Wednesday, August 31, 2005
(1:10 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
No more mastersWe really do tend to be looking for philosophical heroes, we continentalists -- so difficult not to look for heroes, for canonical figures, for the man who is going to come along and set things right after endless generations of misunderstanding. "For milennia, humankind stumbled along in darkness -- the [The Master] was born, and went to school, and wrote a book, and everything changed." Whether The Master consciously sets himself up as an oracle (Heidegger) or is set up as one by some (probably American) constituency (Derrida), the goal becomes, at first, tireless advocacy, followed by an almost unconscious reliance on this established authority.
In this past century, we have had our Holy Trinity of French philosophers (Derrida, Lacan, Foucault), accompanied by their Blessed Virgin (Deleuze -- much admired, not deeply touched). Now their successors are starting to come into their own: Jean-Luc Nancy becomes the "new Derrida" (having pretty clearly gotten the nod from the man himself), Žižek the "new Lacan" (or the old Lacan raised from the dead), Agamben the "new Foucault," Badiou the "new Deleuze." A ready-made set of real live European thinkers, ready to hand for those seeking a new authority, seeking to write articles and even books that say, "The Master has no patience for such tired, obselete conceptualizations as those evinced by past generations -- this is where The Master turns the very enterprise of human understanding upside down."
This is not to say that the thinkers listed here are focused on completely revolutionizing human thought, entrenched as they are in the textual traditions of European philosophy. Certainly they wish to follow the traditional path to philosophical success -- some novel, but rigorous, readings of important figures in the tradition, followed hopefully by some creative conceptual work. As for clearing away the clutter to allow reality to show itself in its unadulterated glory at last -- no, that's not what they're about, not even Žižek. That's what disciples make out of these thinkers, even when the disciples are careful to note the revolutionary insight that perhaps one doesn't need to develop a complete system in order to be a philosopher anymore, perhaps one doesn't need to authoritatively address every area of human experience, perhaps one can't do so and had best not pretend. Such caveats are catalogued along with the rest of the authoritative utterances -- yet another slogan to defend.
How to escape this? How to know that I myself haven't fallen prey? It's well known that I am uncomfortable with the seeming acceptance of Badiou as a Master by some (thankfully no one seems to be doing the same with Nancy or Agamben, though Homo Sacer is granted oracular authority to some degree) -- is it just because I myself have accepted a kind of Žižekian orthodoxy, but wish to pose as yet another "moderate" policing the degree to which others can advocate the views they have found convincing? Even that "admission" would be automatically Žižekian: Proclaim your loyalties, follow the path, it will get you somewhere at least, better than these lukewarm liberals who do nothing because they do everything. Would it even be possible to be led out of an instinctive romanticism of the Great Philosopher, other than by the Last Great Philosopher, the Last Master -- the one who finally deploys the sovereignty of intellectual authority against itself in order to set thought free, once and for all?
Must we "admit" that personal charisma, oracular authority, is the constitutive stain of the Western philosophical tradition? And what would it mean to "admit" it? What would it mean to "take it into account"?
(8:38 AM) | Dave Belcher:
CoffeeFor those who didn't know, Garrison Keillor now writes a column for the Chicago Tribune. This morning he had an article on coffee:
Now that medical science has established that coffee is an important source of antioxidants that help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, you and I can get on with our lives. A cup of coffee is what starts our engines and saves us from torpor and lassitude. We always knew this. Starbucks was built on the idea that there is no such thing as an overpriced cup of coffee. Yes, I know people who will tell you in their smal tremulous voices How Much Better They Feel and goody for them, but to me living without coffee is like trying to climb up the outside of your house using suction cups. Why not just use the stairs?I drank coffee while I wrote this post. And I laughed while I read the article...especially at how true this is:
I wonder if the president is getting enough coffee. He seems like he's just not that into being president. I don't mean this to be critical in any way, but there is a dimness about thte man that suggests a need for caffeine. It is not enough simply to refrain from adultery and tax increases and make the occasional trip to Idaho to announce that we are winning the war in Iraq. It's the French who take the whole month of August off, Mr. President. That's not us. Americans are not idlers and layabouts and feather merchants, we're strivers and pluggers and wer welcome adversity, so long as we have coffee. Its bitterness is swet to us.
Back in olden times, youngsters, back before people walked down the street talking on telephones, we were engaged in the Cold War and had nuclear holocaust to think about, and then the enemy collapsed, which left us feeling oddly bereft, so now we have embraced the War Against Terrorism, which nobody believes in--there is no rush to enlist--and yet the concrete barricades and the platoons of security at the airport do give us a sense of danger, which is satisfying.I hope you enjoyed this with your coffee this morning. And I hope you will read the rest of the article (I'm tired of typing now). Good day.
(8:06 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Impossible Sometimes HappensFrancis Fukayama is not wrong. In his latest editorial in the New York Times, he assesses the course of US foreign policy since 9/11 and concludes:
We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.Of course, he thinks that the foreign policy of the past four years has been a problem because it betrayed the neoconservative movement and hurt the future chances for a thoroughgoing neoconservative revolution in US foreign policy, and to that extent one might say he's right for the wrong reasons. Yet this is good news: when a leading neoconservative, a signatory to the Project for a New American Century, thinks that the Iraq War was a tremendous clusterfuck, you know that the project is in trouble.
Now I suspect that the people who support the Iraq War just plain support war, and they support Bush because he's leading a war -- war, of course, carrying its own justification: "We have to keep fighting this war because damn it, we started it, and we're going to finish it!" The most frequent variation on this basic idea is the grotesque argument that soldiers have to continue to die in order to redeem those soldiers who have already died -- and you can tell that it's just "my country right or wrong" nationalism because no one seems to worry that the vastly larger number of dead Iraqis will have "died in vain" if we pull out now.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
(8:31 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Almost too easyThe new Old Navy ad campaign specifically papers over the question of "where do clothes come from?" We've shifted from a traditional diner setting where a family orders new pants to a field where clothes literally grow out of the ground. It's a little too easy, even -- except that the wage levels are going steadily down. We go from the diner, where the staff earns minimum wage (less in the case of the waitress), to farm labor, which is currently performed mostly by illegal immigrants. Neither group of workers is currently unionized. So in the very act of obfuscating the source of clothing, Old Navy is slyly winking toward the underlying reality -- perfectly in keeping with the campiness that the American public has come to associate with the Old Navy brand.
Can we expect a further education in political economy? Will the next commercial find a group of attractive but unintimidating teens, mostly but not solely girls, literally showing up at the Third World sweatshop? Can we expect a few intermediary steps? Perhaps some kind of mining operation would be a possibility.
(3:39 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
- The passage I had to translate for my German exam was one of Nietzsche's assessments of the historical achievements of the Jews. I had to go to the Regenstein for the exam, and every time I got up to go to the bathroom or get a drink, I looked down at my work and thought, "Wow, I am am apparently scrawling out a hand-written tirade about the Jews." Luckily there was hardly anyone in there, and in any case, no one accused me of being a Nazi.
- How can I solve the following two problems in an elegant and ingenious manner?
- My subscription to the New Yorker ran out about a month ago, leading to a sharp decline in bathroom reading material.
- I feel obligated to complete this book whose prose approximates the effect that one would get if one were to take a bland, boosterish account of Nancy and replace literally every word with a synonym taken at random from the thesaurus.
- My subscription to the New Yorker ran out about a month ago, leading to a sharp decline in bathroom reading material.
(7:38 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 15I've probably compained enough over this past week, so I'll try to keep this brief.
I hate how long all steps of academic publishing take. I hate pushy salesmen who act like they're your best friend and they're cutting you a deal that most salesmen wouldn't tell you about. I hate the subjunctive mood. I hate waking up between 4:00 and 6:00am every morning so stuffed up that I can barely breathe. I hate how much the guinea pig chews on her cage.
(I do love the album The Creek Drank the Cradle by Iron & Wine, though.)
Pour, pour your Hateraid, my dear readers.
Monday, August 29, 2005
(9:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Postmodern Culture: Derrida IssueA new issue of Postmodern Culture is out. It is a Derrida tribute issue, and it features an article on The Politics of Friendship by David Wills, as well as reviews of Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., Rogues (trans. Michael Naas and Pascale-Anne Brault) and Without Alibi (trans. Peggy Kamuf).
I just checked wood s lot and Political Theory -- you heard it here first. I can't believe it.
(4:12 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Positive Steps: On DerridaThis weekend I decided to do a test-run for the German exam, based on the parameters that had been given me -- three hours to render a page and a half of German prose into English. This test situation was in many ways disadvantageous compared to the real exam, since Anthony and Hayley were cleaning the rodent cages, chasing ferrets, and watching television at various points throughout my "exam." I passed with flying colors. In fact, I managed to translate twice as much in the time allotted. I only committed one significant error, transposing the subject and object in a sentence (when compared against the Kaufmann translation, using my own possibly idiosyncratic idea of what constitutes a "significant error"). I was using the new German dictionary I had just bought, the Oxford Duden unabridged edition, highly recommended by April Wilson in her German book. It was a joy to use -- so thorough, so precise.
It seems like a pretty sure bet that I'm going to pass this exam, yet I feel as though I should be doing much, much more to prepare, that I won't really pass unless I pass by twenty miles, unless I produce the very best translation ever seen by the human eye. It's like I've already failed because I am not reading fluently in German after four months -- and of course I'm probably suppressing the memories of how painful my first few months of French were. At the four-month mark with French, I could still be stopped dead in my tracks by one sentence, spend my entire night trying to get that one sentence perfectly.
There is a certain kind of clarity that comes in the early phases of reading in a foreign language, a certain kind of expertise that not even the closest native speaker can achieve. It stems from having to grapple on a very detailed level with grammatical structure, with individual words -- patterns that would not be apparent to a native speaker become painfully apparent to the student kicking himself for looking up the same word for the fourth time within the space of one paragraph. Even now, I was able to draw up a list of words in Jean-Luc Nancy's French texts that I didn't notice in the Derrida texts I read -- the words I had to learn for the first time. As time goes on, that ability-stemming-from-inability obviously goes away, the text starts to feel somewhat familiar, even if it never feels like home.
It seems to me that this experience is something akin to the process of Derridean reading -- a laborious, minutely detailed process that notices all these strangely repeated words. Derrida comes to every text as though it were written in a foreign language, as though every text was an occasion to learn its language anew. Who else would notice that Rousseau so often uses the word "supplement" and who would even think to question the double meaning (so clear "in context" to the native reader), if not precisely a student who is learning French, who is using Rousseau as a reading text so that he can learn to read French? Derrida writes each essay as one who has had to look up the word in the dictionary a hundred times, who doesn't quite trust himself to understand the nuances and shades of meaning that a "native" speaker takes for granted.
Am I right about this? It seems almost impossible to tell -- and a little too coincidental that I used Derrida's Donner la mort as basically my first "reading text" in French, that I learned French in order to read Derrida (in order to read French). It is surely arrogant to assimilate the experience of probably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century into my own halting steps toward meeting a requirement for graduate school -- but there is evidence. Think of the epigraph to Given Time and that long footnote that surely constitutes one of his true tours de force -- it stems from looking up the word donner in the Littré. When we were going over that text in the Derrida seminar at CTS, when Ted was so effusive in his praise for this intricate footnote, I spoke up: "Well, he just looked it up in the Littré -- just like if I were to go to the library and dig through the OED. Any of us could have done that."
Few actually would, few have the patience for the laborious work of digging through reference books -- but think of all the other occasions when the dictionary comes out. Think of all the discussions of Benveniste, who offers something akin to a dictionary. And think of all the times when he probably is not explicitly citing the dictionary, but his selection of texts is what one would find from a trip through the dictionary -- did he come up with the Montaigne and Pascal quotes in Force of Law off the top of his head, for instance?
It's all a little too correct, unhealthy in its level of scholarly rigor -- no one can keep up, no one is going to do the more work that is required. One can easily get the impression that Derrida is always right, that he has anticipated every possible objection, out of a morbid fear of embarrassment, of being caught unawares. It seems to me that that is when one can start talking about the irruption of the radically other, when one can really start talking about surprise -- just as the Kierkegaardian religious is shown up most fully in its radical alterity and necessity when the ethical has been pushed to the point of despair.
(11:06 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hypothetical ScenarioLet's say that in theory I had some reason to research the health insurance market. Let's say that it seemed to me that the market size for health insurance would be equivalent to the amount earned in health insurance premiums that year -- sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? Well, let me assure you -- there is no information on that at any of the trade group or corporate advocacy sites. None at all. I suppose you could extrapolate based on the information on individual health insurance costs, etc., but nowhere do you find a number saying, "The health insurance industry is a US$X billion industry," because then the supposed "crisis" in health care would be all too obvious -- that is, a bunch of rich men have a lot of money at stake in making sure they take some kind of cut from these crisis-level health costs, and therefore we will never have a nationalized health system.
It's the political economy, stupid! And we're not allowed to say, flat out, "We can't have a rational solution to the health care system because certain people and corporations have positioned themselves to profit from our health care crisis and so the federal government is powerless to change the situation." We're not allowed to say, for instance, that corporate greed is the primary problem here, because that would be "class warfare," and the "economy" would be harmed if the health insurance industry were basically abolished. And perhaps we could say that part of the reason that the health insurance industry will win out against the federal government is that the health insurance industry has actual real money, whereas the federal government has to keep rolling over its credit card with a free balance transfer every time a solicitation comes in the mail.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
(9:44 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Say Goodbye to the SummerNow that I am having to pay all this money for this stupid car wreck I was in, once again, I am back to how things were all summer long -- putting everything on the credit card, thinking "oh man it's going to be so great once I get that paycheck," worrying about how close I am going to have to cut it on the rent and such again this month. I am really angry about that, and I have been getting more angry. I've hated this summer -- the stress, the worry, the social isolation, all of which contributed to the fact that I just haven't been at all able to concentrate on getting the stuff done that I thought I was going to be able to do this summer and that I still think I could have done this summer if it weren't for the nights of going to bed at 10:00 because I was so fucking depressed and wanted to get another day over with or just all the emotional energy that was sucked out of me by being signed up for four temp agencies and sending out forty resumes and still being unemployed until the end of June.
The thing that bothers me the most is that I can do it -- I can continue to live like this, things can go on like this indefinitely and there will be no breakdown, no collapse, no "crisis moment" when everything changes. I can live a life of constant worry and stress, if necessary. I was so happy when I finally decided that it was over, and then a week fucking later, here we are again -- this is the crappy summer that will not die. Just like before, I know there's a horizon, but do I really know? Who's to say? My life is actually pretty fragile here -- it wouldn't take much for me to be just screwed in the long term, if you think about it. I have something of a safety net in terms of access to student loans, but that's just delaying the problem, potentially putting me in an even more precarious situation further down the road. And I suppose I can live with a lifelong burden of crushing debt, just like I can live with constant worry and stress -- that is, as long as I can sleep eleven hours a few nights a week and drink enough coffee to keep me from actually physically breaking something.
That's what bothers me is that it's all so possible, so doable -- that my life can just keep on moving forward regardless of how I feel about it, that this time can slip away when I feel like so much more has been possible. It's not the fucking "accomplishments" that I failed to achieve, ultimately, though being able to do the work that I find most satisfying would be a pleasant by-product. It's the times when I could have been happy, when I could have been enjoying life, when I could have been enjoying fellowship and community -- and instead I was frustrated and angry and alone.
(8:37 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
This is just a tributeThis is not the Church Blog.
Yesterday I went to Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago, which is a few weeks away from having become a habit. I don't really want to comment on the scripture readings, the homily, or the songs chosen, but rather at the distinctive "resurrection crucifix". This time, I noticed a curious omission: no wounds. The gospel accounts of the resurrection are very confusing and contradictory in terms of who saw him first, how long he hung around, what superpowers he had, etc., but one point is unanimous -- he still had his scars from being crucified. This crucifix is a powerful image insofar as it highlights the fact that it is precisely the crucified Christ who is raised, but in my mind, that would make retaining the wounds all the more important.
Still, it's clearly superior to the tiny gold crucifixes that get lost in the clutter of the old-style altars (relegated to tabernacle duty or simple decoration now that the celebrant faces the congregation). Listening to the over-enunciated, sing-song readers of the announcements as well as the scripture readings ("Wel-come... to... Ho-ly... Naaame... Ca-thee-dral... Ifff... yooou... have... a celllll... phone......."), I longed for the days when the priest would turn his back to the congregation and mumble in Latin. That kind of reader -- and I'm sure everyone who goes to Catholic churches with any degree of frequency has come across them -- actually makes their message more difficult to understand, since our mind is used to processing language within a certain range of speeds.
The stark, overly spaced words of the reading match the all-too-stark architecture of most churches. Any church that has been built or remodelled within a certain time period has a crisp angularity, a clean and sterile feel -- there are no details to discover, no flourishes to enjoy. There can be a certain impressiveness, even a polished folksiness -- as when the church uses wood and brick rather than drywall -- but the focus is on the word, the spoken word. To an extent, the shift from Latin to vernacular is understandable as a broadening, as allowing more people to "follow what's going on," but then there can be something limiting about all the factors that are incorporated to make sure everyone can "follow" and does "follow" -- a certain overbearing "welcoming" that doesn't as easily open out into the strangeness of feeling genuinely at home.
It's as though the Catholic Church has decided to become "seeker-sensitive" even as it moves toward placing more and more demands on those who seek. So many seeming contradictions: why can there be a corps of women readers and women eucharistic ministers, but no women priests? Why is everything so user-friendly, everything so catered to guests, while at the same time the communion table is closed? Are we looking at more of an "Old Testament" idea of the neighbor who is always one's co-religionist -- "We would like to extend a special welcome to any (Catholic) guests who are here today"?
If Pope Benedict can say that the church has already taken the best of modernity and no longer requires to be open, I might argue that the church has somehow taken the exact opposite of what needs to be taken from modernity. A certain efficiency, a certain tokenism -- i.e., the corps of women eucharistic ministers and readers -- a certain superficial clean-cutness and simplicity, but none of the transparency, very little of the leveling effect.
The liturgy itself has become simple, has become relatively straightforward and non-mysterious -- even frustratingly so. Yet the pronouncements from on high are built on a degree of mystery or transcendance that is not very much in evidence in the everyday life of the church -- the mystery of "sacred" human life, for instance. If we are supposed to accept a sacred/profane distinction of that kind, then how is it that the most obvious confrontation with the "sacred" (in the Eucharist) is so efficient, so quick and easy, like standing in line at the ATM? We receive the Eucharist in our hands, in a standing position, provided by just "some person" from the congregation -- and there's none of the fear and trembling, none of the examination of conscience in the face of the gravity of the sacrament, no real emphasis on confession or on any real practice of preparation (making closed communion even less comprehensible).[*] At the same time, we're supposed to believe that the embryo we've never seen is "sacred" and trumps all possible practical concerns, such that not remaining open to the possibility of creating such an embryo in the properly sanctified form of life (marriage) is a sin.
I am, of course, just some guy on the Internet, a convert to the church, now backslidden, with no positive program to offer as of yet.
[*] I don't intend to judge or assess the experience of anyone in the congregation. I know that there are many regular attenders who have a lively sense of mystery or of the seriousness of the Eucharist and their unworthiness, etc. -- I'm just talking about how the event is structured. Those factors I mention above have become optional, have become something that interested parties can pay attention to, or not.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
(10:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A DreamJust before I woke up at 5:30 this morning, I was having a dream. In it, my family was living in the apartment where Hayley, Anthony, and I currently live. This is the first dream I've ever had that has taken place here. My parents were moving out, leaving me and my sister here, but they said that the lease had run out and that we needed to move to the apartment on the second floor (I live on the first floor). I didn't want to move and said that surely we could work something out with the landlord if he was already willing to let us move upstairs, but they would have no part of it. I became extremely agitated, much more angry than I could ever imagine allowing myself to become in front of any other person, and my mom said that was just like me to throw a fit like that. I insisted on a real explanation, and they said that my sister had snuck out the window the night before and they figured that if she lived on the second floor, she wouldn't be able to sneak out like that. That was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard, and I was saying so as I woke up.
As strange as that dream was, no dream could possibly outpace the weirdness of a lovely young lady sitting in a custom-made refrigerator to have a likeness of her head carved out of butter.
Friday, August 26, 2005
(5:48 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Time TravelA thought occurred to me: I need to find a time machine and make it so that I didn't get in an accident Sunday night. Then I thought: That would be really boring to have to relive this whole week again.
I wonder -- would the money and effort I saved be worth having to live through the same week over again? In my case, we're talking around $500. Would you relive a week out of your life for $500?
(8:48 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional
I confess that I've been in a pretty bad mood since my car accident, especially since it seemed to happen just at a moment when I felt like everything was falling into place. I confess that spending a week discussing yet another Christian leader's idiotic and hateful statements did not help.
I confess that I'm getting tired of Lewis Lapham's monthly colum in Harper's.
I confess that last night I had dinner at a really great Thai place -- I was more satisfied with my meal than I have been with any meal in recent memory -- and now I can't find it in the Yahoo Yellow Pages to share with you guys. It's on Lincoln between Belmont and Diversey, closer to Belmont, on the west side of the road. It seems to be pretty new.
I confess that I want to lock myself in a library somewhere and just plow through some stuff. My mind has been far too scattered lately. I recognize that taking a kind of "break" from doing any really hardcore academic work probably makes sense a couple weeks before starting a PhD program. I do need to spend the bulk of this weekend on German, though -- my exam is on Tuesday.
I confess that last night I bought several Agamben books and that I am determined to understand Homo Sacer by the end of the semester, even if I must sell my immortal soul to Satan in order to do so!
Confess, my lovelies.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
(11:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
AnnouncementI just received the following announcement from a contact in Milwaukee:
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8:These things are usually pretty good.
Elaborate and gorgeous, ANIMENTAL 2005 is coming from Brooklyn to Darling Hall! Also performing are Milwaukee's own AIRBRAINS with Frankie Martin and BODYJAZZ with Juiceboxxx!
THURS., SEP. 8, DOOR 8:00 / SHOW 9:00
DARLING HALL (601 S. 6TH ST.)
* * *
Animental 2005 is a majical dream, both old-timey story and futuristic myth, told through a multimedia performance that includes pre-recorded and live sound, dance, costumes, masks, fabric props, and lots of love!
From Brooklyn, NY, the Players in Animental 2005:
(7:30 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tired of LiesI'm tired of lies. I'm tired of my government lying to me, and I'm tired of private citizens who feel like they have a stake in those lies and who propagate them at every possible opportunity. I'm tired of lies that pose as plain common sense with which every mature person must come to grips. I'm tired of explaining away lies by reference to the supposed fact that the "other side" (necessarily) lies to the same degree. I'm tired of the idea that past lies or a whole history of political lies is supposed to make it okay that we're constantly inundated with lies.
It just makes me want to scream. It makes me want to throw a little tantrum like a three-year-old because I am so far from knowing what to actually do about it. This whole Robertson fiasco, where he can go on the air and play the idiotic game of scapegoating the media for reporting what he plainly said -- and then we're supposed to "give him credit" for apologizing on his website -- triggered it again. It's always worse for me when it's the Christians doing it. I always keep on stupidly expecting more, and I am disappointed again and again and again. Realistically, I can't even expect a modicum of human decency from most prominent conservative Christian leaders -- not even the barest essentials of what it means to live in a world with other people in it. And yet I apparently still think that something with the label "Christian" on it is going to be better, that it's going to offer some kind of alternative. But it just never seems to -- or else when it does, it gets shut down as quickly as possible.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
(10:44 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Non-blog gossipThe historic Kotsko-The Girl meetup today went well.
But the real topic of this post is -- why isn't there more gossip about "President" Bush and Condi Rice? I mean, come on!
(4:17 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
I guess that's why they call it the inevitable...Guess what Pat said.
(8:22 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
There's still timeIf you want to submit a proposal for the 2006 Wesleyan Theological Society, you have until September 1. Despite being a world-renowned Derrida translator whose translation may one day be published, I have not gone the obvious route -- no, I have decided to write a paper comparing the perspectives on hospitality found in New Testament traditions, in Clement of Alexandria ("Who is the rich man who shall be saved?"), and in John Wesley (primarily "On Riches").
I would likely add a section on Derrida before trying to get it published (somewhere other than the WTS's journal). I can't decide whether that would make it more attractive to journals or unpublishable. I guess it depends on the journal. I still haven't followed my advisor's advice to sit down in the bowels of the Regenstein and survey a few issues of every journal that seems relevant to my work, to see what would fit best where. That day will surely come. Surely.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
(5:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Blog GossipI heard a rumor that The Girl is going to be wandering around in the Art Institute of Chicago with a prominent religio-philosophico-politico-personal blogger some time tomorrow afternoon.
(8:19 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Robertson calls for the assassination of Chavez.No, it's not a joke. He really did. I haven't seen too many blogs linking to this besides Jesus' General and this greatly disturbs me. I'm sure that we will see no Christians of any import condemning this statement and I even doubt we'll see any coverage of this at all, even though what Robertson has done is very similar to a Fatwa. It may even be worse since he is calling for the support of State violence which is always already legitimate.
(7:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 14I hate that I'm such a moron that I bought whole bean coffee again yesterday. Hayley let me use her car to go to the store last night, and by the time I went to bed, I was pretty well pulling out of the "no grocery depression" -- the depression that strikes when there are not enough ingredients to make a decent meal and one is also preemptively depressed because one knows that one will feel crappy from eating crappy food -- but now it's striking again. I'm going to buy a coffee grinder. They can't be that expensive.
[UPDATE: I just did purchase a coffee grinder on Amazon. I splurged and got the 2-day shipping. I had also added Agamben's Remnants of Auschwitz in order to get the free shipping, then decided I wanted it sooner and kept the book in there anyway. It's possible that I will have been the only human being in the history of the universe to order both a coffee grinder and Remnants of Auschwitz in one fell swoop.]
I hate the thought of how upset I would have been if my accident had happened back when I had no money. Now it's an annoyance and an inconvenience and an unnecessary expense, but my relief at the fact that this isn't a knock-out punch outweighs all those concerns.
I really hate that apparently Pat Robertson feels he's in a position to call for the assassination of Hugo Chávez. I don't know what Robertson says he is, but by any reasonable standard, the guy simply is not a Christian. If there is a hell, Pat Robertson will be very surprised to find himself there -- then he'll look around and say, "Oh this isn't too bad -- most of my friends are here at least."
I hate that there's this voice in my head whispering that Pat Robertson is the real Christian and that all of those people seeking peace and justice in the name of Christ are enabling and legitimating people like Pat Robertson. I didn't say it -- the little voice did.
I do, however, love this weather.
Monday, August 22, 2005
(7:30 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Earliest MemoryThere are a few possibilities here. I can date these occurences with relative certainty because my family moved shortly after my sister was born, meaning that I was four or younger for any memory that takes place at the previous house.
The one that always strikes me as the first is one time when I woke up after only a very short nap, thinking I had slept away the entire day, interrupting a conversation my mom was having with some other adults. I've asked her about this, and of course she has no idea. I couldn't get her to understand what I was saying, and in this, it is very similar to an event last month when I started kind of sleep walking -- I walked right outside my bedroom door, which opens onto the kitchen, and tried and failed to say something to Anthony. He could make out some words, but the context wasn't clear to him.
Another memory is sitting with my dad watching Star Trek -- I feel like I was up a little bit late for this one, maybe waiting for mom to get home. Maybe she was on a business trip, in retrospect. She used to run a home decorating store with my aunt and grandma, and they went to periodic trade shows to check out new products. I don't remember the episode, but maybe it was the same one that a bunch of us were watching in the common room of our house in Oxford, during some kind of down time. Our schedule had been thrown off in some way, so we were watching whatever was on TV, just to pass the time until something happened.
I remember my sister, when she was a baby, was on the recliner, and I was watching her. She spit out her pacifier, and my mom said, "Uh-oh," and I said it, too, and over the course of time I came to think that the pacifier really was called an uh-oh. I don't have any image of my sister -- in this memory, I am almost watching myself from behind the chair. It seems like I am watching myself from the perspective of someone coming in the door. I know what I looked like back then -- kind of a poor man's "Christopher Robin," the pathetic little kid who keeps to himself and creates all kinds of fantasy characters. I was pretty weird back then, making up new songs, etc. No one knew what I was talking about half the time. Things have not changed.
The first memory still seems like the originary memory. Waking from a dream, unable to communicate, my mother unable to understand me -- it's as if it were a repetition of birth.
(10:18 AM) | Brad:
Monday Morning Praise -- 'Rump Shaking EditionSweet merciful Moses! I've finally finished writing the chapter for my thesis that surely originates straight from the uncharted tenth level of hell. For three years I've been avoiding this fucker. Three years of my life devoted to coming up with rationales as to why it wasn't yet finished. Three years of devising lies. Three years of avoiding advisors. At last, Chapters Three thru Five might actually make sense now.
(8:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Without a carAt least momentarily, I am without a car, due to an unfortunate incident last night (no injuries, though my car wasn't drivable). I doubt it will be a total, so I'll have it back soon enough. I wish I was more of a righteous liberal, but now I'm realizing that some of my talk about not wanting to have a car was precisely just talk. I can get around just fine, although grocery shopping may be kind of an issue (I have needed to do it and was saving it until today), but I really wish I lived in a city where public transit was so good that only control freaks and paranoiacs would bother having a car. Does such a city exist? I've heard good things about New York.
Also, this morning there was some truck in the alley that sounded like a baby elephant. Since I was awakened out of a deep sleep, the elephant hypothesis seemed quite plausible for most of the morning.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
(9:15 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Katie HolmesI watched Batman Begins this weekend (the best one yet, even better than the first). I became deeply attached, in a very meaningful way, to the female lead in that movie. I always do that -- the scene in Spiderman where Kirsten Dunst is going to be raped was just too much for me. In this case, the bond was even more intense because Batman's love interest pretty closely confirms to my idea of the most attractive possible woman.
So after the movie, I didn't watch the credits. I went home and was talking to my sister and asked who that actress was -- and she said, "Katie Holmes?" I was livid. "That's Katie Holmes?! Maybe I should start walking around in public acting like a psychopath and then I can get a woman like that, too!" She is apparently Scientologist, which is a stupid thing to be. I don't care if every Scientologist in the entire world comes to this blog and says, "Adam you're such a fucking hypocrit I thought you wanted equality of religions but then you insult mine" -- if you are a Scientologist, you should stop. It's a stupid religion. At least become something that makes sense, like a Mormon.
The worst thing is that I recently found out that Beck is a Scientologist, too. It's spreading. I'm glad I'm not rich or famous, because I've never even been solicited. I do get some pretty frequent visits from the Jehovah's Witnesses, whom I hate. Again, comment all you want, Jehovah's Wintesses -- I hate your religion, and I hate each and every one of you, individually (except for those of you I've actually met in person)!
Everyone: stop being part of stupid religions! Especially if you're hot! And while I'm at it: no more serial killer movies! Why do we have to devote millions of dollars to showing every exquisite detail of some sick fuck who ritualisitically victimizes women? Stop. In fact, Hollywood, let's cut a deal here -- you stop making serial killer movies, and I'll become a Scientologist.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
(3:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Did you see General Hospital this week?I've been watching the last week of General Hospital (the soap opera) with my sister on the Soap Network, and there's one story arc in there where you could really do a great Lacanian interpretation.
Friday, August 19, 2005
(11:48 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Cine-Musique Review.While Adam is out of town you all may be needing something to read. à Gauche has posted a review of the recent work of frequent and beloved commenter Patrick J. Mullins.
(8:09 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Staying the Course
I confess that I think I'm coming down with something. I wake up in the morning completely stuffed up, and after reading this post by Monty Stewart, my throat is sore. I confess that I often do this when reading about diseases, because in every aspect of life, the most important thing is how it could affect me. I have at least verified that I am not at risk for diabetes.
I confess that my heart is restless.
I confess that I think that this is by far the stupidest comment The Weblog has ever received. Referring to a piece I wrote as an undergraduate, before starting the blog, the author claims that Nine Inch Nails and Tool have never had anything negative to say about Christianity. Every song that, on the face of it, criticized Christianity was in fact "about" something else. Right, like this Nine Inch Nails lyric was about his favorite brand of English muffin:
Your God is deadOr the Tool song "Eulogy":
And no one cares
If there is a hell
I'll see you there
You've claimed all this time that you would die for me.See, he's just using Christian imagery to criticize the cab driver who overcharged him. There are hacks for everything nowadays, even late-90s industrial bands. Face the facts, moron: Nine Inch Nails and Tool said negative things about Christianity! That's part of the reason they were so popular back in the day!
Why then are you so surprised to hear your own eulogy?
You had alot to say.
You had alot of nothing to say.
Get off your f----- cross.
We need the f----- space to nail the next fool martyr.
To ascend you must die.
You must be crucified
For your sins and your lies.
I confess that I don't listen to those bands anymore. There's just one Perfect Circle song I still pull out once in a while. I do miss Tool, though. I wish that Tool would rise from the ashes once again to save rock radio.
I confess that I'm visiting my parents this weekend and may or may not post anything until Monday morning.
UPDATE: I confess that sometimes I still do the hand thing when called upon to discuss Michigan geography, viz.:
Thursday, August 18, 2005
(9:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Books OutstandingI am "in the middle of" the following books:
- Zur Genealogie der Moral by Nietzsche
- L'Ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger by Pierre Bourdieu
- On First Principles by Origen
- Jean-Luc Nancy and the
Attack of the Thesaurus MonsterFuture of Philosophy by B. C. Hutchens
- Critique of Cynical Reason by Peter Sloterdijk
Truth be told, I am also "in the middle of" the following (parenthetical figures indicate how long I've "been reading them"):
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (14 months)
- Ulysses by James Joyce (60 months)
- Les mots by Jean-Paul Sartre (4 months)
- Being Singular Plural by Jean-Luc Nancy (3 months)
- Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann (18 months)
- Being as Communion by John Zizioulas (32 months)
- Religion: Speeches to its cultured despisers by Schleiermacher (4 months)
- Independence Day by Richard Ford (26 months)
(12:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Thursday Cat-Blogging (With Words)I don't have a digital camera, so there will be no photos. I apologize in advance for any cuteness deficit that occurs because of my failure to keep up with technological advances.
In my reading of the patristic literature, I always take special note of passages dealing with animals. I underline, then write "animals" on the top of the page. The reason for this was not clear to me until just recently: I spend virtually every working day at home alone in a house full of animals. There are three cats, two ferrets, and a guinea pig. I enjoy having the animals around, in general, even taking into account the fact that my feet are something of a divining rod for fresh cat puke.
Maizie, sometimes called here the "Slutty Cat," seems to me to embody everything that is right with the world. For a while, it was annoying that she would go into heat every two weeks and become very whiny and needy, but when Anthony and Hayley finally got her spayed, I was really worried that her personality would change, because on a given day, she is easily the creature I have most interaction with. Luckily, after a couple days of healing, she bounced back and is totally back to normal. In some respects, I prefer her post-spaying personality -- she's not as jumpy, and her default place to hang out is now in the office rather than under Anthony and Hayley's bed. She likes to lay down in the corner where all the cords are -- she never had done that before, but the very day she got back from the vet, she camped out there. I this is going to be a controversial claim, but Maizie is the cat than which no cuter can be thought.
The other cats are just as fascinating, but now I feel like I should do something other than write about cats.
(12:01 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
This Period of Heightened SecurityTonight I was on public transit and noticed several signs indicating the kinds of behaviors that were most appropriate during "this time of heightened security." Naturally, I reflected on the message of these signs. Primarily, I wondered when we will know that "this time of heightened security" is over. I cannot think of any plausible occasion for going "back to normal," aside from the arbitrary decision of a president (or of a presidential candidate who promises to go back to normal if elected) -- in other words, a sovereign decision.
As the Young Hegelian points out, the new laws and new powers claimed by the government are primarily redundant. It was already illegal, for instance, to conspire to hijack planes and fly them into skyscrapers, or at least such actions were already covered by existing laws, even if the specific situation was -- as we are led to believe -- completely and totally unimaginable by the human mind. The FBI could always have tapped my phone if they felt like it, and obviously they didn't need to supply me with a warrant. I'm sure they could have even had access to my library records, or the records of the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, where I am a member and where I could potentially have a record. Whatever information they wanted, they could have gotten, after filling out some minimal paperwork -- in the case of the library thing, they probably would have had an easier time if they hadn't made the stupid law and pissed off the librarians in the first place.
The only reason that "everything changed" on 9/11 is that those in power said that "everything changed. This was a bipartisan decision, a true show of national unity -- we should be proud. Now it can never end, of course, because "both sides" have a stake in it. During his brilliant, winning performances in the presidential debates, John Kerry said (and I quote from memory), "We need the Patriot Act." Very electable. There is no way out. Or rather, the only way out is a miracle, a sovereign decision. We could have set a timer, say -- "five years of heightened security, then we assess whether the threat is still pressing enough to warrant continued heightened security." But we don't do things like that, because we're idiots. Instead, we entered the state of exception with no exit plan, and there's no way out, because our nation can be run either by the party of fundamentalist lunatics or the party of soulless bureaucrats. I plan on voting for the second one every damn time until I die, but it won't get us out of the state of exception, ever.
We're stuck. Praise Jesus! Now Democrats will always be traitors. People on the coasts will be born traitors, grow up traitors, perhaps join and serve honorably in the military as traitors, live a full life as traitors, and die traitors. They will mount what may well amount to a fifth column by continuing to exist and by worrying that maybe the Republicans are a little bit too extreme (though in the essentials, they are of course right on). They will continually undermine the war effort by reading magazine articles and blog posts critical of US foreign policy. They will marginalize Christians from public life by ... I don't know. I've not yet figured out the mechanism for that one.
In any case, this will remain a bitterly divided nation as the faithful few right wingers continue to slander the moderate centrists, whom they will call "the left," and the moderate centrists try their damnedest to come up with a way to reframe their reasonable arguments in such a way as to be persuasive to "cultural conservatives." It will be that way until literally every one of us dies. Their years are three score and ten, four score if they are strong -- but the War on Terror/Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism is eternal, because there is no "off" switch, because we are all stupid.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
(2:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Paradigm-Shattering Post of World-Historical SignificanceTo begin, let me define one of my favorite prefixes: "meta." When an activity is designated as "meta," it indicates a level of reflexivity. For instance, meta-blogging would be blogging about blogging, meta-thinking would be thinking about thinking, etc. I know that people have been confused by that usage before, so I felt it was important to clarify (and this sentence is arguably a meta-clarification, clarifying why I was clarifying).
Scott McLemee writes in reference to my previous post:
This would be something else again: meta-meta-blogging.This raises an interesting question that faces us in our contemporary postmodern context: how many levels of reflexivity are possible? To take Scott's example, if I were to write a post about the genesis and structure of my previous post, would that be meta-meta-blogging? Could this theoretically continue for infinite levels of reflexivity, with "meta-meta-meta-meta..." extending up through all of eternity, the epitome of the Hegelian "bad infinity"?
It is possible to get even more reflexive than that -- but then you run the risk of disappearing up your own asshole. I heard it happened to John Barth at one point in the 1970s. It was really hard on the students in his creative-writing workshop.
Ben Wolfson's comment in that same thread indicates the direction any answer to this question must take:
Since meta-blogging is a form of blogging, blogging about meta-blogging can be assimilated to meta-blogging—a specialized form, perhaps.My post, Scott avered, was an example of meta-meta-blogging. As we recall, the definition of meta-activity is "activity about activity," and so to meta-meta-blog, I would have to "meta-blog about meta-blogging." To expand this out for the two meta-terms, we would have "blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging."
Now, I'm going to contend that blogging, like thinking, always has an object -- it is always implicitly "blogging [about X]." In most cases of meta-blogging, the implied "X" of the second "blogging" is very general, for instance, "blogging about politics" or "blogging about life in general," and meta-blogging is a reflection on what it is like to blog about such topics: "blogging about blogging [about X]." In the case of the supposed "meta-meta-blogging," we get an X of "blogging about blogging." We can say that meta-meta-blogging is reducible to meta-blogging.
There is no theoretical maximum of the number of levels of abstraction that a particular instance of meta-blogging could be denoted as representing (i.e., "meta-meta-meta..." on to infinity), but this infinity can still always be reduced to the single level of reflexivity indicated by the term "meta-blogging." Meta-blogging is therefore an example (perhaps the example) of the true Hegelian infinite.
Meta-blogging, blogging about blogging, is "pure" blogging. And yet the indivisible remainder, the "about X," persists as an irreducible stain in all supposedly pure blogging. No matter how many levels of abstraction one tries to put between a blog post and this material occasion and goal of blogging, it is always equally close, and always irreducibly distant. This is because, as Ben also points out, "each post—no matter the content—will also be a meta-blogging post"--not, as Ben contends, because every post says, "this is how blog posts ought to be," but because every post says, "I am blogging." That is, the irreducibility of meta-blogging is not simply an accidental feature, a result of the fact that every particular post takes place in the context of other posts and is at least implicitly commenting on and assessing those other posts. No, the phenomenon that I am describing is in fact what allows every blogger to blog, including the first blogger who ever blogged back when there were no other blog posts.
Blogging blogs blogging. Blogging blogs blogging--about X. Every blogging is the first blogging, the advent of blogging, and yet every blogging is always already too late to be the first blogging, is always already meta-blogging. Meta-blogging slips always into blogging; blogging slips always into meta-blogging. The irreducible gap between the impossible blogging and the impossible meta-blogging is the inert material X, the stain on the sheets of pure blogging--simultaneously the subject of blogging and the excrimental remainder.
Meta-blogging is blogging about blogging about myself as blogger, or alternately, blogging about blogging about shit.
(1:45 PM) | Brad:
Fame Is But a Fruit TreeAs some of you know, I am writing a PhD thesis ostensibly on the subject of Herman Melville & theology. Most of the time, I like to think I privilege the latter half of the interdisciplinary marriage; but, when I'm actually working on the bloody thing, I find I mostly prefer the former. There are loads of reasons for this, but it is primarily due to my sophomoric affection for artists (and, yes, theologians) who are regarded by most of their contemporaries as bat-shit insane. For the life of me, I cannot help but swoon when I read reviews like this:
That Herman Melville has gone 'clean daft', is very much to be feared; certainly, he has given us a very mad book [Piere; or, The Ambiguities]. . . . The sooner this author is put in ward the better. If trusted with himself, at all events give him no further trust in pen and ink, till the present fit has worn off. He will grievously hurt himself else -- or his very amiable publishers.
The great thing about a review like this is that it makes me wonder whether there is anybody writing today whose literary fate will be similar to that of Melville. That is, decisively rejected by his or her reviewers, indeed most of the culture at the time, as craptastic; but, say, fifty years after dying, are hailed as one of America's greatest literary voices.
Any suggestions? (Note: the author doesn't have to be completely 'underground' -- i.e., this isn't an obscurity contest. He or she might very well be an 'author's author', in much the same way as Hawthorne seemed to dig Melville's stuff, and even wrote articles defending it, when nobody else did; or perhaps was known for a while and inexplicably flamed out / isn't even writing anymore, as was the case with Melville, who died some thirty five years after he wrote his last novel. )
(8:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ReflexivityFor the past few months, I have made a conscious effort to avoid meta-blogging, outside of the Confessional and the Tuesday Hatred. I feel that I have had some success. After a brief period of constant self-reflexive nonsense, fictional contributors, and overall disarray, I have restored discipline and structure to The Weblog. I have received more rewards from this labor than I could have ever imagined -- topping 200 links on Technorati, becoming a Marauding Marsupial in the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem, averaging around 400 hits a day on weekdays. Comments are up, employment figures are up -- everything is going great.
But I have a confession to make, a confession too shameful for the Friday Confessional: every time I sit down to blog, a meta-blogging post is what first comes to mind. I am still meta-blogaholic, and I always will be. Often I am able to strike a balance between my meta-blogging instincts and serious analysis of the day's issues by doing a kind of meta-rhetorical analysis, and those kinds of posts are among my most successful in terms of getting wider readership -- I'm a functional meta-blogaholic, we could say. But it's a serious problem, and I need all of you to help keep me accountable.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
(2:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Re-framing IsraelThe rhetorical trick of portraying all criticism of Israel (or questions about the close relationship between the US and Israel) as anti-Semitism -- surely worthy of its own entry in Mark Kaplan's notes on rhetoric -- is one of the most instinctive and tedious ploys of the apologists for US foreign policy. Now, via Crooked Timber, I learn that -- suprise! -- Christopher Hitchens is exploiting an unfortunate statement of Cindy Sheehan to the effect that the Iraq War was fought on behalf of Israel, as part of a general attempt to smear her and shout her down. (I first learned of the quote through Robert "KC" Johnson, another frequent user of this style of argument, and now that I look at his post, it turns out he actually linked to the Hitchens piece as well.)
[UPDATE: Apparently in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper (formerly of Channel One), Ms. Sheehan denies saying such a thing or holding the opinions expressed. It appears to have been a falsified message on a bulletin board which then was seeded to other right-wing sites. Altercation has the details. Thanks to Brey in comments for pointing this out. This renders my next paragraph basically moot.]
I am not of the opinion that the Iraq War was fought to benefit Israel; indeed, I believe that searching for any one determinate reason that it was fought is sheer folly. If it were fought to benefit Israel, then Ms. Sheehan's complaint would seem to be valid, since it was sold primarily as a matter of defending the US. The broader impression that one particular ally is overly influencing US foreign policy in general and therefore is arguably sometimes acting against its own objective interests in order to serve that ally's interests is at least plausible. All told, her remark seems to me to be far from reprehensible, though obviously it is not the most profound piece of foreign policy critique ever produced. It is primarily unfortunate in terms of the unnecessary fuel it gives to the chorus of war supporters who want to discredit her by any means necessary.
So, in any case: I have come up with a possible solution to this particular way of short-circuiting conversation. It is important not to go down the blind alley of arguing that criticizing Israel does not mean being anti-Semitic and how cynical of you to abuse the memory of the Holocaust and on and on and on -- that's a red herring. The key here is to argue that Israel is getting screwed over in this relationship. In place of the nice optimistic socialist nation of the early decades, now we have an overly militarized, bitterly divided society whose territorial overreach has basically wrecked its chances of being a Jewish-majority state. US military aid encouraged Israel to seek primarily military solutions to its problems, whereas it might have sought other means if limited to its own resources. The habit of choosing military means and the ready availability of military resources only empowered the expansionist set, leading to the demographic morass and creating the temptation to prosecute the shameful aggression against the Palestinians, with all the attendant moral fall-out. In short, due to US "loyalty" to Israel, that country is a less hopeful, worse place to live.
Advancing this argument would mean giving into the red herring technique, but as it became better-known, less and less time would be necessary to deploy it and move on. Best of all, it would require the apologists for US foreign policy to actively defend Israel policy, rather than simply smearing those who oppose it as anti-Semites.
(7:54 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 13[PREQUEL: Scott McLemee has interviewed Alfredo Perez, the genius behind one of the few genuinely indispensible blogs out there, Political Theory Daily Review. Perhaps this is already planned, but I would love to see a companion piece on Mark Woods, the creator of wood s lot.]
I hate that Chief Jason always come here every Tuesday specifically to say that he hates me. I hate that my past [sic] negativity ended up alienating people.
I hate that I am incapable of playing piano accompaniment. At a wedding this weekend, the pianist was playing Bach's first prelude, and I thought, "Hmm... I would have played it a little faster." Then I thought, "Oh, also, I would have played distractingly badly and made the vocalists look like idiots." I now wish I would have played more often in group settings, from an earlier age, because then I would have an actual service to offer people. (I can say that now because the majority of people who might have asked me to play at their weddings are already married.)
This feels related to the piano accompaniment thing: I hate how frightened I am by the prospect of having to speak a foreign language. I've had ample opportunity to practice "my Spanish" living in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, but I feel like I'd look like an idiot (as opposed to the imposing figure I cut when I mumble in English). Whenever I think of a "three wishes" scenario, my first thought is always languages -- money seems like it would be too transient. I would wish to be completely fluent in Spanish, French, and German, if the genie wouldn't allow me to wish for total fluency in every human language and dialect. In fact, in my frequent fantasies of going back in time and doing it over, I always think that I would want to start learning a language early and take it much more seriously, or at least seriously in a different way.
I hate that it's impossible to learn to speak a foreign language in high school and college language courses, as they are usually structured. If I were a left-wing wacko conspiracy theorist, in fact, I'd say that such classes were specifically set up to prevent students from learning the language at hand and to convince them that learning a language is impossible.
I hate Richard's aggressive use of pawns in e-mail chess.
[For those keeping score, there were three "Tuesday Hatred 10" posts in a row. The first time was when the count actually reached 10. The second time was the following week, when I looked to the bottom of the drop-down list for the "Title" field and saw #9, not thinking of the fact that #10 would be grouped right after #1 due to the over-literalism of computers. When Ben Wolfson pointed out the error, as is his mission in life, I resolved that the following week would also be #10, in the hopes of bothering him. Things are now set right.]
Monday, August 15, 2005
(3:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Two Open LettersDear Jacob T. Levy,
Given that Eugene Volokh has become, shall we say, a much less reputable blogger of late -- throwing around the idea of making torture a regular fixture in the justice system only to withdraw the suggestion upon realizing it was hugely unpopular, and now giving the benefit of the doubt to the slanderous claim that a large swath of the "left" is actively supporting the Iraqi insurgency's continued campaign against the civilians of Iraq -- I have an offer for you.
I know you've taken a break from blogging in order to meet a variety of real-world obligations, but when you finally come back, why not join The Weblog? The benefits for you would be obvious, and The Weblog community would experience increased diversity in perspective and would likely garner a greater audience through hosting the posts of a widely admired figure in the blogosphere.
Dear Crooked Timber,
Do not steal my idea of inviting Jacob T. Levy to join your blog when he returns to blogging. I called it.
(10:16 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Middle-BrowMy subscription to The New Yorker has expired, of natural causes. God willing, my subscription to The Atlantic Monthly will soon meet the same fate. I have, however, renewed my Harper's subscription for a term of two more years (deploying the "bill me later" option), and I just decided to take a chance based on so many enthusiastic recommendations and subscribe to n+1. I picked up a copy of the New York Review of Books and was impressed by the international coverage, but I'm far from ready to commit. So take this first paragraph as a request for recommendations as to my consumption of periodical literature. (Maybe I should start reading journals in my field? No! That's ridiculous!)
I have some complaints about The New Yorker, but more particularly about The Atlantic Monthly. It seems that every month, there is a cover story debunking some conventional wisdom or other, seemingly for its own sake. Of course, Harper's does this, too, but they do it from a relentlessly pessimistic point of view, whereas The Atlantic Monthly seems to thrive on a tone of smug bemusement -- "aren't all these conservatives and liberals so funny?" Always with the false symmetry: "Issue X: Why Both Conservatives and Liberals Get It Wrong." I'm not asking the magazine to be a Democratic Party rag by any means, and I think the liberal mainstream view of things (to the extent that it even exists) is likely to be wrong in a significant number of cases -- it's just the superficial way of packaging everything that bothers me. They continue to publish the imperialist/militarist Robert Kaplan, apparently in the interests of having diversity of opinion. Then there's also the fact that every big paradigm-shifting story seems to come about six months too late -- the series of Fallows stories on Iraq, the story in the recent issue about how Yassir Arafat was a bad guy (which seems strangely both too soon and too late), etc.
Christopher Hitchens has a set place in the reviews section, even though he only ever talks about the politics of canonical twentieth-century authors. At first, I enjoyed the Hitchens pieces simply for the biographical background, but it's grown tiresome. Similarly, the Anglophile tendancies of the review section -- which takes up far too much of the editorial space anyway -- have grown tiresome. Their fiction selections are beyond boring, and their poetry consistently sucks (The New Yorker is much better on the latter, but only somewhat on the former).
Finally, The Atlantic Monthly simply has too many ads for the kind of publication it is. One expects to have to dig through twenty pages of ads to get to the table of contents in a magazine discussing Jennifer Aniston's personal life, but not to get to an unconventional view of Social Security. It's like a "special issue" of The New Yorker (which have basically the same amount of actual editorial content as any other issue, but are twice as thick due to the huge number of inserts, "special advertising sections," etc.), except every month. Overall: two thumbs down.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
(8:01 PM) | it:
a naive question[cross-posted from infinite thought]
Capitalism's "genius" is that it seeps into every pore and scrapes every desire under its grimy fingernails, subsequently flooding the world with infinite demands and cute commodities. As Marx and Engels put it: 'The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere' (Communist Manifesto).
There was a point, perhaps primarily in the 1990s, when war did in fact seem 'so last century' (as a Shoreditch graffito had it) - the communist (or even post-communist) project was to harness the communicative properties of contemporary capitalism and its agents for egalitarian and redistributive ends. Ok, so Clinton could bomb Sudanese pharmaceutical plants to distract from domestic indiscretions, but major military campaigns and nationalistic jingosim were secondary questions compared to the 'markets without borders' fluxes and flows of capitalism. We can track a Nike t-shirt from one end of the earth to the other, uncover the inherent injustice of the system, use our people power, and make the world a better place. Hell! we could even use capitalism's indifference against it for progressive ends: 'Capitalism doesn't care if you're a woman, black, gay!'. Let's go to work....However...
I have a profoundly naive question to ask in the wake of a grinding Iraq campaign that shows no signs of coming to a close: wouldn't it have been better to let capitalism work its magic in the Middle East, for the 'west' to support internal democratic reform, heck - assassinate Saddam if ousting him took too long. After all, Iraq was unusually secular in its composition, with a relatively economically advanced and educated population (despite sanctions). Of all the places in the world, wasn't Iraq precisely ripe for the quicksilver rush of capitalist investment? Would it have been so hard to diplomatically and economically burrow into the heart of a pre-invasion Iraq?
If all this is unbearably gauche (ha), look where the alternative has led: it's not clear that the US can maintain much of an economic presence in the region if every office gets bombed and contractors are slaughtered with extreme regularity; the increasing Islamification of ethnic groups and Iraq's identification with other Muslim countries in the region (surely the last thing the US wanted); increased insecurity "at home" and abroad as those that suspect a global campaign against Muslims take matters into their own hands...
What was it for? Did nobody suspect things might turn out like this? Or did they indeed know and then do it anyway?
(12:53 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Event HorizonI say that we should push back the proposed Theology and the Political event to late September. Everyone is either in vacation mode or, as Anthony pointed out, "oh shit I didn't do anything this summer" mode. In any case, I think we'll be able to have better visibility during the school year, because The Weblog is clearly in that class of blogs that is highly dependant on the academic calendar.
I've contacted Creston Davis on the possibility of getting a few review copies of the book, but he's on vacation in Australia, where he has apparently founded an Institute of some kind (before finishing his PhD). Those of you who feel insecure and inadequate reading about my meager accomplishments should probably make a point never to look at Creston's C. V. Also, a Google Image search will reveal his ability to grow a quite formidable beard.
[In other news, I've decided that the key to my success with French was definitely the strategy of going through a second grammar text while embarking on my "real" reading. There is no time to do that before the German exam, but I will probably pass that nonetheless. I think that the relationship between being able to pass a typical grad school translation exam and being able to use the language as a genuine research tool is indirect at best, but I do think that such exams should be retained since gaining the ability to pass such an exam is a necessary first step in attaining relative fluency in reading. In any case, starting August 30th, I'm definitely breaking out Anthony's German reading text that he has laying around, and by the end of the semester, I should be down to looking up one word per sentence, rather than my current average of twelve words per sentence. (There are no German sentences of fewer than twelve words.)
My ultimate goal by the end of my career is to be like Robert Jenson and able to say, in the preface to my career-capping systematic theology, "All translations are mine unless otherwise noted," then go on to quote sources in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, and Italian, with maybe two or three "otherwise noteds." That's at least thirty years off, though. Maybe I can be the last one ever to write a systematic theology!]
(10:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Supporting the Iraqi Resistance?In order to help Eugene Volokh's even-handed attempt to discern whether there are Western opponents of the war who actively support the Iraqi insurgency, I'm going to say that no, I don't "support" the insurgents, for any value of the word "support." I also don't particularly "support" the American troops in Iraq, primarily because I'm completely befuddled as to what goal I'm supposed to hope that they achieve. I don't "support" their mission, because that's impossible to do -- they don't seem to have a mission. I do hope that as many of them as possible get home alive, just as I hope that life in Iraq is able to return to as close to normal as possible in the relatively near future.
I know that doesn't sound very patriotic, but I've never been patriotic, even as a child. It strikes me as tacky when it's not dangerous. I have never fully embraced the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, and I view nationalism as one of the worst things ever to happen to the human race.
I also hope that an anonymous donor will deposit $10,000 into my bank account, for the record.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
(11:14 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Against My Better JudgmentI haven't read all the comments on this thread, but at the risk of repeating: if the anti-Theory crowd were to take John's advice and take on the best and most rigorous examples of theory, then there would be no grounds for dismissing the movement as such. Not everyone is going to like their style or agree with their arguments, but I would argue that a fair assessment would indeed conclude that Paul de Man, Jonathan Culler, Hillis Miller, Frederic Jameson, Judith Butler, Stanley Fish, Slavoj Zizek, etc., are "the real thing." It's not just for show -- they are really developing real ideas, and simply dismissing them out of hand is a mistake. This is not to say that they are inevitable or that everyone will find their ideas useful or that it is morally wrong not to read these authors -- just to say that people who value these thinkers are not prima facie trend-sucking dilletantes.
The problem, however, is that certain permutations of the anti-Theory argument address not "Theory" as such, but certain instinctive moves through which literary scholars produce tedious, bad impersonations of such scholars. Though particular Theorists may be objectionable, the real problem is the institutionalization of stylistic and argumentative moves that not everyone can really pull off. Thus, a certain glut of unreadable prose is produced. That's regretable. It might be better if people were more inclined to write straightforward expository prose in most situations, simply trying to elucidate a piece of writing (or other cultural artifact). I would say that, by and large, that is actually what most literary scholars do, in my admittedly limited experience. Modern Fiction Studies, for instance, does not strike me as a journal that is glutted with Theory -- the bulk of the essays are examples of straightforward literary criticism. (I could name other examples, but it's frankly been a while since I needed to draw upon lit journals.)
This is a point that Chun repeatedly made back when he was with him: the Theory-whores actually are not representative of the discipline as a whole. The "hottest" (i.e., hegemonic) work may still be Theory-based, and certainly there is now an expectation that any English program will deal with Theory (since it's, you know, part of the history of the discipline at this point) -- but the kind of workaday literary criticism that John Holbo wants to see really does continue to go on. And although I'm not keeping up with the literature anymore, I'd be willing to be that English departments are still going to produce figures of the stature of a Jameson or Fish.
I'd just like to note, in closing, that people generally seem to me to misunderstand the term "hegemonic." They seem to take it as meaning "dominant" in some straightforward way, when in fact, the entire point of the concept of "hegemony" is that one exercises power to a degree that is disproportionate to one's means. Thus, the United States is a "global hegemon" precisely insofar as it does not directly rule the world. Arguably, then, the way to deal with a hegemonic power is not to allow it to control the terms of the debate -- hegemons thrive on attention!
So maybe the Counter-Anthology of Good Literary Criticism would be a better idea than, say, Theory's Empire.
(9:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Betrayed Revolution of '94No revolution would be complete without the true believers mourning its betrayal after the revolutionaries seized power. The Republican Revolution of 1994 is apparently no exception:
The Republicans located and attracted a new base of voters with bomb-throwing rhetoric that only happened to include some limited-government ideas (hardly surprising, considering the party had been out of government for so long).Meanwhile, I've got to second Belle Waring: our national debate cannot go forward until responsible Republicans muster up the courage to denounce and disown the members of their party who habitually drink the blood of puppies.
The key to maintaining that base, besides the usual vote-buying that every governing party engages in, has been to keep the bombs coming, not to follow up on any of the limited-government promises (with the notable exception of welfare reform).
If you don't believe me, spend a day consuming the most popular cultural artifacts from the Republican-affiliated alt-media—say, the Rush Limbaugh show, FreeRepublic.com, and Fox News—and compare the number of libertarian arguments or ideas you encounter with the number of diatribes against Hollywood, Hillary Clinton, or liberals. If the ratio is even 1:50, I'm buying the drinks.
This, finally, might just be the fruit of '94—a base mobilized not to reduce the scope of government, but to jeer at domestic enemies, conflate opposition to war with treason, and vote decisively against Michael Moore.
Friday, August 12, 2005
(12:46 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Windows 3.1 NostalgiaOne area where the Windows 3.x File Manager program was superior to the current Windows Explorer -- aside from the obvious matter of the name -- was that there was an icon in each folder referring to its parent folder. (Back then "folders" were called "directories," but I'm translating it into modern terms for the kids.) Just now I wanted to move a file to the parent folder, and I had to cut the file, push the "up" button, and paste it. Simply dragging it onto the ".." or "Parent" icon would have been easier.
Let me also say that the Windows file system is ridiculous. There is no excuse for keeping the convention of letters for disk drives, still less for continuing to use "C:" as the designation for the primary hard drive. I also hate how they obfuscate matters by making the "Desktop" folder -- which is an actual folder deep in the bowels of the "C: drive" -- into the fake parent of "My Computer." Worst of all: if you push the "up" button in the "My Documents" folder, you get the desktop instead of C:. In past versions of Windows, before they had worked out the multi-user thing to the degree they have now, there was a literal "C:\My Documents" folder accessible through "My Computer," and there was a pseudo-"My Documents" folder for each user, which you could get to by using desktop shortcuts. There was always the possibility that a user who had simply pressed "cancel" on the user login would save a file under the universal "My Documents," then be unable to find it later. Kind of like the old "Windows on top of DOS" system, the multi-user system was simply slapped on top of the single-user system, in a really poorly-thought-out way.
I'm sure that "Longhorn" or whatever will finally put all my Windows complaints to rest. Either that, or they'll make it so that the "paperclip guy" is constantly looking over your shoulder and reporting suspicious activity to the FBI, and you have to call the company to get the code to turn it off. Or maybe -- maybe -- they'll overload it with useless new "features" that no one wants or needs, but in order to show it off, they'll ship it with absolutely everything turned on so that the computer-illiterate audience to whom they are ostensibly "sensitive" will be subjected to intrusive pop-ups and needlessly slow performance.
My laptop is now eight months old -- is that long enough for Linux to support all my hardware? Or do I need to wait another year and a half?
(7:45 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Change
The new logo is provided by Jared T. Sinclair, who fashioned it out of a Mark Ryden painting. Express your ecstatic joy or scornful derision in the comment box, as appropriate.
I confess that people on the Fullerton bus are better-looking on average than people on the Armitage bus, based on collation of all published data on the subject, followed by extensive analysis and statistical manipulation.
I confess that I sent out a Blogger invitation just now. Who is the lucky recipient? The suspense is killing and will kill each and every one of you.
I can't think of anything else. Feel free to use the comment box to gain the peace your soul so sorely needs.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
(4:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Butler vs. NussbaumJohn McGowan's post on Nussbaum's critique of Butler is brilliant. A sequel is promised.
(1:31 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Some Thoughts on Love and Marriage
- Relationships work best when neither partner seriously suspects that he or she can "do better" at the time.
- If one partner falls for the other significantly harder, or otherwise seems to be "too" emotionally invested in the relationship (i.e., more invested than the other), then the other partner will take this as evidence that he or she can "do better," and discontent will set in.
- All romantic relationships are power struggles; a "better" partner is not so much one who better fits a socially-defined checklist of desirable attributes, but a more worthy opponent.
- To get married is to decide to be in a protracted power struggle with a particular person. Successful marriages represent a more or less uneasy truce.
- Failed marriages represent a breakdown of diplomacy, often due to a failure to foresee the probable conflicts that would arise in the course of a relationship. Such conflicts are most often predictable and abundantly clear to outsiders.
- Romantic love is a necessary social lubricant in terms of minimizing the partners' consciousness of conflict in the early stages of a relationship; obviously, however, it can be dangerous in excess.
(8:42 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Reality-Based CommunityFor a long time, certain bloggers have been proud members of the reality-based community, standing up to the vicious lies of the Bush administration with our diligently researched facts and our exasperated sighs. During the fall of 2004, when this designation was being enthusiastically adopted (now replaced by some variant of "online magazine" in most cases), one of The Weblog's transient tag-lines was "Reluctant Fellow-Travellers with the Reality-Based Community." One might wonder what the motivation was -- what's wrong with basing one's political beliefs on reality? What possible reluctance could I have in standing up to this?
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."My reluctance is precisely in joining the group that this Bush aide accurately describes.
One is justifiably horrified by the prospect of this Bush aide openly calling "us" (and who is this "us"?) an "empire" and talking about the prospect of actively creating reality, but is that not what is in fact happening? Not in Iraq, certainly, not in the real world of real bodies fighting and killing -- but in the United States, they are actively continuing to create the reality they've been developing for over 25 years, precisely in order to give them a free hand for their experiments in the larger world. Just take a look at what's considered "realistic":
- No politician is ever allowed to raise taxes for any reason.
- If the government ever gets involved in any area of life, it only complicates things and screws it up. Thus, if the government ever actually tries to help people, it inevitably ends up hurting them.
- People don't want detailed coverage of national and international news -- they want celebrities. They don't want the (pre-Iraq War) Economist, they want the RedEye.
- People don't want the government to be in the business of making life better and more secure -- they want the government to enforce aribtrary moral norms.
This is the "reality" in which the aforementioned community is based. The most talented politician in a generation, Bill Clinton, only managed to salvage his career by tenuously carving out his niche in this reality, which he did not create, while on the other side, the most appalling mediocrity ever "elected" "president" has managed to undo all of Clinton's accomplishments, merely as a preparatory exercise.
What we need is not a reality-based community, but a community dedicated to creating a different, and more hopeful, reality.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
(9:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
CravingI just ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which has so far done little to sate my craving for one of those burritos with cheese on top of it, from El Cid. Earlier today I was trying to find someone to go to dinner with me tonight, seeing as how I am a coward who doesn't eat at sit-down restaurants alone. Then I started thinking about getting take-out. It's still not out of the question. They're open until midnight. They seriously put about a half-inch slab of cheese on top of the burrito.
What are you craving?
(10:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Blog Design Clearinghouse, with Supplement (non-dangerous)Submitted: Long Pauses has the blog design than which no greater can be thought. I think that his relatively infrequent updates actually increase the elegance of the page.
Supplement: Yesterday, Ogged sent me this link to a RedEye story, saying that it was the Tribune's "Tuesday Hate." Since, as Ogged points out, I have been angry lately, after reading the article, I responded to the author's call for "L" complaints as follows:
I hate it when people can't find anything better to read on the train than the Red Eye.Yes, I did actually send that message, because I am an asshole. She responded graciously:
Hi Adam:How good natured! I'm sure that if she is giving our exchange any further thought (which is unlikely), she is satisfied at my hypocrisy in having read the RedEye article -- which, to be perfectly clear, was the first-ever RedEye article I've read and which I did not read on the "L." I don't just refuse the free copies of the RedEye handed out at some "L" stops -- I actively assault those who are handing them out, then urinate on their stock of copies. (I make sure to drink several glasses of water before arriving at the "L.") "L!" I actually usually just call it a "train," and I don't actually assault the poor people who are handing out the contemptible rag that we call the "RedEye" -- both words jammed together, because it's cool! It's hip! We have this opportunity to actually "inform" people of something, to appeal to a "younger audience," and we seize that opportunity with endless celebrity stories and mindless tripe about "don't you hate it when people talk on the phone on the 'L'?" The Reader seems to attract a fairly young audience, and they also occasionally report on "stuff that matters." Maybe newspapers could appeal to a younger audience by not being filled with unrelenting bullshit, such as "he said/she said" political "coverage," but I can understand the counter-intuitive approach of saying, "No! I've got it! Our coverage isn't shitty enough! There is a huge latent demand for even shittier shit!" Brilliant!
Thanks for your feedback. Though I'm sorry RedEye isn't your first choice for daily news, I certainly appreciate you reading our coverage and taking time out of your day to respond. Have a good one!
Her message was in blue. In fact, I receive many e-mail messages that are in blue, and I don't understand why. Is this our way, in a digital age, of paying tribute to the standard choice between blue and black pens? I don't know.
(8:30 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
By TopicLast night I decided to rearrange my books. The initial impetus was that had been a while since I had integrated new purchases into the bookshelves, but once I started actually doing it, change for its own sake became the goal. I went for four topics:
- Religion (theology and Bible)
- Philosophy and Politics
I didn't spend a lot of time agonizing, but there are choices to be made. Is Kierkegaard philosophy or religion? Is Dante religion or literature -- and for that matter, where to put Piers Plowman? Should I put Irigaray under psychoanalysis? Is Paul de Man literature or philosophy? (I can't make an informed decision -- I stole the book from Olivet and still haven't read it. I put it with philosophy because then he falls alphabetically next to Derrida.)
I could have broken it down further, though not much further. In literature, I have a collection of sufficient bulk to support an American, British, and Other section, at the very least (but who gets T. S. Eliot?). I could also easily divide up theology and biblical studies -- or the philosophy section could break down into philosophy and Marxist/political. (The "/political" is intended to account for Chomsky and Thomas Frank, who seem to belong to a class of their own, in terms of my own book collection.) But if I keep breaking down, sometimes I am going to have to make the choice to break an author's works into two or more sections. For instance, God Without Being goes in the religion section, but if I had other Marion books, they would probably go in philosophy -- so would God Without Being go with them? Or Kierkegaard -- some of the early works could be literature, then Fear and Trembling could go under biblical studies, Philosophical Fragments and the Postscript would be philosophy, and the late works would be theology. And with that in mind -- do some of my "philosophy" books go under "religion"? Would I need to do a separate "philosophy of religion" section?
Maybe tonight, or next week, I'll redo the whole thing.