Saturday, January 31, 2004
(3:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
How not to be a hack, especially under these circumstances? That is the question.
In Oxford, I complained that I was forced to write too much. I read the required texts from Blake or the Pearl-poet, then had to stop reading and set fingers to keyboard. My professors were duly impressed at my half-informed arguments, based on quarter-digested materials. Part of the reason was surely my mastery of English grammar and of the MLA documentation style, combined with my talent for inserting the token secondary source: "As C. S. Lewis notes in his..." I was only questioned when I proved too promiscuous in the use of adverbs. Could I honestly have written with a straight face that a critic "helpfully" noted something? What was it that convinced me that the best possible paper to be written over Songs of Innocence and of Experience was a straight-forward Christo-centric theodicy? Did I believe, even at the time, that the sufferings of Christ provided any consolation?
A lack of new knowledge forced me back upon unformulated previous commitments, held loosely, but still conveniently near-to-hand. Ideas, like all objects, are primordially tools, calling attention to themselves only when broken.
John Milton remains my model, in the absense of any other alternatives. (Slavoj Zizek is many things, but a model is not one of them. He's too much like my father and myself, repeating the same stories and jokes over and over.) He found Cambridge to be an intolerable distraction from his studies. In his fifth prolusion, having attained an unparalleled mastery of the entire Western tradition from a very young age, he laments being forced to speak before gaining adequate knowledge. He was already planning to write an English epic to rival the greats: Homer, Virgil, Ariosto. He would create his nation in verse, and his epic would be based on the indisputed facts that affect the entire human race. Joyce sought through a detailed accounting of a single day to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race; Milton did the same, though his single day took place in Eden rather than Dublin.
Already, when he began writing Paradise Lost, Milton's revolution was over. He had dedicated his life to the service of his nation by being a propagandist (in Latin, no less) for Cromwell's revolution, and now the old order had been reinstated. He was a relic of a past age -- one might daresay an irrelevant leftist. Old and blind, he began writing his epic, finally got around to his youthful goal of being the greatest English poet ever to live. He nearly succeeded -- he came in second place to a hack of ambiguous political and religious commitments, made famous by the London theatre scene that Milton's revolution sought to abolish.
The instructor of my Milton seminar, himself the author of three epics, said he felt that Milton was too easily satisfied with himself. His implied cosmology was inadequate, nothing compared with the intricacy of Dante's. His characters were inadequately defined, and his classical references were too intrusive. Before informing us of this, in our last class session, he showed us his paintings, for which he had used Playboy pictorials as models.
So then: How not to be a hack when I don't yet know everything? Is there an unbridgeable gap between the hack and the one who knows, or a battle in which the hack always wins?
Even after having spent ten years of his life in an intensive re-reading of the classical tradition, Milton had his daughters (doubling as secretaries) read him Ovid's creation scene from the Metamorphoses again and again, until they had it almost memorized. What was it that he thought he would learn? Did he realize, at the end, that he had set himself an impossible goal, that he knew too much? That everything had already been done before? That his very premise was a horrible mistake? It's easier to write plays, easier to create vivid characters who appear for only a moment, easier to make up your own words as you go along, easier to write cryptic sonnets with no referent -- easier not to be a real person, not to identify yourself too much with your art, just produce, produce, produce and hope for the best, as though the text appeared out of thin air.
(8:45 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Bush isn't our fault; let's go to Europe
But having talked to hundreds of talented professionals in a half dozen countries over the past year, I'm convinced that the biggest reason has to do with the changed political and policy landscape in Washington. In the 1990s, the federal government focused on expanding America's human capital and interconnectedness to the world--crafting international trade agreements, investing in cutting edge R&D, subsidizing higher education and public access to the Internet, and encouraging immigration. But in the last three years, the government's attention and resources have shifted to older sectors of the economy, with tariff protection and subsidies to extractive industries. Meanwhile, Washington has stunned scientists across the world with its disregard for consensus scientific views when those views conflict with the interests of favored sectors (as has been the case with the issue of global climate change). Most of all, in the wake of 9/11, Washington has inspired the fury of the world, especially of its educated classes, with its my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. In effect, for the first time in our history, we're saying to highly mobile and very finicky global talent, "You don't belong here."
"Over the last few years, as the conservative movement in the U.S. has become more entrenched, many people I know are looking for better lives in Canada, Europe, and Australia," a noted entymologist at the University of Illinois emailed me recently. "From bloggers and programmers to members of the National Academy I have spoken with, all find the Zeitgeist alien and even threatening. My friend says it is like trying to research and do business in the 21st century in a culture that wants to live in the 19th, empires, bibles and all."
Count me among the bloggers who find the Zeitgeist alien and even threatening. Reading Spurious yesterday (a really wonderful site that I highly recommend -- again, found through a Gauche), I found this text from Deleuze and Guattari:
The children of May 68, you can run into them all over the place, even if they are not aware of who they are. Each country produces them in its own way. Their situation isn't so great. These are not young executives. These are strangely indifferent, and for this very reason are in the right frame of mind. They have stopped being demanding and narcissistic, but they know perfectly well that nothing today corresponds to their subjectivity, to their potential of energy. They even know that all current reforms are rather directed against them. They are determined to mind their own business as much as they can. They hold it open, hang on to something possible. It is Coppola who created their poetized portrait in Rusty James. The actor Mickey Rourke explained: "The character is at the end of his rope, on the edge. He's not the Hell's Angel type. He's got brains and he's got good sense. But he hasn't got any university degree. And it is this combination that makes him go crazy. He knows that there's no job for him because he is smarter than any guy willing to hire him" (Libération, February 15, 1984).
Lucky for me, I have a university degree.
To round out this link-and-blockquote fest, I have this gem from a book review by Cap'n Pete:
At one point she even says something about someone's words that seem to float into the blue sky. Into the blue sky? I was embarassed for her. Hasn't she ever read any Latin American literature. Their descriptions of a spool of yarn or a woman's smile are so unique and poetic, they should serve as a criteria, prohibiting any writer from ever describing the sky as blue. Not even Hemingway would put something so simple.
The whole review is worth reading, especially the final paragraph (I won't quote it, to increase the probability that some of you will go to the site of one of our most prolific commenters).
Friday, January 30, 2004
(9:44 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Bush isn't our fault, blame Europe.Over at the Slacktivist he is complaining about a newspaper that ran a "Derrida-da" write up of an article, because you know, Derrida is obviously a revisionist and revising things is bad, especially papers. Zizek blames Deleuze and Guattari for, as far as I can tell, "not being sufficiently Marxist." Foucault, well, he was just a whacked out homosexual who never had a clear ontology so his genealogies went all over the place and he made stuff up and therefore he is not a good historian. Oh, and Nietzsche brought us Leo Strauss and therefore he is solely responsible for the Iraq War and the entirety of the Bush administration's poor policies.
Coming up later today: Why is postmodernism dead but Reformed 'theosophy' is not?: Or how to alienate half our readership.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
(12:12 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Nothing to fear, nothing to doubt
From Lacan's seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis:
As I believe I have shown here in the sphere I have outlined for you this year, the function of desire must remain in a fundamental relationship to death. The question I ask is this: shouldn't the true termination of an analysis -- and by that I mean the kind that prepares you to be an analyst -- in the end confront the one who undergoes it with the reality of the human condition? It is precisely this, that in connection with anguish, Freud designated as the level at which its signal is produced, namely, Hilflosigkeit or distress, the state in which man is in that relationship to himself which is his own death -- in the sense I have taught you to isolate it this year -- and can expect help from no one.
At the end of a training analysis the subject should reach and should know the domain and the level of the experience of absolute disarray. [...] Anguish develops by letting a danger appear, whereas there is no danger at the level of the final experience of Hilflosigkeit.
I have already told you how the limit of this region is expressed for man; it touches the end of what he is and what he is not. That is why the myth of Oedipus acquires its full significance here.
If the definition of scripture is a text that has something to do with you whether you want it to or not, then Oedipus is Scripture -- Freud, who made Moses into an Egyptian, climbed down from Mt. Olympus and imposed on the West a myth and a law we never asked for. He imposed upon every subject the burden of a transgression beyond intentionality; as Lacan says: "One shouldn't forget that in a sense Oedipus did not suffer from the Oedipus complex, and he punished himself for a sin he did not commit." One shouldn't forget, as well, that the Israelites broke no law in the incident of the Golden Calf -- indeed, they intended to worship YHWH. Moses shattered the law of God on the ground, then made another version in his own hand.
Freedom from the Law of Sinai comes only through the sacrifice of the Son, already enacted, as Paul says, 430 years before Moses received the law. How, then, to free oneself of the law of mommy-daddy-me?
Alexander Kojève is a sexist. Never, he claims, has a woman fought in a duel. Never has a woman sought her own honor. Never has a woman done anything for sheer recognition. True humanity, he says, comes from the fight, in which one man is enslaved and made to work and another man is self-created as the master and made to enjoy. He takes this from Hegel, from the overworked and overcited dialectic of master and slave, and into this dialectic Lacan throws his Freudian twist -- Oedipus, too, was locked in a battle for recognition. In becoming the master and creating the necessary conditions for the development of true humanity, he commits the two gravest sins imaginable, one of which (incest) it is impossible to commit as such.
Revealed for what he truly is -- that is, revealed for what he is not -- Oedipus the Master blinds himself. Without a master, the world is deadlocked, and a new fight for supremacy erupts, except in this case neither will back down. Creon the slave takes sides, creates a new arbitrary law, attempting to rebuild the city by fiat. Then the woman, neither slave nor master, ruins everything, out of love for a dead man.
Is it any wonder that by the time of Socrates, women are confined?
Theory is dead, and the blog is its last gasp. I write this to redeem my time, to repent for the time I should (according to my self-imposed law) have been working on Hegel and Lacan but instead spent worrying about the academic job market and vouchers for public school.
At Barnes and Noble last night, I thought: If I had world enough and time, I would read In Search of Lost Time in its entirety. I almost bought volume 2, but then thought better of it: due to graduate study, it would only be added to the pile of books deferred.
Every time I think about what I'd like to read and how I need to become thoroughly educated, I also think that I would need to take time off school in order to do so. Perhaps the solution is to become the next Mr. Erwin, my high school's polymathic instructor of world history -- after all these years, it is still possible that everything I need to know, I learned from Mr. Erwin. Now, of course, lest a child be left behind, I could only teach courses called "English," but as we know, there is a lot that gets taught under the heading "English" of which George W. Bush would likely not approve -- for instance, the Antigone of Jean Anouilh, in which Creon admits that at the end of the battle, he could not even tell the two bodies apart.
(10:43 AM) | Michael Hancock:
This should have been a Comment....
I tried commenting on my last post in response to the other comments, but I couldn't keep it under 1000 words. And thus, I am back here... Anyway, here is what I tried to say.
I guess I just went to school with too many music education people, so I have an inherent trust of their dedication. I know, of course, that music ed people get paid less to do more than other teachers, and that there really are people who go into teaching because it's a cushy job that they think they can handle.
However, they are not the majority, and the unions are not responsible for creating them. If the unions are responsible for succoring them, that is not the fault of the union, which cannot afford to make enemies of any teacher.
It would take a lot to bring down Michigan's teacher's unions, so I'm not afraid for the near future; however, if the unions that are already in hot water in other states go down, a dangerous precedent will be set. My only hope is that the results of that will not be able to be painted up as success stories.
But now I underestimate the propaganda machine.
Written to the strains of the only band called Fuck.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
(4:37 PM) | Michael Hancock:
Something for the Kids
Today Adam sent me this, a medium-length article by Barbara Miner about the current plans for the future of Public Education, as dreamed up by the Right. Allow me to share with you my own thoughts and insights. The article opens up with a bang, as good politically charged articles do, using a faux test question.
Republican strategists want to privatize education because:
a) Education is a multibillion dollar market, and the private sector is eager to get its hands on those dollars.
b) Conservatives are devoted to the free market and believe that private is inherently superior to public.
c) Shrinking public education furthers the Republican Party goal of drastically reducing the public sector.
d) Privatization undermines teacher unions, a key base of support for the Democratic Party.
e) Privatization rhetoric can be used to woo African American and Latino voters to the Republican Party.
f) All of the above.
It's a clever, if not terribly original, way to deliver a thesis statement outlining her defense of Public Education and the Democratic Party's support of it. Of course, her techniques are not the issue. The issue at hand is whether the government should ever consider privatizing one of the largest non-military expenditures in the public budget. In any event, Barbara hits the nail on the head when she points out that large parts of this debate are largely invisible to the American public.
The reason for this, of course, is that it is difficult to think of an institution that has more successfully penetrated America, a silent mover of billions of dollars, spent and gained under the umbrella of purpose. The purpose itself does not seem to overly concern Republicans, as their children would be educated the same, if not better, if public education ever meets its demise. The capitalists, the money-hunger of the Republican party, those of wealth; they see purpose second, and cash-flow first. McDonald's, seen as a horrible blight on American culture, cuisine, and the culinary arts, is viewed as an enviable enterprise by such people. This is a tame example.
Imagine a school system run with the efficiency of a McDonald's. There are two pictures that you could paint; one where you imagine the School being efficient, and one where you imagine education being efficient. Sadly, one is a dream, and one is reality. Education is not efficient. Just as some are left behind, and others spurred ahead because of some mythical element called 'opportunity,' so would it be with the new system. Only opportunity would be the new word for 'employable.'
God help the country that teaches children only how to be employable.
My agruments against the Right's plan for Private Education are different from Barbara's, not because I disagree. I would hate to link to her article and only say, "I agree with her." I am trying to communicate that Barbara is hinting at something terrible that will happen with the privatization of education. This something that could happen, though; we mustn't Hint at it. There are people who seriously don't realize what's wrong with the idea, and simply implying the dangers will not cut it.
Thusly, I point to her article and say, "Agree. And Consider the Consequences."
(4:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Free Market: A Good Thing?From an article by Richard Moser about the wide-ranging societal causes and implications of the current academic labor market:
The free market was always about more than the assertion that supply and demand regulated economic activity. People of the 19th century conceived of a free market made possible because it was populated by rational individuals vested with a right to private property. A person’s mastery of material productive property (a farm or shop) was thought to require the kind of autonomy and self- regulation to qualify them for citizenship. Political democracy actually depended on economic democracy in that widely dispersed property holdings were understood as a guardian of political rights because property safeguarded independence. Private property was seen as a source of freedom, not tyranny, and was shielded from government by due process protections. The Bill of Rights, therefore, only applies to the public realm as a limit on government not to what was seem then as the private realm of work. The classic model of the citizen included the yeoman farmer and the small proprietor whose intellectual integrity and political independence of mind rested on self-mastery and a sufficient measure of economic security. This is what we should imagine when we hear the "Free Market." And although it has been terribly abused and worked only for a minority of Americans we can still learn much from this ideal of the citizen standing with one foot in economic democracy and one in political democracy.
In the last decades of the 19th century however, business leaders were faced with the challenge of maintaining control over the growing surplus wealth produced by large-scale industrialization. Their strategy was to revolutionize the economy by inventing a new legal and economic form we know as the corporation. The new corporate order centralized property, restricted economic democracy and more or less destroyed the political economy of the American citizen. It also however demanded a new understanding of property. Management laid claim to the knowledge, the intellectual property if you will, of working people who had previously controlled work. The complex tasks of craft and trade were segmented, unbundled, simplified, routinized on the one hand and became the property of stockholders, on the other. This revolution changed property rights from control over things or objects to control over knowledge, over processes, over relationships. Sound familiar?
The problem with ideas and processes and relationships is their contingency, they are highly social and political. The are difficult to control so corporations got into the business of speculation, that is the work of predicting and controlling the future. To do that they needed to establish both routine and systematic relations with government and to begin to exercise the powers of sovereignty previously associated only with government.
My personal disquietude over the prospect of not having a life of leisurely perusal of cultural artifacts is leading me to more detailed economic analysis. It is probably for the best that my course on Globalization begins next Tuesday, right after my Systematic Theology class (taught by a professor who doesn't regard herself as very Christocentric or bibliocentric -- I'm not really sure what to expect, since I previously took a course with her on Bonhoeffer, who is ultra-Christocentric and -bibliocentric).
Bill Brower once proposed that one of the last remaining vestiges of non-corporatized education was the seminary, and that may very well be true. Even that is constantly in danger -- it seems more and more likely that "conservative" Christian institutions, like my own alma mater, will allow their political allegiances trump their incoherent "theology" and end up essentially selling out, losing all touch with the liberal arts, with the idea of intellectual excellence and job training as two separate processes, etc. Meanwhile, "liberal" Christian institutions seem increasingly to have little or no constituency -- to be, in Derrida's words, "universities without condition." The gospel is so completely in thrall to a particular "traditional" morality that such activities as promoting homosexual relationships based on mutual fidelity or advocating social and economic justice seem to be vaguely anti-Christian, while at the same time the theological aspects make the project incoherent to secular observers.
In short: We're all completely screwed. There's no such thing as God, and Jesus was a made-up person. The only thing to do is to buy a nice house in Bourbonnais while interest rates are low, get a decent job to pay the bills, and then go into hibernation, using a copy of Capital and the Bible as kindling.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
(6:48 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Decline of the Family
The Weekly Standard has an article by Stanley Kurtz on gay marriage in Sweden. It paints a grim picture:
In Sweden, as elsewhere, the sixties brought contraception, abortion, and growing individualism. Sex was separated from procreation, reducing the need for "shotgun weddings." These changes, along with the movement of women into the workforce, enabled and encouraged people to marry at later ages. With married couples putting off parenthood, early divorce had fewer consequences for children. That weakened the taboo against divorce. Since young couples were putting off children, the next step was to dispense with marriage and cohabit until children were desired. Americans have lived through this transformation. The Swedes have simply drawn the final conclusion: If we've come so far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?
The argument is that gay marriage further eroded the institution of marriage by centering it on cohabitation rather than parenthood. I basically agree that marriage as an institution is "intended" to create stable families. If we're going to treat marriage as a sacrament, it doesn't make sense to me to sanctify some kind of romantic attraction -- the partners are witnessing to their commitment to forming a stable household together, a household that will be hospitable to others (primarily their own biological children). We can draw different consequences from that. In fact, I think one could draw pro-gay-marriage consequences from that idea, or one could draw anti-gay-marriage consequences.
Two things prompted the Swedes to take this extra step--the welfare state and cultural attitudes. No Western economy has a higher percentage of public employees, public expenditures--or higher tax rates--than Sweden. The massive Swedish welfare state has largely displaced the family as provider. By guaranteeing jobs and income to every citizen (even children), the welfare state renders each individual independent. It's easier to divorce your spouse when the state will support you instead.
The taxes necessary to support the welfare state have had an enormous impact on the family. With taxes so high, women must work. This reduces the time available for child rearing, thus encouraging the expansion of a day-care system that takes a large part in raising nearly all Swedish children over age one. Here is at least a partial realization of Simone de Beauvoir's dream of an enforced androgyny that pushes women from the home by turning children over to the state.
There are also cultural-ideological causes of Swedish family decline. Even more than in the United States, radical feminist and socialist ideas pervade the universities and the media. Many Scandinavian social scientists see marriage as a barrier to full equality between the sexes, and would not be sorry to see marriage replaced by unmarried cohabitation. A related cultural-ideological agent of marital decline is secularism. Sweden is probably the most secular country in the world. Secular social scientists (most of them quite radical) have largely replaced clerics as arbiters of public morality. Swedes themselves link the decline of marriage to secularism. And many studies confirm that, throughout the West, religiosity is associated with institutionally strong marriage, while heightened secularism is correlated with a weakening of marriage. Scholars have long suggested that the relatively thin Christianization of the Nordic countries explains a lot about why the decline of marriage in Scandinavia is a decade ahead of the rest of the West.
So what exactly is the problem with all this? I know that the author of the article assumes it must be obvious, but why are we fighting so hard to preserve marriage and traditional morality? The author mentions "protecting children," but only one sentence in the entire article is about the concrete effects on children of altered family structures. The author talks about all manner of social trends, groups countries by their relative decline, makes some remarks about the influences of the Catholic Church and the welfare state -- and a remark about children, who should be the focus of this debate, is thrown in the middle, almost as an aside.
In addition, while he's blaming the high taxes necessary to sustain a welfare state, what to make of the fact that the United States is second only to Sweden in family dissolution? Why not point out that the high point of the "traditional family" in America was also the high point of labor unions? If we're going to make an economic argument, we might as well make an economic argument. If adverse economic conditions (such as high taxes) make for the dissolution of the family, then why not do something to correct the gross inequalities of wealth in our nation?
We need someone to start talking about all these family/marriage/sodomy issues intelligently -- that is, with an eye toward what the goal of marriage is, what kind of society we want, and what the facts on the ground are. This article barely meets the third requirement.
(12:14 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
How to be a parrot and still care about things
Alison Hales, of the World Parrot Trust, told BBC News Online: "N'kisi's amazing vocabulary and sense of humour should make everyone who has a pet parrot consider whether they are meeting its needs.
"They may not be able to ask directly, but parrots are long-lived, and a bit of research now could mean an improved quality of life for years."
UPDATE: In case I ever want to go underground like a Gauche, I feel like I should have some kind of alter-ego on hand. I realize that my address is adamkotsko.com, but the Zizka guy has the same problem, and everyone still links to him as Zizka. If you guys have any suggestions for pseudonyms, please let me know. In fact, if you think I have multiple personalities and should write using multiple pseudonyms, be sure to let me know.
SECOND UPDATE (for co-bloggers): I have enabled the title feature, meaning that you no longer have to remember to use the tag "h2" when titling your posts. It will still look the same, but it makes things nicer for the RSS feed I just put up.
Monday, January 26, 2004
(11:03 PM) | Michael Hancock:
How to be a moderate and still care about things
My sleeping schedule is a like a hot piece of tin; ultimately malleable. I have recently been going to bed at roughly 9 PM, and waking up refreshed at 5 AM. It is heavenly. Tonight I'm burning the midnight oil for two reasons; I went to see Return of the King for the sixth and final time, and I wanted to contribute to the Blog before the week got under way. So, before I hit the sack, here it goes.
Today, after my 9 AM class, I was waiting in the lobby of the Dorothy U. Dalton Center, which is the School of Music and Dance at Western. I often sit there if I'm bored or just dreading going outside. I sat with my friend Emily Cox. She is a funny girl - we both have horrible last names, so we generally get along just fine. I used to call her Emily Plural, and myself Michael HanSingular.
I'm not very funny.
Anyway, I was sitting with Emily, and we were discussing the recent talks about Roe v Wade, and where the feminist and conservative movements have gone since they last butted heads so long ago. I told Emily that I thought it was odd that the women's rights movement would ever think of pregnancy as a form of male oppression, to view a fetus as an unwanted burden. She agreed with me, but I went on to say that if a woman feels that way, it is not right for me to outlaw her actions against said fetus. Emily is similarly moderate in her beliefs; she describes herself as being a liberal with a conservative streak. I suppose you'd say I'm the opposite.
Which is better? Well, I am inclined to think myself right, of course. The primary difference in my mind of moderate-ness is that I am willing to live with liberals and conservatives, but they seem largely unable to live with each other, and some unable even to live with my tolerance. I would argue that liberals are more likely to tolerate conservatives, if only because the argument is for abortion rights, and not for mandatory post-rape abortions. The liberal view, in this case at least, is not to enforce the liberal viewpoint, but to allow it. The conservative viewpoint, again perhaps only in this case, is to force the conservative agenda on the entire law-abiding country.
However, the tide can be turned pretty easily if you start discussing taxation and the size of the bureacracy. Garrison Keillor, one of the first NPR liberal pundits, has written that a conservative is someone who thinks all bureacrats are evil, and a liberal is someone who probably wouldn't mind being one. In the world of business and money, conservatives are right on; governments are bad business, and have relatively no control over their employees (bureacrats), and efficiency and affordability are not built into the system. For example, in a budget crisis in a private business, employees would be encouraged to cut costs, and try to come in as far under budget as possible to ensure their continued employment. The opposite is true in government, as a division that fails to spend their allotted budget will be immediately cut and the funds re-allocated to another division that keeps over-spending.
Well, that's about it for now. Remember, I'm full of it, and actually a communist at heart. I would have voted for Eugene Debbs.
This post was written to the strains of Frederick Delius.
(9:13 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Tragedy and Postmodernism with a short section on Marxism-Christianity
I've been reading Myth and Tragedy by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet as a source of secondary literature in my Tragedy class. It is a collection of essayies concerning different Greek tragedies and their use and source in society. I have mentioned the book quite a bit in previous posts concerning Vernant's analysis of The Bacchae and that smacked of postmodernism too, not in the sense that Vernant is a postmodernist but that the Greek culture (though not Plato) had a society that was based on what we would now call postmodern principles (and, yes, postmodernism does have principles).
In postmodernism there is a certain understanding that ideas govern our lives, everything is ideology, and this fits preciously with the way Greeks understood religion. The gods of ancient Greece were not so much a hierarchy of real entities but rather they were a pantheon of ideas; the systematic way of explaining the (dis)order of the kosmos. When you have a system of thought such as this there is a recognition that humanity is the center of the universe, in that he organizes the universe and gives that organization an objective position outside himself through art, religion and philosophy. Vernant explains the basic theory of man in his essay “Ambiguity and Reversal”:
The ambiguity one finds in Oedipus Rex is quite different [than the normal ambiguity that one finds in the word plays of other tragedies]. It is concerned neither with a conflict in meanings nor with the duplicity of the character controlling the action and taking pleasure in playing with his or her victim. In the drama in which he is the victim, it is Oedipus and only Oedipus who pulls the strings. [...]So it is easy to see how it is that, from the point of view of ambiguity, Oedipus Rex has the force of a model.
In Oedipus we see both the highest of human beings as the King of Thebes and the lowest as the murderer of his father and the incestuous relationship he holds with his mother. In Greek philosophy we see the notion that one must balance their life, that the extremities are too extreme to have “good digestion” as Aristotle describes the Good Life. To that end the Greek’s had carnival where all order was reversed, sexual laws were lifted, theft become legal and the court jester was crowned as king. At the end of the carnival the jester would be put to death and with him the week of disorder so that the city would then live in perfect order having got the desire for anarchy out of their system, literally, until the next year.
In postmodernism we see the desire to get things out of our system as well. Foucault’s whole project can be viewed in this light, in Madness and Civilization I think he is arguing that by pushing the insane out of society we are driving ourselves mad. We need to see the insane to know that we are sane. To know that we are differant.
Christianity and its modern equivalent Marxism (since both are basically dead) seem to argue for the exact opposite. They don’t want to have a day of carnival, but to live in carnival. Where the rich become poor and the poor become rich. The king of kings is actually just the insane man who thinks he is the messiah and, even though we can see his insanity, we want him to rule anyway. During the liturgy on Sunday we celebrated Paul’s conversion and read the passage where he says God gave him “words and a [emphasis mine] wisdom.” What this can mean, I don’t know.
(7:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Goings-On About Town
Heather Morgan, a fellow Olivet refugee, quotes a letter to the editor in her local paper:
Our greatness is no accident. Alexander set up the Hellenistic Age that civilized the barbarians in a search for worldwide brotherhood. In a civilized world, the Romans built the roads down which Peter and Paul carried the message of Christ to the West, the Gentiles, the sons and daughters of Japheth.
Every morning, thank the creator you are an American at such interesting and challenging times when you have the freedom to be your greatest self.
The parts I have left out are even better. It's amazing that conservative Christians are so hung up on the absolute historical truth of every word of scripture, yet they're so amazingly ignorant of history. I mean, I'm pleasantly surprised that this person even knows who Alexander the Great is, but -- a "search for worldwide brotherhood"?
Long Pauses, a blog that frequently quotes the newly anonymous a Gauche, blogrolled me somewhere along the way. I appreciate the shout-out and am thus reciprocating in kind. Attentive readers may note that Atrios and Talking Points Memo have been removed from my blogroll, since I hardly ever read them anymore. To add nuance to my take-down of Adam Robinson, I'd like to note that I mainly put "obvious" blogs in my blogroll early on because I didn't really know anyone who had a blog. If past versions of my blogroll were available, I'm sure we could watch the progression toward an ever-more-personalized version, where I mainly link to sites with whom I have some bonhomie and only point to a few exemplary "big name" sites (I'm going to stand behind CalPundit and Matt Yglesias, for the moment at least).
Chun the Unavoidable quotes a cranky passage from Josh Marshall's upcoming New Yorker article denouncing ultra-leftist anti-neo-imperialism, then says:
I don't know why I'd expect much different from a liberal who, when confronted by Richard Perle at a Washington think-tank panel, did everything but offer to fellate him in the bathroom after the show, but there it is.
Chun also previously noted that Marshall was "proud of winning a 'blog of the year' award from the same outfit that gave its columnist of the year award to Friedman." I don't read Friedman anymore, and so I don't link to him or comment on him anymore, but rest assured: the guy sucks serious gonads. He has never met a metaphor that he couldn't torture, a self-important anecdote that he couldn't exploit, or a completely out-of-left-field justification for what the Bush administration was going to do anyway that he couldn't pull out of his ass.
Thomas Friedman, like George W. Bush himself, is officially Beyond Parody.
And this is where the ultimate justification of Adam's suspicion of my blogrolling practice comes into play: I used to read Friedman just because he writes for the Times and I felt like I should, just like I used to read Josh Marshall just because he "took down" Trent Lott, even though I had probably never even heard of Trent Lott at the time. I am, in the words of a commenter from a Virtual Stoa post, a "trend-sucking dilletante," just like my man Slavoj -- whom I only read because a lot of people in the "postmodern" ghetto of the Amazon Listmania-o-sphere were mentioning him.
I now no longer believe in postmodernism, however. I believe in truths, objective facts, and universal moral values. This is because the right wing has completely stolen postmodern methods, and they do it a lot better than we lefties could have even dreamed of doing it. Perhaps, then, on some kind of meta-level, I am embracing objective truth simply as a rhetorical stance to advance my own pet political agenda, but I don't see what good it does anyone to point that out -- except the right wing. The newly anonymous a Gauche mentioned in the comments to Anthony's post below that postmodernism "doesn't help anyone." I don't think that's the case. I think it's helped Karl Rove a whole lot.
(11:02 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
The mosquito flies with the same self-importance
I am not so sure that American's know that God is dead yet like their European cousins do. The way we live as if every action we and our government make will cement our place in history, that sprawling abyss that is time, just screams that we believe in god and that he will hold us in his right hand for all of eternity. I'm not going to say that this is a strain of Christianity, though it may well be, and I don’t see enough of a system surrounding the followers of this god to decide if it is some kind of theism or deism; it frankly is scarier than that. Looking back on Bataille’s Theory of Religion I see this deadly innocence towards belief in Americans, where they are not bothered with the idea of god and so their belief can change and flow to fit whatever situation arises. There is a blind 'faith' in some kind of god and he loves America and the only thing that will prove he does not is our destruction.
"In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die."
There is a certain kind of wisdom that we need now when we stand at the end of history (I have noticed this event is by far the most boring event ever). Sometimes I think the wisest thing we can do is to find a shitty job that we can deal with, a decent house that isn't that big of a deal to live in or to not live in, a couple decent people to surround yourself with and, with all the pieces in place, just wait out life comfortably until you die. I realize that this is decadence par excellence and the way the bourgeois live but it appears as wisdom.
In The Bacchae we are presented with two kinds of wisdom to sophon, in the neuter, and sophia, in the feminine. The way these are contrasted is important, for Penetheus, the king, refuses to acknowledge Dionysus and believe in him and is always attempting to out maneuver the prophet of Dionysus (who is actually Dionysus incarnate) with his cleverness (to sophon). The god, who is wise like Sophia, kills him in the most cruel and fantastic way.1 Is that the wisdom we need? A real revolution, not one sans revolution, but one where people die.
1I am not a Greek scholar, so my understanding of the translation and difference in meaning comes from Jean-Pierre Vernant's article "The Masked God of Euripidus' The Bacchae".
(8:46 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
At least I know I'm free
This morning, my alarm clock played angry right-wing talk radio as usual, and they were pissed off that Howard Dean claimed that living conditions in Iraq were worse now than under Saddam. This seems to be objectively true. For instance, ten-thousand people have died in Iraq in the last year due to the war. Did Saddam kill ten-thousand of his people every year? I don't know -- maybe he did. Someone should do some research. In any case, they still lack many basic utilities; they have schools, but it's too dangerous to walk to and from school; they are subject to random violence on the street; their property rights are not as secure; they are more likely to be involved in a terrorist attack; they still run a risk of having their home ransacked or being taken into custody for no reason (although it is probably "better" that this is due to American incompetence rather than Saddam's malice); government workers aren't getting paid; many have lost their jobs entirely; government agencies have been completely ransacked. If American troops were to leave now, they would leave the country in an objectively worse state than they found it. That seems to be the reality on the ground, the actual facts.
But on the level of slogans, the hosts are right. Let's call it the "Proud to Be an American" argument. Everyone prefers "freedom" to tyranny, even if on the level of one's day-to-day life, tyranny afforded a much better standard of living. I think people need to get it through their skulls -- political freedoms just don't matter very much to most people. Formal "freedom of speech" doesn't matter much when you don't have "freedom to eat." There's an even chance that the majority of people would choose to live under a benevolent dicatorship where you were insured basic housing, food, work, and medical attention, rather than in a "free country" where you were free to be unemployed and indebted but had some kind of snowball's chance of becoming fabulously wealthy (at least according to the TV).
I'm going to be late for work.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
(8:30 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Fitter, Happier, More Productive
Everything in my life has fallen into place. I read that whole stupid Hegel book. I have found a provisional home for our cat. In an effort to make the house an allergy-free zone, I even vacuumed out all the registers -- you'd be surprised how incredibly dusty they can get after that's not done for a year. I filed my federal and state taxes, and my refund is approximately equal to my current credit card balance. I will be able to pay my huge gas bill in its entirety on Monday. I now have two roommates, Justin and Jesse. (I did not explicitly plan on getting roommates whose names began with the same letter.) I filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid already. I'm sure I'll get all the best grants and stuff since I filed so early. In fact, they'll probably give me an extra grant to pay off the loans I took out for this year. (There are benefits to filing early, at least in the fantasy world I live in.) I still have a week to put together an abstract for that DePaul conference. My blog template has attained near-perfection. I am on pace to read most of this week's New Yorker before the next one comes.
In short: a pig, in a cage, on antibiotics.
(10:09 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
It'd be great if I went to a restaurant and someone who read "Oh, The Organization" was my server. It'd be great if he said, "No no, Mr. Robinson, you're money's no good here." Once, I went to that hip (and yummy) restaurant, Palomino, with Ted Leo/The Pharmacists--not a famous band by any means--and the manager comped their meals and sent them wine. It wasn't a nod to their "popularity," it was an act of appreciation for their music and the sacrifices they have to make.
That's what I'm talking about. That's why I only blogroll people who might have time to talk to me, people who can be personable. Adam Kotsko's Weblog is usually so good I can't understand why he isn't blogrolled at CalPundit, like just about everyone else in the world.
Take down the bourgeois; take back the internet.
First, let's be clear: I'm all about taking down the bourgeois. That's not in question here.
I'd just like to mention that, in all fairness, a big chunk of blogging popularity is based on merit. For instance, Atrios averages 20,000 posts a day (compared to 1.5 a day here at The Weblog), and he manages to dig up a lot of news stories that we probably wouldn't see otherwise. There's always the chance that he will start to decline once he's "arrived," and maybe he already is to some degree, but he fills the valuable niche of a one-stop source for angry, left-leaning news. I don't know if your buddy who's just starting out his blog can quite fill that niche. As for Talking Points Memo, I'd say the popularity comes from the fact that he's a professional journalist who works primarily in blogs -- he's doing actual original reporting, which makes it feel like he's giving us the "inside juice."
Now certainly, on the right-wing blogs, there's already some of the "popular because I'm popular" type of stuff going on (for instance, InstaPundit), but left-wing blogs are a relatively new genre, so the left-wing blogging superstars are generally "actually good" on some objective level. Beyond the intrinsic quality of their content, they also tend to be those who have most advanced the lefty-blog cause, for instance by keeping a huge blogroll and bringing in some traffic for less well-known blogs. In some cases, those pioneering blogs are perhaps riding on the strength of their past successes, either in terms of a large traffic flow or in terms of money. In addition, the current popularity of niche blogs like Atrios might discourage others from attempting to fill the same niche, or might make it harder for them to generate traffic -- but at the same time, copying a popular format and filling in slightly different content might be a way to sure-fire success. After all, most blog readers are people who are bored at work, so "time to keep up" isn't always a big problem.
To some extent, the "inertia of popularity" effect is already taking place among left-wing blogs, but I don't think it's quite to the point of, say, the music industry, at least not yet.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
(5:05 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
My Angel Rocks Back and Forth
Recently, I've had the opportunity to engage several denizens of the area behind my workplace in conversation. It's not face to face or anything, rather sort of a perverted pen pal relationship. See, about 9 weeks ago I went to take the boxes out to the recycle bin, only to find it flipped, turned upside-down. To my credit I first assumed that somehow the waste management guy managed to miss - this wasn't implausible, the week before he'd lifted the recycling bin (which is a huge mother) too far and clipped the power line up above, damaging one of our guy's trucks. However, after calling the company I found they had not been to our shop and thus subsumed to the great First Accusation of America's working class: "THOSE PUNK KIDS!" Right now I'm impressed that upon further review subsumed is a word and I did use it correctly.
So, after the trash company came to put things right again I went out and using one of the many boxes stockpiling in the store since they couldn't be recycled, I wrote in big black permanant ink, "Please don't tip this over anymore, it makes my job suck when you do." This was true..the large pile of boxes stacking up everywhere and the people constantly asking "Are you going to be able to take the boxes out today?" makes my otherwise pretty sweet (other than the no pay raise in 17 months) job that much worse, though perhaps I was embellishing to say it sucked. Needless to say, the very next day I found the thing tipped on its side again with the note on top saying "YOUR JOB DOESNT SUCK U DO".
An interesting note, due to the way they chose to turn the conversation. By making it personal, and hostile, they attempted to control me, but in my superior sense of self-worth I refused to come down to that level. I grabbed another broken down box, some more box tape, and another marker. I wrote something akin to, "Fair enough, my life pretty much sucks and thus by proxy I do. I ask only that you'd take pity on my suck-filled existence then and through the kindness of your heart not tip the recycle bin over again, thank you. P.S. Are you doing this with a car, or with man-muscle? Just curious."
Well, later that week my boss was in his office and heard a large crashing noise..after thinking for a second he figured out it was probably the tippers. He went to the door and spotted their car coming down off the opposing curve, and racing away. He ran after them down the street trying to get a license plate number. The next day he suggested we put spikes on the curve they were coming up over. I said "Yes, and then they'll be pissed and drive through the building." My boss relented the point, because he is a smart man. On my note they left the message, "WERE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR UR LIFE - GO TO A BAR AND MEET SOME PEOPLE -PS ALL MUSCLE BIOTCH."
I responded thusly: "Ok - we'll make a deal, I'll stop blaming you for my lack of personality and thus life if you stop blaming my store for whatever pent up rage you have towards "The system", or at least take it out on the big corporate mall a few blocks north of here, rather than this small printing business that has nothing to do with "The Machine". I will also promise to go to a bar and meet some people. Deal?"
I did not bring up the fact they were lying about using "all muscle", because my boss didn't think they'd seen him run after him and to have someone come in the store with guns, or to find the back windows of the shop all broken out is amongst the least of my desires. Mentioning that we spotted them seemed to work toward increasing this chance.
A week went by and there was no tipping. I thought I might have to start finding out what the good bar in OKC is in order to make good on my part. However, of course, the next week the thing was tipped over again with the note saying, and I quote, "ITS NOT FUCKING RAGE, ITS JUST FUN FOR US TO PISS YOU OFF FUCKER".
I think the language was meant to enrage me, but I was so busy busting with joy at the progress represented by the comma mark that I was bubbling over. I wrote back "First of all, I'm not a fucker...after the way I described my pitiful life, you actually think I get any? Secondly - have you ever heard of Backgammon? That game is also fun, and less destructive. Or, if you need the destruction to cure some insatiable fire within, you might try that game Thin Ice..Lord knows I never could get that thing to not break. Maybe you could play where whoever doesn't break the ice loses? Whatever, as long as it isn't tipping over the recycle bin."
We'd reached week 6, and I was losing credibility. Fellow workers were sure that the only way to end this problem was to have the police do some low equivalent of a stake out. It was becoming painfully obvious that my way, while the fun way to some extent, was not succesful in alleviating anyone else's frustration at this annoying gesture except mine. In short, the natives were restless. That being as it were, I was heart broken after another non-tipping week passed only to be broken the next week by, YES OF COURSE, an upturned recycle bin. Perhaps most disheartening was the regression in the note, which simply said "UR A FAG".
The note ripped my heart straight out of my ribcage. It was with great trepidation that I managed to stitch my chest up well enough to write "Look, you're not helping my already admittedly porous self-esteem any with this baseless personal attack. Just because I'm not getting any doesn't make me a "fag". If anything, it makes me Asexual. PS - Where were you guys last week? Do renegades take vacations? PSS - Tell me a litte about yourselves, maybe we could be buddies!"
Another silent week, and then this past one the applecart was upset again. Apparently they'd developed a trend in hitting it every other week. Maybe they were cheating on us and hitting some other waste containers on the side..I don't know. However, the response finally came, and this time said, "YES UR A FAG AND WE ARENT TELLING YOU WHERE WE WERE LAST WEEK BECAUSE WE DONT WANT TO BE A FAG'S BUTTBUDDIES!!!!"
Well folks, I'm at a loss. This little game was fun for a while, and I held off posting it because I thought I might reach a sucessful conclusion and be able to post on the values of nonviolent communication with those who wrong us over aggressive involvement of cops and others. But, the fact is that there's no sign of stoppage unless they are as tired of the once fun game as I am - which, judging from the last note and the downfall in quality content in recent weeks is a distinct possibility and my last hope. How strange then, that perhaps the one great possibility for counteracting violence is the excessive use of language. If I'm wrong, and they do it again we'll probably have to start calling the police and all that crap. I mean, stepping back and looking at it..no damage has been done, except possibly to their car. The recycle bin is a tank, I'm convinced it could survive anything, be it direct nuclear missile hit or a Donna Sumner marathon on the radio.
Nothing else has been hurt, some kids have had some fun - I mean, a friend and I used to take Kessel's grocery carts on our bumpers, and then accelerate as fast as possible before slamming on the breaks and sending them careening into the ravine conveniently located behind the store. That caused more harm than this, since apparently shopping carts cost money. So, I can certainly relate to the fun destruction of others property can bring but at the same time..for 9 weeks? We'd hit that Kessel's up like..once every 2 months or so..although that may have been because it was on the other side of town more than anything. But, all that aside, the Print Shop employees are frustrated by this senseless act, and it probably needs to stop because, as previously mentioned, it makes my job suck. Nothing seems to put an end to it. So I am open to suggestions - Comment Feature prepare thyself.
Friday, January 23, 2004
(7:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Making Friends and Influencing People, Kotsko Style
[Note: this post has been updated.]
By observing the most successful and powerful people in the world, I have devised the following rules for success:
- If I want to do something in which my friends have some stake, I should decide exactly what I want to do, then patronizingly ask them for approval, while making it clear that I'll do it no matter what they say.
- In order to reduce my credit card debt, I will decrease the amount I pay on my credit cards while simultaneously charging more and more items on them.
If I follow these simple rules, before long, I'll be ruling the world.
Michael Bérubé has this to say regarding the Bush administration's plan to cut overtime pay:
And over the longer term, folks, let’s try to establish a general consensus in this country that people who want to eliminate taxes on unearned wealth while slashing pay for ordinary workers are simply morally unfit for public office.
I'd like to upgrade my cautious recommendation of The Virtual Stoa to an unreserved commandment to read it. (With gratitude I also note, upon going to the page in order to cut-and-paste the rather lengthy address, that he has blogrolled me.)
Our dear friend LitSkunk has decided to end her career as a blogger after five posts. I'd like to thank her for the vigorous debate that one of her posts stirred, both on her own site and here. Incidentally, a portion of that vigorous debate continues with John Halbo's very lengthy and amusing post on the topic. Prediction: Chun the Unavoidable will claim that the articles John read in PMLA are atypical, without pointing him toward any typical ones. I recommend his blog, due to paragraphs like the following:
I'm especially interested in this piece [Ed: link added by me] because I, in my limitless vanity, believed I might be referred to in it. He mentions an Invisible Adjunct thread in which some sneering types made pathetic efforts to defend the MLA against the deadly ridicule of such as Scott McLemee, and I certainly tend to sneer. For instance, when I wrote above that Wormtongue was an "important figure in Tolkien studies," I actually meant two things: "Tolkien studies" is a rather ridiculous thing to be an important figure in, and I doubt that he is, anyway. Also, his blog is called "Wormtalk," not "Wormtongue." Sneering, see? (Actually it's jealousy. I had long ago made up my mind to be the dominant figure in Tolkien studies, and now I'm only a third-tier figure in Terry Brooks studies.)
I conclude this "update" to note that those who wish to duplicate lengthy block quotes containing links and other formatting would do well to copy the source code for the quotation in question. It is likely easier than attempting to reproduce the links oneself after copying the plain text version over into the blogging window, and it stays truer to the original intention of the author. It also saves one the trouble of typing, "He's got a lot of links in the original post that I didn't reproduce here 'cuz I'm lazy." It may also give one valuable insights into the way other people produce certain visual effects on their site, if one is the kind of person who spends all of one's time repeatedly updating one's blog template.
(11:05 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Religion is only possible with innocence: A hasty review of Georges Bataille's hasty Theory of Religion
Georges Bataille is one of those crazy French thinkers who took Nietzsche and sex way too seriously and he is brilliant for it. In his Theory of Religion he, as usual, makes a very brief and still brilliant analysis of how religion works in human society. Basic premise, as stated on the back cover, Religion is an attempt to regain a lost intimacy but what the back leaves out is that Bataille also recognizes religion's usually sublimation into the status quo, the Real order. Of course there is a thousand voices going on at one and the same time in Bataille's book but the most fascinating voice to me is captured in this block quote (that I hope Adam will forgive me for using):
"Religion, whose essence is the search for lost intimacy, comes down to the effort of clear consciousness which wants to be a complete self-consciousness: but this effort is futile, since consciousness of intimacy is possible only at a level where consciousness is no longer an operation whose outcome implies duration, that is, at the level where clarity, which is the effect of the operation, is no longer given."
My reading, which is of course just a reading, is that religion, as a search for lost intimacy, is only possible when you don't think about it. The minute you begin to make conscious your search the search is lost, just as when the husband tries in vain to make his marriage whole after it has already died.
But now I have to go to work.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
(5:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I was once part of the English majors' listserv at Olivet, a liberal arts university in the Wesleyan tradition, and since I was an asshole at that time (I have since reformed), I used to stir up trouble among the participants by pointing out grammatical errors, etc. This would create a lot of discussion, which would annoy those inevitable poor souls who were on the listserv by accident, but normally wouldn't say anything because they were only getting an e-mail or two a week.
One of those poor souls was Marcus Butterfield, an aspiring attorney who had apparently switched from English to political science. After a long, petty argument, he finally broke down and asked (I paraphrase), "Can someone take me off this stupid list? I'm not an English major, and I'm not interested in your e-mails." I knew Marcus, and so I e-mailed him personally and said, "Wow, Marcus, did you know that the faculty reads the listserv, too?" He wrote back a few minutes later and said, "Yes, why?" I wrote back and said, "Well, you just wrote, 'Can someone take me off this fucking list?'" I eventually let him know I was just kidding, but I really had him going for a second.
I don't know what ever happened to Marcus, but his sister has a blog where you might be able to glean some information about him -- and to tie this back in with the beginning of the story, the last time I talked to her (online, when she was using someone else's screen name), she said, "How are you, you fucking asshole?" I asked her what she meant, and she said I knew, and then we decided to stop talking. A mutual thing.
In any case, I have since reformed.
(1:26 PM) | Michael Hancock:
They Might Be My Biography
This is not the only website that I write for, actually. It seems that I have been waiting in the no-writing-on-the-computer closet, only to come out in a magical dualistic experiment of word and emotion! My first article on Kegger.org is up, and it is my introductory autobiography. One, that I hope, would make Michael Schaefer proud. Kegger.org is the latest website of Joshua Kanger, a friend of mine here in Kalamazoo. We have more in common than easily ridiculed last names, though. Back to work now.
This was written to the strains, of course, of They Might Be Giants.
(12:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Book Report: Phenomenology of Spirit
I have now read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit in its entirety. Since one of the requirements for absolute knowing is reading and thoroughly understanding the Phenomenology, I can't claim to have attained absolute knowledge yet. I didn't do nearly enough to keep his various terms rigorously defined in my mind, and sometimes his meaning completely escaped me. For instance, there was a passage in which the translator placed the word "shapes" in scare quotes, and I could not for the life of me track down exactly why that was.
No one expects me to start giving lecture courses on Hegel right this minute, I'm sure, but I am becoming more conscious of my tendency to read too quickly. The only time I considerably slow down is when I am writing a line-by-line commentary. Reading slowly and in great detail doesn't seem worth it unless I am going to have something concrete and finalized; otherwise, just putting the words into my head and letting my unconscious do its magic is good enough for me.
The best parts, in my opinion, were those in which he was discussing the classical world, both because I am more familiar with the subject matter and because he seemed to have some truly penetrating insights. Much of the work anticipated Nietzsche (most notably the idea that "God is dead"), and I would like to return to Nietzsche sometime soon with those insights in mind. Before doing any comparative work, it would likely behoove me to gain a better understanding of Hegel in-and-for-himself.
To that end, I will likely finish up Kojève's Introduction to the Reading of Hegel within the next week, as well as re-reading selected passages from the Phenomenology in anticipation of a paper on Lacan and Hegel. Depending on my endurance level, I will try a couple other secondaries, probably Kaufmann's book on Hegel and Jean Hyppolite's Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. I am also in possession of Hegel's Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Right, as well as several essays in which Derrida addresses Hegel -- including, somewhat mysteriously, Glas. As of this moment, it would probably make sense to turn this into some kind of directed study, so I would have something to show for my intellectual labor.
This post was boring; I apologize.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
(8:33 PM) | Michael Hancock:
Kalamazoo. Home of (or one time Home of)
Guitars, Drugs, Checker Cab, Celery, and a couple Malls...
So much has happened to me today (which is still the same stretch of consciousness that the other posts were written in, sadly enough), that I don't think I'll even both recounting it. I want the explanation to have the benefit of evaluation and analysis, which will only happen if I decide to describe today's events sometime in the future. After sleep. So, what then?
I thought I'd introduce you to place I call home. Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's a great town, really, and certainly more entertaining than Flint or Kankakee. Located exactly halfway between Detroit and Chicago on one of the busiest interstates in America [I-94], Kalamazoo is quite the hub of transportation. You can enter or leave the town by bus, train, chartered or major airline, as well as forementioned expressway.
Kalamazoo is definitely a college town, as with commuting community college kids, Western students, and those that go to Kalamazoo College (the most expensive private college in the region), the population fluctuates by nearly 50,000 people at the beginning and ending of each school year. There are probably more bars in town than the native population could support, but the same can be said about the number of music venues and fine arts centers. There is a strong community theater program, and the Kalamazoo Symphony is nearly one hundreds years old. Indeed, one of the first major buildings built in the new city square during the end of the nineteenth century was the multistory granite edifice of the Kalamazoo Academy of Music.
Kalamazoo also used to be home to the Cedar Point of the turn of the century, as well as multiple psychiatric hospitals. The amusement park has since returned to the forest along Asylum Lake, while all of the hospitals have closed except for one. Kalamazoo saw a gradual decline in tourism as the native population began to increase, and Kalamazoo County now supports over 220,000 souls. The winter season also promises an extra foot or two of snow than other cities along the same line in Michigan due to the phenomenon of Lake Effect Snow.
Speaking of which, the blizzard that was supposed to come today never came. Life goes on, but I have to say I'm disappointed. In any event, I hope you enjoyed the Kalamazoo backdrop. Perhaps it will take your mind off Stupid President Bush Jr. and his future plans to Make A Constitutional Amendment Just to Piss Anthony Off. And Dan Savage. And those f***ers on the Queer Eye show. Well, they can rot. But I have a lot of gay friends that I don't hate.
Bush, this one's for you.
This entry was written to the strains of Aimee Mann.
(2:33 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
John Keats and Radiohead
I had planned for some time to re-read John Keats' "Eve of St. Agnes" the night before the actual memorial of St. Agnes, which takes place today. I was too busy fiddling with the template and worrying about graduate school last night to do so, though I did mention Keats in one of my posts.
This afternoon, I read the poem in its entirety and was struck by the way it resonated with one of my favorite Radiohead songs, "Exit Music (For a Film)". On reading the lyrics and the commentary at green plastic radiohead, possibly the best Radiohead site on the web, I saw that my synapse did not fire completely at random. The song was written in response to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (in this case the recent movie version), and it represented Thom Yorke's attempt to picture a situation in which disaster didn't strike; as he says: "I saw the Zeffirelli version [of Romeo and Juliet] when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn't understand why, the morning after they shagged, they didn't just run away. The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts." Keats is also working with the Romeo and Juliet theme, and he also pictures a way it might have gone differently.
So yes, I am really going to write a brief comparison/contrast of a Radiohead song and a Keats poem. Grant me this indulgence -- it is, after all, the memorial of St. Agnes (virgin and martyr).
First, here's a summary of Keats (you can read the whole thing, linked above, if you so desire). On the Eve of St. Agnes, so the story goes, a chaste young woman will be granted a vision of her future husband, provided she performs the proper rituals. Madeline, a chaste young woman, is eager to receive this vision, and Porphyro, a supplicant who is not well-liked in Madeline's house, sees there an opportunity to win her heart. He is friends with Angela, an elderly woman who lives in Madeline's house and believes the two should marry, and he arranges with her to be let into Madeline's room later that night. He hides there as Madeline undresses and performs the various rituals, and then he sets the scene for her "vision" of him as her future husband. She awakes to see him standing over the bed and welcomes the vision, proclaiming her love for Porphyro. He announces that it is no dream, and proposes that they escape and get married. She agrees -- "And they are gone: ay ages long ago / These lovers fled away into the storm" (stanza 42).
Clearly this is a very elegant plan on the part of Porphyro, but it is also risky. He hears his every movement amplified, and when he and Madeline leave, he has to sneak past a sleeping guard and a "wakeful bloodhound" (stanza 41), who lets them pass unremarked because he smells a member of the household (perhaps implying that the two are "meant for each other"). The poem ends on a note of death -- both Angela and a holy old man mentioned in the first stanza die, symbolizing the fact that the world of the poem is now completely closed off to the lovers who have left it. They flee "into the storm," and there is no indication that the storm ever abates -- there is no "happily ever after," even though Porphyro has made arrangements for a home. Keats is a Romantic, but not a romantic -- he realizes that a love formed in such a stormy setting will remain stormy, that the acute tension evoked throughout the poem will remain an acute tension.
Now to Radiohead. The song starts in the middle of the scene laid out in "Eve of St. Agnes"; the lover awakens his beloved, and they escape quietly. There is a similar tension, with the lover saying, "Pack and get dressed / Before your father hears us / Before all hell breaks loose." As they escape, the lover has to encourage his beloved not to "lose [her] nerve," and he sounds a note of quiet desperation -- their escape is an escape from their existential loneliness, into which the lover could plummet again at any moment. Once they are outside, it is cold (as it is in "The Eve of St. Agnes," which obviously takes place during the winter), and they need a song to keep them warm. The music echoes the mood of each stanza of the lyrics, with the first two being straight acoustic, the third ("Breath, keep breathing...") containing an eery organ sound, and the fourth ("Sing us a song...") evoking a desolate, wind-blown landscape.
At this point, the song begins to explode as the lover taunts the social order he is leaving behind: "And you can laugh your spineless laugh / We hope your rules and wisdom choke you." It is only on the strength of this spite that their relationship can sustain itself, as he shifts immediately to saying, "And now we are one in everlasting peace," nearly screaming it in notes only Thom Yorke can hit, with the instrumentation at its climax. Sexual union is clearly in mind at this point. The song ends with the plaintiff whine, "We hope that you choke, that you choke," repeated several times, the last time nearly a capella, with a cracking voice.
The difference between the two works seems to be the surface-level sophistication of the two lovers. Porphyro brilliantly exploits social convention in order to find the opening for his escape with Madeline, whereas Yorke's lover appears to have chosen "any old time" to make his escape. It is noteworthy, however, that Porphyro is exploiting the "primitive" Catholic customs, that he has to rely on the favor of an old, forgotten woman, and that the "prestige" social order is basically drunk and asleep after a night of feasting (the guard at the door is passed out from drinking too much). Perhaps Keats is suggesting that in the post-Enlightenment world, where Catholic superstition is banished, no more such openings exist -- thus the lover in "Exit Music" is the truth of Porphyro, the logical development of the frustrated lover who suddenly succeeds. Porphyro is only able to succeed when the social order is asleep at the wheel, and his success has a certain elegance and charm that render it poetically valid, but what happens when the social order no longer has any binding force? What if, instead of escaping a shameful loss of station or a sickening betrayal of family pride, the lovers risk nothing but a fit of rage or perhaps a thorough beating, as seems to be the case in "Exit Music"? Where is romance then? Can the rebelliousness of love be anything but adolescent naivete?
Both John Keats and Thom Yorke achieve some distance from their trembling adolescent protagonists, and both acknowledge, albeit in different ways, that there is no stable foundation for love, that even the utterly self-assured love begun as an escape or a rebellion must eventually be established on other, more uncertain terms. The escape of love is always "into the storm," no matter what visions we might have of being "one in everlasting peace" or finding a quiet home "o'er the southern moors."
(9:22 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
This is war
First let me welcome Michael Hancock to the circle jerk and a big shoutout to my boys over at Handjobs. Oh, academia, what are you going to do with us? Also, I really like the new format.
Due to my displeasure with the Nietzsche posts at this time and my hope to do a better job when I have a little less school work I am going to get back to good ol' ramble-style posting.
Bush gave his State of the Re-Election speech yesterday. I missed it but read some highlights and it seems he left out one bit of information, of course that would be we are all fucked due to his policies and our apathy regarding said policies. I honestly laughed when he started talking about the sanctity of marriage. You know, state marriage, the kind that exists to organize you into a different tax bracket and give you some legal rights in regards to your loved ones. The fact that Bush uses any form of the word "sacred" is silly in and of itself but the fact that he tries to ascribe such a religious term to something the state uses for organization and control purposes is just profane.
(3:17 AM) | Michael Hancock:
Women and Redheads First
Hello! Jumping in the water is the best way to learn swimming and blogging, but introductions are always important. My name is Michael. It says so on the bottom of my post.
Let's hope not.
I am currently six feet one inches tall, redheaded, and 22, though the clock is ticking on that last one. I recently graduated from Western Michigan University, which is a large school of some thirty thousands freezing their keisters off in Kalamazoo. I currently am a part-time student to save my parents money on health insurance while I await acceptance into a graduate program or work up the nerve to backpack across the Andes. I live in a not-so-spacioius apartment with three other gentlemen, all of which I met my freshman year in the dorms. It is a crowded, dude-funk-filled, and contented living arrangement. Sometimes girls come over, which is nice.
When I am not reading or practicing my ukulele, I am either playing video games or writing music, both of which have a similar chance of getting me a steady paycheck someday. Which is good, because a steady paycheck is the prison of the buh-szwah-zee! And I'm a member of the pro-lay-taryut. Which means I'm poor, and perversely proud of it. But don't worry - I don't vote.
Introductions aside, I should rant about something. I don't recall if the posts are timestamped or not, so I will tell you that it is 4:34 in the AM, and I am not tired in the least. That is my current situation; I have become unstuck in time, in the Billy Pilgrim sense of the word. [apologies for the obligatory Amazon link] I have lost my sleep pattern, and now I generally stay awake anywhere from eighteen to twenty hours before collapsing for a quick six hour nap. This means that I never know exactly when I'm going to be awake, barring work and my one 9 am class. I have to admit I prefer staying up the entire night to waking up for class. The act of jarring an incomplete night's sleep to drive to campus seems similar in some ways to reviving a dead patient via electrocution; it works, but the method is not beyond improvement.
This new sleeping arrangement gives me a lot of 'alone-time.' Not much goes on during the hours between three and six in the morning. However, I think it's worth it just to see the sun rise and the day light up. It is much more majestic than the opposite, to my eyes. I have time to write a lot of oddly-inspired sleep-deprived music. And I've read some good books. Also, I find I have time to read a lot more quality time-wasting material on the internet, as well as watch my roommates' encyclopedic movie collection. My Neighbor Totoro may be the finest children's movie ever made; though I can't promise it won't lose its magic when viewed before [or after] the four o'clock hour.
To close, allow me to publish a poem written in the deep watches of the night, during one my recent sojourns into the depths of sleep limbo.
Light fell in shattered fragments
Love, a blanket, torn away
Breath, the pulling, ebbing gone
Heart may well be cased in stone
Love’s a chisel, handle gripped
By the lover you let slip
Through your thoughts, words and deeds
Gone from sight, unreached by speed
Heart of flesh, a Lonely Hunter,
Mind of doubt, made to regret Her,
Hand of Man, unruly emissary,
Tongue of speech, wholly unnecessary.
The broken Light she can mend
The stolen cover is spread anew
The missing wind flows through again
The heated Heart thaws the Mind
When the music stops I’ll know
The feel of your breath
I’ll see the
This post was written to the internally sounding strains of Elgar's |Dream of Gerontius.|
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
(9:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Graduate School: Worst Idea Ever?
[UPDATE: A Gauche has published the post mentioned below. It is a good post.]
This essay by Michael Berube is disturbing (and a little longish). I know that the author of The Weblog's sister site has promised an essay about the trials and tribulations of graduate students, but let me say this: I don't think that graduate students should be teaching the bulk of courses, anywhere. Teaching is the professional activity of a professor, and graduate training should be just that -- training, not actively engaging in the profession. I think there's a case to be made for ABD students teaching courses here and there, but I don't think it makes much sense when the norm, the assumption is that graduate students will be teaching half-time or more during their formative years as scholars.
If graduate students didn't teach, then all but those who were accepted at the very wealthiest institutions would probably go into catastrophic debt -- but then their job prospects would probably look a lot better, too. No one suggests that medical students should be practicing medicine part-time from the very beginning of their medical training; neither does anyone suggest that lawyers should be practicing law throughout law school. Elementary and secondary teaching are professions where slightly different practices prevail, but even there, the "student teaching" period is clearly demarcated, comes late in the program, and is under the strict supervision of an experienced teacher. In all cases, the profession itself, or even preparatory "practice" exercises in the profession, is not practiced until a period of intense training has occurred. By having graduate students teach courses, professors are basically sending the message that a PhD is not required for those who wish to educate undergraduates. A poorly paid "lover of knowledge" with minimal prep time and limited knowledge of the subject matter of the course can do the job so well that a full, tenured professor feels comfortable leaving all the work of that course to the graduate students. When combined with the frequently aired opinion that people who are real experts in their field know too much to be effective educators ("Ignorance is strength!"), the "grad student issue" could well undo higher education as a profession.
I can see living the life of a pauper for nearly a decade in pursuit of the credentials necessary to practice a prestigious profession. I can totally see loading myself down with debt in order to be able to devote myself to thoroughly learning a complex and broad body of knowledge on which I will draw for the rest of my professional life. I completely understand that a period of apprenticeship or probation is necessary and proper in any professional field. The contemporary grad school regime, however, does not seem to be what I just described. It makes no sense to live like a pauper while actually doing the work that will be required of me after my "education" is complete -- especially when there's less than a 50% chance that I'll get to make a genuinely livable career out of the arrangement.
My instincts for most of the time I have been interested in academia have been those that are probably shared by many with similar inclinations: "Yes, the current regime is exploitative and insane, but participating in it is the only way achieve mastery of an academic field and make a career of the life of the mind." I'm not so sure about that anymore. As things stand, it seems like graduate students (especially in English) have no advantage over other lovers of knowledge, aside from deadlines. If you want a formative period in which to pursue the life of the mind in your youth, then find a decent-paying part-time job, enough to let you pay the rent and get by, and read your stupid books. If you really want to teach now and then, go get a masters degree -- I'm sure there's some occasional adjunt work to be had by diligent holders of MAs. If you need a group setting to motivate you, then start your own backyard philosophy club. If you want to write and be published, I'm sure there is plenty of freelance work to be had -- also, I've read the occasional article in a scholarly journal written by a non-professor.
A few concluding remarks:
- First, the English/Literature departments, most famous for being completely jam-packed with leftists, are also most famous for their exploitative labor practices.
- Second, if I decide to go to grad school anyway (beyond CTS), I am definitely going to delete this post. I am also going to have to look seriously at whether the conditions in theology departments are notably better. I doubt it.
- Third, I'm not sure the situation is hopeless. Professors could wise up. Graduate programs could be curtailed -- in fact, I'm sure that most of them would have to be shut down entirely, with a few "great" schools training the majority of those who will train undergraduates. Tenured or tenure-track PhD holders could maintain a monopoly on undergraduate education, thus ensuring the long-term viability of academia as a profession. I think that would result in better-trained professors, higher-quality undergraduate education, and better, more accessible scholarly work -- with more (college-educated) people reading and enjoying it. The liberal arts would flourish. Colleges would be dedicated to cultivating minds rather than training future job candidates. Armed with a well-educated populus, our nation would reverse its short-sighted foreign and domestic policies based on enabling ever-greated capitalist exploitation and become a genuine beacon of hope, unequivocally loved throughout the world. People of all nations would rise up, the lion would lie down with the lamb, swords would be beaten into plowshares, gasoline would be converted to petroleum jelly, plans for nuclear bombs would be recycled into the pages of an elegant edition of the letters of John Keats -- then some jackass would eat the apple and mess it up for everyone.
- Fourth, I'd like to thank Mike Hancock for his delightful guest post (below).
Have a wonderful day, everyone!
(7:29 PM) | Michael Hancock:
Coffee Table Conversations
The other night I was visiting some friends of mine, Josh Koets and David Adams. They live in a house not far from campus. They have three bedrooms, (and a third roommate) a backyard, and a fireplace. I'm over there a lot to fiddle with computers, and to do actual work. This past weekend, however, I went over there to hang out with Dave, his fiance Mary, her cousin and a friend of her cousin's. Dave, I think, was trying to help me "hook up," which is a kindly gesture.
These two girls, for starters, are college sophomores. A little young, perhaps, to be messing around with a recent college graduate. In any event, we were drinking champagne and peppermint schnapps in front of the fire, which made me think of my dad. Schnapps is the only alcohol I've ever seen him consume at home, and that only once in a blue moon. Anyway, these two ladies were 'good to go,' very attractive. Dark hair, darker complexion than me, and pretty easy on the eyes. However, Mary's cousin had a boyfriend, and the other is a sorority sister. An AOP, to be more accurate. That, of course, is Alpha Omicron Pi - as in, "You ain't ever had Pie like this!" Imagine what you know of sorority girls. That is who I talked to.
The discussion ranged from reality TV ("The Apprentice" came up, which I have not seen) to Tolkien in the movies (both of them were big fans of the movies, not so much of the reading) to fear as viewed through the eyes of a child. Adam, who knows me pretty well, could tell you at what point I hijacked the conversation and headed for the hills.
I am uncomfortable talking about TV. It does not sit well with me. Whether it is reality TV, the Daily Show, the Simpsons, local news. Anything that comes out of the box, I think, is either universal enough to negate the intellectual gain of discussing it, or personal enough to not require discussion. Scrambling for a new topic, I saw Mary's copy of the Lord of the Rings on the coffee table and sprang into the mists of Tolkien talk. I immediately regretted it, of course. I quickly did an about face, made sure I still had my female companionship, and decided to talk about the fear of childhood. Always a safe topic.
Being a creative writing major means learning good jump-off points into stories. The fears and joys of childhood are mostly universal, because everyone was a kid, and all kids are constantly switching between heights of inexpressable excitement and depths of soul-piercing sadness. And so, after that, I had the sorority eating out of my hand, so to speak. She thought I was making the conversation just with her, because I gave her the most eye attention, and paid it to her eyes. Probably not what she was used to. She spent the night there, as did I, but I'm glad to say that we didn't have much to do with each other after that conversation.
Have you ever done anything just to see if you could? I almost did then, but then thought better of it.
This post was written to the strains of Coheed and Cambria.
(6:50 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Observations on Blogging
First, Maddox, author of "The Greatest Page in the Universe," is absolutely right about Garfield. I have long believed that "reading the comic is like having a five-finger prostate examination." This brings me to my first observation about blogging:
- In general, only block quotes are allowed.
I'm not sure of the exact reasoning behind this unwritten law of the blogosphere. Apparently it's meant to give the impression of giving a "fair shake" to one's source, but to a recovering English major such as myself, it smacks of poorly written freshman-comp stuff. It's at its worst over at InstaPundit, where the art of blogging is reduced to its essence: snarky intro, block quote, "indeed." Is this the result of unconscious modelling on this blogger of bloggers? In any case, I'd like to see more shorter quotes, smoothly integrated into the text, with occasional parenthetical references, just like a good lit analysis paper. In the blogosphere, this should be simple, because it's a cut-and-paste job. That will also motivate people to go "read the whole thing" to make sure that the quotes are being represented fairly. Under the block quote regime, I doubt most links are followed.
- Most links are decorative.
I've written many posts where I attempted to put a link with virtually every word, and that's only a slight exaggeration of some blogposts. Some links are clearly unnecessary. The fascination with linking to Amazon every time one mentions a book is probably the best illustration. For another example, if you're talking about the general practices of a well-known blogger like Atrios or Josh Marshall, it's not strictly necessary to turn their name into a link -- everyone should know them by now, and they're on about 90% of blogrolls anyway. When linking to a specific post, it's another issue entirely, since the link is functional, but I think that many, if not most, links are inserted just to make the writer feel as if she is taking full advantage of the Internet medium.
- The infiltration of newbies is watering down blogging jargon.
For instance, there are some newer bloggers who apparently believe that the word "blog" refers to a particular post. That is not the case. There is already a word for this: "post." "Blog" refers to the entire weblog, which we will tentatively define as a single index page and its archives (that is, all posts that have ever appeared on a given index page).
In addition, I would say that "fisking" is a task that is often recommended, but rarely done -- I have noticed ever fewer interlinear glosses in my year of blogging, and that has coincided with casting an ever widening net in terms of blogs I read.
One piece of jargon of which I would like to dispose is the abbreviation "graf" for paragraph. It is even more annoying when preceded by an apostrophe. Josh Marshall seems to have done the most to popularize this piece of slang, and I think it needs to stop. "Key graf" is a derived term, meaning the paragraph that does the most to shed new light on the meaning of the whole, and it, too, must go. "Money quote" is the worst yet. (Tom Tomorrow has discussed this before -- I'm not going to link, so just take my word for it.)
- We still haven't quite figured out the function of the blogroll.
On the one hand, we have the "shout-out" model, typified by Atrios. This model emphasizes packing as many links as possible into a blogroll. On the other hand, we have the "regularly read" model, typified by The Weblog. I personally think that most blogrolls should be rolled back, because the implied recommendation is severely watered down when the list is so long that the author cannot possibly check all those blogs on a regular basis.
That's about it. Watch for an upcoming post by guest author Michael Hancock, a longtime friend of mine who is an aspiring professional composer and an amateur short-story writer. He wanted a place to rant, and I gave it to him.