber in Chicago, running looking for work and losing patience, the only person I talked to for pleasure, to relax, to calm my nerves, to blow off steam was the super, who'd moved north in the Great Migration. His parents had named him for FDR. He'd been a long-haul truck driver and a lot of other things. I remember sitting on the stoop with him watching a driver back an 18 wheeler around a tight corner and into the loading dock of a supermarket across the street, He describing how hard that was to do, and get it right the first time. And the driver made it look easy. One of my many regrets is not taking him up on his invitation to go to social clubs on the South Side on a Friday night. "You'll be safe. You'll be with me!" I trusted him but I didn't trust his judgment and I should have.  I copped out. But he invited me to a family barbecue. We were sitting in his basement apartment, and I remember the Ebony and Jet magazine on his coffee table. I said I thought I'd be out of place. He said "You're out of place now aren't you!" I went with my girlfriend, the former shop steward for the UAW, who was now in grad school at IU. And learned the secret to great ribs. 

Roosevelt read Graeber like a book. He'd witnessed things, and knew what they implied. David didn't like him either. 

David took me to Harold's Fried Chicken and Valois. But David didn't write Slim's Table. He studied with Bourdieu, but he didn't write Body and Soul, and he's not Alice Goffman. This is the shit David didn't want to deal with. And this is where it gets messy. David's parents were working class, but David never worked a real job for a day in his life. His politics was an idea not an experience. Mitchell Duneier and  Loïc Wacquant have both gone Hollywood in a sense, but that's part of the same ambiguity. Wacquant  and Duneier are feuding, and I don't have to pick a side. But there's a sense that what got Goffman into trouble was her loyalty, and that, as evidence of friendship trumps proclamations of it.

And this again is why The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, are more important, more intellectually serious than David's Dungeons and Dragons.

I played Dungeons and Dragons once in my life, in 1978, sitting on the floor with a teenage grad student in computer science, dialed into the mainframe at U. Penn, reading the printouts from a large format printer. 

I should have a tag for The Politics of Fantasy, but Futurism and Data Culture, and Utopia and Intentional Communities cover it. David was a geek from my generation. He was still analog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

2. The AFA letter, however, neglects the fact that some of the allegations concern not extramural speech, but speech and actions in the classroom; and some concern concern extramural speech on matters that impact the functioning of the school. In the former category is the fact that Professor Wax invited an infamous (and unabashed) racist, Jared Taylor, to speak in her class and have lunch with her students. It is dubious that the decision to host Mr. Taylor in her classroom can be defended on academic freedom grounds, as a professionally sound choice given academic standards in law teaching. It also has the potential to implicate violation of anti-discrimination norms, to which the law school is bound (although one would need more details to say for sure). In the latter category is Professor Wax's public disparagement of the academic competence of her Black students, which I have addressed before. Disciplinary action for both of these incidents would not violate principles of academic freedom (indeed, Wax has already been disciplined for the latter incident).

Jared Taylor is beyond the pale, but Charles Murray is in bounds.

It would be a good idea if some CRT, CLS, badass invited Murray or Taylor to speak and face a response. They'd decline of course. But law professors aren't really lawyers. If they were they'd get the fucking point.

The solution, protecting both academic freedom and schools from lawsuits is putting some people out to pasture.

A Federal judge has ruled that City College of New York may not punish a professor for writing that "on average, blacks are significantly less intelligent than whites."

The professor, Dr. Michael Levin, who is tenured in the philosophy department, had sued the college president and dean, charging violations of his civil and constitutional rights.

I don't give a shit about "safety".

A smart and sophisticated piece of academic leftish Eurotrash retweeted someone mocking this idiot. She has 7 times the followers he does, and deserves the ridicule, but if he called her a lesbian he'd be thrown off twitter. 

A year ago I sent a note detailing attacks on women to a writer who used to call herself a feminist and now calls herself a man. She'd have none of it.
Snide superiority and passivity go well with each other but not with politics as a vocation. That's a reference and a joke, but it's not one Weber ever got. Or if he did, the "big children in university chairs" do not. Politics is vulgar. A culture of management dumbs down the managers and the managed.

Walking out to pick up dinner on a summer night, I passed conversations in Bangla and Croatian, Spanish and Arabic. The first English was my own voice asking for a Reuben. A couple of years ago the man behind the counter—Turkish and Algerian, with family in Milan—gave me a list of the Jewish delis in Brooklyn that made a good one.  For a few minutes tonight it was like nothing had changed.

In 2005 a Bulgarian/Irish bartender asked me "Do you think the Manhattanites will take over? I hope not. I like the diversity." The same year a European gallery owner in Manhattan told me she'd stopped coming out. "Astoria is over. The Americans are moving in". The fact that the daughters of working class immigrants and old European money could happily share a common space, or that Yugoslav ballers could play in the projects, is not something American liberalism, or American propriety in any form, can comprehend. Astoria was the most organically cosmopolitan neighborhood in NY. The first to leave without being forced were the French. 

"Americans aren't social!" Still the best description.

I have lots of stories. I prefer the impersonal. If you're a hard drinking Muslim man and your parents are worried about your future, marry an Irish Catholic.
A follow-up because I wanted to tell stories.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Forgive us men, for we have sinned. Some of us more than others, few of us as prodigiously and joyfully as Isaac Fitzgerald, whose new memoir, “Dirtbag, Massachusetts,” chronicles his upbringing as the accidental byproduct of sin between two divinity students; his turbulent and violent childhood; his years of drugging, day drinking, scrapping, bartending and acting in porn; along with a sideline of missionary work in two Southeast Asian war zones.

 Puritans and drunks, provincialism and self-absorption. Nothing changes in this fucking country.

 missionary work in two Southeast Asian war zones. That just sealed it.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Art is the product of culture. Really. 
The thought that Mozart would have preferred to write for a small audience goes against everything we know about the music itself. Mozart wasn't a snob, but both Adorno and Schönberg were. And they became the model for the art and politics of university chairs. Jäger is blind to his own decadence. Jäger, Slobodian. and the rest. 

It's all in the manuscript.

The decadence of Weber
After Nietzsche's devastating criticism of those 'last men' who 'invented happiness,' I may leave aside altogether the naive optimism in which science–that is, the technique of mastering life which rests upon science–has been celebrated as the way to happiness. Who believes in this? –aside from a few big children in university chairs or editorial offices.

So much for disenchantment. Who needs gods when you have ghosts?


After all, I have to look out for the interests of the Institute—our old Institute, Herbert—and these interests would be directly endangered by such a circus, believe me: the prevailing tendency to block any subsidies coming to us would grow acutely. 
The late Scholastic logicians devised amusing helps to memory by which the many forms or figures of syllogism (conclusions from a major and minor premise) could be remembered. These mnemonic devices consisted of words of three syllables partly real and partly made up for the purpose. Each syllable stood for one of the three propositions, and the vowels therein signified the character of these propositions. The vowel a, for instance, denoted a general and positive statement; the vowel o, a partial and negative one. Thus the nice name Barbara, with its three as, designates a syllogism that consists of three general and positive propositions (for instance: 'All men are mortal all mortal beings need food consequently all men need food"). And for a syllogism consisting of one general and positive proposition and two partial and negative ones (for instance: "All cats have whiskers some animals have no whiskers consequently some animals are not cats"), there was coined the word Baroco, containing one a and two os. Either the word, or the peculiarly roundabout fashion of the main of thought denoted by it, or both, must have struck later generations as particularly funny and characteristic of the pedantic formalism to which they objected in medieval thought , and when humanistic writers, including Montaigne, wished to ridicule an unworldly and sterile pedant, they reproached him with having his head full of "Barbara and Baroco," etc. Thus it came about that the word Baroco (French and English Baroque) came to signify everything wildly abstruse, obscure, fanciful, and useless (much as the word intellectual in many circles today). (The other derivation of the term from Latin veruca and Spanish barueca, meaning, originally, a wart and by extension a pearl of irregular shape, is most improbable both for logical and purely linguistic reasons.)

Milton Babbitt 

This article might have been entitled "The Composer as Specialist" or, alternatively, and perhaps less contentiously, "The Composer as Anachronism." For I am concerned with stating an attitude towards the indisputable facts of the status and condition of the composer of what we will, for the moment, designate as "serious," "advanced," contemporary music. his composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. e is, in essence, a "vanity" composer. he general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. he majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow 'professionals'. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

Joseph Kerman on Babbitt 

His writing of the 1950s had developed into a strange amalgam. Conjoined with a fanatical scientism, a search for quasi-logical precision of reference which tortured his syntax into increasingly Jamesian spirals for very un-Jamesian ends, there was an undertone of distress, even rage, erupting into repeated assaults and innuendos directed against various predictable targets. This scarcely contained emotion issued obviously (and openly enough) from the same sense of modernist alienation as was expressed very differently by Schoenberg or, to take an even more extravagant case, Adorno. But while Adorno was telling anyone who would listen at Darmstadt and Donaueschingen that modern music was decisively cut off from decadent bourgeois culture, Babbitt at Princeton was pointing out that avant-garde music could find its niche after all – though only by retreating from one bastion of middle class culture, the concert hall, to another, the university. Like pure science, he argued, musical composition has a claim on the university as a protector of abstract thought. (The complicity of composition and theory, it will be seen, was crucial to this argument, the complicity of theory and mathematics extremely helpful.) Instead of lamenting the no-doubt irreparable breach between avant-garde music and the public, composers like mathematicians should turn their backs on the public and demand their rightful place in the academy. Otherwise ‘music will cease to evolve, and in that important sense, will cease to live'. 

SE, continuing

“Jamesian spirals for very un-Jamesian ends.” Kerman restates my arguments, marking the same line from the subjective but impersonal to the ‘objective’, formality to formalism, elision to denial, from bourgeois culture to technocratic anti-culture. But he ignores that Babbitt’s and Adorno’s prescriptions are variations of the same institutionalism, with the same positivist, Weberian, contempt for art. If Babbitt’s art succeeds it succeeds in spite of this. The undertones in his essays,  "of distress, even rage, erupting into repeated assaults” is matched in his music. The parallel is not science or mathematics but the other art music of its time: free Jazz. Formal logic is a cover. 

Expressionism in the atomic age is the product of technocracy and the bomb, the emotion escaping the denial of emotion; it's the melodrama behind positivism, from Vienna to Weimar to New York, the relation of Strangelove to von Neumann. This is what Brendel and Rosen, and Kerman, as exegetes, interpreters not pedants, who are neither positivists nor emotionalists, rationalists nor irrationalists, are describing and debating. If music is formal, how can a gesture that breaks with the form, function within it? Rosen says Brendel defends farting in Church; he misses the logic behind the change. If Beethoven puts an explosion at the end of the metrical line, then formal art has become mimetic. One of my teachers, Abe Ajay, an arch modernist, a friend of Ad Reinhardt who worked with him at The New Masses, used to complain that Beethoven ruined his music with images. "All those wonderful notes and then... Birds!!" Abe wasn’t joking, but I laughed. This is what Schoenberg and Babbitt rebelled against, not Beethoven but the only option for those following him into the 20th century: the vulgar romance of Korngold and the program music of Hollywood, music of the classical western tradition no longer independent, now subservient to another form, the art of images.  

Jäger's vanguardism is reactionary scholasticism.

Meanwhile John Ganz, who deleted his twitter account briefly after being mocked for asking why NATO could be considered colonialist, on the NY hipster wars (repeats: Nick Burns, Lorentzen, et al.)  
Cooper calls it "splendid

They pride themselves in being retrograde or blithely unaware along a number of axes, from declaring, as a last ditch Bohemian provocation, their fealty to conventional bourgeois values; their preoccupation with adolescence; appropriation of lower-brow or conservative religious themes; their affectation of not being the product of arts education but rather the native denizens of the dark underbelly of internet message boards; their deliberate cultivation of a sense of mental debility or confusion with results that less like Dadaist or Futurist experimentation and more just senseless chatter and maudlin ecstasy.
Also Ganz

They're all so confused. And they all defend technocracy: the rule of experts talking amongst themselves. 

Jäger can write about Houellebecq; all Cooper can talk about is video games and argue that It's a Wonderful Life is "the greatest American film of all time." But none of them are able to describe their own politics with any honesty. 

jumping ahead: Ganz explains fascism

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Cars, like everything else. 

The understanding man scrutinizes the car serenely and comprehends ‘what is for what’: why it has so many cylinders and why it has big wheels, where its transmission is situated, and why its rear is cut in an acute angle and its radiator unpolished. This is the way one should read.

Viktor Shklovsky

These, then, are what I have facetiously called the ideological antecedents of the Rolls-Royce radiator. The composition of this radiator sums up, as it were, twelve centuries of Anglo-Saxon preoccupations and aptitudes: it conceals an admirable piece of engineering behind a majestic Palladian temple front; but this Palladian temple front is surmounted by the wind-blown “Silver Lady” in whom art nouveau appears infused with the spirit of unmitigated “romanticism.” The radiator and the radiator cap have not been changed since the first Rolls-Royce car was delivered at the beginning of 1905; the “Silver Lady,” modeled by Charles Sykes, R. A., was added as early as 1911. 

Erwin Panofsky 

So I finally just stopped the car and made him get out. I just flat left him there by the road, man, and just drove off. Said, 'See you later, Max.' 

Robert Irwin 

Friday, July 08, 2022

Done fucking with this
repeats of repeats: The distinction between collaborative reason in the academy its proud imitators and adversarial reason in the world at large.

Continuing from the previous post, and building on it in light of news.

I've quoted this scene for years, and used it as part of a montage without sound, but I've never posted the scene straight. As I said 20 years ago, "When it is so easy to share, people will do it. And whether or not that sharing should be bound in some sense by other forms of obligation is largely irrelevant."  "Downloading is theft, but if the opportunity is ubiquitous then theft will be too, and you will need to change your model."  Capitalists realized that takedown notices are bad for business and they adapted, so I'm blocked from making money off the video. It's not that "data wants to be free"; it's realism. I didn't expect to be bringing in Aaron Swartz, but there you go. Economic reason is adversarial within the model of markets, but not all social relations are economic. Adversarialism is formal. It's a game, and games have rules. But libertarians don't believe in games. They believe in "truth".
"For the aesthetic in general as an expression of the supreme ultimate value of a system can influence the result of ethical action only secondarily, just as “wealth” is not the main goal but the side effect of individual commercial activity. And “wealth” itself is an irrational concept. It is an almost mystical process, the setting of ethical values: Arising from the irrational, transforming the irrational to the rational, yet nonetheless it is the irrational that radiates from within the resulting form."
Hermann Broch

Jack Balkin debates fascists. 

The republican tradition certainly hopes that citizens and officials alike will possess civic virtue and be devoted to the common good. At the same time, it does not assume that government officials will in fact have civic virtue and be adequately devoted to the public good. Republican theory focuses instead on the fact that republics are difficult to maintain and easily corrupted; that government officials—and especially executive officials—are likely to engage in self-aggrandizement, self-dealing and a desire to maintain power; that representative government can easily slide into oligarchy; and that public officials will undermine the public good in the process. Anyone who has lived through recent American history can understand the contemporary relevance of these ideas.

Vermeule, by contrast, is comparatively complacent about these questions. Along with Eric Posner, he coined the phrase "tyrannophobia" to describe an excessive concern with government overreaching, self-aggrandizement and illegitimate attempts by rulers to entrench themselves in power.

But what Vermeule regards as a pathology of thought is actually a central idea in the republican tradition—and the liberal tradition as well. It is precisely because of a deep concern that public officials will become corrupt, misbehave, or try to entrench themselves in power that the republican tradition has focused on questions of separation of powers, checks and balances, rule of law limitations, and rights.

Balkin's contribution as part of a symposium that includes more than one: Vermeule and an earnest defender. There's a time for choosing honey over vinegar, and those are Balkin's words, but this ain't it.  

repeats: Leiter's model of academic discourse, paraphrased  

Universities would deserve criticism for rejecting a presentation by the authors of the Nuremberg Laws, but would be right in rejecting a speech by a rabble-rousing journalist who promotes them.

John Quiggin, 2008: "Sunstein argues that the echo chamber effect tends to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide. It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true. "


I always thought Sunstein's point was obvious, especially for any culture founded on individualist liberalism. It's that culture that's given us Facebook and surveillance capitalism and personalized marketing, the virtual store where the displays are changed and items moved to the front to fit your last purchases. Newsfeeds work the same way, reinforcing biases, from narrowcasting to microcasting to the narcissism where the world is reduced to a mirror.

Twitter changed its algorithm years ago, forcing you to choose between replying to a tweet and quoting it, limiting the exposure of either your followers or those of the person you're replying to. Up to that point a reply appeared on both timelines.

Ryan Cooper 

Have you ever argued with a conservative? They won't learn anything no matter what I say or where I say it. Whatever I say is wrong by definition.

The same is "true"—the same facts hold—for liberals, and for most people. They hold for Cooper. 

The web was made by techs and in the Anglosphere self-selected for technocratic culture—I haven't used that link in a while. It's was made for talking to your friends, not for argument. I was told that 20 years ago. It's the model of civility, contempt and passive aggression basic to academia under the pretense that academia, educated liberals, the elite, the licensed vanguard are just that.  It was always bullshit.  Balkin, practicing "high politics" treats Vermeule as a friend. He's from the same tradition as Panofsky, but he's weaker. He called Vermeule and Posner "fine young scholars", when they defended legalized torture. I had more patience in 2004.

Balkin has a tag. Vermeule has one.  I emailed Balkin as I do sometimes, to ask him why he's done it again, ceding ground to opponents of democracy.  

I've gotten drunk with honest reactionaries. They're better company than hypocrites. I cede them nothing. But I have more contempt for liberals like Cooper who are blind to what they are. 

If everything is political, then high politics and low politics both have their place.  There's a time for debate and a time to stand on principle and walk away. If you don't understand both you don't understand either.

The Mortara Case "Why Some Catholics Defend the Kidnapping of a Jewish Boy"

Dreher, 16 days earlier:
The invention of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, etc.

 repeating the link above.

Most arguments against mass surveillance don't respond fully substantively to claims that you shouldn't worry if you "have nothing to hide".  Defense of personal freedom isn't enough.  What's needed is an argument in defense of the need for citizens in a democratic state to be able to be all kinds of wrong, all kinds of confused, creepy, conflicted, desirous, weepy or hate-filled, so that they may be able to learn to understand and outgrow their childishness. The choice is between a community of adults with a minority of the inveterately childish and criminal or a community of children ruled by moralists and crime lords.

Freedom of speech is the right to argue for freedom of property. Those who defend freedom of property are among the first to oppose freedom of speech. I support Vermeule's right to be a fascist, but an earnest engagement with his ideas is to take fascism seriously as an intellectual position. Allowing the argument to exist does not mean treating it with respect. It means destroying it, again, and again.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

I like Balkin, but he's a law professor, not a lawyer. He's passive. He's not a legal philosopher—they all suck—but he doesn't understand the importance of vulgarity. 

I forgot I'd used this with Vermeule already. All I do is repeat myself.

…in a hospital tent at the clearing station I came across a man with a French flag wrapped around his waist; the medics discovered it when they cut his shirt away. He was a hard-looking, blondish chap with a mouthful of gold teeth and a face adorned by a cross-shaped knife scar—the croix de vache with which procurers sometimes mark business rivals. An interesting collection of obscene tattooing showed on the parts of him that the flag did not cover. Outwardly he was not a sentimental type.
"Where are you from?" I asked him.
"Belleville," he said. Belleville is a part of Paris not distinguished for its elegance.
"What did you do in civilian life?" I inquired.
That made him grin. "I lived on my income," he said.
"Why did you choose the Corps Franc?"
"Because I understood," he said. 

And again: thugs against fascists

"He was always a loser, a jest/he barely got 50% on his high-school test/with a bribe the rich kid's a fool no more/got 100 diplomas hanging on his door/You crows nesting in our house/why are you ruining all our fun?

We won't do as you tell us/Spare us your face/Cook up your case/That's what the Interior does/I'm arrested and charged as a terrorist/Just for holding a flare and singing Ahly"

All philosophy is perverse.