Friday, September 30, 2005
(1:22 PM) | Brad:
Oh Man, This Takes Me BackRarely do I laugh out loud while reading the New York Times. Sometimes I sob, sure. But rarely laugh. Such was not the case today, as they've finally introduced America to Mr. Michael Carroll (winner of Britain's national lottery in 2001) & the chav culture of England.
Oh, Anthony. You have so much to look forward to! And I cannot wait to return.
(9:21 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: I slept in, okay?
I'll allow Richard to start the festivities:
I confess that I want to confess, and you didn't make a chess mover yesterday like you lead me to believe you would. I also confess that when I'm home and Kari is not I like to wear her clothes and listen to smooth Jazz. I confess that I'm never home when Kari is not.I confess that I'm flattered whenever I get harrassing e-mails after not posting the Confessional or the Tuesday Hatred as early as everyone is used to. I confess that I kind of wasted a lot of confessions on Wednesday, with my worried post.
I confess that I don't have any milk for cereal, and I'm thinking about just skipping breakfast rather than walk across the street and pay a visit to the grocery store.
I confess that the hobby that allows me to keep my sanity during graduate school is, ultimately, sleeping.
I confess that I've become really obsessively detail-oriented about geography and particularly about public transit options since moving to Chicago. Within a few months, I'm sure that I'll start finding Beautiful Mind-like coded messages in the bus routes. I already think that the CTA Trip Planner web site is out to get me.
I confess to a sick desire to track down and read Origen's homilies on Leviticus. I confess that the allegorical method no longer seems extremely weird and foreign to me, but the Bible does, increasingly so.
I confess that I still haven't learned Italian. I'm a failure. I confess that I should probably join the AAR. I confess that sometimes I wish that I could just crawl into a cave and be all by myself and do my work and everyone would leave me alone -- but at the same time, I push myself to the limit to make sure I don't have to turn down social engagements in order to study, because I'm worried that once I start down that road, there's no going back. I confess to sometimes identifying with M. Swann, then realizing that I'm nowhere near as cool as that guy.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
(7:42 PM) | John Emerson:
Friedrich Nietzsche as a Jane Austen Character
Awhile back I wrote a piece arguing that the supposed sexual repression of Christendom grew from the financial obstacles standing in the way of respectable marriage, which in turn can be traced to the efforts of ambitious families to maintain or raise their statuses via favorable marriages (i.e., marriages which bring wealth into the family). I gave special attention to St. Augustine, Nietzsche, Thoreau, and Rimbaud, all of whom came from marginal families who hoped that their sons’ education in the classics would allow them to enhance the family status – at the cost of deferring marriage for a decade or more. These four authors combined a high degree of alienation with the extraordinary eloquence derived from their intensive literary educations, and as a result, their dissident points of view were better expressed than the more mainstream points of view of other contemporary authors who were luckier, lazier, and happier. (Only St. Augustine seemed aware of the problem as such, though it can easily be seen in the biographies of the others.)
Nietzsche was the most brilliant German classicist of his generation and became a full professor younger than anyone ever had before. His family was completely respectable, but his mother was widowed and far from wealthy, and since academics were not well paid he was not especially marriageable – certainly not after his retirement with a disability. His relationships with women were few and unsuccessful, apparently being limited to infatuations with the wives of friends and a conjectured encounter with a prostitute. On the other hand, women who met him testified that he was courtly and pleasant and by no means unattractive – “not like a professor”, as one explained. (See Conversations with Nietzsche, ed. Gilman.) Nietzsche is often enough treated as a sexless object of ridicule, but I am willing to argue that his sexual problems were mostly situational.
Nietzsche was always a good boy, and during the bourgeois XIXc, especially in Lutheran Germany, the demands on good boys were enormous: hard work, educational and professional success, good manners, deference to superiors, chaste and decent behavior, and adherence to an ethicized (Kantian) version of Lutheran modernist orthodoxy which emphasized Duty. Nietzsche rejected part, but not all of these demands -- primarily in religion and the ethics -- but actually lived an essentially convential life. What he retained from his heritage was an emphasis on distinction, refinement, superiority, and self-improvement: the superman may be regarded as an intensified replacement for the already absurdly-high Lutheran standard which had been imposed on him from birth. Instead of making life easier and more fun, Nietzsche chose to make it more difficult: he was in thrall to The Seriousness.
Nietzsche rejected the bourgeois work ethic in favor of a more heroic aristocratic ideal, and he rejected Lutheran moralism for a freer, more aristocratic way of life. The traditional aristocrat was not answerable to anyone, and while moderns tend to misrepresent aristocrats as effete and sissified, the traditional aristocracy consisted of elegant but brutal military specialists with strong hedonistic and erotic tendencies.However, actual aristocracies did not conform to Nietzsche’s ideals, nor would Nietzsche’s marital prospects have been much better in a less bourgeois society.
Let me, perhaps capriciously, take Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) as a case study in the actual life of an aristocracy. Austen’s book describes the lifeboat ethics of the children of the English gentry, many of whom were doomed by demographics to downward mobility. Elegant, pious propriety masked the use of every means necessary to destroy rivals for favorable marriages and inheritances – rivals who were usually very near kin. In Austen’s book the people tend to be epiphenomenal, with the real players being the titles to parcels of landed property.
The class systems which made culture and refinement possible by concentrating wealth also produced cultured people of uncertain status who had to be ejected and forgotten, while at the same time dooming most of its members to conventional and not terribly happy marriages. A good marriage partner had to be of good family with an adequate income, belong to the right sect and political faction, be reasonably well-bred and personable, and belong to approximately the same social circle (which seemingly required being “cousins or something like it”.) Any personal requirements imposed by the individual partners would further restrict the pool of eligibles, though often marriages were arranged in complete disregard for the desires of the nominal principals of the ceremony.
Furthermore, the aristocrats in Austen’s book, who are typical of aristocrats everywhere, were not supermen or anything like supermen. They did not aspire to self-overcoming, but were perfectly happy to occupy themselves with hunting, whist, hot toddies, dances, flirtation, and seduction. While Nietzsche envied the amoral ease and grace of the aristocracy, as a self-confessed decadent (i.e., as a bourgeois Lutheran) he could not hope to attain it, especially insofar as it was linked with stupidity and laziness. Instead, he invented a new rigorist, strenuous ideal, even more difficult than the conventional life he had been born into. Nietzsche was a hyper-bourgeois hyper-Lutheran.
But the big question is this: if Nietzsche had been an Austen character, could he have married one of Austen's Dashwood sisters? I think that the answer is “maybe -- but probably not.” In his favor is Jane Austen’s own bias toward reserved, dignified suitors. When she concocted improbably happy endings for her books, Austen made sure that the “nice guy” got the girl -- whereas she forced the dashing, impulsive seducer to slink offstage in disgrace. Now, according to the testimony in Gilman’s book, Nietzsche was tolerably like the characters Austen favored, and during his younger days he probably even had the ardent sincerity Marianne (the “sensibility” sister) demanded. At the same time, however, both sisters expected what we would call an upper class income (1000 to 2000 pounds), and Nietzsche probably would have been out of luck for that reason.
It’s wrong, of course, to identify a character in a novel with the novel’s author. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with asking whether any of the characters in a novel would have been capable of writing it. Of the characters in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is obviously the only one who could have written a book of this type (though her sister Marianne might have written something a bit smarmier). And of the two sisters, she is the one who gravitated naturally toward courtly, reserved gentlemen of Nietzsche's type. Since Jane Austen never married, it’s reasonable to develop the question a bit further. If Nietzsche (with a bit more income) had married Jane Austen, would the marriage have worked out?
Alas, one fears that it wouldn't have. Austen was hardly the kind of feminist Nietzsche feared so intensely, but one doubts that he could have been a supportive husband for any woman of talent. The marriage probably would have been good for Nietzsche, however, at Austen's expense, and perhaps a married Nietzsche would have been little less tightly wound, and might thus have written equally-penetrating, but less intensely alienated works . But as we have seen (Western civilization being what it is) such an outcome was in reality utterly out of the question.
In today's dollars, how much was 2000 pounds in 1800? Answers vary widely.
Hexter, J.H., "The Education of the Aristocracy in the Renaissance," Journal of Modern History, XXII (1950), 1-20; also in Reappraisals in History, Harper, 1963. (Actually, some aristocrats were educated -- just not Austen's .)
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, 3 vols., Vintage, from 1995. (The disciplining of the elite.)Shapin, Steve, A Social History of Truth, Chicago, 1994. (The pleasure of the aristocrat).
(11:23 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
O CanadaCanada. Gleefully Green. Disposable diapers are composted into industrial energy here in Toronto. Militantly multicultural and pro-immigration. Ottawa just voted to up Canada's already high immigration quota by 100,000/yr. The Baptist church that recently interviewed me not only volunteered that Canadian evangelicals have long had to accept minority status, but did so with a certain amount of pride. Gay marriage is the law of the land. Canucks were the first ones to suggest the 'make poverty history' standard of 0.7% GDP for foreign development assistance. A French speaking, openly gay man is about to become the leader of a major political party in spite of admissions that he used cocaine as late as the late 1990's and while serving as a cabinet minister. There's the whole health care thing. Free for nearly everyone in the country. Reasonably priced for those temporarily here to study and the like (we're paying around $1,500 Canadian for a whole year - approximately $100US/month - for a family of four). We're not in Bushville anymore.
Nevertheless, I can't help but think that this is far from paradise. Is this really the promised land for US liberals? Our sister site is constantly reminding us of the benefits of Northern secession, with a simultaneous move to join Canada. With California and New York's economies (not to mention Michican, Washington, etc.), would that turn the G-7 into G-5 + one super G? While suggesting 0.7 GDP be given, Canada is having trouble living up to that standard. Even if it did meet or exceed, isn't there still something massively unfair as evidenced by the oft quoted description of G-7 members as the 20% of people who control 80% of the world's resources? In articles on the Schroeder-Merkel debacle, I've seen a new concept kicked around: an estimated length of time remaining (quite short) that a particular country (Germany here) can 'sustain a European lifestyle.' I've always thought the whole 'globalization inevitable' response trite and missing the point altogether. Of course globalization is inevitable. It is in fact already here in all its belching glory. The question is whether it is sustainable. Must we simply accept the need to drastically curtail our 'European lifestyles' or can redistribution somehow float all boats? If the former, could we entertain a grand politics toward this end or must we wait for cataclysm (e.g. oil runs out)? If the latter, is there a grand politics toward this end, or must we be self-satisfied with creeping, incremental social justice?
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
(11:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Theological StatementTorture is by far the most serious theological issue we face today.
(10:18 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Worry RedirectionI'm worried about many things right now -- the slowness of academic publishing processes, the inadequacy of my scholarly work over and above my coursework, the fact that I probably need to find work soon and that that will further constrict my extra-curricular writing activities, the fact that I'm not as far along on my Patristics directed study as I had hoped to be for when Ted gets back from Korea (where he's been for a month, primarily in order to finally really learn Korean -- truly an overachiever), the fact that I've started to watch too much TV (but the shows are all so good! I'd be a boring person if all I did was study and occasionally blog), together with some minor second-guessing (primarily based on having purchased an insurance plan that I'm now worried I won't be able to afford -- not, mercifully, larger scale questions like my choice of grad schools, etc.), some personal issues, etc. -- and I wonder: How do I redirect this energy elsewhere? Worrying really does use up a lot of energy, and so ironically I can end up totally exhausted from a day of doing precisely nothing.
Is there really a method for cutting off the worrying and actually doing something? Or is the search for method actually the problem here?
I'm going to go into the other room now and read some Nietzsche. I'm getting better at German. Every so often, I come across a sentence where I don't have to look up any of the words and where the structure seems totally transparent -- those are the moments that give me hope. I have to present next week over the first two essays in Genealogy of Morals, which I will have gotten through in German by that point. It will either be the best presentation in the History of Man or else the very worst -- operating at a qualitatively different level of familiarity with the text than the rest of the class can go either way.
But I love the text -- it's so much better than Beyond Good and Evil. In fact, at least from where I stand, The Birth of Tragedy, for all its many flaws, is a much better text than Beyond Good and Evil in terms of being productive of thought -- at least an argument of some sort is being advanced. With Beyond Good and Evil, I feel like there's nothing to hold onto at all. I've never read Zarathustra all the way through before, and that's coming up after Genealogy -- I am worried that I, and the rest of the class as well, will be just totally baffled.
(7:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
HappinessThe Troll of Sorrow is back! I've missed him so much. Without his obsessive visits to see if anyone has grovelled before the weight of his special homophobic brand of rationalism, The Weblog's traffic has really dropped off. Now our traffic figures, inflated by our favorite pathetic anti-Semitic Quinean, will propel us to greatness! I smell a rank of "Large Mammal" in no time!
We will, of course, make every effort to edit his comments every time they appear, to make them into positive remarks about us. Since he's so obsessed with getting his vintage-70's philosophical viewpoint/bigotry out, he of course changes his IP address every time we try to block -- so editing is the only way to make sure that nothing of his will ever get read and that he'll be an object of pure mockery.
Yes, the Troll of Sorrow, our biggest fan, is back -- I declare this an open thread for everyone to welcome him.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
(10:52 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Burkina FasoFor those interested, my mother (Becky...or, to some of you, "Prof B.") and little brother (Geoff) are spending ten months in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta, just north of the Cote d'Ivoire in Africa...it is--according to the Embassy's website--"one of the five poorest countries in the world"). My mom will be teaching American literature at the University there in Ouagadougou. They have a blog to record their journey. I will probably do updates when I can and as Herr Kotsko will allow of course. 'Till then.
(6:23 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ProlificI can think of only two kinds of people who are usually called prolific: writers and murderers.
(7:46 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 19: The "Brownie" Edition
I hate the "German steamroller" approach to academic writing, in which one summarizes the results of the last 2500 years of human inquiry over the course of 600 pages, then appends a 30-page note with some vague indications of what one actually thinks. I hate the feeling that one so seldom ends up proving anything, and that the demand for more evidence can be extended indefinitely. I hate books that feel like they are 75% or more "asides."
I hate it when people say, "But I'm getting ahead of myself" -- even if they are the narrator to the movie "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." (Shout out to Robb! [I hate the term "shout out."])
I hate spending the whole day reading a book that I didn't really want to read in the first place. I hate the neck pain that results from long-term reading -- I'm only 25 right now, so it's only neck discomfort at this point, but I can tell it will eventually become pain. I'm worried about my eyesight, too, because I've become really used to seeing the individual leaves on trees.
I hate it when I flip over the grilled cheese and it doesn't stay together right. This is especially a problem when I add several different fillings, but it happened to me today with a "just cheese" grilled cheese, causing me to yell out "Oh F---" and causing Hayley to wonder if maybe something actually serious had happened.
I hate that I felt a weird sense of impropriety yesterday when I did my dark laundry and didn't do my whites on the same day. I hate having a feeling of entitlement.
I hate how slow the whole blogosphere feels lately -- not just this site (which is admittedly witnessing something of a production slowdown), but everywhere. Atrios must do 14 open threads a day.
I hate how now it's really, really important to talk only about how many incompetent people Bush has appointed to important government jobs -- yes, liberal pundits, that is the most important thing that Katrina brought to light! The Bush administration is more corrupt than other past administrations in terms of giving out government jobs to political cronies. That should be what your ire is raised about! Because, damn it -- we're Democrats! We're the party of competence and meritocracy -- we're the good kind of pro-business party, not like those corrupt, incompetent, cronyistic Republicans! They're the bad kind of pro-business party! (I figure the mid-term elections are far enough away that it's okay not to be a completely shameless Democratic party hack.)
But in all honesty, I am still a kind of meritocratic person -- or rather, someone who still wants to play by the meritocratic rules, even though I don't know the world works that way. I probably knew it didn't work that way the whole time.
Please share with us, via Haloscan comments or trackback, what you hate today.
WOW: Now this is a sentence --
Ich gebrauchte das Wort “Staat”: es versteht sich von selbst, wer damit gemeint ist—irgendein Rudel blonder Raubtiere, eine Eroberer- und Herren-Rasse, welche, kriegerisch organisiert und mit der Kraft, zu organisieren, unbedenklich ihre furchtbaren Tatzen auf eine der Zahl nach vielleicht ungeheuer überlegene, aber noch gestaltlose, noch schweifende Bevölkerung legt.About a third of the action takes place in an "overloaded adjective construction." I suspect that there are entire German novels that take place in between a definite article and its noun.
UPDATE: I hate not being able to find the "telling quote" I have been looking for. It makes me angry, in fact, to paw through the book for the third time, failing to find it.
Monday, September 26, 2005
(4:46 PM) | Brad:
Any Ideas?If anybody has any great ideas for where / how I can find affordable (read: 'cheap') accommodations in Philly during this year's AAR / SBL, do let me know.
(9:11 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Reading Group to ComeBrey, Mike Schaefer, and I are planning on doing a reading group on The Colonial Present by Derek Gregory, a critique of the War on Terror from the point of view of geography. It comes highly recommended from David Harvey. Over the course of the year or more that I have known Brey, I have gradually become convinced that one does need to pay much more attention to geography.
Right now, we're just tracking down and reading the book -- no date has yet been set for an actual meeting time.
UNRELATED QUESTION: Does anyone have any suggestions for how best to send a small (approx. 2 inches long, closed) Swiss army knife via the US postal service?
AN OBSERVATION: Taking four PhD courses simultaneously is kind of a lot of work, I'm discovering. I'm sure that soon we'll pass from the stage where the blog is a pure outlet (and hence where I mainly do weird little personal posts) to the stage where my brain is so overloaded that I must divert some of the intellectual material to the blog to avoid flooding in the more upscale touristy areas of my brain.
But we're not quite there yet: "Today I've been very busy achieving task after task. I did my laundry, moved my truck across the street so that I won't get a ticket later this afternoon, did the dishes, prepared a delicious cardboard pizza, and read over 100 pages, all while playing one of the best e-mail chess games of my entire life. Plus my allergies haven't been bad -- it's weird, being able to breathe out of both nostrils consistently. I had started to suspect that the Intelligent Designer had intended them to be a decorative embellishment."
Sunday, September 25, 2005
(10:04 PM) | Brad:
An Edited Re-Post From a Dying BlogNot long ago, I finally got around to reading Curtis White's The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think For Themselves. I don't know if this book was released in Britain while I was there, and I probably would have never known of it at all if I'd not seen it on an errant shelf of a nearby Barnes & Noble. For reasons obvious to a lot of regular readers here, the title sang to me like some doe-eyed, honey-lipped, callipygian muse. (BTW ... I seem to recall somebody interested in tracking down all the books for which Zizek has provided a blurb. Add White's to the list.)
Rarely have I wanted to like a book so much, agreed with a it so often, and yet irritated by it all the same. On the surface, White comes off as a classic elitist -- one bound and determined to make you feel like shit for liking sitcoms, sometimes listening to Terry Gross' Fresh Air with vague interest, and even once saying and truly believing 'Man, Charlie Rose has a nice job.' But, below the surface, which is to say if you actually read the book rather than just glancing through it quickly while trying to find a way to politely ignore and elude your wife, who is insisting that we need to go somewhere and buy a compass so we can maximize the Feng Shui potential of our apartment, White's goal is to say something very different. Namely, that we are being murdered.
He argues that the imagination, in all its disruptive glory, is being stifled by our faux-celebration of it. We have, in a sense, lowered the bar so far for the imagination that anything creative is artistic -- unleash your inner artist, so goes the cliche! Even those things that are artistic, and not simply 'beautiful', that have revolutionary tendencies, those things that upset the way we want and need to look at the world, be they our theologies, our poetry, and even sometimes our philosophies, that force a new way of seeing are too quickly and subtly consumed and presented as a form of intelligent entertainment: as 'high' culture that a high-brow well-intentioned, intelligent liberal enjoys because it, too, is well-intentioned and intelligent. Such is the tautology at the heart of our deep satisfaction and need for ever more innovation. This is, by far the best part of White's book, when he cuts through all the nonsense about 'the culture wars', and exposes it as a cover for a far more deadly malaise that was already the victor before either Right and Left decided there was something worth fighting for.
If he accomplishes nothing at all, White is to be praised for having reminded me of Wallace Stevens' classic collection of essays, The Necessary Angel:Essays on Reality and the Imagination, by quoting one of the greatest things he ever penned:
In speaking of the pressure of reality, I am thinking of life in a state of violence, not physically violent, as yet, for us in America, but physically violent for millions of our friends and for still more millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be said, for everyone alive. . . . A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of the reality of this last degree, with the knowledge that the degree of today may become a deadlier degree tomorrow.
It's frightening stuff, this murder of the imagination.
The Western world, White declares, desperately needs a new aesthetic vision. Surely. There are vanguard voices of political dissident, thankfully; but, unfortunately, so many of them have long ago dismissed aesthetics as an ideological tool of suppression. (They may be partly right, but whatever they have won by attacking aesthetics they have lost by being victorious, for political dissent requires the imaginative heart of aesthetics. Can we still believe that political revolution is as natural as the currents and the tide?) The Western world needs more books like The Necessary Angel; it even needs the rigorous, provocative boredom of something like Adorno's of Aesthetic Theory.
Sadly, the manner in which White makes his point, no matter how good a point, undercuts just how compelling it might actually have been. In the end, he is not 'imaginative' enough in his critique. In playing for easy laughs, that are neither especially easy nor funny; in discursive rants and rambles that hint more at his own creativity (that word again!); and in being so affectively aggressive, like a two-hundred page blog post, the great potential of White's book is too easily lost in what is too readily seen as a tiresome schtick. (Pot. Kettle. Black - yes, I know!)
In the end, the tight-rope of aesthetics is certainly a difficult one, and typically results in an utterly exhausted irony. Kudos to White for trying, though. If he didn't kick open the door with necessary, lasting force, we can take solace in the fact that he made some noise trying, and let the bastards know we're still around. White acknowledges as much by citing a classic I. F. Stone soundbite in his final pages:
The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing -- for the sheer fun and joy of it -- to go right ahead and fight, knowing you're going to lose. You mustn't feel like a martyr. You've got to enjoy it.
(11:21 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ReservationsNietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §260:
It is the powerful who understand how to honor; this is their art, their realm of invention. The profound reverence for age and tradition--all law rests on this double reverence--the faith and prejudice in favor of ancestors and disfavor of those yet to come are typical of the morality of the powerful; and when the men of "modern ideas," conversely, believe almost instinctively in "progress" and "the future" and more and more lack respect for age, this in itself would sufficiently betray the ignoble origin of these "ideas."Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, §12:
Not man or men but the struggling, oppressed class itself is the depository of historical knowledge. In Marx it appears as the last enslaved class, as the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden. This conviction[...] has always been objectionable to Social Democrats. [...] Social Democracy thought fit to assign to the working class the role of the redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.I keep thinking of Benjamin's Theses as I read Nietzsche. (Jared Woodard has an unpublished paper on Schmitt and Nietzsche; I personally can't prove the connections philologically, but it seems plain enough that there are connections, and therefore connections between Benjamin and Nietzsche.) It would seem that a "reactionary" critique can serve as the foundation for a "radical" critique in that the "reactionary" critique first shows up the present situation as strange, as non-obvious, as contingent -- leftist critique radicalizes the ressentiment of the most recently defeated ruling class; surely we can see this in the medevialist nostalgia of the most prominent early socialists.
Understanding that it may be misguided and certainly a little naïve to perform this type of analysis on such a short timescale, I would venture this interpretation of the current situation in American politics -- the most recently displaced rulers are mainstream liberals. It is both fortunate and unfortunate for those liberals that Bush so obviously stole his first election and arguably stole his second as well. The stolen election allows them the opportunity to view him as a usurper, to hate and despise him, but at the same time, it blunts the potential critique that would view the "conservative revolution" as usurping not simply in that it has "rigged" the electoral system or "duped" the populace -- after all, when have we had an "honest" electoral system or a well-informed populace interested in rational debate on matters of common concern -- but in and for itself. The election of Bush, no matter whether it was "technically" legitimate under the stated rules for elections, calls into question the very legitimacy of "actually existing democracy," of the faith that somehow getting citizens to fill out a card to select their representatives is going to produce a free and just society in abstraction from the present nearly irrevocable corruption of public discourse and of power relations.
Thus, as regards Chávez -- I think it is more than reasonable to assume that he legitimately won the last election according to the standard rules governing free elections, but I don't particularly care either way. I think it's terrible for Bush to steal an election, but if stealing elections is what is necessary for a genuinely left-wing figure such as Chávez to exercise power, then go for it. We see what the moralism of democracy and concensus is achieving among our very morally upright Democratic representatives -- perhaps it is time for immoralism.
(11:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Novel IdeaI was reading this thing about how to cut "pork" in order to finance the New Orleans reconstruction without going further into debt, and apparently, Congress isn't too enthusiastic about cutting things. So I thought about an idea -- if you don't want to cut spending to offset unexpected expenses, why not just raise taxes? And since you'd want to make sure that the effects of those taxes were as narrow as possible, why not just raise taxes on rich people only?
After all, the rich are only a really small minority, so if you end up losing their votes, no big deal, right?
Saturday, September 24, 2005
(2:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Sheerest IdiocyI'm sure there's some remark in some tattered old notebook of Nietzsche's where he says: "To be capable of the sheerest idiocy--in this we free, very free spirits have recognized the greatest strength of the true philosopher" -- and then Walter Kaufmann would drop a footnote saying, "Cf. Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 234":
Stupidity in the kitchen; woman as cook: the gruesome thoughtlessness to which the feeding of the family and of the master of the house is abandoned! Woman does not understand what food means--and wants to be cook. If woman were a thinking creature, she, as cook for millennia, would surely have had to discover the greatest physiological facts, and she would have had to gain possession of the art of healing. Bad cooks--and the utter lack of reason in the kitchen--have delayed human development longest and impaired it most: nor have things improved much even today. A lecture for finishing-school girls.The assignment for this week's class is Beyond God and Evil, chapters 5 and 9 -- when I first saw that on the syllabus, I wondered why. Reading chapters 6 and 7, however, I see the inner necessity of that assignment -- no need to fritter away class time on what amounts to two rather questionable rants.
(10:30 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Fall Movie BuzzA month ago I saw the first signs of fall in Michigan's changing leaves. Today there is a chill in Toronto's breezy air. The calendar has officially sent us into Autumn. That means an especially ill received summer blockbuster movie season is over (I liked March of the Penguins and the short shrifted War of the Worlds - Freud/Iragaray themes are all over the place, it's all about death of the mother) and its time for Oscar contenders to begin making appearances. I have not seen the movies discussed below and probably never will see some of them. However, a few of them have been reviewed in my local newspaper since a certain film festival in this town, touted as the kickoff for Oscar season, completed its business less than a week ago. So here's the buzz from the city that everyone seems to love, that is everyone except other Canadians and John Steinbeck.
Tsosti, a South African film about gang life in Johannesburg won the top prize (audience voted) at the Toronto Film Fest and will thus certainly receive at least a handful of Oscar nominations. However, a best picture nomination is not guaranteed as the Academy last year inexplicably failed to nominate what was almost certainly the most important movie of 2004. Hotel Rwanda was completely left out in favor of movies such as Ray and The Aviator (movies which certainly would have been fine winning picks) and the very good, but definitely not best picture worthy Million Dollar Baby. As I see it, Academy voters vented their rage against America's heartland politics by picking a movie that is something of a middle finger to hard line Terri Schiavo Republicans. If that sentiment lingers, Ang Lee's gay cowboys flick should be a favorite with Academy voters this year. Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Ledger won the top prize at Cannes, and was considered a favorite going into the final weekend in Toronto. It would have been Lee's second top prize at Toronto. Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won it all a few years back in Toronto. If the cinematogrophy in this year's offering is anything like Crouching Tigers' long, Western picture influenced shots in the Gobi Desert, than this may be an astoundingly beautiful movie in spite of the romance.
The movie Jodie and I would have gone to see, if we had anyone to ask to babysit for us would, received a mixed review from the Toronto Star. Walk the Line is said to revolve around the courtship story of Johnny and June Carter Cash. While the Star was pleasanly surprised and gave high, high marks to Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoons acting, the review faulted the script for too much love and not enough legend. Plus the movie was faulted for stopping just short of the what, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the greatest Cash concert: Live at San Quentin.
Of movies currently playing, Roger Ebert has called The Constant Gardner Oscar worthy and the best picture this year. Flatbroke, Jodie and I also missed out on seeing the North American premier Bill Murray's latest, Broken Flowers which screened for $23 a pop at Michael Moore's inagural film fest in Jodie's home county (Traverse City, MI). Anyone seen these films yet?
Finally, the piece I am by far and away most anticipating begins tomorrow, but won't show on the silver screen. As such, Martin Scorcese's Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home (PBS Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) won't have any chance at Oscar. Another year with no top award for our greatest living director (at least he's in good company with Kubrick). If we can manage to obtain a good set of rabbit ears, we should be able to pick up the Buffalo PBS station.
Friday, September 23, 2005
(7:40 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Jared Sinclair Appreciation Day
I confess that I keep forgetting to use the cool logo that Jared made for the Tuesday Hatred, but I actually wrote it on my calendar for next week.
I confess that I am now insured, with a "real" insurance plan. I hope I get sick very soon so I can use it.
I confess that I am nowhere close to learning the names of the new PhD students in my classes, and in some cases, I'm still not 100% on the names of people I've been in several classes with. I confess that my being "bad with names" does not apply to young women, not in the least.
I confess that I'm considering just going into hibernation this winter rather than paying for gas. I need to work a lot harder on gaining weight if this is going to be workable.
I confess that every time I'm away from my computer for more than an hour, I suddenly have 14 new e-mails. I have no idea how this happens.
Feel free to confess below.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
(3:37 PM) | Brad:
Governing from the FringeThe most recent edition The New York Review of Books is well-worth tracking down. Several very good articles, not least of which being Garry Wills' insightful take on the parallels between the conservative hierarchy of Catholicism and the Bush Administration (sorry, it's not available online for free). This parallel, Willis argues, is represented by four influential Catholics whose names I should've known prior to reading the article: Michael Novak, George Weigel, Joseph Fessio, and Richard John Neuhaus. Willis notes the very powerful coalition formed between old-line Catholicism and major players in Protestant evangelicalism (Chuck Colson, James Dobson, etc.) -- a coalition symbolically solidified, he argues, in the 'miraculous' reception of The Passion of the Christ, and politically mobilized in their passionate struggle against the scientific / cultural mainstream.
All very fascinating and terrifying, but I think Wills errs slightly in emphasizing that a minority voice -- of the Church hierarchy, of the American electorate -- is now illegitimately, and dangerously privileged. That is only one part of the analysis, and perhaps the easiest one to make. And thus, too, the easiest to elude.
I grew up a born-again evangelical in the Midwest, washed in the blood of the lamb, and I vividly recall the lessons of my youth which told me that I was a persecuted minority, that secularists, New Agers, Satanists, etc., all had subtly subverted America from within. Friends & family who still consider themselves evangelical tell me that the rhetoric has not changed much, even though the political realities do not support the message -- that is, as Wills notes, the message is always that of the struggle against the secular horde in order to disguise the fact that theirs is a minority holding all the cards. What he fails to appreciate, however, is that evangelicals (perhaps in a way that deviates from the Catholic position detailed in the article article) fully realize the power of a future-based political economy, whereby the enjoyment of the present -- the full actualization of its power -- is never enough; it is, rather, but grounds for more investment & future returns. This explains, in part, their sustained rhetoric as outcast and repressed Other, even in the face of unparalleled political power. And, very cynically, their unwillingness to press their political agenda with the same fervor that they preach it from their pulpits. I.e., instead of calling for a ban on stem cell research, they call for a ban on gvt.-funded stem cell research; instead of insisting that Intelligent Design be theistic, they obfuscate and say they're talking about a 'higher intelligence'.
Apropos the thinking of the newest friend to The Weblog, Tom Altizer, I can't help but wonder: with religion now thoroughly realized in the political arena, and politics played out in the religious, are we living a perverted version of the Hegelian Absolute? A version in which the apocalypse has not yet come, indeed will never come, so long as investment can still be made.
(8:32 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
An open letter to my co-bloggersFor the rest of the semester, I'm not going to be able to post anything substantial most Thursdays until closer to evening. Therefore, Thursday morning and afternoon would be an especially good time to post, if you were so inclined.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
(8:02 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Humble Link Post for a Humble BlogFirst, I'd like to say that it's an honor to have a post by Thomas Altizer here at The Weblog. This was brought about through Brad Johnson, who has been corresponding with Prof. Altizer for quite some time now. Those wanting more background are encouraged to read the exerpt from his complete memoir.
While Bitch PhD is away, Mr. B has been posting, including this post on nuclear proliferation and a particularly good episode in the Adventures of Pseudonymous Kid.
dsquared of Crooked Timber analyzes the Lancet study report of "excess deaths" in Iraq and the motivations behind those who dismiss the results. The self-styled "Honest Left" is characterized as intellectually dishonest.
Via Political Theory, I find that Francis Fukayama is now less insane than one would think -- he even voted for Kerry. I'm not sure if that should change my opinion of Fukayama or Kerry more.
Adam Robinson responds to my cringe-worthy mix CD.
Matt at Long Sunday posted on March of the Penguins (admittedly, a week ago).
Now that the New York Times is charging for its op-ed pieces, you can read Krugman's latest here, including a comment thread. It's not clear to me whether they are going to continue to publish his columns at the free site indefinitely.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
(7:09 PM) | Thomas J. J. Altizer:
An EpistleTo: Friends
From: Thomas J. J. Altizer
While visiting friends, I spent much time watching the TV coverage of the hurricane, thereby joining Americans as a whole, and reacting with horror not only to the immense suffering and damage but to the federal government itself. This seems to be shared by the majority of the American people, and perhaps the time is finally at hand to ultimately challenge this administration. But this only impels me all the more to renew or far rather to wholly revise my own theological language insofar as it is an ethical language or insofar as it can become a radical ethical language. By accident at this very time I was re-reading one of my favorite books, Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Not only are these unbelievably exciting “ideas,” but they had an immense impact, ultimately transforming world history, for this was the initial expression of what finally became a world revolution. And this was a deeply and radically Christian revolution, but it is a world that has never been entered by subsequent theology, except insofar as this has all too slightly occurred among us theological radicals. Never did I encounter the English Revolution when I was studying theology, not a word was said or written about it by theologians, as this seemingly became an absolutely forbidden subject. Nor did I ever hear of Gerrard Winstanley among theologians, but at least until Nietzsche, he is our greatest ultimately radical theologian, and greatest radical preacher as well.
Who could even imagine a radical preacher today? Yet I rejoice in the Bush administration, and for the open theological role and identity of this administration, everything is blatantly clear, the ultimate policy is enhancing the power of private property, and absolutely enhancing it, even if this only benefits a tiny minority, and simultaneously reducing as much as possible benefits to the majority, and above all reducing benefits to the poor, and all of this in the name of the Christian God, who here is reverenced by a pure obedience to that One whom Blake named as Satan. I do not think that any previous administration in our history has so fully and so purely employed such a theological sanction, nor do I think that any previous administration has been so purely conservative or reactionary, and here these seemingly polar dimensions are truly and essentially integrated with each other. But most startlingly of all, there is no real or actual opposition to this administration, and above all not from the Democratic Party, which is simply hypnotized by its opponent, and virtually silent on all fundamental issues. I am fully persuaded that theology is now desperately needed, but this is seemingly unknown to all, and most unknown to our theologians who proceed as though they are facing no ultimate challenge. Yet here I must confess my own guilt, for my writing gives far too little attention to this ethical and political challenge, and while I could plead that no such politics was manifest while I was doing the great bulk of my writing, a small core of my writing does address this issue, and I now feel shame that this is such a small core.
I am primarily referring, of course, to History as Apocalypse, that major book of mine which has had the least effect, and is probably the least read. While this theme is not muted in Total Presence, this little book is strangely unheard within this arena, and perhaps unhearable. Now so far as I know there simply is no comparable theological work in our time, and certainly not liberation theology, which is finally conservative, nor the theology of hope which is even more conservative. A fundamental question that I have asked throughout my theological life is whether theology as an ultimate necessity must be conservative. Every modern radical thinker is deeply persuaded of this, and if only for this reason one must rejoice in the radical theological thinking which occurred during the English Revolution, and most profoundly and most gloriously occurred in Milton himself. Yet how revealing it is that theology has closed itself to Milton, too, and this despite the overwhelmingly original power of his Christian Doctrine, a book which the theological world not only ignores but will not even keep in print.
In short I feel impelled at this time to take up and to far more fully take up the challenge of doing a truly contemporary and truly radical ethical and political theology. In one sense this would be a fulfillment of a muted and even marginalized theme of my own work, and the more I think about it the more that this appears to be true, and have I become so hypnotized by nihilism in my later work as to forfeit this opportunity? True, I have thought that nihilism is a way into our contemporary ethical and political world, and that at bottom our new political world is a nihilistic world, and just as this impelled me to write that failed essay for “The Nation,” this very failure is perhaps a sign that this is not an effective way to proceed. No, I need a far more direct way, after all almost no one understands nihilism, just as all too few understand either Nietzsche or Heidegger at this absolutely fundamental point. However, I do believe that a language of absolute evil is truly necessary here, and necessary if only to expose the pure hypocrisy of the political world today, for I am persuaded that there is a depth or purity of hypocrisy here which is truly new, and new insofar as it occurs so spontaneously and even “innocently,” as witness our much beloved President. Our political analysts are simply not up to such a challenge, nor are our political contenders, and never have such contenders been in such deep need of genuine theological assistance, which they will certainly not receive from the established theological world. The truth of the matter is that it is only the theological mind that can genuinely explore or understand evil, and if I have given most of my energy since my retirement to such an exploration, the time is at hand to concretely embody this exploration, and to do so in such a way that it can be understood by the many instead of the few.
I recall once again those exciting days when I was a television preacher, for that is what at bottom I was when I was continually on television, and then I did communicate with a vast audience, and if nothing else I genuinely offended them, which we both know is an ultimate mode of theological communication. While I fully recognize that I shall never gain such an audience again, I refuse to give up the possibility of addressing a general audience, and think that this could most effectively be done in the ethical and political arena. Perhaps only here is there a genuine yearning for theology today, a yearning inseparable from that theological void so incarnate here, a void now inseparable from that evangelical cacophony now engulfing us, and I must confess that I would love to engage in a debate with an evangelical, as long ago I almost did with Billy Graham. And there is a little known truth about the evangelical mind today, one distinguishing it from its predecessors, and that is that it is not open to an ultimate or absolute evil, as witness its refusal to speak about damnation, or actually to speak about Satan. Here, I distinguish the evangelical mind from the popular evangelical preacher, the latter being truly mindless, and more mindless than it has ever previously been, which is essential to its power.
Indeed, popular theological language is so mindless today that this is a fundamental obstacle to the possibility of doing genuine theology in the public realm, and it is fascinating to contrast this situation with the world of the English Revolution, when the very opposite is true, and genuine theology abounded as it has never before or since. Is there a single Church historian who knows this? Yet it is known by all of the major historians of the English Revolution, and one can encounter far more theology in seventeenth century historiography than one can in contemporary theology, but if ours is a truly empty world theologically, this could make possible an ultimate theological innovation. We should also recognize that there is something truly evil in our theological condition, there is not simply a void which we here confront, but far rather a negative or lacerating void, and one consuming everything in its midst, as witness the consequences of employing theological language in our public world. Such language can only be heard as a curse to the sensitive ear, and a curse in a fully theological sense, one which once could be known as the curse of damnation, and now can be known as an ultimate apostasy, or an ultimate refusal of that which it seemingly evokes. So it is that the very name of God can be known as a curse today, and while earlier this was true in the literary language of a Joyce or a Kafka, now it is true in the public language of theology, or in that theological language which dominates our public institutions and life. Hence that theological language which now plays such a decisive role in the political arena is a truly demonic language, one enslaving rather than liberating its hearer, and one inseparable from that repression which is inseparable from it, but now a repression occurring universally throughout our world, and for the first time in history a universal but invisible and unnamable repression.
This is a fundamental reason why Marxist and Freudian language has become unreal in our world, and that our most sophisticated languages today have no point of contact with our public world, but this is a truly unique situation historically, just as the repression in our world is truly unique. And it is unique because its source or sources are so nebulous, it will not do simply to name the corporate or the fiscal worlds, for while they may well be genuinely evil they are simply not that powerful, nor is it possible to find any manifest source of our impotence or repression, here our philosophy is as empty as our theology, but this is nonetheless a theological rather than a philosophical question, and is so because it is inseparable from the question of absolute evil. Absolute evil is seemingly both unthinkable and unspeakable, but it was profoundly thought by German Idealism, just as it is profoundly evoked in the uniquely Christian epic, so that it is absolutely central in the epic enactments of Dante, Milton, and Blake, enactments of absolute evil which are inseparable from enactments of absolute redemption, so that here there truly is a marriage or genuinely dialectical relationship between Heaven and Hell. Only the dialectical philosophy born in German Idealism can comprehend that genuine relationship, but this is a philosophy as theological as it is philosophical, and most decisively theological in its very understanding of absolute evil, an absolute evil only fully embodied in Godhead itself, but it is the self-saving or the self-negation of the Godhead which is the ultimate source of energy and life. The overwhelming problem here is to translate such a vision or such an understanding into a common language, and into a common theological language, or a language that can be understood by everyone, or the “Here Comes Everybody” of Finnegans Wake.
One way to do this is to center upon the question of impotence or repression, and to see that our public theological language is illuminating here, for now “God” can clearly be understood as the source of our repression, as the very speakers of God can no longer speak of God without actually evoking our repression, and evoking the ultimate power and ubiquity of that repression. It is this very ubiquity which is unique today, a ubiquity which we can only associate with God, and whereas once this could only be known by a few, now it can be known by everyone, and by everyone who actually hears our public theological language. Now it is not accidental that God has now disappeared from our theological language, or from our critical theological language, as nothing is now more damning or more self-destructive than actually hearing God, or hearing that God who is now spoken in a hearable theological language. This, too, is historically unique, but it opens up a whole new theological path, and just as once we could know God as the God of absolute judgment, now we can know an absolute or an absolutely ubiquitous repression whose only source that we can name is God, and whereas once the way to God was through an absolutely guilty conscience, now the only manifest way to God is through an absolute impotence or repression, or that repression which only now is all in all. Now just as Marxist and Freudian language can no longer name our repression, is a new world now dawning for theology, for even as theology has always been our deepest naming of evil, is a new absolute evil now actual and manifest that only can be named by theology, and named by that theology which just thereby will speak our actual condition?
(4:42 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Things I Need or Will Need
- Another bookshelf: It feels futile to buy one, since I'll just need yet another one immediately afterward.
- A snow shovel: I keep thinking that I need to buy a snow shovel before the first big snow, at which point they will be sold out at all the stores, but it always seems to be too soon. Obviously, this trend is going to wind up with me being shovel-less when the storm first hits. I also need to get some weight for the back of my truck since someone appears to have stolen my sandbags, which I admittedly just left lying on the ground next to my parking spot.
- A chess book: It's not enough to win -- I need to know why I'm winning. Richard should hope that I actually get this one, because I'm sure that I'll get worse before I get better.
- A big French dictionary: I have the use of Anthony's big huge French dictionary for the next year, but it's somewhat ridiculous that I don't have my own, especially given that I own an unabridged Italian dictionary. (I have not yet "gotten around to" learning Italian, though I have now decided that there is no objection to doing so at the first available opportunity.)
- A book about wine: I'm no longer satisfied with going to the store and trying to remember what I got the last time I was there with a knowledgable person.
- Some new clothes: All of my clothes are pretty old, but definitely not old enough to be "vintage." My heart grows discontent with my customary "jeans and a t-shirt" wardrobe -- I can pull together something "nice," but only for a couple days at a time.
- Cutlery: In the process of moving out of the Bourbonnais house, I gave away all my silverware and much else to Jared Sinclair. (I can't even remember how much I gave away.) Now I have bowls, plates, a frying pan, a pot (or two?), a bottle opener, a can opener, and a knife block. That is not a recipe for a complete kitchen. When I move out at the end of next summer, I'm going to throw myself a Bachelor Shower -- or else hope that Anthony and Hayley have the same mindset that I had upon my last move and short-sightedly give away some crucial kitchen equipment.
- A job: My situation is thankfully far from desperate right now, but over the course of this semester, I will need to work in some capacity or other. Last time I was at CTS, they had a posting for a 20 hour a week maintenance job -- that wouldn't hurt in terms of sprucing up the old resume while making a little spending cash. I do have extensive experience in maintenance, and I can mow a lawn like you would not believe.
- An apartment with a good academic library nearby: Hyde Park would be the obvious choice, but I think I could get away with hanging out in DePaul's library as long as I didn't cause a scene. Of course, neither venue is known for its rock-bottom prices. Seemingly every year, a fellow CTS PhD student sends out mass e-mails for some decently priced studios around 67th and Lake Shore -- which isn't as bad as some might think (i.e., those who have the mindset that one is automatically robbed and/or raped upon going south of Congress).
After six months of strenuous experimentation, I am now very familiar with the transportation options in the greater Hyde Park area, such as they are. I don't think that selling the truck is going to be a very realistic option no matter where I move, though, unless they extend the Metra to Kankakee. (If it stopped at or near the Amtrak station, that would be ideal.)
- A burrito: I think El Cid is going to have a visitor this evening.
(9:54 AM) | Brad:
A Theological MemoirWhether you know who is or don't, whether you agree with him or not, whether you care about theology or politics, I would highly recommend you check out Thomas J. J. Altizer's Living the Death of God: A Theological Memoir.
Indeed, in June of 1955, while reading Heller’s essay on Nietzsche and Rilke for the seventh time in a library at the University of Chicago, I had what I have ever since regarded as a genuine religious conversion, one in which I deeply experienced the death of God, and experienced it as the act and grace of God Himself. Never can such an experience be forgotten, and while it truly paralleled my earlier experience of the epiphany of Satan, this time I experienced a pure grace, as though it was the very reversal of my experience of Satan, now I knew that “Satan” was dead, and had died for me. The identification of God as Satan was Blake’s most revolutionary vision, but at that time I had only begun an exploration of Blake, and had no explicit awareness of any such identification, so that I could not then name that God who is dead as Satan. But I could know God as the God who is truly dead, and at bottom I knew that this is a true theological understanding of God, and one demanding a transformation of theology itself, so that I was impelled to reverse my deepest theological roots, and that entailed a reversal of that Barthianism which I had so deeply absorbed. This occurred over many months when I returned to Indiana, spending most of my evenings intensively thinking about Barth while drinking bourbon and listening to Lotte Lenya’s original recording of "The Three Penny Opera." Somehow I was purged, or think that I was, for there are those who continue to identify me as a Barthian, and it is true that Barth is the only modern theologian whom I profoundly respect.
I know that The Self-Embodiment of God is my best book, but I equally know that it is not truly my own; it certainly came as a gift, one wholly unexpected and gratuitous, and even if it also came out of a long and deep struggle, and only after the closing of many false paths, it is a book which in a deep sense wrote itself, and even if this is true of every genuine book, this book is not simply the product of this author; and it is unquestionably beyond every intention which I brought to its writing. I well remember the site of its writing, the dining room of my Victorian house in Port Jefferson on Long Island, where I wrote while standing because of problems with my lower back, and I shall also never forget that Ray Hart and Bob Funk were visiting me while I was completing its first chapter, and when they returned from a visit to Montauk Point, I proclaimed in shock that this chapter on genesis had finally proven the existence of God, and Bob immediately said: "Rush upstairs and take two baths!"
In the past year or so, I've become thoroughly enchanted by Altizer's work. Yes, he and his work are no longer talked about much. Yes, he may seem the quintessential impractical theologian. And, yes, the politico-ethical implications of his work are often hard to tease out. And yet, he is representative of that which keeps me from abandoning theology; or, more precisely, the sense that I, too, might be a theologian.
His memoir is remarkable stuff. In it, he does not simply retell the 'glory days' of 1960s theology -- heady times in which theological discussions, esp. 'The Death of God', made front-page news & were profiled on television programs. He discusses this, to be sure, and his prominent place in it. But his telling, in a manner similar to Augustine's Confessions transcends the retelling, and you very quickly find it to be a theological work in itself. A life lived theologically, if such a thing is possible.
It certainly can't be read in one sitting -- it is several chapters long, and the site is rather slow. But I think the patience of the open-minded will be rewarded.
(7:29 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 18I hate reading Nietzsche's remarks on women -- they always make me cringe.
I hate it when the dishes pile up for days and eventually just stink to high heaven. I hate how passive-aggressive I am. (I think I've done pretty well about not bitching about roommate cleanliness issues of late, though.)
I hate accidentally sending the wrong message. I hate saying "no" to non-ridiculous requests.
I hate getting preemptively angry. I hate it even more when the preemption turns out to have been justified.
On the positive side, I've stopped waking up in the middle of the night completely stuffed up, so that's a lot better.
UPDATE: I hate my bank's website for the following reasons:
- It's impossible for me to bookmark the login page directly -- I have to go to a page that tells me about their online banking features, and then I have to click the "Go!" button to get to the login screen. Obviously, this is an unnecessary step.
- When I click the "Go!" button, it resizes my window to take up the entire available screen, but doesn't maximize it. I used to keep my browser windows at a particular size so that my IM window would be visible at all times, so this was annoying -- if it was a "real" maximize, then I could just click the "restore" button, but no.... (I came up with the workaround of opening a new window every time I went to my bank site and making sure that a correctly sized window was always the last window I closed. Now I usually keep my browser windows maximized, so it's not as big a deal, but it still bugs me.)
- It keeps displaying closed accounts for well over a year after they have been closed. I got a loan from them in 2003, paid it off in 2004, and have had to see it on my "balance inquiry" page for the past year.
- When I want an account history, the default account is always the most recently opened account -- so since I opened my checking account first, then a savings account a couple years later, then a loan account, I always have to manually select the checking account. They apparently think that I'm going to want to be constantly reassuring myself that no transactions have happened on the loan account I paid off over a year ago (or the savings account that I closed earlier this summer).
- All the messages are aggressively cute and friendly -- very unprofessional. I suppose they're trying to position themselves as a "neighborhood bank" as opposed to Chase or Bank of America (which is kind of ridiculous in itself since they have two branches in the Loop and probably about 20 scattered throughout the city and the suburbs), but they don't have much follow-through in terms of friendly tellers. Overall, my experience has been one of constant low-level abuse; I just stay in the relationship because the pain doesn't outweigh the inconvenience of switching, and anyway, do I really expect to be treated better elsewhere? (Those commercials where the woman acts like she's explaining to some deadbeat husband why she's leaving him, but then it turns out to be why she's leaving her bank -- they really are on to something.)
UPDATE (2): I hate it when I am unable to write something precisely because I know exactly what points I want to focus on and what I want to say about each point.
Monday, September 19, 2005
(7:03 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Chavez Interview.Chavez was on Nightline, but I missed that because Adam told me it was next week. Luckily he was interviewed on Democracy Now!
(2:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ArgumentsI propose that the following is an invalid argument against the value of the work of thinker X:
No one in X's original discipline cares about X anymore; only people working in other disciplines do.(I'm thinking of things like: "Derrida's not a real philosopher." "If you go to any psychology program in the US, you're not going to be learning Freud." "The economics department at the University of Chicago does not give much credance to Marxism." Etc.)
If a thinker's value is only measured by the degree to which that thinker manages to insinuate herself into the passing fads of a particular discipline, then no thinker is very valuable at all. The very fact that this is an argument that is deployed against thinkers with wide-ranging influence may well be an argument against the value of our current disciplinary regimes -- or at least against taking the maintence of disciplinary boundaries as a value in itself -- and even, perhaps, an argument precisely in favor of the value of the work of thinker X.
A thinker who is exiled from her "own" discipline, yet whose influence is dispersed to the greatest possible extent, manages in some degree to transcend the limits of the university as presently constituted -- yet remains still very much a creature of the university, calling, at most, for a reform of the university. That such a reform is unthinkable illustrates the profound powerlessness of the intellectual at the present.
(7:40 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
IntroductionsAn informal survey for graduate students in the humanities:
How many times have you been "introduced" to structuralism? (By this I mean either a lecture or an assigned reading that assumed that you didn't know anything about the topic, starting way back with Saussure, signifier/signified, parole/langue, etc.) If it was a lecture setting, how many of those times did someone indignantly raise his or her hand, asking, "Okay, so wait a minute -- where does the real world come in?"
(12:04 AM) | Dave Belcher:
Granada ConferenceI decided to respond to aspects of Jamie "Kickass" Smith's posts on the conference in Granada at "Generous Orthodoxy." Anthony said he was interested in what others thought, so if you are curious, here's what I said:
I am new to this site, and am not really sure how this kind of comment will be taken here, but let me say that I am just confused about this thing on so many levels; maybe you can help, Jamie. My first instinct was, "Damn, I wish I was in Granada, too"; I'm a classical guitarist, and have strong memories of being there at the Alhambra. Regardless, I realized that "liberalism" in the forms so outlined by these various "schools" doesn't seem to be the problem with the Church--*especially* in contemporary America (thus, I'm saying that I don't think your link between Europe and America works too well, Jamie). At least two out of the six "schools" Milbank outlines above have gotten a whole lot of mileage out of this notion that the Church has been captured by liberal and neo-liberal market ideology, and yet to which body do they refer? Can someone point to the corpus verum for me in North America? The precarious situation of "the political" doesn't require a politicization of the Church--as "the Duke School" and "radical orthodoxy" have led us to believe--or even to out-politicize Right-Christianity from the Left (albeit a "conservative" left), but should lead us to ask where is the Church? It should lead to a recognition that the concrete social body which makes up the Church has disappeared (merely another political body competing with others), and thus the call for a (re)politicization of this hypothetical body does not (or cannot) solve the problem, but actually makes it worse. I am not disturbed by the fact that the Archbishop of Granada has decided that this "contemporary postliberalism" is right; instead I'm just disappointed...it's the same damn thing I've been hearing over and over. When will we wake up?
All of this aside--which is extremely important to me--I am just baffled that most of the theologians involved in this conference make up these two "schools" I referred to above, and yet it is these two schools that are supposed to be giving us the answer to our "postmodern" and "postliberal" predicament. I mean does that sound presumptuous to anyone else? There's a time for critique and then there's a time for humility. I have yet to see humility from Hauerwas or radical orthodoxy--at least with regards to "liberals." I'm not a "liberal," offended by those who are out to thwart me or something...I'm asking that we might think about what it means to "love our enemies" within theological dialogue--*that* I see very little of in contemporary theological debate...because it's always just that, a fucking argument.
Furthermore, Milbank's "taxonomy" makes no sense to me whatsoever. Of course, there is the issue of what others have raised with regards to the possibility of "other" postliberals not on this list, such as Barth, but even and more importantly Frei, Lindbeck, etc. Even if “contemporary postliberals” refers to extremely recent thinkers, these last two should still be included, especially with the impact they have had on the two schools in question. But, I'm just sort of confused with the six that Milbank gives. I am extremely interested first of all how it is that the election of Pope Benedict XVI is the culmination of nouvelle theologie. While "Cardinal Ratzinger," it is true, was very close to many of these figures of the
Ressourcement (even writing the Foreword to de Lubac's Mystery of the Supernatural), the current situation of the Catholic Church seems to be extremely at odds with the project of this new theology--and Benedict shows no signs of "reform." Secondly, I am confused as to how these six schools are the progenitors of Henri de Lubac's work; especially Radical Orthodoxy and the Duke school. Actually it seems to me that the only school listed which has attempted to remain faithful to both letter and spirit of de Lubac's work is the school that represents the "theological turn in phenomenology"; and much of what is being done by these thinkers (including those not listed, like S. Breton and Lacoste) seems to be completely at odds with Radical Orthodoxy (no matter how much Milbank quotes Lacoste) and the Duke School (and I’m not sure that one could say that Hauerwas is indebted to de Lubac in any fashion whatsoever—unless it is something much more recent, and something gained through Milbank, et. al…I mention only Hauerwas here because though the figures listed under the heading “Duke school”--Dan Bell, Bill Cavanaugh, Steve Long—may have all studied with Hauerwas, they all have books in the Radical Orthodoxy series…can we say “Duke school” at all if it’s just Hauerwas? It seems a little misplaced). De Lubac has become something of a trend in contemporary theology, and like all icons, he has become misunderstood. This is already too long. Sorry.
Hope you can respond.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
(1:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Nietzsche on the Hebrew BibleWhile reading the following passage in The Birth of Tragedy, I couldn't help thinking of the Old Testament, particularly the psalms:
At the Apollinian stage of development, the "will" longs so vehemently for this existence, the Homeric man feels himself so completely at one with it, that lamentation itself becomes a song of praise.I wondered if Nietzsche's religious background had made it impossible for him to detect something like that -- or at least something positive -- in the Old Testament, but now I wonder no more:
In the Jewish "Old Testament," the book of divine justice, there are human beings, things, and speeches in so grand a style that Greek and Indian literature have nothing to compare with it. With terror and reverence one stands before these tremendous remnants of what man once was, and will have sad thoughts about ancient Asia and its protruding little peninsula Europe, which wants by all means to signify as against Asia the "progress of man." (Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 52)UPDATE: In an effort to make this post even less popular, I will bring in some Church Fathers-related material -- AKMA has added Ignatius his Lego version of the Apostolic Fathers. I personally can't wait until he starts in on the Shepherd of Hermas.
UPDATE (2): Also, if I were to be reading Origen's entire commentary on Romans and decided that as a result, I was not morally obligated to read the entire Against Celsus, would anyone out there in reader land know what sections in particular I should read in order to get the basic gist? Or would it just be a matter of starting at the beginning and reading until he inevitably started repeating himself?
(9:10 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Mix CD I Made
- "Faded from the Winter," Iron & Wine
- "Stephanie Says," The Velvet Underground
- "The Sound of Fear," Eels
- "Us," Stephen Malkmus
- "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," The Arcade Fire
- "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," Modest Mouse
- "Cream of Gold," Pavement
- "How to Disappear Completely," Radiohead
- "Nude as the News," Cat Power
- "How to Fight the Loneliness," Wilco
- "Somedays," Regina Spektor
- "Magazine," Pedro the Lion
- "[Track 8 from ( )]," by Sigur Rós
Adam Robinson's mix for me was much better than any mix I've ever done.
If you read the Adam Robinson post that I linked, you can get a valuable glimpse at the prexistence of his current Mencken fixation under the Old Covenant (i.e., in Milwaukee). And if you don't read the Pickle post, you could at least take a look at this exerpt:
Never underestimate what reading every single book that Vonnegut wrote will do for your ability to pander to an audience.He wants to be part of an intellectual circle, he says. I think that for him, that's only a means to the end of breaking away from one.
Shit -- I just read further, and he says that himself, almost word-for-word.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
(11:49 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Peanut Butter QuestionIn this post, I plan on conclusively answering the following question: "Which type of peanut butter, smooth or crunchy, is superior?"
First, I will look at smooth peanut butter. It has some distinct advantages, not least being that it more closely conforms to the idea I would form in my mind if my memory were wiped of all knowledge of peanut butter and someone -- perhaps George Washington Carver -- were to tell me that people sometimes make butter out of peanuts. It is more easily spreadable, and it is easier to regulate the precise amount to be put on the sandwich. For all that, it has the definite disadvantage of being much stickier; when I eat sandwiches made with smooth peanut butter, my mouth also feels drier afterward.
Now, to turn to crunch peanut butter. As noted, it is not as sticky as smooth peanut butter. Also, if smooth peanut butter more closely resembles butter, chunky is much more peanutty. No other common sandwich filling is as crunchy as crunchy peanut butter, and I think that's important. We need a variety of textures in our sandwich fillings, and crunchy peanut butter fills an important niche. There are some definite spreading issues, however. Particularly on toast, crunchy peanut butter has a tendancy to tear the bread apart during spreading. Sandwiches made with crunchy peanut butter are also more susceptible to jelly drippage.
My solution to this age-old conundrum is a revaluation of all peanut butter values. In short: why can't we have both? Why can't we have choices in the middle of the tired dichotomy between crunchy and smooth peanut butter? Our nation's orange juice manufacturers have already mastered the fine art of regulating the amount of pulp in orange juice, ranging from "no pulp," to "some pulp," all the way to "lots of pulp." Perhaps some kind of exchange program could be instituted between the orange juice and peanut butter industries in order to share this lore, resulting in peanut butter with "some crunchiness." I would be most happy with a smooth peanut butter that also incorporates a third to half as many peanut chunks as the typical chunky peanut butter. This would provide us with the crucial crunchiness that is missing from most sandwiches while at the same time insulating us from the infrastructural problems caused by excessive crunchiness during the sandwich-making process.
I encourage everyone to write their senators and representatives about this matter.
[British readers who don't like peanut butter can discuss whether they prefer chunky or smooth marmite.]
UPDATE: It just occurred to me that British-style peanut butter already is the midpoint that I'm looking for! Anthony mentions that, more generally, organic peanut butter might already achieve my primary goals.
All of this confirms what I already thought as I disgustedly pushed "publish" -- this is the worst post I've ever written. (Please post any rebuttals, with links, in comments.)
Friday, September 16, 2005
(2:41 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Looking for myself on GoogleIn the wake of all the nonsense about how you will never get an academic job if you have a blog (or if you publish fewer than three books before you get your MA, or if you write for the popular press, or if you're married, or...), I googled myself, just to try to get a feel for my online presense. As it turns out, my name is actually pretty unique, so virtually all the results are actually related to me, at least for the first five or six pages.
Most of it is just comment stuff that will probably go away eventually, but some of it turns out to be detailed responses to me that I had no idea even existed. My favorite is this one. Based on my rewriting of the first few chapters of Romans, Andy concludes that I don't understand Reformed theology. It's really quite remarkable. He seems to disagree with me most when I am staying closest to Paul's text. The comments don't seem to work, but apparently Nate (possibly Nate Kerr?) said something very important in comment #3. This is all very strange to me, because it's not at all clear that I'm claiming to be talking about or critiquing Reformed theology at all in said posts. So Andy, if you're still reading this site, feel free to let me know how Reformed theology entered into the conversation.
(5:26 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional
I confess that when I woke up at an absurdly early hour, as is apparently my custom, I heard window-rattingly loud bass. It was 5:00 am. I don't understand.
I confess that yesterday I did virtually nothing academic at all. I also confess that I had too much coffee.
I confess that I had a hard time not taking this dream of The Girl personally, even though it doesn't reflect any real-life activities we've participated in:
Last night, I dreamt that I was having sex with this really boring guy, who was really boring in bed and just kept talking about philosophy during the act. He wasn't even talking to me, but kind of off into space, to himself. He furrowed his brow frequently. Since I was bored, I just kept fixing my hair.I confess that I worry about being considered boring.
I confess that this is just awesome: I'm going to get up at 5:00 in the morning to write the confessional every Friday. I've been missing the best part of the damn day. Maybe I should go do some yoga now, then brew up some nice herbal tea. I'll give up coffee because I'm so stimulated by life -- by the songbirds, by the leaves on the trees, by the majesty of the sunrise (which hasn't even happened yet). I'm going to eat oatmeal with fruit in it -- not your run of the mill fruit, not some kind of amateurish thing like bananas or strawberries, but raspberries.
I had never thought about it this way before -- making me unable to sleep through the night, every night for at least a month, has been the Lord's way of telling me that my old sleeping patterns were not in line with his perfect will. And yet I resisted his gentle nudging. Well, no more. From now on, you can all start hating me with every fiber of your being, because I'm going to be one of those people who wakes up every day at 5:00 and has accomplished more by 9:00 than you would usually do in a week. This might be the perfect time to take up gardening as well.
I confess that after a month without it, my truck seems to be more a pain in the ass than anything. I confess that I've been wanting to replace my Olivet keychain with a bottle opener, but I don't know where to buy a bottle opener keychain.
As always, absolution is available in the comment box.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
(9:27 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
A Link Post.I'd recommend that everyone check out This American Life's recent radio show. The show is a series of stories from those who survived not only Hurricane Katrina but the gross negligence of our government.
Some of you may also be interested in the meeting in Granada, Spain called by Javier Martinez, Catholic Archbishop of Granada, that has brought together a group of English speaking theologians mainly from the Duke school and the Radical Orthodoxy movement. There are three dispatches written by James K.A. Smith at the not-so-interesting to many of us "Generous Orthodoxy" blog [1, 2, 3]. I'm actually interested in what some of you all think about this conference.
Last night I submitted my first piece for publication. You can read my book profile of Theology and the Political at the Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory next summer. Yes, next summer. It's going to be in a special issue dealing with religion and politics.
There is a big protest happening at the end of this month (September 24th) in D.C. I can't take the days off or raise the funds, but if you are in Chicago you can still go if you get them a request postmarked by tomorrow. You should also check your local Indymedia.org to see if there is a group you can join.
Finally, the DePaul ecologist who led the think-tank that I participated in last year now has a blog. He's doing some real good work, now if I could just turn him into an orthodox Deleuzian! I may be getting to do more work with him in the future, something I'm looking forward to.
(7:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Je ne suis pas créateur
U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war. REUTERS/Rick WilkingI like the question mark -- maybe he also needs Condi to verify whether he actually does need a bathroom break.
Anthony showed it to me this morning on Wonkette, but I copied the link from Atrios.
General J.C. Christian shares another of Bush's notes.
UPDATE: Discussing this matter with Hayley, I was struck by a question: Does the president ever use a public restroom concurrently with anyone else? That is, would the Secret Service just clear the place out for him? Perhaps other high officials would have the necessary security clearance to use the stall next to the president's? John Kerry mentioned people standing next to him at urinals in his infamous Daily Show appearance, so apparently a mere presidential candidate is still just another citizen when it comes to relieving himself.
(I did not scare quote "president" in the preceding paragraph because I was referring to presidents in general, rather than only Bush.)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
(11:47 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Morning strollThere's nothing more humiliating than picking up dog shit; well, at least than picking up dog shit while someone is watching. As that guy reminded me as he stared outside his house this morning: "Ah, the joys of dog ownership." But, to tell the truth, I actually don't mind it that much. Mason doesn't ever poop in the yard anymore; he has to go for a walk. If I can keep his bladder or kidneys from failing or exploding by taking him for a short stroll and letting him do his business, than why wouldn't I be gracious enough to pick up his shit for him?
I don't have any special connection with my dog. He just needs some warm body to lead him to the tree that smells like it needs to be pissed on that particular day. And yet whenever we reach the river--our route takes us to its banks everyday--we always feel a soft breeze. I like to think that we each set out on our walks everyday just to feel that breeze. Usually it comes from the east, hitting us on our backs, pushing us westward, farther down our path; but today was different. The breeze was stronger and coming out of the west. The water looked as if it were following a summons to an elsewhere, to a beyond it had never thought to venture. With the rushing wind right in our faces, we couldn't help but look to the east, wondering what lie there.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "I've been east, there's nothing there." This answer seems pretty suitable, as it's the same thing I've been telling myself my whole life: there's nothing for you there. Stay where you are. Of course, even since I've been married, my wife and I have not stayed put. We have already moved three times. And yet my feet have gotten heavy; I have forgotten how not to be stagnant--no matter how much I move around. That pause down by the river this morning gave me a glimpse...I sure do like to take walks. Maybe I'll just keep on going tomorrow.
(3:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Preliminary Assessment: Origen's Commentary on RomansI'm about 2/3 of the way through the first volume (thus 1/3 of the way through the whole thing, which I am going to read), and I must say -- whatever faults Origen may have as an expositor of Scripture, inadequate attention to detail is not one of them. In fact, despite himself, he keeps catching Paul in errors, particularly in his account of Abraham (Romans 4). First, Paul uses the wrong name in one of the promises of God, which was made when Abram had not yet had his name changed to Abraham; Origen supposes that this might be a scribal error. Second, Paul says that Abraham's body was as good as dead (i.e., infertile) when he received the promise that Isaac would be born to him, but after Sarah's death, Abraham remarries and has six other children (Gensis 25:1-2). This second objection is placed in the mouth of an imagined detractor, perhaps to insulate Origen from having to directly claim an error in Scripture. He resolves the problem by saying that Abraham was "dead to sin" in a spiritual sense, which clearly doesn't fit with the sense of the passage.
Although we might not agree that the "allegorical" method was the best solution, it's pretty clear that Origen was learning from experience that straight-up literalism was not going to work, because he appears to have a more detailed command of Scripture than any living person I've ever known. This study is also leading me to the conclusion that modern Bible scholars who claim that early expositors weren't interested in the actual meaning of Scripture are probably incorrect.
(7:15 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The blog of my dreamsTed Koppel was doing a children's special. He was highlighting how sometimes, if you had a camera running, you could catch things, upon reviewing the footage, that you normally wouldn't notice. For instance, he was standing in a field, an open area in a camp ground, surrounded by little girls. He had a tarantula crawling on his hand and said that we wouldn't have even noticed this tarantula if we hadn't been taping. He had a little box with a little opening, and the tarantula kept trying to squeeze in, but it was only crushing its own head; Ted Koppel pointed out that the tarantula was harmless because all it wanted to do was crush its own head.
I was watching this whole thing, wearing the standard kahkis and polo shirt that I always wore to work, and I told Ted Koppel that it wasn't safe and that he needed to stomp the tarantula. I demonstrated by jumping into the air and stomping with both feet. He decided to let it go and let me handle killing it, but the tarantula was extremely fast. I jumped probably about 30 feet, which was really pushing it in terms of my jumping ability, but by that time, the tarantula had already gotten to the road at the edge of the field. I didn't think I could jump far enough to stomp it, so I said it was just as well because it would have messed up my shoes anyway.