Tuesday, January 31, 2006
(9:32 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
"There's a better way"Tonight Gov. Timothy Kaine of Virginia, in the Democratic response to "President" Bush's speech tonight, repeatedly said "There's a better way," followed by a pregnant pause.
Each time, I expected his next utterance to be, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints...."
(8:34 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Goodbye, Fair Constitution
I hate errands.
Thou Hast Had a Good Run
I hate it when companies I work for implement software that makes my job obselete.
I hate that we no longer have any constitutional rights whatsoever:
I hate that even though the story on Ratzinger in the Atlantic Monthly made me hate Ratzinger less, he still looks so creepy:
How long before we all start calling him Benedict?
I hate that I can't listen to Nina Simone's "I Put a Spell on You" without thinking of that Simpsons episode where they had the spelling bee.
Monday, January 30, 2006
(11:45 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Bach, the "Greatest Christian Theologian"?Well, I fly out tomorrow morning for Nashville because I have two auditions in the area--the first on Wednesday and the second on Thursday (at separate schools). At both schools I have to play at least one piece from a lute suite by Bach (the Thursday audition actually requires two). So I've chosen the 3rd Lute Suite (transcribed from the 5th Cello Suite, as I've discussed previously...I'm too lazy for links right now); and as I studied the piece more closely, and Baroque composition in general, I came across this interesting note by guitarist Stanley Yates (who I actually have to audition for on Wednesday):
"Modeled upon Greco-Roman principles of oratory and rhetoric, the Baroque compositional process consists of the expressive surface elaboration of an underlying structure. Comprising the invention of an idea (the inventio), the realization of its basic form and contrapuntal framework (the dispositio), the elaboration of this contrapuntal skeleton with rhetorical figuration (the decoratio), and the final presentation of the completed composition in performance (the pronunciato), the rhetorical musical process lies at the heart of an understanding of the Baroque style. The birth of the expressive rhetorical style, the seconda prattica, is rooted in monody--an expressive solo voice, simply accompanied. The influence of the prima prattica, the elaborate multi-voice polyphony of the Renaissance, did persist however, and a confluence of the two practices led to an entirely new style of vocal writing. The essence of this new style lies in the dual function of the melodic leap, which now not only acts as a rhetorical expressive gesture, but also allows for a single vocal part to be constructed so as to give the impression of the entrance of a 'second' voice in dialog with the 'first.' Adopted by Italian string players, the style led to an instrumental idiom--the sonate a due (the 'solo sonata'). This idiom found its highest expression some eighty years later in the unaccompanied string music of J.S. Bach; the single line now implying not only the dialog texture of the Italian sonate a due, but the supporting continuo part as well."
This is all very interesting...Aquinas says in the Summa that instruments should not be used within church worship, not even as accompaniment; his point was similar to Augustine's (which is all based on Aristotle's conception in Politics): certain forms of music move us and have their way with us, but lead us to "pleasure" (the sort of negative "passions"), not virtue. What's interesting is that Baroque music is rhetorical in nature--it is intended to "move" the "Affekt" of the listener...but whereas 19th century Romantic music was intended to do this "spontaneously," Baroque music aimed at a "rational" emotional response (and thus grows out of a rational intent...apply Aquinas' notion of the intellect to said process... you get my drift I think). In my mind, had Aquinas lived until the Baroque period--and had he been familiar with Baroque compositional and performance practices--then I think he would admit that this type of instrumental music could indeed be used for worship within the Church, since it is solely for the "edification" of the believer, and the praise of the Lord (the intention here is less to argue for the--utilitarian but still useless--use of instruments in orthodox worship settings than it is about the nature of Baroque music).
This post was a bunch of horse shit...I mainly wanted to (a) inform you of my venture to Nashville and my auditions (hoping for a little bit of prayer I suppose!); and (b) try out some thoughts that are forming a paper in my head...also, this post was pretty much verbatim from an email I sent my friend Josh. Sorry if you read it twice for no reason Josh.
Oh, and by the way...the title of the post...it's taken from David Bentley Hart's book The Beauty of the Infinite. For those of you who have read it, he is making an argument which completely excises the importane of rhetoric as it functions in Baroque music...if I could understand what the hell he was saying, I would probably say that this is due to his fundamental misunderstanding of "the aesthetic" in general. Peace.
(7:05 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
An Open Letter to the Democratic Party.Dear Democratic Party,
Because you have failed to have the resolve and courage to use the weapons at your disposal to defeat an imperialist (a real one!) I will no longer be voting for you. Because, if one day you get back in power, you will likely be what Republicans were ten years ago, I will no longer be voting for you. Because you can't seem to find any issue to fight for besides the right to an abortion, without addressing the structural issues that lead to abortion, I will no longer be voting for you. Because you did, in fact, vote for the war before you voted against it, I will no longer be voting for you. Because you have failed to be a party, I will no longer be voting for you.
Go fuck yourself Democratic "Party". And give me back my black t-shirt.
Anthony Paul Smith
P.S. Except members of the Black Caucus. For the most part I like those guys.
(12:30 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Monday Picture Blogging: The Martyred Tsars of RussiaThe names of our ferrets are Søren and Zarathustra (Zara for short). Hayley's mother calls them the martyred Tsars of Russia, but I don't really know why.
They are, more than any of the cats, very curious. And they love to steal things.
I suppose neither of them have the same kind of personality that the cats have. I can tell they don't like living in their cage, but where else are they supposed to live? A friend is, hopefully, going to care for them when we move. I'm hoping he takes them out more, but it really is odd having animals live with you. They can't go back to the wild (they are tame now) and they can't live like cats (because they aren't that tame).
Sunday, January 29, 2006
(5:48 PM) | Dominic:
Kenosis and Tragedy (ii)The centrepiece of Donald MacKinnon's The Stripping of the Altars is the Gore Memorial Lecture, Kenosis and Establishment. This lecture was delivered in Westminster Abbey on November 5th in 1968: an eventful year. The tone and style of MacKinnon's prose are recognisably those of the English-speaking public intellectual at a time when the terms "the public" and "the intellectual" were subject to disconcertingly rapid shifts in sense. There is a similar combination of boldness and hesitancy, a similar sense of needing to tread carefully precisely because one is breaking new - inevitably "radically new" - ground, in the writing of Raymond Williams from the same period.
Some indication of how much was changing, and has changed further since, in the configuration of the "public" for such writing can be taken from the fact that the Greek terms in the text (with the exception, strangely enough, of "kenosis") are given in the Greek alphabet, untransliterated and without explanatory footnotes. It is assumed that the educated reader will be able to make sense of such terms as given; that the uneducated reader will not be looking at the book at all; and that there is nothing and no-one occupying the space between these two classes of person - or perhaps no such space to be occupied. MacKinnon is addressing a public audience to whom the phrases "de haut en bas", "vis-à-vis", "point de départ", "soi-disant" and so on will be immediately intelligible; an audience that knows what a modus vivendi is, and a magnum opus too.
The first thing, then, that we may say about MacKinnon's call for the church to give up its conventional adherence to the titles and privileges of a social authority guaranteed by imperial power, is that it issues from inside the fortress of that authority. However beleaguered and crumbling that fortress may be, the discourse that is carried on within its walls remains masterful, self-assured even as it declares its foundations shaken, its certainties swept away.
One would not readily describe the tone of the following passage as "radically democratic":
We live in a radically democratic age, in which established sanctities are ceaselessly called in question, compelled to justify their claim by reference to the human values they promote. The temper of this protest is often crudely utilitarian, unaware of the serious criticisms to which a thoroughgoing utilitarianism in ethical theory is open (whether 'rule-utilitarianism' or 'act-utilitarianism' is in mind); but the demand which thus finds expression is the fundamentally healthy rejection of an order which secures certainly a measure of respect for certain traditional values, but only at the cost religiously of a profound deformation of the ultimately radical faith of the incarnation through its conversion into the underlying spiritual tradition of a supposedly supremely excellent civilization.Some radical democratisation is taking place, certainly; it takes the form of a "protest" and "rejection" perhaps "crudely utilitarian" in temper, and "unaware" of "serious criticisms", but "fundamentally healthy" nevertheless. MacKinnon's stance here is one of simultaneous avowal and disavowal: what is "healthy" about such democratic sentiment is not the means it employs, its compulsive recourse to utilitarian standards of judgment, but the ends towards which it gestures. Thus, the cultural supremacism of the "supposedly supremely excellent civilization" is to be opposed, not because such supremacism goes against the democratic temper of the age, but because it profoundly deforms "the ultimately radical faith of the incarnation".
Kenosis, then, is the spiritual centre of MacKinnon's critique of the affiliation between the Church of England and what in the England of 1968 was still known, and still able to know itself, as "the Establishment"; and kenosis is not democratic self-assertion, or the multilateral "struggle for recognition", but "self-emptying": "taking the form of a servant". MacKinnon takes his lead from Charles Gore, to whose memory the lecture on Kenosis and Establishment is dedicated, and the Roman Catholic theologian Father Robert Adolfs:
What Father Adolfs is pleading for is, in the first instance, a renewal of understanding of the manner of the Church's presence to the human societies in which its work is carried on; but he recognises quite clearly that this touches also the nature of its self-understanding, and indeed the way in which it understands its mission and the faith by which its existence is defined. So he latches on to the idea of kenosis or self-emptying...and urges its application in the field of ecclesiology at once in theory and in pastoral practice.One is compelled to wonder what form an application of the "idea of kenosis" might be expected to take. Is the formal servanthood of the incarnate Christ in the first instance an idea, a concept that might be added to the conceptual apparatus of ecclesiology "in theory" at the same time as it was to be worked out in practice? MacKinnon does not fail to doubt it. He notes, firstly, that "the notion of kenosis as a Christological concept has been drastically criticized", and that the "paradoxes in the theory are well known"; and, at the end of the lecture, that "it belongs to the heart of the idea of kenosis that ultimate significance should be received, not imposed". The idea of kenosis is, at its heart, paradoxical: it does not take a positive form in the present, but inculcates a receptivity towards an as-yet unknown future. Although MacKinnon does not use the word, it seems to me to be closely bound to the condition of poverty (as in "the poverty of theory", "the poverty of historicism", etc: a constitutive failure of articulation); and MacKinnon's use of the term "aphasia" has something of this sense:
To speak in these terms is not to be guilty of irrationalism. It is to express the conviction, which at some level we all share, that in Christian belief we reach the frontiers of the intelligible, the mysterious actuality of the divine self-emptying. Certainly the writ of logic runs in the field of theology. But we cannot trace always the precise way in which it does. Thus we know...that we must, as far as we can, eliminate self-contradiction and every other counter-intuitive element from our concepts. Yet still we may, rather we must, admit a final and inescapable failure to represent the manner of God's presence to the world in Christ, the quality of the transcendent decisively disclosed in him. And in this situation we do well to consider silence as a "system of projection" of the ineffable. But it must be a silence expressed in action: not simply an unwillingly accepted aphasia...a silence that bears witness to the fact that we have reached beyond argument to a place in which all that is left us is to affirm not ourselves but that to which, however haltingly, we are bound to witness.That is, the paradox of kenosis arises at the point of confrontation between two imperatives: the imperative to articulate, to trace the precise lineaments of the "writ of logic" within our arguments, and the imperative to witness, "in action", to what has been decisively yet inarticulably disclosed in Christ. Particularly valuable here is MacKinnon's insistance that this "failure" of articulation not be "simply an unwillingly accepted aphasia"; or, worse still, lead to "a cult of powerlessness or failure, recalling the well-known, deeply unhealthy cult of despair as the only praeambula fidei, which was fashionable in the 'forties". On the contrary, such "failure" is the condition of a hope which can only arise as such in conditions of uncertainty, in the disconcerting and disconcerted condition of the present moment:
It is, rather, a defeat that is not a defeat, because it is eloquent of hope as well as of failure; it is suffused by a sense of promise of that which is not yet, but which is even now coming to be, which is indeed coming to be as the Church begins to realize existentially as well as theoretically the law of kenosis, the law of the Incarnation, by which the manner of its own fidelity is bound.There is much else that could be said about MacKinnon's analyses of the abuses of spiritual authority within the Church, and the relationship between "the manner of the Church's presence" to society and its own spiritual self-understanding. The political argument he is making is for a certain democratisation of the Church, but on a Christological or Christocentric basis that is, as I have suggested, not founded on any positive representation of some democratic essence (e.g. the promotion of "human values") but formally open (this would be the paradox of kenosis in a nutshell) to a transfiguration of human values, that would be "received rather than imposed" and that would "teach us not to seek in our future, deliverance from the tragic, but the presence of the ground that alone makes possible the endurance of its burden".
As for the consequences of this analysis for the present day, let me note one "sign of the times", no doubt intended and even to a degree stage-managed as such. One of the earliest public, publicised acts of MacKinnon's former student Rowan Williams, following his installation as Archbishop of Canterbury, was to wash the feet of twelve members of his congregation in Canterbury Cathedral on Maundy Thursday.
(8:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Sunday Linkosity, with ScheduleAdam Roberts has a great piece on Proust up at The Valve.
Adam Robinson has written a wonderful observational piece at Chief Jason's blog, as well as a remarkable poem at his new blog, Publishing Genius.
Pope Benedict XVI has written his first encyclical. It treats the topic of love, which I have heard is a pretty prominent theme in Christianity.
Matt Christie quotes Agamben at length, remarking that an engagement with Badiou is all but inevitable for Agamben's many fans.
Meanwhile, Jodi Dean argues with her partner about the right to exist.
Jared Woodard's reception of his copy of Being and Event has generated an interesting comment thread, primarily on math and ontology.
Now for the schedule. As of now, there should be new content every weekday, to wit:
Monday: Picture Blogging with Anthony (I don't know for sure, but I suspect it may involve animals).
Tuesday: The same old Tuesday Hatred routine you've come to know and love.
Wednesday: Brad Johnson -- on doing radical theology in the wake of pouring a bottle of whiskey into the humidifier (or related topics).
Thursday: Good Old Doug Johnson (no relation).
Friday: A time for pious reflection and self-examination in yet another installment of the classic Friday Afternoon Confessional.
Dominic has also mentioned some possible posts, and it looks as though the weekday schedule could expand in coming weeks in terms of non-Kotsko participation levels. Of course, I haven't had my hands chopped off and so may choose to blog on a non-ritualized day as well -- and as always, those with posting rights have full freedom of speech and may butt in whenever they please.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
(11:14 AM) | Brad:
For Brits, Soon-to-be British Residents, & Anybody Else Who Likes CastlesThis morning I was making my 'Post-PhD To-Do' List, in a vain attempt to salvage some semblance of responsibility, and noted that at some point I needed to get on the ball and come up with an abstract for the this conference. While reading the session titles, I had the thought that some of the Weblog's own might find some of this interesting.
I've participated in the last three meetings of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture, and can say fairly safely that it puts the AAR to shame -- certainly in terms of food, locales, and size (i.e., I prefer smaller conferences). Four years ago it was in York, England, home of the oldest street in Britain, a jaw-dropping cathedral, and a surprisingly good 'Ghost Walk' tour; two years ago it was in Uppsala, Sweden, where I discovered the wonders that are cloudberries, pear cider, and Swedish breakfast buffets; and this year it is in Stirling, Scotland, home of the William Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle, and a Rob Roy statue where yours truly was once photographed with a green hat that made him look a wee bit homosexual. Now, the conference fee is a bit much, three hundred pounds(!!!), but in my experience they throw out bursaries to just about anybody who bothers to ask, so that shouldn't scare you.
(11:05 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Open Letter to Our Political ElitesDear Democrats and mainstream media,
Why the fuck can't you talk about Alito's views on executive power instead of acting like only Roe v. Wade is at stake here? What the fuck is wrong with you?!
Chicago Theological Seminary
Friday, January 27, 2006
(7:46 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: God speed all the bakers at dawn
I confess that the image in this post from the blog from which I stole today's image is also pretty funny. Or this one. Basically, just scroll through the blog and look for Jesus. (I found the original image -- helpfully pointed out by Anthony -- in a Google Image search for "friday afternoon.")
I confess that yesterday I was reading Kant (having realized, much to my delight, that one is expected to do some reading even before the first class of 20th Century), and every time he would mention non-European people, I would always tense up and think, "Oh shit, what now?" I confess that I need to go grocery shopping and I really, really don't want to. I confess that I similarly really, really don't want to go get an oil change. I confess that my radio has been messed up since August, almost certainly due to some minor error by the repair shop after my accident, but I haven't taken it back in to get the almost certainly absolutely free repairs because it just seemed like a pain in the ass.
I confess that I've had insurance for four months now and haven't yet gone in for a checkup (as I had in fact planned to do), again because it just seemed like a pain in the ass. I confess that I sometimes feel like a chump for having gotten the insurance plan in the first place, but I will definitely have to have insurance to enroll in that class at the Div School anyway, and the only cheaper option is to pay about half as much for basically no coverage whatsoever. At least my plan waives the deductible for the first few office visits, making a valuable token gesture toward preventive care.
I confess that I'm a cad.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
(2:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Personal/Blogological Testament: DamnationThe Semester of the Damned begins next week. As it gets closer, it looks less daunting. Due to a series of poor choices last semester, I will have to work this semester, but I have successfully negotiated for a bare minimum work schedule -- just enough to cover my basic expenses. My course schedule will be as follows:
- 20th Century Theology -- for which see this post; now that I am a PhD student, this course is required, with the syllabus representing the reading list for an area exam.
- Paul and Philosophy -- this won't be entirely redundant, as we will spend the first half of the class going through historical stuff such as Spinoza. It should be a good group of people, some pretty serious students, and a good reading list. It will also help me to prepare for an AAR presentation, assuming that my proposal (which I have not yet written) is accepted.
- Womanist and Feminist Christologies -- this is an area of theology to which I've had very limited exposure. I hope that taking this course will help me to resist the temptation to engage in petty identity politics by only ever reading the classic white male authors.
- Starting in late March and extending through June: Augustine's Trinity -- team-taught by Jean-Luc Marion and David Tracy at the Div School.
Feel free to place bets in comments about which of these tasks will be left by the wayside. It would be a shame if it were the Nancy study -- although that seems to be the most obvious one, since one of the requirements of being a PhD students is to have incompletes of epic proportions -- but I might be able to treat it as the equivalent of a fourth class, to be replaced mid-semester by Augustine (at which time, hopefully, the Nancy would be finished).
I've been cutting down coffee intake recently, because I didn't think that coffee was helping me to get over my cold, but I have a feeling I'm going to need to step it up a notch in the coming weeks.
An inevitable corollary of the above: I cannot possibly run this blog in the manner to which I've grown accustomed during the upcoming semester, that is to say, I shouldn't. (I can't because I mustn't.) From here until March, then, the only things for which you can rely on me are the Tuesday Hatred and Friday Confessional.
You will not be left alone in the dark during the Semester of the Damned, my dear readers! Old and I have discussed it, and he will be continuing his normal Thursday schedule. Brad and I have discusssed the possibility of a regular Wednesday contribution from him, though it has not been confirmed. If anyone wants to do Mondays, that would help to make sure there's a regular post every weekday. (I'm not saying that I will never post aside from the regular weekly features, just that it's more likely than not that on a given day, I will not be able to post.)
All of this is contingent on you having leisure time. I would not dream of asking anyone to make a significant sacrifice of time and energy to keep this blog up and running. Yet my personal schedule challenges might present a good opportunity for this blog to move more decisively in the direction that it has in fact been moving in recent months -- toward being a genuine group blog. That has been my hope from the very beginning, even though I short-sightedly chose my own name as the URL. But as some of us know, perhaps it is best not to have an officially shared "impersonal" blog -- perhaps it is best for us to continually occupy each other's space, and for me to be displaced continually from "my own" space, with no kind of substance or self-perpetuating institution to uphold above or alongside our being-with one another.
(9:49 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Iran, Three Scenarios[originally concieved in more detail; not-quite-three year old is registering temperatures around 105 F./40 C.]
I know that others have already weighed in on this topic, but ...
Given a) This administration doesn't believe in sanctions-inspections only strategies b) Rummy's brilliant smart and light military philosophy means that a ground war is out of the question c) Wait and see would be totally uncharacteristic of U.S. and Israel d) Iran has undoubtedly learned from North Korea's example; I offer the following three scenarios:
Scenario 1: Special Deliveries from Columbine to Tehran with Love.
A month or more of devestating air bombings. Many civilian deaths since U.S. will not leave anything to chance (may be less severe if Israel's intelligence is as damn good as it often is).
Scenario 2: Strategic Iranian Backtrack
Given d) above, Iran backs off, appears to fully cooperate; program goes underground again and is undetectable; another standoff down the road, then another, until they are able to test and announce. Given d), U.S. may still push for Scen. 1.
Scenario 3: Bring it on Assholes
Iran tests and announces. This scenario would mean the program is way further ahead than previously assumed. U.S.-Israel in a world of hurt. Perhaps a threat of nuclear pre-emption.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
(9:04 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Being and Event Reading Group and Week.
Badiou's Being and Event has finally been published in English after a long year wait from the time it was supposed to be published. Badiou's philosophy is shaping up to be a major force in the English speaking world and no one can deny that there is a burgeoning "Badiou-ism" forming in some major areas. This book appears to be something we will have to deal with, either as adherents or antagonists. What I'm purposing is that we read it together and after finishing devote a week to more substantial responses. I'm thinking that Wednesdays could be devoted to the discussion starting in three weeks (
On a related note, does anyone know if the picture to the left is making fun of the Deleuze picture that is always made fun of?
(10:53 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
PlagiarismScott McLemee has a characteristically excellent column up today on plagiarism. While reading it, I was reminded (somewhat tangentially) of a thought that has crossed my mind more than once recently: what is at stake when someone claims that the ideas of a contemporary figure can all be found in some form in his predecessors? For example, someone might say that a particular idea of Derrida was already found in Kant, or whomever. Obviously, the intention of such statements is usually to dismiss Derrida (or whomever) as not worth the speaker's time -- and to declare that, as opposed to the Derrida fans, the speaker can distinguish between genuinely original thoughts and second-hand merchandise.
An interesting paradox opens up here. On the one hand, fans of Derrida are often derided as fetishizers of mere novelty, all to ready to throw the tradition out the window. On the other hand, the opponents of the Derrida fans end up as the true fetishizers of novelty, arguing that Derrida can be dismissed precisely because he is not radically breaking with the tradition. The claim that a serious reckoning with the ideas of Kant might, of itself, produce something new -- indeed, might produce a "new Kant" -- is never considered. Kant is Kant. "Kant" is Kant's property, in perpetuity. All surplus valued generated by the laborer on Kant's property is to be credited to Kant's account.
"Derrida" and "Kant" are of course only examples, even if Derrida might be considered a particularly exemplary example of the phenomenon I'm describing.
(9:26 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
FilibusterI support a Democratic filibuster of the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. In the event of the nuclear option, I support direct physical action by the Democrats to prevent the vote from happening. We don't need federal environmental regulations thrown out on a technicality, a return to back-alley wire-hanger abortions, or executive rule by fiat.
If the Democrats do not take such actions, I will... continue to grudgingly vote for them.
(12:08 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Things that could be betterIt would be better if I didn't have a cold right now. I had one last week, and I took a day off to deal with it (although in effect, I took a day off to work on the freelance project that I finally finished off Monday). Yesterday, it came back. I went to work anyway, because the Semester of the Damned is starting next week and I need to work as much as possible before it starts so that I can work as little as possible while it's going on.
I'm pretty adept at doing data entry work while sniffling and sneezing -- in fact, that's arguably when I'm at my best. I was literally allergic to the office at my last job and would spend much of the day blowing my nose. This was for two and a half years. On particularly bad days, I would work incredibly fast on processing the payments, etc., just to keep my mind off the fact that it was the thirtieth time I'd blown my nose that minute. That kind of zombified state goes well with the zombification of data entry -- that minute attention to details that absolutely do not matter on any other scale. No one can concentrate on that, consciously, for very long. The key is to become so habituated to the (meaningless) patterns in the data that thought doesn't enter in, to become a machine. Establish a process that basically works, then trust the process. Trust the former self who consciously came up with the process, and go through the motions. When you make a mistake, it's not really "you" -- you don't recognize what you've done, you don't remember anything, you can't imagine how it could've happened. Even when it's known which physical body pressed the keys resulting in a particular entry, then, it's not really that person's fault -- someone messed up this page, someone. A person in general.
One of my coworkers today was sympathetic toward me, saying that I shouldn't be there, that no one should have to work when they were sick. I said, "Then maybe we should start a temp worker union so that we can get some sick days." It's a shame that such a thing is unimaginable. One almost longs for the clarity of physical work, where demanding long hours, for instance, can be seen for the abusive treatment it is. I would hate to have a full-time job: an expensive health insurance plan full of holes, the demand to work a theoretically infinite number of hours, and no real job security in the end anyway. That's how it seems at most places, at least -- or rather, it's only the decency of the bosses that makes it any different. In essence, we are all disposable temp workers, even the CEO. I steal time to look at the Internet, the CEO steals the money. The CEO is the one who turns the situation into an opportunity, but there's really only room for so many people to do that.
So things could be better, in short.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
(10:23 AM) | Dave Belcher:
Lost...Help!I hate to use this forum for such a request, but I'm desperate...
I finally broke down last night and rented the first two discs of Season One of Lost (there are seven total in Season 1). I am hooked--like a junkie--and as soon as I watch the rest of Season One, I want to catch up so I can watch the actual new episodes...but, of course I have no way to do this. Unless, that is, someone has taped the episodes this far from Season Two (11 total, with a new one coming up tomorrow night). If you live in the Chicago area--or if you are in Nashville...nudge, nudge, Josh--and you have in fact taped these shows, and you are in fact willing to let me borrow/copy them, I would be forever in your debt.
End of public begging now. Thanks.
(6:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: "A priestly demolition, if you will"I hate complaining about things that are within my power to change. (Would those things be best declared in Friday Confession rather than Tuesday Confession? The difference sometimes blurs -- there's a "zone of indistinction," if you will) I hate how late the mail comes lately. I hate it when my excitement is mistaken for arrogance.
I hate having a work schedule that causes me to miss 24. I hate having come in on a day that I was thinking about calling off, then regretting it almost as soon as I got there. I hate lingering colds.
I hate thinking about money, and that extends to penny pinching and searching for bargains (which could, in fact, lead to less "thinking about money" in the sense of "worrying about money"). I think I might just hate that money is something we do -- cash, especially. I always liked credit cards (which up until about six months ago I almost always paid off every month) just because I didn't have to carry around cash. No more waiting for someone to give me back my $4.23 in change. No more worries about having just too little cash. Since it was credit, there was also a nice disconnect between the amount of money in the bank at that moment and the amount I could spend -- I always knew that when it came time to settle accounts with the credit card, enough money would be there, so I didn't have to wait, necessarily. Paying it off every month meant that I derived nothing but benefit. Ah, those were the days. Maybe I can return to them again, some sweet day.
I hate how little I really know.
I hate that The Valve is having a perfectly reasonable and interesting event on Franco Moretti, so I can't go over there and get in a big ol' argument.
I hate having the ASCII codes for ¢, ™, and ® memorized (for work). Normally I enjoy having any kind of knowledge, but this is one of the rare exceptions.
UPDATE: A new commandment I give you -- show Tuesday love.
Monday, January 23, 2006
(11:13 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Powers Inherent in the PresidentHypothetical situation. First of all, let's assume that we were living in a country with a legitimate president. Second, let's say that he's somehow just walking down my street, unaccompanied by Secret Service agents.
Were he to order me to do something under these circumstances, would there be the same presumptive obligation to obey that exists in the case of a police officer? Could the president of the United States, qua president, place me under arrest?
From reading Article III of The Constitution, my first impression is that the answer to both is no: the president sees to it that the laws are enforced but is not, qua president, a law enforcement officer. But that's just my first impression -- I want to hear from people who might actually know.
A related question: What if it was the governor of Illinois walking down the street rather than the president?
(9:59 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Soviet Kitsch: Or, I hope Jared Woodard doesn't hate this picture post.
My co-worker gave this to me on Sunday. He was wearing a "Communist Party of Canada/Parti Communiste du Canada" pin. We would say to the customers "Seize the means of production! Would you like your receipt?"
(1:43 PM) | Dave Belcher:
We are being fucked over...TSA has apparently instituted a plan to create background checks on travelers in order to determine whether or not they are terrorists…of course they are using the incentive that it would speed up security checks to goad travelers into the deal. “The program will create reserved lanes for people who pass the background check and pay an annual fee, expected to be $80 to $100. Security requirements such as removing jackets and shoes will be lifted as approved passengers go through metal detectors.” This does not fall under Congress’ ban against TSA from using data on airline passengers—a ban that came after it was discovered that they had stored 100 million “records on travelers when it said no data storage would occur”—because the background search is “voluntary and the background checks would be done by companies at an airport.” But, even if one were to submit to the background check—which in my mind is exchanging what seems so bad…security checkpoints…for something much worse…allowing TSA to invade every corner of your life not attached to your body, but made a part of your body by the capitalist mode of production—the tests aren’t entirely accurate! And since the background check must give "a high degree of confidence that an individual is not a terrorist," one could easily be mistaken for a terrorist when in fact they are just trying to get to Seattle. Furthermore, technically, all “the terrorists” would need to do is get somebody who has a “clean” background to submit to the test, and then walk through the detector with a bomb in their shoe. How utterly ridiculous.
This comes on the same day that former NSA security chief said, "Had this program [you know, the illegal surveillance of phone and email conversations that Bush and his cronies have been conducting for God only knows how long] been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the al-Qaida operatives in the United States." TSA and the administration in bed together? One need not perpetuate such rumors...one only has to recognize that there are a lot of fucking people out there that have bought into the fear precscribed by the Bush administration, and will do anything to avoid "the worst." Anyone who wasn't scared of Bush's outlandish usurpation of authority before should be frightened. And with the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito on the horizon (I think it's on Wednesday, right?), the question of Bush's reigning in unlimited power to the executive branch makes our situation seem downright fucking hopeless. If there was ever a time for hope in the eschaton, it is now.
(10:57 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
World Enough and TimeMy idealized picture of what my schedule could be like if I had enough money that I didn't have to work:
- Wake up whenever I wake up (probably 9 at the latest); eat breakfast, make coffee, read my e-mail
- Whenever I'm done with that up until noon: language work, either moving forward with new languages (to which there is an upper limit) or solidifying previous ones
- Noon through 1 or 2: eat lunch, tidy up around the house, write a blog post
- 2 to 7: reading or writing, depending on what's necessary
- 7 to 9: eat dinner, watch some TV (24, House, etc.)
- 9 to bed time: more reading, or else go out
Here's how it might really work out:
- Wake up around 9 or 10
- Through noon: dick around on the Internet
- Noon - 2pm: freak out that it's already noon, eat lunch and do dishes in an effort to "have done something," stress out over a bad e-mail chess move
- 2pm - 5 pm: work my way through some foreign-language reading or exercises, checking my e-mail or comments excessively, hoping to at least be away from the computer by the time Hayley comes home
- 5pm or so: Hayley comes home, finding me at the computer
- 5pm to 9pm: watch, in turn, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and whatever shows are on Fox that night; some chance of a half-hearted attempt at work if American Idol or Nanny 911 is on
- 9pm to 10pm: read on the couch, pretty solidly
- 10pm to 11pm: read on the couch while struggling, with limited success, to stay awake
- 11pm: give up and go to bed, promise self that I'll get up earlier tomorrow and turn over a new leaf
- 7am: begin cycle of pressing snooze repeatedly until 8:45
Sunday, January 22, 2006
(9:52 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Richard Horsley Lecture in ChicagoRichard Horsley is giving a lecture entitled “Jesus And Empire: Past and Present” at DePaul University on Thursday, January 26, at 7pm. The lecture will be held in room 120 (the auditorium) of the Student Center, which is building #29 on this map. Anthony describes the Student Center as the building with the statue of the big, scary priest out front ("What have you done for justice?!").
Additional information can be found here.
(5:17 PM) | Dominic:
Kenosis and Tragedy (i)The chief concern of Donald MacKinnon's The Stripping of the Altars is indicated by the titles of its chapters: Kenosis and Establishment, Theology and Tragedy, Authority and Freedom in the Church, Intercommunion: A Comment, Is Ecumenism a Power Game? and The Controversial Bishop Bell.
Each of these titles indicates a controversy, an Auseinandersetzung: in the first three chapters, it is between kenosis and establishment, theology and tragedy, authority and freedom; in the next two, it is the controversy between denominations; in the last, the controversy inhering in the person of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's sometime ally and correspondant, Bishop George Bell.
The question MacKinnon takes up in each of these chapters is that of how a true church of Christ might handle controversy within itself and within the world: how it might handle itself in the face, or teeth, of controversy. Thus, insofar as The Stripping of the Altars is concerned with ecclesiology, what it presents is not so much a positive vision of the church as it should be, as a series of caveats against the abuse and over-reaching of such visions, a series of pleas for intellectual humility.
In his introduction to the volume, MacKinnon writes of a contemporary (this was in 1968) imperative "[t]o emerge self-consciously, and in a spirit of acceptance...into the light of the post-Constantinian age; to seek the forms of post-Constantinian existence both in respect of inter-Church relations and in respect of presence to the world [italics in original];...(most fundamentally) to liberate our basic theology from the inherited inflection of centuries of acquiescence in an objectively false situation vis-a-vis public authority". That "objectively false situation" is one in which the status of the church is "guaranteed" and "allows the manner of that guarantee (the exercise by the civil power of a measure of external compulsive authority) to invade the substance of her life". Inheritance; inflection; invasion: for MacKinnon, the Constantinian compact between imperial power and the church was objectively a disaster for the innermost life of the church, and the undoing of that compact appears as an opportunity for spiritual liberation.
MacKinnon expresses the spiritual and institutional character of the Constantinian church in terms of an "opposition" between Christ and Caiaphas: between "the one who asked as a rhetorical question what shepherd, if he lost one sheep, would not leave the ninety and nine to seek it out; and the one who gave counsel that it was expedient that one man should die for the people". The Constantinian ecclesiological order is sacrificial: the counsel of Caiaphas expresses "the major premise of a great many practical syllogisms whose conclusion is always the same; that the individual shall be broken, or that his or her claims should be disregarded".
Against the sacrificial, syllogistic cast of mind of the "responsible ecclesiastic", MacKinnon calls for a theology inflected by tragedy, and a practical form of Christian presence in the world based on kenosis. Tragedy is, in MacKinnon's account, the discarded, rejected content of Plato's vision of the kallipolis, the "beautiful polity", in the Republic. Tragedy is the situation in which the virtuous man or woman is trapped and overthrown by his or her own virtues: it is the negation of Plato's attempt "to establish a world without ambiguity".
MacKinnon claims that influence of "Plato's authority" on Christian tradition was damaging precisely because "that tradition took over Plato's flight from the tragic as an ultimate, irreducible form of representation of the relation of the transcendent to the familiar". The "ecclesiological fundamentalist...finds in the actual history of his Church something of the security the kallipolis sought to offer", and is drugged and tranquilized by that positive vision: "he uses the study of that history as a kind of tranquilizer whereby he can lull himself into supposing the unknown somehow known, the unfathomable somehow plumbed to its depths. The ragged edges are made to disappear; the terrible reality of human waste, to which the Churches have added so much by the ways in which they have dealt with men and women, is pushed out of sight".
In calling for a restoration of the tragic sensibility to Christian thought, MacKinnon is not yet asserting that "the Gospel records" are intrinsically or fundamentally tragic: tragedy is not presented as the key to the Gospels; but the Platonic attempt "to discredit altogether the claim of tragic drama to represent the notion of what is" must nevertheless be reversed in order for certain important aspects of the Gospels to become visible:
The Christian believes that in Christ's passion he finds at once the judgment and redemption of the world; it is a desperately human occasion fraught not with a great, but with an ultimate, significance. But it is also failure; and that not in the language of devotion, but in that of literal fact. It is in the figure of Judas Iscariot that the failure of Jesus is focussed, and the tragic quality of his mission becomes plain, "Good were it for this man if he had not been born". Yet through his agency the Son of Man goes his appointed way, and of his own choice; for in a few hours' time, he will say "Thy will, not mine, by done". There is no solution here of the problem of the moral evil; there is nothing moreover which the Easter faith somehow obliterates.
MacKinnon's insistence that this failure is irreducible - that "the Easter faith", whatever else it may accomplish, does not simply wipe out the tragic elements within the Gospel narrative - acts as a guard against triumphalism, against the pushing out of sight of "the terrible reality of human waste". It is in the zone of the construction of the kallipolis, the vision of the just and beautiful society, that this restraint on spiritual triumphalism takes on a political (and ecclesiological) significance: if tragedy is admitted, then such totalising social visions, sustained by the "practical syllogisms" of the followers of Caiaphas, must be judged against the sacrificial decisions they enforce, the loss and waste that are their asking price.
I will address MacKinnon's discussion of kenosis in a second post, and perhaps also attempt some commentary on the time and place in which The Stripping of the Altars was written, and its significance for our own time and place (it may be noted that the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was a student of MacKinnon's).
(1:56 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Pedagogy and Tragedy (∞)I just learned today that classes start a week earlier than I had assumed -- January 30 rather than February 7. The perceived odds of my finishing the reading for the Nancy portion of my directed study just dropped precipitously (i.e., to their actual level in the real world.)
In other news, Califone is a really great live band. My only regret is that they didn't play "Trick Bird" last night.
Keep your dial tuned to The Weblog for updates on Richard Horsley's upcoming appearance at DePaul University, right here in Chicago!
Saturday, January 21, 2006
(10:32 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Simon Critchley: The Next Cornell West?Samples from the new album. (Via Infinite Thought, although my link here should probably be credited to Anthony [as righteousness], because he alone had the courage to actually play the songs.)
(10:05 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Weird PatternI can't remember the last time that The Atlantic Monthly published an article by a woman that wasn't a review. I also can't remember the last time they published a long book review by a woman that wasn't explicitly anti-feminist (some of the shorter reviews don't provide a plausible occasion to shoehorn in a reference to how maybe those June Cleavers didn't have it so bad after all). The most recent example is perhaps the most egregious: those damn feminists created a situation in which all our young girls are begging to suck cock! The patriarchy had its bad points, but at least it protected female
The things that feminism is trying to do are hard, not least because the end result isn't given in advance, at least not in detail. So yes, sometimes people who identify themselves with that multivalent and fractious movement called "feminism" are going to advocate things that, when implemented, seem to have bad consequences. But it's not as if any feminist held a gun to women's heads and made them, for example, go to work (now the market has, but that came after). A counter-cultural movement such as feminism can only succeed if the people it addresses find it broadly convincing. Feminism did admittedly ask for changes, many of which were supported by a large number of women and a not inconsiderable number of men as well -- yet it seems more than a little unfair to pin all the failings of the current situation on the people who asked for changes and to grant presumptive innocence to the status quo ante.
I of course think that it's the capitalist system's fault, not the feminist movement's, that every teenage girl in this country is now a cum-craving slut. I would make a joke about how it's a shame I was born too late to cash in on this trend, but I probably would have been one of the boys -- I'm sure they exist -- who turned down the unreciprocated oral sex and resented, on a lot of different and not always admirable levels, the guys who accepted. I'm sure a lot of it would have been moralism and general religious upbringing, but a lot of it would also have been that I would want it to mean something, that I wouldn't want it to be a throwaway thing. Of course, that goes against traditional stereotypes of young boys as reckless sexual adventurers, able to move on from one experience to the next with little or no emotional investment, and so one would not be likely to find such sentiments expressed in The Atlantic Monthly -- because, come on, you have to admit that broad-brush sexual stereotypes have a point! Right?
Friday, January 20, 2006
(1:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Taking DonationsIf anyone has $10,000 they could spare, there is a donation link on the right sidebar. If you don't feel you can afford $10,000 at this time -- and that's understandable enough, we've all been there -- we've found that $1,000 or even $2,000 can fit into a lot of people's budgets. Just give whatever you feel comfortable with.
At the $20,000 level, you could have an elegant black and white digital photo of Anthony and Hayley Smith e-mailed directly to your inbox. At $40,000, we'll throw in a diagram of "subjectively objective" and all iterations thereof.
UPDATE: Via sometime commenter and CTS colleague Marta, something for me and Emerson to aspire to.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
(11:27 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: David Lynch DayToday is David Lynch's birthday. I confess that I know that thanks to my Simpsons calendar, which is crammed with the birthdays of celebrities and historical figures and with unfamiliar holidays, such as the Ati-Atihan Festival taking place today in the Philippines.
I confess that I worry when I cash a check at my bank and they actually take that amount of money out of my account until the check clears. In this case, I have no doubt the check will clear, but I still worry.
I confess that I thought I'd change up the image a little bit through a Google image search for "confessional," not realizing that all the pictures would be of actual confessionals. I confess that I was a little bothered by the fact that a Google search for friday afternoon confessional (not in quotes) didn't turn up a link to The Weblog, although the whole first page of results was made up of people with "more popular" blogs talking about our most venerable and august Friday traditions. (If you put it in quotes, The Weblog comes up as the first result.)
I confess that I am really easily irritated when I'm alone, but it is never nearly as bad when people are around. Is it that I'm suffering from background loneliness and am more susceptible to the vissicitudes of fate, or do I lack all ability to maintain my composure without the knowledge that someone could be watching me?
I confess that sometimes I get sick of listening to music all the time, but I still have music going nearly all the time when I'm home. I've never had any desire to listen to music on the train or at the data sweatshop, though.
I confess that I need a haircut.
[I confess that I was pretty pleased to see that Jared had fulfilled my request for a graph of the relationship between personal virtue and home size. He's been on a real roll this week, by the way, for those of you still living under the pre-RSS regime of blog-viewing.]
(11:15 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
More State of Exception GoodnessTo follow up on John Emerson's recent review of Agamben's State of Exception, I will link to Mark Greif's review (via wood s lot) in The Official Journal of Decadent Grad Students and Their Hangers-On for Messianic Salvation Through Criticism:
Even a year or two ago, as Agamben’s more far-out warnings began to seem plausible, it did look like we were heading for the apocalypse. But, of course, just when it looked as if the Bush Administration was leading us into never-ending worldwide war and internal repression, more curious things happened.The whole review is worth reading, but I'd like to focus on this sentence: "Bush’s reelection may be a disaster, but the moment of real danger, when it seemed a totalitarian consolidation might occur, may also have passed." Do we agree? (For the sake of discussion, let's skip over the cautionary "may.")
The first was the military catastrophe of the occupation of Iraq and the surprising, gross ineptitude of the Administration, despite the remarkable competence and initial successes of the armed forces. Originally, we had to anticipate a plan of continuous war against the “Axis of Evil,” and a wholesale attempt to reshape the world militarily; that is now sidelined, and the mismanagement of Iraq has helped to preserve the fragile American Republic. The second was that there was no large-scale crackdown, even covert, on the internal dissent against the War in Iraq before it occurred; such people just were ignored. An implication was that the members of the Bush Administration might not conceive of themselves as determinedly antidemocratic in the way they first appeared, when they put in place the initial structures that (as Agamben, via Arendt, reminded us) once had led to totalitarianism; rather, they might just have put antidemocratic institutions in place for immediate pragmatic reasons, power hunger, and greed. Indeed, so far it seems the rhetoric of democracy may still restrain them to just the degree necessary for the United States to survive a second Bush Administration. Third, government entities outside immediate executive oversight were not as hopeless as suspected. Though the Congress continues to be a disappointment—essentially turning into an adjunct for party and presidential politics, rather than asserting its genuine rivalry with and perhaps superiority to untrammeled presidential power—the professional political classes of the CIA, the intelligence community, and the ambassadorial service expressed useful doubts about Administration policy, and, in one of the most absolutely crucial events of the last four years, the same US Supreme Court that had unjustifiably intervened to hand Bush the 2000 election slowed down the possibility of denationalizing citizens as “enemy combatants” in the case of Yasser Hamdi (though not yet in the more egregious case of José Padilla, deferred on a problem of jurisdiction). And, fourth, a presidential election in 2004 forced the Democratic Party to reassert the national political divisions of a two-party system, critiquing the war at last, and offering a reminder that there is a choice of sorts for the population. Perhaps most important—though it’s not clear the message ever got across—Kerry, for all his defects, did not embrace the overall “security” or “terror” model put forward by the Bush administration (which would be essential to the totalitarianization of the United States) and followed, instead, an “anti-terrorist model” of more limited reach (for which he was pilloried, after expressing these ideas to the author of a New York Times Sunday magazine article). Bush’s reelection may be a disaster, but the moment of real danger, when it seemed a totalitarian consolidation might occur, may also have passed. We can be curiously relieved that Bush is distracted with destroying the social and economic fabric of the United States, through the dismantling of Social Security, retention of tax cuts, and enlargement of deficits, rather than developing his internal security apparatus.
(10:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Brad Johnson, PhDBrad just e-mailed to say that he passed his dissertation defense and is now officially a Doctor of Philosophy. I'm sure he'll have more to say about it in coming days.
(6:30 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Paul, the law, anti Judaism pt. 2[the weblog turns 2000, posts that is, sometime this weekend probably]
So to this point, what we have is some good examples of a very unhappy position, a very bad reading of Paul, that makes its way into the broad stream of Catholic thinking, affirmed in some way or another by the very most important of Christian theologians (Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas). However, at this point I think it fair to say that Dave's suggestion with respect to 20th century thinking (positions on the abolition of the law are critically intertwined with theological anthropology, etc.) does not hold for these thinkers. That is, one could readily excise the doctrine of keeping the law as mortal sin from Augustine or Aquinas' broader system of thought without doing major immediate damage to the overall structure. Michael Wyshogrod (Jewish theologian in the tradition of Rosenzweig, married to the more widely read Edith) has suggested how this doctrine could easily be voided in Aquinas' thinking in an essay he wrote in the 80's on Aquinas' Treatise on the Law (Summa Theologiae II.I q. 90-110 or so). Keeping the law for Jewish Christians could be seen as retrospective rememberance rather than as an active denial of the sufficiency of Jesus' sacrifice. On another front, Ratzinger's pre-papal take on Judaism deftly avoids the doctrine in Aquinas and tinkers with a line of thought actually rather amenable to my position.
The situation from the Reformation forward is something of the reverse, especially with respect to Luther. It is not nearly so easy to pin such a noxious doctrine as 'keeping Torah = mortal sin' on Luther. Luther, to his credit, rightly rejects the Catholic tradition on this point and, later in life, develops the concept of a 'third use of the law.' For Luther, keeping the law is audiaphoric, neither here nor there. In Pauline language 'circumcision or uncircumcision is meaningless.' (Calvin, by the way, for all his love of the law, maintains Aquinas' tripartite division of the Torah and the insistence that keeping the ceremonial law is damnable.) The source of Luther's offensiveness, however, is absolutely impossible to purge. One has to reject Lutheranism in toto to reject Luther's anti-judaism.
I can't do Lutheranism justice in a short post, so I'll simply take off from Dave's argument that my polemic is overdetermined by the late Luther's undeniable anti-semitism. The problem is that the late Luther is fully present in utero, as it were, from the Reformation get go. Luther's grumpy old anti-semitism stems from bitter disappointment. Early on, Luther enthusiastically assumed that Jews would come pouring into the Christian camp as a result of the Reformation. Luther, misreading everyone from Paul to Erasmus and 1500 years or so of Judaism to boot, fervently believed that Catholicism had perverted the Gospel of Grace so immediately and so badly that Jews had never really seen an alternative to a religion of works, and, further, that if Jews could only understand 'justification by faith', they'd begin jumping upstream like spawning salmon.
What's more, the whole doctrine of 'justification by faith' that Luther supposedly gets from Paul is highly problematic. I say supposedly because the Lutheran take on 'justification by faith' actually repeats in a new and subversive way the errors of Paul's opponents in places like Romans 1-4. Adam's 'Epistle to Romans pt. 1 and 2' (see St. Paul Week archive) gets much right that has been wrong in Protestant readings for the last 500 years. Luther and the mainline Protestants who have followed have accomplished something truly remarkable. Radical individualism and totalitarian statism. 'Your own personal Jesus' and 'obey the governing authorities' bitch. There has been a major revolution in Pauline studies within the New Testament guild, a revolution that I can't narrate here. Agamben should probably be aware of what's going on as he is the only one of the Pauline philosophy folks who has made an attempt at secondary sources (but it seems to me from a cursory look that he has only dabbled, and ignored stuff that would seriously upset what he is doing with Paul, but ultimately could supercharge his larger project - so it goes, sadly).
To state the problem briefly: the 'justification by faith' or Gospel of Grace models require as their obscene other a religion of works or a Gospel of Law, and Judaism is seen to be the originator of the obscenity which must be flushed out of the system. New readings of Paul in the New Testament guild, however, are recovering another Paul. I should probably do a post or two sometime (no promises) that is something of an annotated bibliography of the field.
My take on Paul actually originated in working through the New Paul in New Testament studies and, only then, trying to figure out what was going on with the New St. Paul in philosophy.
One doesn't have to go all the way down the road with my judaizing political theology to deal with this set of problems in Pauline thought. I hope that my particular misreading of Paul is more faithful than other misreadings to Paul's original misreading of Moses (a brilliant and radical and universalizing misreading). One could say something like this about Paul and the law (and this, I gather, is the contested consensus within the New Testament guild): Paul universalized Judaism precisely by not requiring gentiles to become Torah observant Jews first in order to become Christians. Paul's thinking on the law, however, doesn't abolish it altogether. Former gentiles, now Christians, have to observe a certain minimum of the law (no idolatry or porneia) and might keep other provisions of the law where expedient, but are otherwise free from the demands of Torah. On the other hand, Paul doesn't for a moment attempt to keep Jewish Christians from observing the law ('to the Jews I became as one under the law that I might win a few').
I would only add, that Paul's narrative leaves the door cracked on the future of gentile Christian law keeping, and Paul's letters actually provide moments where, as Jodi commented with respect to Zizek, the law is still kept by all, only from a different perspective.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
(12:01 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Happy Deterritorialized Birthday Gilles Deleuze.
Gilles Deleuze would be eighty-one today if he had not taken his own life on the 4th of November ten years ago. Do not expect any grand discussion of his suicide, where one relates it to Spinoza's conception of suicide or Nietzsche's conception of overcoming. That certainly could be done, but I'm not the one to do it. (You all know I'm more suited to comment on how handsome he is in this picture.) I can only express my gratitude for the thought that came from his life and the radical redirection my own thinking took after I experienced reading Deleuze.
In many ways I find myself wanting to pledge my fidelity to Deleuze and Deleuzianism, knowing that this would demand precisely the opposite. It's strange the chance encounters we have with thinkers, the new paths they set us charging down, the new commitments our acceptance of their thought calls for. Those of us who do work in philosophy, especially what goes by the misnomer of European philosophy, are often accussed of guruism. I can't deny that there is some sting in that charge, but why would we ever want to think with those with whom we didn't have a profound respect.
Today I look for a line of escape, knowing that I am all the time being reterritorialized within an insane regime of signs, but looking nonetheless. Happy Birthday Gilles, keep exposing the fissures in our being and following those lines in and through us.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
(9:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
If I weren't a grad studentWhat would I be doing? I'd probably be working as much as possible in order to pay off my student loans as soon as possible, which I'd be doing in order to give myself something to do, some kind of goal. Maybe I would go to the Art Institute on Tuesday mornings, more often than my current once-a-year visit. Maybe I would be wearing better clothes, or at very least, I would get new clothes more often than once a year (viz., Christmas). Maybe I would "go organic."
I would buy a bike and start riding places. Maybe I'd get a gym membership. I would buy a cookbook and learn how to cook. I'd play piano more -- maybe once my loans were paid off, I'd actually buy a piano (used). I would visit parts of the bookstore other than philosophy or religion. I'd finish reading Middlesex after being approximately halfway through it for a year and a half (and counting). I'd go out more often. I'd play Grand Theft Auto, all the versions, just to catch up. I haven't played a new video game in years -- I'm afraid of becoming addicted. I would find restaurants and tell my friends about them.
I would get my hair cut more often. I wouldn't have a beard right now. I'd eat fewer egg sandwiches. Maybe I'd go to church, just to pick up some tail at the singles group.
I assume I'd still read, but what? How does one even read nowadays, without having to make something else out of it, "use" it? I'd read about science more, probably. I'd read about Islam, and I'd read leftist economic theory. I'd give myself a decade or so to work my way through Proust.
One thing's for sure: I wouldn't be learning Latin. Or maybe I would. I'd go to the symphony, and I'd also go to more shows. I'd subscribe to Netflicks. Would I have my own cat? I guess this is quickly turning into a "what if I weren't a grad student and I could afford my own place" -- in that case, I'd put a lot of maps on the walls. Maybe a studio apartment wouldn't be bad -- think of all the time I'd save not having to open doors all the time.
I'd definitely buy Nutter Butters more often. In fact, that's something I can do right now, even though I'm a grad student. Next time I'm at the store: Nutter Butters. But from now on, I think I'm shopping at Trader Joe's for toothpaste. That Tom's of Maine stuff is awesome -- my mouth has never felt cleaner. That's what I'd do -- I'd research which stores carry Tom's of Maine toothpaste.
Maybe I'd write. Maybe I'd write better.
(8:56 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: A promising career as a data entry facilitation specialist!I hate that every company in the world seems to have a link on its website for "careers." Not "jobs," but "careers." Do they even still do careers anymore? Even top executives can't seem to hold down a job nowadays -- they gouge and defraud a company faithfully for a couple years, then move on to the next pasture. I hate that researching fast food restaurants has given me a serious craving for a hamburger, specifically, the kind of hamburger I got at Steak and Shake on my drive through the desert wastes of western Michigan. I initially was thinking Fuddrucker's, but I don't think their buns are really that great.
I hate that so many people from the desert wastes of western Michigan seem to be so proud of coming from said desert wastes -- I've heard that the same is true of all Michigan people, and if so, perhaps I just don't notice it in people from my own region, or else the Flint area is a special case. I am not a fan of any kind of patriotism or strong identification with much of anything at all, though.
I hate that I'm most likely going to miss 24 most weeks, due to working Mondays. It's not very difficult to get it from BitTorrent, but there's always the risk that I'll accidentally stumble upon some plot information. I hate that they killed off Michelle but that Tony is still in critical condition. I hate President Whiny Little Short-Sighted Bitch (both on 24 and in real life).
I hate that I got a ticket for parking a truck in a residential area despite having my residential parking permit clearly displayed on my windshield. I'm sure that I can successfully appeal it, and it's only $25 if I can't, but it's still an annoyance I'd rather do without. I hate any situation that brings me into contact with the police.
I hate bars that are too loud, particularly when they are not dance-oriented. If it's clearly just the kind of place people go to hang out and talk, turn the damn music down (Street Side Cafe!).
Monday, January 16, 2006
(10:15 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
No Feinstein = No FilibusterHere.
Oh well, would have made things even more interesting for a bit.
Now we'll have to wait and see if Bush gets a third pick (a pick to replace one of the five remaining Roe supporters, that is) to see some real domestic fireworks.
Democrats have decided that they'd rather spread themselves thin by fighting a dozen or so lousy battles rather than picking one or two and making a stand.
(9:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Martin Luther King DayOn this, the most traditional of blogs, my tradition for Martin Luther King Day is to post a link to this article:
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
Sunday, January 15, 2006
(8:59 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
War with IranI am unequivocally opposed to any American military action against Iran. I just wanted that to be part of the public record.
UPDATE: Holy crap (via eb).
Saturday, January 14, 2006
(7:27 PM) | John Emerson:
Agamben’s State of Exception seems to be about George Bush’s lawless personal rule and his imperial ambitions, and it seems to be making the forbidden comparison with Hitler or perhaps Mussolini (i.e., Hitler without death camps). Given the neocon dreams of a liberal imperialism, preemptive war, “preponderance”, and a monopolar world, and given Bush’s dismissive attitude toward any political, constitutional, or internationalist limitations to his power, this is all to the good. (Just the other day the TV screamer Chris Matthews explained that for a President, breaking the law can be a necessary part of his job – and Matthews is not the worst of the bunch.)
Walter Benjamin’s post WWI debate with Carl Schmitt is the ostensible topic of Agamben’s book, and once again my problems with the German Seriousness, as well as my lifelong difficulties with critical theory (sensu lato), stand in the way of my liking the book much. Benjamin’s debate with Schmitt, like Strauss’s, focussed critically on the boundaries and limits of liberalism and constitutionalism, with which none of the three had much sympathy.
Benjamin was a revolutionary (presumably an ultra-leftist), while Schmitt was an authoritarian conservative who later became a Nazi. In their different ways, both valorized the violent, extra-legal context of legality and civility, and both of them were concerned that political action (revolutionary in Benjamin’s case, and authoritarian in Schmitt’s) not be excessively constrained by legalities – though given what we know about subsequent history, their worries were unnecessary.
If you trace any legal system back to its beginnings you will find that it was founded by extralegal violence, so if the real nature of a thing is to be found in its foundation, then the essence of law is extralegal violence. Likewise, in a familiar Hegelian way of thinking, the legal order is knowable only from its contrast to ilegality and disorder, and furthermore, as we all know, the state is by definition the monopoly of legitimate violence. But Schmitt and Benjamin (pp. 23,54) show far too much enthusiasm for this line of thinking, defining the “limit concept” of law which is “neither external nor internal to law” (i.e., the suspension of law in the “state of exception”, also called martial law or the state of emergency) -- as the essence of law:
“Here, pure violence as the extreme political object, as the “thing” of politics, is the counterpart to pure being, to pure existence as the ultimate metaphysical stakes; the strategy of the exception, which must ensure the relation between anomic violence and law, is the counterpart to the onto-theo-logical strategy aimed at capturing pure being in the meshes of the logos.” (p. 59).
In the Schmitt / Strauss book legalistic liberalism was the big question, whereas in the present book it seems rather to be utilitarianism. Again, while utilitarianism may be an inadequate philosophy, the answer does not seem to be to declare an absolute indifference to results. I’ve liked some of Benjamin’s writing, but some of the Benjamin passages here seem like nothing more than meaningless verbiage justifying a mystified violence:
“Here appears the topic…. of violence as “pure medium” that is, as the figure of a paradoxical “mediality without ends” – a means that, though remaining such, is considered independently of the ends it pursues. The problem, then is not that of identifying just ends but that of “individuating a different kind of violence that certainly could not be either the legitimate or illegitimate means to those ends but is not related to them as means at all but in some different way.” (p. 62).Much of Agamben’s book consists of an intrinsically interesting discussion of auctoritas and potestas in the Roman tradition., and perhaps this does illuminate the thought of Strauss, Schmitt, and Benjamin. But Agamben, quite rightly, ends up speaking primarily to contemporary concerns. This passage looks promising:
“As long as the two elements [auctoritas and potestas ] were correlated, yet conceptually, temporally, and subjectively distinct (as in republican Rome’s contrast between the Senate and the people, or in medieval Europe’s contrast between the spiritual and temporal powers) their dialectic – though founded on a fiction – can nevertheless function in some way. But when they tend to coincide in a single person, when the state of exception, in which they are bound and blurred together, becomes the rule, then the juridicio-political system transforms itself into a killing machine.“ (p. 86).However, his conclusion seems close to Benjamin’s, and is to me unintelligible:
“To a word that does not bind, that neither commands nor prohibits anything, but says only itself, would correspond an action as pure means, which shows only itself, without relation to any end. And, between the two, not a lost original state, but only the use and human praxis that the powers of law and myth had sought to capture in the state of exception.” (p. 88)According to the jacket blurb, Judith Butler understands Agamben’s book thus:
“This is an erudite and provocative book that calls us to ‘stop the machine’ and break the violent hold that law lays upon life”.This may also what Agamben thinks, but to me it's all wrong. If the lawless state of exception has become the basis of modern state power, it would seem that the corrective would be a return to lawfulness. Butler is apparently talking about something like Benjamin’s “pure violence”, outside the law, to counter the lawlessness of the state of exception, but for a variety of reasons I think that that proposal is ludicrous. As I’ve said elsewhere, the German Left between the two World Wars has to be regarded as the most unsuccessful political movement of all time, and seems unlikely to provide us with a usable model for our own practice. Furthermore, the violent potentials in the world of today seem almost all to be from the right, and it seems ill-advised to dream of “pure violence”.
Like many others I’ve been looking for a vantage from which to resist the rightist hegemony. The US has been continuously mobilized ever since 1941, before I was born, and an authoritarian form of militarism seems to be on the point of wiping out all domestic resistance. But I don’t find Agamben’s book, well-researched and well-written though it is, to be of much help.
 Actually, this is Benjamin speaking of Schmitt, and not Benjamin’s own view, but Benjamin shares Schmitt’s contempt for bourgeois legality. Agamben carefully describes a “debate” between Schmitt and Benjamin, but I do not think that the terms are well-defined enough for it to be a real debate, mostly because of the mushiness of Benjamin’s concepts. I am reminded of the duel of grimaces in Gombrowicz’s Pornografia, or the mime debate in Rabelais, in both of which the criteria for a successful argument are unknown to the reader, though we are assured in each case that one of the contestants was triumphant.
Agamben (p. 79) seems a little tentative about Benjamin's approach, but does not reject it: "Under extreme conditions (that is to say, under the conditions that best define it, if it is true that a legal institution's truest character is always defined by the exception and the extreme situation)....” A Straussian could probably read this passage as a coded statement of something or other.
While law can indeed be defined in terms of the state of exception, just as life can be defined in terms of death, there are a lot of reasons to define things in terms of their messy, perishable, unexciting middles, rather than in terms of their serious, profound Grenzbegriffen.
[UPDATE: See comments. While I still am not sure that Agamben's analogy is intelligible or valid, my reading of what he said is probably wrong.]
Paul Dunne, the proprieter of the Shamrockshire Review of Books has commented on the Adorno page of mine I linked to above.
(3:19 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Feature WishlistWhat do you wish your computer would do that it doesn't currently do?
One useful feature would be some type of guide to two-sided printing. Currently you have to figure it out yourself, but it would seem to be a simple matter to create some kind of prompt system where it would say, "Now put the pages just printed back into the tray, in this particular direction, etc." and would take care of keeping track of reverse print order issues for you.
I also wish that iTunes had a more powerful filtering system (perhaps using regular expressions) and that all albums would show up as a subfolder on the sidebar -- I disproportionately listen to albums for which I've made lists on the sidebar, and I don't want to go through and make lists for each individually. It would also be great if iTunes could run as a tray icon instead of a taskbar item, since I leave it running all the time so that my mp3s will be available through Anthony's computer (which has speakers, whereas mine does not).
I wish that my computer would automatically collect every PDF I look at in a subfolder in "My Documents," for easier reference.
So, computer dorks, tell me about the existing software that would help me with all this.
(11:56 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
One year ago todaywas the last night I spent at my house in Bourbonnais, and so I suppose I've been living in Chicago for a year. I remember at the time thinking it would be somehow better to move on January 1 -- tidier, for tax purposes. As it stands, I'll be getting another W-2 from the chiropractor's office this year, even though it seems like forever ago that I worked there. Unlike most Americans, I eagerly look forward to tax time and file my taxes as soon as possible, since I have cleverly remained below the poverty level in order to deprive the government of its rightful share of my productive capacity.
I find myself wanting to listen to the music that was playing most at this time last year -- every year I go through this same kind of cycle, as though I have to come to terms with the past in order to move forward. This year, the repeated music choices are Interpol's Antics and Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine (bootleg version). Objectively speaking, neither one is strikingly good, particularly lyrically. The worst offender is Interpol: "You make me want to strap on a guitar and celebrate the myriad ways that I love you." Right.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. Do I make the sudden turn away from mundane details toward deeper reflections, or do I end it here? After all, I have a lot of market research reports to do today -- and what a relief that's turning out to be, and to be fairly confident that I'll have more of that work waiting for me this summer. To some extent, if last year was the year of intense stress and adjustments, this year seems like it could potentially be a little more straightforward, in terms of "infrastructure" issues. Hopefully I at least won't feel like my life is falling completely apart every two months.
I know about the city stickers and the special parking permit for trucks now. I've got a pretty good grasp of the relevant parts of the public transit system. I don't get lost now when I drive. I know the numbers of the streets for the most part (2000N, etc.). I have some idea now of how the academic publishing business works, and particularly of the huge amount of lag time involved at every step. I've got my language requirements met. I have a set route to walk every day -- walking two miles a day, every day, like I'm a healthy person. My beard is coming along nicely. Everything's pretty much in place. Doug covers the blog for me Thursdays, and maybe Brad will do Wednesdays. I've got the Tuesday Hatred and Friday Confession pretty well under control. Within the next (calendar) year I'll be mainly done with my coursework and will have probably taken the 20th century exam. I will have moved into my own place (hopefully) -- a more settled situation, "hunkering down" for the long stretch of the PhD. Hoop-jumping: under control. Money situation: probably basically under control over the medium term.
I've got my infrastructure. Theoretically, this should open up a space of freedom for me -- right? With nothing to worry about, really, my energies should be freed for creative work, for exploring relationships, making new friends, trying new and interesting types of food, etc., etc. Right?
There's an alternate theory, of course -- that the space for real creativity is only opened up by taking "all that" and throwing it away. Perhaps it's better to think in terms of different kinds of creative work -- domesticated and wild, perhaps. I had in mind the difference between a classical composer and a rock star, but then I remembered reading about the life of Mozart (from my German reader, as part of my dutiful and timely fulfillment of requirements). His life fits much more closely the model of the genius down on his luck, the kind who always tempts us to view his suffering as instrumental, as though he "wouldn't have been Mozart" if he had had a better infrastructure. Vicarious suffering -- it's almost impossible to get away from. The artist, the exceptional person, suffers, lives a life of deprivation, all so that he can produce something that is meaningful precisely for domesticated people. We are quick to say that the art wouldn't have been as good if he hadn't been in such difficult circumstances -- do we ever ask whether our appreciation of the art would be much better if we weren't in such comfortable circumstances?
The artist suffers for us, but also enjoys for us. It's not that the art wouldn't have meant as much to us had he not suffered, but ultimately that it wouldn't have meant as much as him -- the artist is the priest who offers himself up to art for us. Might our task then be to reread aesthetics as Christology?
I wonder about Karl Barth's attraction to Mozart -- if Mozart represented for him a different route that Barth could have gone down. Barth, the country parson and labor organizer who made his name with a Bible commentary that was, improbably, a genuine work of art, who in a sense gave "all that" up for a domesticated professorship where he produced a very different kind of work, one that paid its scholarly dues almost to excess -- was his love for Mozart a testament to his hope that the work he did, weighed down by the responsibilities of domesticity and scholarship, could despite everything be as light and free and daring as the work of a man with no place to call his own?
Friday, January 13, 2006
(12:05 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
"If boredom is a moment of danger, I just fell out a fifth-story window into an abandoned mineshaft full of quicksand."The title of this post is a direct quote from The New Criterion's predictable, pedantic, patronizing critique of n+1 (via Brad Johnson). Here's the conclusion:
N+1 strives for seriousness (or thinks it does) to compensate for the many little magazines that don’t. Unfortunately, that means it can poison the well in a way that a quirky amusement like McSweeney’s could never dream of. A McSweeney’s reader may be wasting his time, but he doesn’t really think he’s reading a valuable reflection on policy, morality, or culture. An n+1 reader, however, may believe that the magazine’s strain of pseudo-thoughtful logorrhea is the same thing as real argument—the kind that takes a side and proposes what to do. (Isn’t this, after all, the same demographic that regarded John Kerry’s tortuous illogic as “nuanced thinking”?)Reading this, I thought, "You know what we need here? A Weblog Manifesto." We need a high-minded statement of why we -- precisely we -- exist, why here, why now. We live at a serious juncture in history, in which the very continued existence of humanity itself is in continual radical question -- but insofar as this radicality is continual, it is experienced as a given fact, even as boring....
Even so, it seems inevitable that n+1 will recede from view [...]. It will fail less because of its obnoxious hype machine than because, as the world’s troubles become more dire and more immediate, nobody’s going to turn to the Kunkels for the answers. A civilization declining within and attacked from without can’t afford to ponder its fate in the same glib, nugatory way that it ponders “trends in network comedy.” So nobody will turn to n+1. They’ll just wonder, one hopes, why they ever made such idols of Progress and Thought—without a moment’s attention to where they were going or what, if anything, they were thinking.
Perhaps I should start a Manifesto Wiki. I'm young and hip and do everything on my computer -- masochistically.
Oh God, I just ran out of things to think -- quick, is there anyone with a comp lit PhD around to fill my empty head with more nonsense?