Sunday, April 30, 2006
(9:02 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Obvious Question about the Immigration Rally MondayFrom FOX News: "How will it affect traffic and business?"
I'll bet that if, by contrast, I had been watching one of those mainstream liberal media news shows, they would have asked: "How will it affect traffic and business?"
Saturday, April 29, 2006
(4:07 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Could you at least try to be a little less obvious?This is great:
A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said.So literally, it's okay if we abuse people, but it's not okay if other countries do it.
(12:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Cognitive Science: From Augustine to ZizekAugustine, De Trinitate, book X, para. 14:
But we were concerned now with the nature of mind; so let us put aside all consideration of things we know outwardly through the senses of the body, and concentrate our attention on what we have stated that all minds know for certain about themselves. Whether the power of living, remembering, understanding, willing, thinking, knowing, judging comes from air, or fire, or brain, or blood, or atoms, or heaven knows what fifth kind of body besides the four common elements; or whether the very structure or organization of our flesh can produce these things; people have hesitated about all this, and some have tried to establish one answer, others another. Nobody surely doubts, however, that he lives and remembers and understands and wills and thinks and knows and judges. At least, even if he doubts, he lives; if he doubts, he remembers why he is doubting; if he doubts, he understands he is doubting; if he doubts, he has a will to be certain; if he doubts, he thinks; if he doubts, he knows he does not know; if he doubts, he judges he ought not to give hasty assent. You may have your doubts about anything else, but you should have no doubts about these; if they were not certain, you would not be able to doubt anything.Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View, pp. 177-78:
Generally, this multitude [of positions in cognitive science] can be reduced to four main positions:It seems to me that positions 2-4 are anticipated in Augustine. #2 would be the position that thought is grounded in "heaven knows what fifth kind of body besides the four common elements." In a nice coincidence, just as there were four elements in Augustine's time, so for us there are four fundamental forces (gravity, electro-magnetic, weak, and strong). Position #3 would be akin to Augustine's own more modest position, where he doesn't claim to know exactly how the mind is related to its physical basis -- although arguably it is saying something more than Augustine's, claiming not just that we don't know, but that we can't. By contrast, #4 would be an example of those who insist on one particular model of the mind-matter relationship.
- Radical/reductive materialism (Patricia and Paul Churchland): there simply are no qualia, there is no "consciousness," these things exist only as a kind of "naturalized" cognitive mistake. The anti-intuitional beauty of this position is that it turns around subjectivist phenomenalism (we are aware only of phenomena, there is no absolute certainty that anything beyond them exists)--here, it is pure phenomenality itself that does not exist!
- Antimaterialism (David Chalmers): consciousness-awareness cannot be accounted for in terms of other natural processes; it has to be conceived as a primordial dimension of nature, like gravity or magnetism.
- The position of "cognitive closue" which asserts the inherent unknowability of consciousness (Colin Mc Ginn, even Steven Pinker): although consciousness emerged out of material reality, it is necessarily unknowable.
- Nonreductive materialism (Daniel Dennett): consciousness exists, but it is the result of natural processes, and has a clear evolutionary function.
The position that represents a real advance over Augustine is #1: at long last, thanks to cognitive science, we can finally go all the way and doubt that we're doubting.
(If Zizek is totally wrong about this typology, I'd be interested to learn -- he's my only source on this cognitive science thing so far, and that makes me nervous.)
Friday, April 28, 2006
(8:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: The morning after the revolutionI confess that I have developed strange compulsions about geography. For instance, when I am walking from place to place, I try to plan my route so that I cross only once at each intersection. (I have tried most of the possible combinations for getting from my house to Logan Square.) At the seminary, there are two main stairways, and if I need to go back and forth between places on different floors, I always plan my route so that it will be a circle, rather than simply retracing my steps. I'm also a little over-fascinated with Chicago's road-numbering system (for instance, Fullerton is 2400N, Diversey is 2800N, etc.). Right now I'm working on memorizing the places where the various diagonal streets intersect the major roads.
I confess that I can be an over-enthusiastic participant in discussion listservs. Normally, the speed of my response is directly proportional to how big of an asshole I'm being, resulting in rapid-fire alienation of innocent bystanders.
I confes that I'm suffering from motivation deficit disorder, perhaps even verging on "burn-out." I confess that I'm glad my paper for the Augustine course only needs to be fifteen pages -- for me, twenty pages is kind of the Rubicon where a paper shifts from being a relatively straightforward project to being a big deal. I confess that I am also relieved by the relative ease of the take-home final in one of my other classes. I confess that I have been overly focused on trying to develop a schedule for finishing my work for this semester, partly because I want to grasp the whole process within my mind so as to be able to imagine it as completed.
I confess that I don't understand why this year-old post by John Emerson suddenly generated a huge amount of traffic yesterday.
I confess that I indulged in a misplaced triumphalism in this post. I confess that I am the Internet's second most prolific writer on the concept of "The Higher Eclecticism."
I confess that this video is pretty damn funny. (You may need to copy and paste the address manually.) Thanks to Greg Potts, a CTS colleague, for tracking this down after a conversation where Liz Jones mentioned having stumbled across it while channel-surfing.
I confess that at first glance this plan for a new train line looks interesting, at least (via Mike Schaefer).
UPDATE: The bathtub is fixed, at long last! To give an idea of how bad it had gotten, this morning I took a shower at 8:00, and it still hadn't fully drained at 9:30. It had been this way for a week and a half. Now we just have to deal with the landlord, who is claiming he shouldn't have to pay for the plumber because such a bad clog obviously represents "more than normal wear and tear." Because we're a family of apes who each take four showers a day, or something.
UPDATE (2): In Gaia and God, Ruether quotes a report on the effects of a 1-megaton bomb going off in New York City. Included is the following paragraph:
Miles beyond this last ring [beyond four miles from the epicenter], people suffer second-degree burns on all exposed skin and additional burns from flammable clothing and environmental materials. Retinal burns resulting from looking at the fireball may cause blindness.Imagine: the last thing you ever see is the nuclear blast.
The Weblog's Logan Square Headquarters is situated within the zone just described, assuming the terrorists (or the government, who knows) chose the obvious location of Madison and State for their epicenter. Thankfully, the future Lincoln Square headquarters is a little further out. (If I were at CTS the day it went off, I'd be totally fine -- just a matter of figuring out how to get home.) Second-degree burns are survivable, right? Plus, I've got health insurance.
I'd just have to remember to look away. I don't know if I could.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
(8:25 AM) | Discard the Name:
Make American Public Life Say “Mayday” (¿que hora son en Washington?)In a recent thread on abortion, the question emerged (quite tangentially) of the “American public life.” I would like to propose a thesis: American public life, even in a redeemed state, ought to be the enemy.
The organization of a public in the USA is already much less than anything that might enter into the society of a properly Gramscian or Althusserian equation. First, there is no party which provides a subjective intervention for the march through institutions. Second, the public, in the USA, has always underwritten a capitalist solution to the problems of labor and race. It is enough here to say: New Deal, Great Society, Civil Rights. These have never been mediations of antagonism. They have been nothing other than antagonistic strategies mobilized against insurgent or potentially insurgent elements in American society.
Of course, today we stand after the demise of any benefits made available by these strategies. We are in the age of Bush and of Fox News. Any attempt to counter this age through a public can, at best, reinstate something like the above projects’ control of insurgent elements. In my mind, the organs for such a public are already in place: New York Times, hybrid cars, Bono, Jon Stewart, Wes Anderson, Death Cab for Cutie, cultural studies, allergies to Bush. (A paradigmatic example: at the recent, NYTimes-sponsored documentary film fest in Durham, NC, the “focus” was on “social justice” and Katrina-victims, yet some of my non-white friends were harassed by the kind-hearted liberal volunteers.)
On one side, then, Bush, the Christian Coalition, etc; on the other, responsible consumption, individualistic expressions of dissatisfaction with and concern about Bush and his policies. What the American public has, at best, is the hippie Daria (in Zabriskie Point) who grooves to her music and works in the suburban developer’s office; what it cannot have is the Daria who wills that the office be destroyed in a fiery explosion. Isn’t the former Daria a counterrevolutionary subjectification of Seattle and Genoa? What emerged in these events has been displaced and captured. The displacement must be taken up and revolutionized. The Zapatistas, perhaps the symbol of Seattle and Genoa, have done this: no longer allowing themselves to be subjected to the discourse of indigenous rights, they have assumed the task of taking the territory of Mexico (“from below,” to be sure) and making a new constitution.
Which brings us to Mayday 2006… There is another American history, one driven by an immigrant exodus and by peoples who, sedimented against their own will, resist the relation to the land they are offered. The only America worth naming is the one named by their convergence. The Africans, Indians, and immigrants precede the public America. All of them were already here. What is necessary is an act of remembrance which is also a creation of the present. We need to forget the Civil War and remember Nat Turner, forget civil rights and remember the Black Panthers, forget the virgin frontier and remember the American Indian Movement. The only way to begin fighting the American and Israeli alliance is to think about what Deleuze and Elias Sanbar called the “Palestinian Indians.” As Deleuze said elsewhere, “Was there ever a Palestinian people? Israel says no. Of course there was, but that’s not the point. The thing is, that once the Palestinians have been thrown out of their territory, then to the extent that they resist they enter the process of constituting a people.” Indeed, we now need to remember the origins of Mayday, the antagonism of immigrant workers in Chicago, at the same time that we act as immigrant workers in the present. In which case the “we” would not be the same. Every attempt will be made to turn the issue of immigration into a public question. But it is not. Before the public, there are minor, bastard, nondenumerable people. The task is to create the common name of such a people.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
(2:44 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Budgetary RestraintsI go to a school where there is supposedly constant financial crisis. (Whether there actually is at any given time is questionable, but it
I feel like this must be illustrative of something.
UPDATE: Due to widespread reader outrage, this post has been edited for clarity. Here at The Weblog, we always appreciate reader feedback and try to accomodate our audience the best we can.
On an unrelated note, this is reportedly the 2196th post on this blog. Does anyone know if Blogger's stats are trustworthy now? (I remember a period last year when the counter seemed to be stuck.)
I guess the only way you would really know would be to go through and count the posts by hand, then compare it to the number Blogger gives you.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
(9:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Famous AuthorMy review of The Parallax View is up at In These Times.
By the way, Chicago-based Weblog-related entities should consider attending this public debate at the offices of In These Times (just a couple blocks up Milwaukee from the Western Blue Line stop on the O'Hare branch).
(12:39 AM) | Ben Wolfson:
Tuesday Hatred: The excellence of this play on words escapes most commentatorsI fell off of my bike on Sunday and scraped my left elbow up something fierce. I hate that, but more than that, I hate that it's the second time this academic year that I've fallen off my bike and injured myself. Before that, I was worried that I wouldn't have adequate hate-material (and hated myself for it). It turns out, though, that it actually hasn't furnished that much in the way of things I hate, and that the abatement of my worry was perhaps premature. I hate the blitheness with which I assumed that I'd have plenty to hate on by now! I am by nature, after all, a loving, warm person, to whom all strongly negative feelings are alien.
I hate Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel. Writing less abstrusely might have killed him, but we're in a position to know that he died anyway.
I hate how few people expressed hatred last week. Don't you people realize that I judge myself on the basis of how many comments I get? Maybe I should say something inflammatory, like "Bitch Puchalsky". I hate that I apparently share a fondness for Tom Waits with an odious wretch whom I shall not name (NB this is not an attempt to increase comment-count by attracting his or her attention).
Unfortunately most of my hatred this week isn't very focused, so you'll just have to accept that I'm EXTREMELY HATEFUL right now, even if I can't precisely spell out just what the targets of that XXX_TR33m hatred are.
UPDATE (by AK): Now go love. NOW.
Monday, April 24, 2006
(2:24 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Abortion: A Stalinist PerspectiveFrom a NY Times article on the circular firing squads forming within American Evangelicalism:
"What's interesting is many times these folks [Jim Wallis, et al.] can't get worked up in a lather about 45 million babies killed," he [a conservative evangelical] said.Killing one baby is a tragedy. Killing 45 million is a statistic.
Because as we all know, when women get abortions, it's morally equivalent to taking an infant that has been brought to full term -- wearing a diaper and a cute little "onesie", having just nursed, cooing and smiling -- and then murdering it in cold blood.
At a gut level, aside from the most hardened anti-abortion terrorists, everyone, and I mean everyone has to understand that an abortion and the murder of an infant simply are not the same thing, in fact are qualitatively different -- to such an extent that the comparison itself is obscene.
By preferring my work, simply by giving it my time and attention, by preferring my activity as a citizen or as a professorial or professional philosopher, writing and speaking here in a public language, French in my case, I am perhaps fulfilling my duty. But I am sacrificing and betraying at every moment all my other obligations: my obligations to the other others whom I know or don’t know, the billions of my fellows (without mentioning the animals that are even more other others than my fellows), my fellows who are dying of starvation or sickness. I betray my fidelity or my obligations to other citizens, to those who don’t speak my language and to whom I neither speak nor respond, to each of those who listen or read, and to whom I neither respond nor address myself in the proper manner, that is, in a singular manner (this for the so-called public space to which I sacrifice my so-called private space), thus also to those I love in private, my own, my family, my sons, each of whom is the only son I sacrifice to the other, every one being sacrificed to every one else in this land of Moriah that is our habitat every second of every day. (Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death)Mt. Moriah is of course the place where children are sacrificed, real post-born children -- sacrificed to national security perhaps, but perhaps also simply to convenience, the convenience of knowing, perhaps, that one will always be able to fill up one's gas tank at an affordable price. How many children died under sanctions in Iraq, sacrificed in our attempt to get at Saddam? How many more died and continue to die every day, in Iraq alone, because of our war to control our right to oil? How many children have to die of cholera, for instance, because of the graft that keeps Iraqi utilities from being brought up to the level they were at under the demon Saddam?
Or through sheer indifference -- how many real post-born children died in Darfur because we didn't give a fuck? Or Rwanda (at least we apologized, right!)? Or anywhere in Africa, born with AIDS, born to die of starvation, because the system as it is set up means that it is more profitable to throw food away than to feed them? How many children died in New Orleans? How many children's growth is stunted and future hopes destroyed because we didn't want to support single black welfare queens anymore?
That's all a statistic, too, I suppose, and the progress of history, the implacable forces of the market, will absolve us of all those sacrifices, all those necessary evils. Those necessary sacrifices, necessary above all to maintain "our way of life," our non-negotiable way of life that for so many others is a way of death -- no one is going to "get worked up in a lather" over those. The sacrifices that are unacceptable are the ones of the pre-born, those given death before having fully been given life, sacrificed -- so we assume -- to the convenience of the moment, to the thoughtless indulgence of sexual pleasure outside its proper bounds, sacrificed for the sake of something against "our way of life" or what should be our way of life. A testimony, in short, to the sickness of our society -- while all these other sacrifices, of real post-born children, every single day, in all the tedium and banality of a statistical digest, these other sacrifices are our strength. And one cannot even begin to work up the "lather" that would be equal to the enormity of that crime, the capital crime of our life together that we commit every single day without a second thought or even a first.
(6:06 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Monday Picture Blogging: The City is an Ecosystem.
Hayley and I went to Lincoln Park today to walk around and feed the squirrels. We couldn't find too many (we think they ran off towards the Zoo where more abundant free food was available) but we still managed to get some good pictures.
Since we couldn't feed many squirrels we gave the ducks some peanuts. This may have been stupid of us, but they seemed to like them.
When they are hungry they will come right up to you and take the peanut out of your hand. Once the squirrel actually ate the nut while resting against Hayley.
I think he's a handsome squirrel. He's currently shedding his winter coat.
He may be an Eastern Grey. But I'm not sure as there are quite a few different species.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
(11:32 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
The Peace of Blogphalia.
As the Homie Baba event comes to a close I'm sure we can all breath a sigh of relief that the Long War for/against Theory has finally come to an end. I've read all the posts and feel, as an Objective Viewer who did not particiapte, that all points of view have been expressed to the greatest possible degree. In honor of the trail of dead and dazed we may, at long last, usher in the age of the Nation-Blog! A neutral place where we can trade goods and services regardless of our particular Allegiance to Theory or non-Theory. For those who wish to give praise to the Holy See of Paris they may without fear of reprisal from the protestants who just want to study the Scriptures themselves in the light of Common Sense, free'd from the abuses of Eclecticism that is Higher.
Per the articles of the treaty all blog owners will be able to choose the Theory or non-Theory of their own blogs. Obviously The Weblog has now gained its independence from both The Valve and Long Sunday, being recognized as its own Sovereign Blog. The Republic of the Valve and its various independent bloggers have been given the right to exercise their own foreign policy, but they may not wage war against the Holy French Theory. The election of Theory emperors vivente imperatore (election of next emperor before the death of the one who actually rules) is banned. And the Low Church of Holbonia has gained the bishopic of Puchalskyia and Kaufmannistan.
May the Great Age of the Secular Blogo-State usher in an area of unmatched peace and quiet on the issues of Theory and their discontents. Long Live the Peace of Blogphalia.
(3:44 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Old Time Religion: Your Sunday LatinFrom Augustine, De Trinitate, VII.4.9:
Quid igitur restat? An ut fateamur loquendi necessitate parta haec vocabula cum opus esset copiosa disputatione adversus insidias vel errores haereticorum?The context is that he is trying to decide why the Fathers used the terms ousia and hypostasis (or in Latin essentia and substantia or persona), and he's running out of ideas. I'm having trouble figuring out what goes with what here, although the basic meaning is pretty clear.
Of necessity, this is probably going to be a weekly series until the Augustine class is over.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
(9:59 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Taking Stock: A List of TasksSince this is "my" blog (cf. the site's URL), it has sometimes been noted that I am the only person who can "get away with" this type of post. I don't think this is quite accurate. We're already running the supposedly "academic blog" with the least academic content, and I think we need to take the next step: a group LiveJournal for grad students and other closely associated blogging-related entities.
Currently Listening: Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Master and Everyone
Here's what I would like to have done by the time I go to bed tonight:
- Summarize Tales of Love by Julia Kristeva for the 20th Century Theology seminar. This could quite possibly be the last summary I ever have to write for any class, ever again in my life -- but somehow that doesn't make it any easier to get started.
Read the assigned section from Augustine in Latin -- it's kind of long this time.DONE! It was long, but it was also easy. Partly that's because I've totally mastered the vocabulary -- pater, filius, spiritus sanctus, esse, subsistere... and that's about it.
- Read Gaia and God by Rosemary Radford Ruether, or at least most of it.
- Write a paper, or most of a paper, on Ruether's feminist fundamentalism and its implications for Christology
- Write a paper on Augustine's De Trinitate
- Write a paper for 20th Century Theology -- probably over something Trinity-related.
- Finish the damn Nancy directed study
- Write a review of The Parallax View for JCRT
Daydreaming about the future is a lot more fun than actually doing anything in the present a lot of times.
Friday, April 21, 2006
(10:05 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Disgust: The War on TerrorHistorically, the United States has been the greatest state sponsor of terrorism, although it has tended toward sponsorship of terrorist organizations that would take over the state -- for instance, Pinochet et al., the great terrorist torturers in Latin America. The School of the Americas is a much more dangerous and effective terrorist training ground than Afghanistan ever could have been. Now in Iraq, we have used terrorist techniques meant to instill fear and shame into the native population, and our new client state has started to "step up" in that area. And now there is speculation about using a nuclear weapon against a wide range of targets in Iran. While our military strategists wring their hands against the new era of so-called "assymmetrical warfare," the United States currently has more destructive force at its disposal than any other nation in the history of humanity, and this power continues to grow.
"The terrorists" have enjoyed a single (though spectacular and appalling) success on 9/11, and now Americans are told to live in fear, now America is the perpetual victim -- even though, after five years of what has by all accounts been a rather inept counter-terrorism effort, there has not been another attack on American soil. We have had the luxury of invading a nation completely unrelated to terrorism, yet somehow the threat of terrorism is supposed to be at the forefront of our minds. I'll tell you who really faces the threat of terrorism: Iran, for instance. It is Iran, not the United States or Israel, that is currently facing the prospect of an unmotivated nuclear attack. Or the people of Iraq who live in fear of being abducted by death squads (albeit perhaps under a different name). Or the people of Latin America who have managed to find some breathing room for self-determination now that the United States is tied down in its illegal war in Iraq who may find themselves staring down the barrel of a military coup, who might again find their friends and family "disappeared" and subjected to unspeakable tortures -- administered by men trained by the United States, with "our tax dollars."
Or perhaps we've given up on the military dictatorship thing -- perhaps now we're going to permit an inept figurehead "democratic" regime that will mainly focus on passively torturing the people by guaranteeing that foreign corporations have the right, for instance, to charge the people of Bolivia to drink the water in Bolivia's own aquifers.
"The War on Terror" is disgusting. Isn't it enough for the United States to be the greatest military power the world has ever seen? Couldn't it refrain from also taking up the pose of the Ultimate Victim that must Defend Itself at All Costs?
UPDATE: For a case against war with Iran that has more of a chance of convincing your parents, try Yglesias's column (via Brad).
(7:58 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Challenging the MalestreamI confess that I'm very happy and grateful for the successful Kotsko Tax Relief Fund Raiser at Unfogged this week.
I confess that yesterday I was inordinately amused by a sign at the CTS student housing building that read as follows: "The water for this building will not be shut off -- the water department was being over-cautious. Please use your bathrooms and kitchens as you normally would."
I confess that I'm not at my best on Thursdays.
I confess that I'm not looking forward to the next few months -- a transition between an overloaded schedule, then finishing a directed study, then studying for the 20th Century Theology exam. It doesn't feel like there's much room for "my own" stuff there. I confess that I'm not very excited about the papers for any of my classes, except possibly for the Augustine one -- depending on what Marion will approve of. I confess that I'm not very good at
I confess that I would still have CV anxiety even if I were publishing an article every month. I confess that credit card debt drives me insane, but that non-draining showers drive me more insane still.
I confess that I didn't like this Crooked Timber post, but I found this one pretty funny. I confess that I didn't know that Fred Kaplan, well-known appalling militarist hack, was also a music critic.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
(4:36 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Theological IssuesToday during class, I didn't say much, but my mind was working furiously -- somehow the class discussion going on around me managed to bring together a huge number of the theological ideas that most concerned me. And so, since this blog is in large part a refugee camp for graduate students in the area of "religion," I thought that I would list a few of those issues with the rationales, then ask my colleagues to do the same.
- The image of God -- I've posted on this topic a few times, mostly in an annoyed state after having read one too many books or articles that glibly throw the term around. Most of what is said about "the image of God" strikes me as plain and simple nonsense, but it must be possible to speak of it more rightly.
- Demons -- my study of patristics has convinced me that thinking through what a "demon" might be is an essential and neglected task. There are some indications in liberation theologies that demons might represent something like "systemic evil," but so far I haven't seen anything that works that out in a sophistocated way that is actually satisfying in terms of the way demons act in the biblical texts. (Of course, it's not as though I'm a scholar of liberation theology by any means -- if I'm wrong about this, I'd be glad for someone to point me toward work where this is being pursued.)
- Trinity -- this was the first theological topic I studied with any seriousness, and although I'm a little bit wary of what sometimes seem to be rather glib "applications" of the doctrine to social life, it does seem to me to be important to understand, and not just for the sake of understanding theology. I think the doctrine of the Trinity is possible to understand, or at least that people tend to jump too quickly to "mystery" or to the idea that we're arrogantly trying to know things about God that we cannot know. I also tend to think that treating it as a numerical issue (the sublime mystery of one equalling three) is missing the point.
(12:31 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Shots Over the BowWorking on a paper with J. on religious freedom, biopower, and state racism in early colonial america (Roger Williams specifically) and can't help taking a few preliminary potshots ...
Sir Edward Coke: a critical figure in the birth of biopolitical state racism in prerevolutionary seventeenth century England according to Society Must Be Defended and extraordinarily influential on early American thinking. Roger Williams was his protege, for instance, and every lawyer trained in America for three centuries cut their teeth on his legal treatises (this only ended when law schools moved to almost exclusively case law curriculums). Coke's writings were some of the few that made it over already on the Mayflower. (John Lilburne, founder of the Levellers and the other English figure important in Society Must Be Defended, is translated to America via another stream through John Locke.)
Then as now, it's all about Israel. The Puritans saw themselves as a "New English Israel" and put to use what Society Must Be Defended terms a "mythico-religious discourse of the Jews" in their struggle against the king. Truly revolutionary discourse, but ultimately swept up into the power of the state ...
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
(8:10 PM) | Brad:
On Blogs & BloggingI don't know how to do the whole intra-blog thing -- be it blogfights or blogfucks -- but when I think of my fellow bloggers, that is, the ones I read and talk to, here and abroad, I for some reason think of this passage from W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz.
I'm not entirely sure why:
On another occasion, said Austerlitz, Great-Uncle Alphonso took us up the hill behind the house on a still, moonless night to spend a few hours looking into the mysterious world of moths. Most of us, said Austerlitz, know nothing about moths except that they eat holes in carpets and clothes and have to be kept at bay by the use of camphor and naphthalene, although in truth their lineage is among the most ancient and most remarkable in the whole history of nature. Soon after darkness fell we were sitting on a promontory far above Andromeda Lodge, behind us the higher slopes and before us the immense darkness out at sea, and no sooner had Alphonso placed his incandescent lamp in a shallow hollow surrounded by heather and lit it than the moths, not one of which we had seen during our climb, came flying in as if from nowhere, describing thousands of different arcs and spirals and loops, until like snowflakes they formed a silent storm around the light, while others, wings whirring, crawled over the sheet spread under the lamp or else, exhausted by their wild circling, settled in the gray recesses of the egg boxes stacked in a crate by Alphonso to provide shelter for them. I do remember, said Austerlitz, that the two of us, Gerald and I, could not get over our amazement at the endless variety of these invertebrates, which are usually hidden from our sight, and that Alphonso let us simply gaze at their wonderful display for a long time. . . . Some had collars and cloaks, like elegant gentlemen on their way to the opera, said Gerald; some had a plain basic hue, but when they moved their wings showed a fantastic lining underneath, with oblique and wavy lines, shadows, crescent markings and lighter patches, freckles, zigzag bands, fringes and veining and colors you could never have imagined, moss green shot with blue, fox brown, saffron, lime yellow, satiny white, and a metallic gleam as of powdered brass or gold. Many of them were still resplendent in immaculate garments, others, their short lives almost over, had torn and ragged wings. Alphonso told us how each of these extravagant creatures had its own character, and that many of them lived only among alders, or on hot, stony slopes, in pastures on poor soil, or on moors. Describing their previous existence as larvae, he said that almost all caterpillars ate only one kind of food—the roots of couch grass, the leaves of sallow or barberry, withered bramble foliage—and they stuffed themselves with that chosen food, said Alphonso, until they became well-nigh senseless, whereas the moths ate nothing more at all for the rest of their lives, and were bent solely on the business of reproduction. They did sometimes seem to suffer thirst, and in periods of drought, when no dew had fallen at night for a long time, it was apparently known for them to set out together in a kind of cloud in search of the nearest river or stream, where they drowned in large numbers as they tried to settle on the flowing water. . . . During the day, said Alphonso, they slept safely hidden under stones, or in cracks in the rock, in leaf litter on the ground or among foliage. Most of them are in a deathlike state when you find them, and have to coax and quiver themselves back to life, crawling over the ground and jerkily moving their wings and legs before they are ready for flight. Their body temperature will then be thirty-six degrees Celsius, like that of mammals, and of dolphins and tunny fish swimming at full speed. Thirty-six degrees, according to Alphonso, has always proved the best natural level, a kind of magical threshold, and it had sometimes occurred to him, Alphonso, said Austerlitz, that all mankind's misfortunes were connected with its departure at some point in time from that norm, and with the slightly feverish, overheated condition in which we constantly found ourselves. On that summer night, said Austerlitz, we sat high above the estuary of the Mawddach in our hollow in the hills until daybreak, watching the moths fly to us, perhaps some ten thousand of them by Alphonso's estimate. The trails of light which they seemed to leave behind them in all kinds of curlicues and streamers and spirals, and which Gerald in particular admired, did not really exist, explained Alphonso, but were merely phantom traces created by the sluggish reaction of the human eye, appearing to see a certain afterglow in the place from which the insect itself, shining for only the fraction of a second in the lamplight, had already gone. It was such unreal phenomena, said Alphonso, the sudden incursion of unreality into the real world, certain effects of light in the landscape spread out before us, or in the eye of a beloved person, that kindled our deepest feelings, or at least what we took for them. Although I did not study natural history later, said Austerlitz, many of Great-Uncle Alphonso's botanical and zoological disquisitions have remained in my mind. Only a few days ago I was rereading that passage in Darwin he once showed me, describing a flock of butterflies flying uninterruptedly for several hours ten miles out from the South American coast, when evne with a telescope it was impossible to find a patch of empty sky visible between their whirling wings. But I always found what Alphonso told us at that time about the life and death of moths especially memorable, and of all creatures I still feel the greatest awe for them. In the warmer months of the year one or other of these nocturnal insects quite often strays indoors from the small garden behind my house. When I get up early in the morning, I find them clinging to the wall, motionless, I believe, said Austerlitz, they know they have lost their way, since if you do not put them out again carefully they will stay where they are, never moving, until the last breath is out of their bodies, and indeed they will remain in the place where they came to grief even after death, held fast by the tiny claws that stiffened in their last agony, until a draft of air detaches them and blows them into a dusty corner. Sometimes, seeing one of these moths that have met their end in my house, I wonder what kind of fear and pain they feel while they are lost.
(10:31 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Lewis Lapham Retires as Editor of Harper'sAlthough I really should be doing something other than blogging, I just read Lewis Lapham's latest "Notebook" column announcing his retirement as editor of Harper's, and I feel I need to say a few words about it. I have been reading his "Notebook" columns virtually every month since I was 17 -- part of what has become a satisfying monthly ritual, in retrospect one of the most stable, but at the same time destabilizing, aspects of my life. His style in those columns has grown increasingly artificial and even annoying over the years, but in his capacity as editor, he has seemed to me to show remarkable judgment and integrity -- something that cannot always be said, for example, of the editors of The New Yorker or (even worse) The Atlantic Monthly.
There's none of this cutesy formulaic stuff about how "both sides are wrong," none of these over-clever simple solutions, no hollow attempts at a posture of tough-minded "realism" -- instead, every month there are well-written, compelling, and above all memorable stories. Certainly there is a bias toward the "paranoid," but we are living now (and perhaps always have been living) in times that require a thorough-going paranoia.
I came to Harper's because of a desire to tap into the intellectual scene, inspired by a high school teacher who read The New Yorker religiously (and was apparently trying to work his way through all the back issues as well). There I read of George W. Bush's craven incompetence before he was even a presidential candidate -- not the only or even the best example of a time when Harper's was way ahead of the curve. And I think that over time, it changed me, not into a generic bleeding-heart liberal (the presumed only alternative to the sneering conservative I was in high school), but into an independent leftist. I recognize now that it was Harper's that laid the groundwork so that when I woke up and saw the news on September 11, 2001, my reaction was not a knee-jerk patriotism, but a deep-seated dread at what we good Americans were going to do to the rest of the world as a result of this. And it is a testimony to Lapham's integrity of an editor that I continue to be surprised and challenged by the stories appearing in that magazine -- no simplistic party line and no easy answers are being sold.
So I wish Mr. Lapham the best of luck in his future endeavors -- and it does sound like he'll be busy, with book deals and with a new quarterly. I have not been able to find out who the new editor is going to be, but I hope they find someone who can tarry with the negative as well as Lewis Lapham has.
(12:49 AM) | Ben Wolfson:
Tuesday Hatred: adde parvo parvum magnus acervus eritIn his preface to his translation of The Trial, Breon Mitchell says of George Steiner that he suggested "that a translation that improves upon the original is the greatest betrayal of all". I was reminded of this maxim when reading the Critique of Judgment (as Werner Pluhar translates the title of the third critique; the other translation of it I have calls it the Critique of the Power of Judgment). In addition to rendering "Vorstellung" as "presentation" instead of "representation" (as, in my understanding, it is more or less always rendered), he inserts numerous words and phrases into the translation, presumably to make it easier to follow. At one point he inserts a whole sentence, as in this bit from §4:
But in order to say that health is good, we must also use reason and direct this health toward purposes: we must say that health is a state that disposes us to [attend to] all our tasks. [Perhaps in the case of happiness, at least, the agreeable and the good are the same?] Surely everyone believes that happiness, the greatest sum (in number as well as duration) of what is agreeable in life, may be called a true good, indeed the highest good[?]This is outrageous! Not only is the "[attend to]" wholly superfluous (elsewhere, he inserts "[meant]" in expressions using an obviously purposive "to be", or an obviously purposive "for", as in (from §16) "if only the building were not [meant] to be a church"—the "[meant]" adds nothing), but, if the transition between the first quoted sentence and the last is not obvious in the German, then perhaps it just shouldn't be obvious in the English. If Kant turns out to be a less than perfectly graceful writer, well, few people will be surprised. Another passage that roused my not inconsiderable ire, from §7 (I stopped noting them after the Analytic of the Beautiful):
Thus we will say that someone has taste if he knows how to entertain his guests [at a party] with agreeable things (that they can enjoy by all the senses) in such a way that everyone likes [the party].Now, again, the first addition seems, to the extent that it's harmless, superfluous, but the second one clearly changes the meaning of the sentence. Without that addition, it would mean that everyone likes the way in which they're entertained; with it, it means that they like the party. Maybe there's some textual evidence that Kant meant the latter. If so, though, why not just translate it that way? There are all sorts of slightly meaning-changing additions of this sort; it's quite annoying. More than that: it's hateful. (Oddly, in one case where there is apparent textual or philosophical evidence that Kant meant something and wrote another, Pluhar doesn't make the change: footnote 29, on page 59, indicates that Kant meant "universal" where he actually had written "general". Textual emendation is an inexact science, of course, but I'm surprised that such restraint was exhibited here, when the rule seems to have been profligacy elsewhere.) In sum: hatred!
Here are some other things I hate: I hate being single. I hate Craig Segall for having suggested that I'm single at least in part because I am, as he put it, an "insufferable pedant". I hate that shockwave's email chess program is broken.
I leave you with the following quotation from the third critique in, yes, Pluhar's translation, from the "General Comment" following the Analytic of the Sublime:
…to shun people either from misanthropy because we are hostile toward them or from anthropophobia (fear of people) because we are afraid they might be our enemies is partly odious and partly contemptible. There is, however, a different (very improperly so-called) misanthropy, the predisposition to which tends to appear in the minds of many well-meaning people as they grow older. This latter misanthropy is philanthropic enough as regards benevolence [Wohlwollen], but as the result of a long and sad experience it has veered far away from a liking [Wohlgefallen] for people. We find evidence of this in a person's propensity toward reclusiveness, in his fanciful wish that he could spend the rest of his life on a remote country estate, or for that matter (in the case of young people) in their dream of happily spending their lives with a small family, on some island unkown to the rest of the world—all of which novelists and writers of Robinsonades use so cleverly. Falseness, ingratitude, injustice, whatever is childish in the purposes that we ourselves consider important and great and in the pursuit of which people inflict all conceivable evils on one another, these so contradict the idea of what people could be if they wanted to, and so conflict with our fervent wish to see them improved, that, given that we cannot love them, it seems but a slight sacrifice to forgo all social joys to avoid hating them.
Monday, April 17, 2006
(12:03 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Monday Picture Blogging: Books Can Be Cute Too.
This is a section of the bookstore I work at. I always thought I'd like working a bookstore, but it is still retail and carries with it all the horrors that any retail shop near a major sports arena/yuppie drinking spot would. I have a set of phrases that I use to get me through each transaction:
Customer walks up to counter. "You all set?"
Take books, ring up. "That will be $10.90. Out of $20.00?"
While making change. "Would you like a bag?"
Hand them change. Bag books."Thanks so much. Have a good night."
If at any time the customer attempts conversation I do one of two things: 1)If it's something I care about and the person isn't insane I will talk to them about it. 2) If the person is the other 98% I mumble something incoherently until they are uncomfortable and leave. It's worked so far.
These are my bookshelves that hold all my philosophy, religious studies, theology, and assorted other humanities books. Before Hayley packed them up we had another bookshelf that had most of our fiction and some of her social work stuff. I kept some of it out for me to read in some fantasy future (Gabriel Garcia Marquez mostly). I noticed the other day that I don't refer to this set of objects in the world as a library but simply as "my books". I wonder why that is. This may not be big enough to be a library yet, but I also feel like, with many of these books, I've poured a lot of time and energy into them. Maybe this has allowed them to take on a kind of singularity that I don't want to reduce to the collective "library". Or maybe I just don't want to sound like a pompous ass. At least until I get that red smoking jacket and leather chair.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
(8:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Easter PostJust like last year, I have failed to go to church on Easter. Last year I did at least squeeze in Holy Thursday -- since then, I have also managed to duck my head in on a Tuesday afternoon, a Saturday evening, and a Friday afternoon, separated by about three or four months each time. I am, however, listening to Mozart's Requiem, which I used to do every Sunday morning after going to church Saturday evening. I also plan to read some Augustine.
Later this evening I will go have an "Easter dinner" with some friends from CTS, the seminary of course being the closest thing to a church that I have (and the same could be said of many students during their sojourn there, even the ones who are pursuing MDiv degrees).
UPDATE (SUNDAY LATIN MIND-TEASER!!!): Augustine, De Trinitate V.1.1:
Ab his etiam qui ista lecturi sunt ut ignoscant peto ubi me magis voluisse quam potuisse dicere adverterint quod vel ipsi melius intellegunt vel propter mei eloquii difficultatem non intellegunt, sicut ego eis ignosco ubi propter suam tarditatem intellegere non possunt.Here's an attempted translation, literalistically:
From these ones who are about to read those things, I ask that they may forgive when they will have perceived me better to have wanted to than to have been able to say [or else: not to have been able to say clearly what I meant -- is volo dicere in Latin the same as vouloir dire in French?] because either they understand the same things better or do not understand because of the difficulty of my expression, just as I forgive them when because of their slowness they cannot understand.Is this at all approaching right? (I perhaps would have gotten to this point much faster had I gone more slowly through the last few chapters of the grammar -- but who knew that they actually used perfect infinitives?)
What kind of pisses me off is that I spent an hour trying to decode Augustine's throat-clearing before he gets to the actual content of the chapter.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
(12:40 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On Taking Blogs SeriouslyBlog traffic is important, because one wants to have a guaranteed audience for one's thoughts.
Therefore, one must post every day, so that people do not lose interest. But then one ends up writing a lot that is not worth reading.
And also, one must make friends with other bloggers, who can help generate traffic. But then one is tempted to be overly cautious in what one is saying, and can in fact get caught in the middle of wars between two friends or "allies." And so one ends up reading and writing a lot that is not worth any amount of time or attention.
If one wants a large audience while simultaneously being a "public intellectual" of some kind, one must try to be a political blog, because our intellectual culture is entirely dominated by politics (in the most reductive sense of the word) and everything must have a political pay-off. But then one ends up pandering to an impatient audience that already knows what it thinks and will complain if you write what you actually want to write -- unless one sincerely wants to write, say, hackwork propaganda for the Democratic party. (Some people really do want to do that -- and in general, they do a fine job of it. I couldn't do better, and I wouldn't propose myself as their replacement, no matter how much traffic I could generate thereby.)
We live in serious times, so serious blogs must address serious topics in order to be taken seriously. Blogs are reshaping our political culture in an unprecedented way -- into a flurry of clipping and commenting and posturing and "snark," crowding out all hope for genuine reflection.
Or is that just the same thing? I don't know anymore -- I can't remember anything, don't want to remember anything, that happened more than a week ago.
Friday, April 14, 2006
(8:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Give my regards to
At John Holbo's request, I have read the infamous Mock-Platonic Dialogue, his most ambitious statement of his general theory of the Higher Eclecticism (e-mail him for a copy). It is a long dialogue, and as befits its genre, its communication often proceeds by indirect means. Yet, perhaps naively, I am going to comment on it, as if I already knew what was meant by a "text," "reading," "understanding," "dialogue," "Platonic," and "mock."
I should state from the outset that although I am one of the foremost critics of The Valve, I do not belong to an English department nor do I have any particular emotional investment in Theory -- at least not in all senses of the word. I will say, provisionally, and against Holbo, that there are not two, but three:
- Critical thinking in general, with a greater or lesser degree of systematicity and sophistocation (Holbo's "small-t theory")
- The lackluster, jargony scholarship most often churned out by American literature professors
- The sources drawn upon in said lackluster, jargony scholarship, including but not limited to certain prominent continental philosophers
- In a certain sense, we all do philosophy all the time, insofar as philosophy means critical inquiry, etc.
- The following is an anthology of philosophy that does not include the long conversation you had that one night in your dorm room.
I will gladly admit that the gestures toward scientificity or toward a sophistocated professionality founded on the practice of Theory have not panned out. And thank God for that! And I will gladly admit that many of the apologiae for Theory have amounted to little more than the wagon-circling of a discipline that has never been and never will be coherent or straightforward -- even sticking with the "traditional" approach, I find it difficult, nay impossible, to create a rigorous concept that would include spending five years writing a study of, say, William Blake and then spending most of the rest of one's career teaching basic composition.
The excitement surrounding Theory was ultimately a resurgence of enthusiasm for philosophy, which is always at its strongest when it is no longer in its "proper place." It might have been obnoxious in its revolutionary or messianic rhetoric, but it really did represent a revolution. The move toward professionalization and the rearguard apologetics prove what we had already learned by the time Theory first arose: that the institutionalization of philosophy leads inexorably to a tedious scholasticism. This appears to be the case whether one is talking about an institutionalization of philosophy based on exclusion (Actual Existing philosophy departments) or on over-extending one's reach (Actual Existing Theory). Theory failed insofar as, in a certain sense, it succeeded -- it let its love go. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a genuine liberation of thought, at least for a time. And who knows? Something like that may even happen again. Let us hope so -- after all, in our anti-intellectual society, intellectual passion, even if naive or obnoxiously grandiose, is certainly to be welcomed.
That, I suppose, is my objection to John Holbo's general theory of Higher Eclecticism: I don't know whether he hopes so too.
(11:13 AM) | Brad:
My Current Enemy: A ConfessionI'm sure everyone was woefully heartbroken & beside themselves when I failed to post on my designated day, Wednesday, but the Weblog offices were not burned to the ground so the rioting must not have been too bad.
As you know, Fridays here are set aside for confessions. Sins come in all sizes and colors and flavors -- personally, I prefer tall, dark, and mango -- as do sinners. I think this is an especially good thing. Some confessions can be summed up in a comment, others, such as this one, only in a blog post.
For you see, I must confess that I have an Enemy. His name, which matters not to you, and matters to me only because he is My Current Enemy, is A. B. Okay, that's not his name, and it might not even be his initials, but that's hardly the point. What're you gonna do, track him down and beat him up for me? C'mon, grow up. Anyway, not so long ago, but before I started my doctoral work, he was my deparment's golden boy, back before the insurgence of infidel agnostics and Muslims and the subsequent de-emphasis on CHRISTIAN theology. Personally, I don't have a problem with his philosophy or theology -- frankly, I hardly even know, nor do I care at all, what they are. No, my problem goes much deeper than that, which in this case means that it's more superficial. My problem is -- as I told him, at first by accident (not realizing he was nearby) and then by a redacted repetition when he asked over my shoulder, eyebrows raised (oh, how I dislike that!), "What did you just say?" -- that he is an "arrogant tit."
If you can imagine the sort who feels compelled to bombastically and dramatically voice his opinion through declarative fiat, not unlike some bloggers I suppose, normally just before the conversation is over, not unlike some commenters, you'll be moving in the direction of an A. B. The fact that my enemy is slightly misogynistic and homophobic does not help ingratiate him to me or my department -- "my" department in this instance does not denote the department as a whole, but those who agree with me.
Damn. I just now realized that I've already spilled the beans about the story's climax -- lest you've already forgotten, or are just skimming this post because it's not written by Adam, I'm referring to the part where I finally explode, though that's to make the scene far more violent than it really was, and refer to A. B., in so many words, as a bloviating boob. A bit of context may be necessary, though, to understand the (so-called, but obviously exaggerated) explosion, to see it in its insubstantial glory. You see, I've no doubt that A. B. "knows his stuff" (a quote from a friend of mine who somehow likes him), but his preening hauteur really confuses me. I guess I should expand this a bit, since you've no idea who I'm talking about specifically, and publically affirm my conviction that the hubris shown by much of academia is a bit silly, considering that its cultural status today doesn't come anywhere near the societal value it claims to represent. (Two things pop into my head right now: (1) how poorly my academic friends are paid, not to mention the debt I've accrued to join their ranks; and (2) the curious fact that so many these same friends (and me???) hold the most unfeasible of political persuasions -- such being the power of theory!!) More importantly, and this is back to the specific criticism of My Current Enemy, because the community of academics is so small it makes me think that anybody, e.g., A. B., who goes out of his way to alienate so many people in that community is not only social-stuntedly arrogant, but is uncommonly ignorant. Actually, come to think of it, the redacted repetition to which I alluded above, was something along the lines of "[you are] an uncommonly ignorant tit," but I can't be sure whether I invoked the mammary gland the first or second time around. After all, the diatribe was a bit long, and I'm sure parts didn't make sense at all, considering my inability to say (or write) consecutive simple sentences without violently including wildly deviating parenthetical asides; but I've definitely had the presence of "tit" confirmed by a third party who has long referred to A. B. in private by other (male) body parts.
Hence, My Current Enemy. And thus is my confession.
(8:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Stockholm SyndromeI confess that I didn't realize until yesterday that it was Holy Week. I confess that my lack of piety has stemmed primarily from a desire to minimize outside demands on my time and that I may well end up going to church more regularly when I move to the new place in Lincoln Square, which is only a block away from a Catholic church. I confess that even though I am not a big fan of the way things are run in the Catholic Church, I don't see the use of joining another denomination unless there is some really good reason for it.
I confess that I can see the horizon of never having to take a class again, and it looks pretty good. I confess that in a certain way, I look forward to the exam stage, because a lot of the stuff I'll be reading is stuff I've "been meaning to read" but might never otherwise read. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, which is the worst possible thing for a grad student to do.
I confess that yesterday I got a ticket for parking on the street during a street cleaning, and I'm not angry or upset about it, even though I was in Hyde Park Tuesday through Thursday and had no opportunity to move my truck, nor indeed to learn of the impending street cleaning. When I objectively break a law that makes sense, getting a ticket is not a big deal (although the money end of it is annoying) -- it's just getting tickets for things like parking on the street as such that get to me, that is, tickets that seem to work at a more basic ontological level.
I confess that my experience of giving an in-class presentation Wednesday night has given me some confidence that I might someday experience at least some moderate success in teaching. (I've heard that this will apparently be required at some point if I'm going to be a professor -- they don't really give more detail than that.) I confess that I used the chalk board for the first time in said presentation.
I confess that this weather makes me much happier. It's nice when it doesn't feel like the world itself is against me. I confess that that feeling has been central to my experience as a born-and-bred Midwesterner and that sometimes I take perverse pride in the bad winters that I've lived through -- but they seem to not be doing the "harsh winter" thing anymore.
I confess that I too commonly use Stockholm Syndrome to explain everyday events.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
(8:05 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Render and SubmitI grew up in fundamentalist Baptist circles, and for all my fondness of philosophy, theology, and radical political thinking, there is something about me that is still Baptist. For all the movements I've made intellectually, the Bible still functions as a powerful authority for me. What that means is something like Hans Küng's suggestion following Rahner in Infallible? (arguing against biblical and especially Papal infallibility - it lost him his license to teach from the Vatican) that the Bible is norma normans non-normata, the normer of norms not itself normed.
Whether one takes Scripture as authoritative or not, there are two passages from the New Testament that have been especially influential in political history, and negatively so. In spite of Jesus' execution after the manner of political rebels and in spite of the radically subversive spirit of Pauline theology sensed by Taubes and others, two particular statements, one from the mouth of Jesus, one from the pen of Paul, have proved to be conservative bully whips ever since: "Render unto God what is God's and unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22 and parallels) and "Submit to the governing authorities" (Romans 13). I am thinking of writing an article under the title of this post eventually, working through the history of interpretation of these passages and ending with my particular exegesis of them.
There are any number of ways that more radical political Christians have dealt with these passages. My favorites are Barth's relinking of Romans 13 with the end of chapter 12 which includes a citation of Jesus' "love your enemies" and Dorothy Day's argument that once you give everything to God, there is nothing left to give to Caesar. Both readings, however, can be seriously improved upon by more careful attention to the details of the text. Anyone else have favorite interpreters of Render and Submit?
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
(12:01 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
If I Had Gyges Ring ...... I'd sit in today on Discard the Name's oral comps with Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Hardt, Ken Surin and Reinhard Hütter. Surin basically left Duke's religion department for the lit. department years ago when he no longer bought the Resurrection and fully embraced Deleuzian immanence. Hütter is a German Lutheran turned down-the-line Thomist who is not given to letting things slide and who will not be fond of Discard's marriage of Deleuzian ontology and Yoder. Sparks could fly since Hütter is perhaps Hauerwas' most prized student while Yoder is absolutely the most important figure in Hauerwas' canon. Then again, perhaps it will be unremarkable and just another hurdle crossed.
Either way, good luck Discard!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
(12:06 AM) | Ben Wolfson:
Tuesday Hatred: suffer your passion to grow upon youI hate the rain. Rain is no good for anything.
I hate several things involving bicycles. I hate that I see so many people riding around who manifestly have no idea when to change gears, and to whom it may never have occurred that the different gears are useful in different situations, and have not just been put on their bikes to weigh them down. I also hate being caught behind people who are biking too slowly (which means, slower than I am biking at that moment). This also applies to walking: what is it with pedestrians who think that they can proceed at a leisurely pace? What, exactly, is the idea here? Get the fuck out of my way! Here's something else I hate: these bikes, these bikes I see, that haven't been tended to in all their born days, with chains that go "squeak squeak squeak" all day long. Have some pride, owners of these bikes! And don't even get me started on people who bike on the wrong sidewalks! WRONG WAY, ASSHOLE! The preceding sentence is one I have to restrain myself from saying aloud to these persons as I (going in the correct direction) pass them. Now, I'm not exactly Pedal McBikeride, but cripes. (Cripes!)
I saw someone dicing an onion with a paring knife the other day. (What's more, it was my paring knife!) A paring knife is manifestly not the right knife with which to dice an onion, or to slice celery—something else I saw the very same bat-person do with the very same bat-knife (at the very same, or at least a closely following, bat-time in the very same bat-kitchen!). I hate witnessing an otherwise fine person fall so far from knife-wielding excellence.
I hate the locution "the reason is because". No! The reason is that, bitch! I hate myself for having inadvertently locuted that locution the other day.
I hate this sneaking suspicion I have that something's not quite right with the leadership of this country, but I'm having trouble articulating just what I think is going wrong.
Finally, I hate Adam Kotsko. What's up with this "teaching yourself languages" shit? You're making
Monday, April 10, 2006
(5:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On Not Nuking IranWhat this "nuke Iran" idiocy illustrates is that the system of nuclear deterrence is no longer effective in the case of a rogue nation (such as the United States) striking preemptively at a state without nuclear capacity. Since this is the only system that we've come up with to stave off a nuclear holocaust, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider reworking it. The idea that leaps to mind is that all nuclear powers other than the United States could sign a treaty effectively taking non-nuclear powers under their wing.
To wit: In the event of a preemptive nuclear attack by the United States, all the other nuclear powers would massively respond, in concert, against the United States. This would, at least in theory, reestablish a situation in which the use of a single nuclear weapon would automatically trigger the end of the human race, thereby effectively taking the nuclear option back off the table. Then all of us Americans would get to avoid being in a situation of living in a country whose leaders killed millions of Iranians in a nuclear holocaust on the off-chance that the Iranians might otherwise have gotten nuclear weapons within the next decade!
In short, it is unacceptable that the United States currently has nuclear weapons. Maybe under most circumstances, "we" could be trusted not to use them. But our electoral system sometimes produces strange results.
(11:16 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Language Learning[Anthony did his best to do the Monday Picture-Blogging for today, but software problems prevented him. As I am currently procrastinating on writing a summary of Caputo's Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, I might as well post something.]
I only have real experience so far with learning to read a language, but so far I've "done" a few: French, German, and Latin. I understand that it's better to learn how to speak and understand them as well, but since I have very little opportunity to practice such skills, it seems difficult to maintain them. Maintaining reading skills is easy, however, given the areas that I am studying. (Some sweet day, however, I will begin my lessons at the Alliance Française de Chicago -- perhaps next semester, enough to bring me up to speed for my début at the AAR/SBL.)
Given that that's my situation, then, what is the best way to go about learning a language? What seems to work? First, one must recognize that there is an infinite qualitative difference between completing grammar exercises and actually reading texts. Inevitably, once you complete the grammar book and set to work on a text that is not prepared specifically for people who are trying to learn the language, you will be stopped cold within the first three sentences -- usually, in my experience, within the first three words of the first sentence. This is frustrating, and it is always tempting to think that if you had just paid closer attention during the grammar portion of the class, or if you had memorized the vocabulary words by rote (something I never, ever do, nor do I ever make flashcards -- but maybe I should?), this would not have happened. That is not actually the case, however. Getting more and more hung up on the details of grammar (without any idea how often these points of grammar ever really even come up), or on vocabulary (without any idea how relevant these words will be for the kinds of texts you'll be reading) would only have produced unnecessary delays and, in the worst case, actually increased the existential despair associated with the first major roadblock.
Thus, my first point is that if you want to learn to read a language, get through the grammar section as quickly as possible. All those people who tell you you should take years of language courses, etc., are lying to you. Take three months, tops, to get through a grammar book (as you acquire more and more languages, this should take less and less time, at least if you're staying within the same language grouping like I am). Do the exercises, etc., to the extent that they don't piss you off. Then, since you want to read texts, you should, you know, read texts.
This leads to the second question: What is the best approach to reading texts? Should I produce a translation of them? Should I go for quantity or for quality? The first point is that you should read something you actually care about, even if it's "hard" (within reason, of course -- you shouldn't start with Ulysses if you're learning English for reading). As for issues of speed, I'm torn. On the one hand, the "plowing" method has much to recommend it, but also has some drawbacks. I found it fairly helpful for French, but then, I was starting my French-reading project during a summer when I had theoretically infinite time to put into it -- plus I was working through an additional grammar book, building vocabulary in a systematic way (though not with flashcards). I ultimately produced a polished translation of a difficult text, all while keeping up reading and all that, so that now I have very solid French reading skills.
There's not always time for all that, however. I didn't have time to do that for German, which I found more difficult overall anyway, and as such the "plowing" method led to a huge amount of frustration. I only started to develop any real confidence with German when I started up my "devotional exercises" of reading through Benjamin's Theses several times. This seems to me to be the best way to go -- take a relatively short text, then go through it several times. You'll pick up the vocabulary better that way, and, crucially, you will more quickly come to the point where you are reading rather than haltingly translating in your head and looking up the same word in the same sentence three times because it's so hard to keep all the pieces in place.
Of course, this is "cheating" because you're not really sight-reading (the ultimate goal), but it's great for your confidence to be reading something in the language with a certain degree of fluency, pretty early on -- and it frees you to see how the grammar fits together more easily, as well, without a lot of this moronic stuff of consciously labelling every noun as "masculine dative" or whatever. The endings, etc., become associated with a meaning and a function rather than a spot on a chart.
With Latin, I have gone straight to the repetitious reading of short sections, based mainly on the demands of the class for which I learned Latin, and I have been really happy with it during this short period. I have probably just gotten lucky in this respect, but I feel like the passage Marion chose for this week happens to illustrate a really broad range of grammatical points, so that's been helpful. (This is kind of luck of the draw: I feel like Benjamin was better in terms of really putting the grammar to work than my initial reading text from Nietzsche was.) But most of all, after reading the same two-page passage over the course of several days, I've gotten a bit of a preview of what it's like to read Latin fluently. That is really important, because during my German learning, I despaired of ever reading German at more than a sentence an hour.
The method of plowing through multiple texts is the best way to go if you're studying for a translation test for grad school, though. But after you take the text, try the "devotional exercise" approach. It can take as little as fifteen minutes to a half hour a day, but it makes a huge difference.
Finally, assuming that you want to learn the four primary "prestige" languages for academic studies in the humanities, this seems to me to be the best order:
Yes, that just happens to be the order the I did them. I'll probably try Greek this summer, so I'll let you know how that goes.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
(8:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Did you knowthat you can buy a case of 70 single serving sized boxes of Corn Flakes on Amazon.com? That is definitely going on my wish list!
that our nation is literally being run by maniacs? At one point, an official compares the tough choice to use tactical nuclear weapons in order to wipe out Iran's nuclear program with the tough choice that "we" faced in Japan in 1945. I hope that all of those conspiracy theorists are right when they claim that all our nuclear silos are empty, just for show -- because this would put Bush in the running for the really elite rung of mass murderers (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot).
I'm sure that within the next few months, there will be an editorial in the sober-minded Atlantic Monthly advising us that although conventional wisdom would speak against decimating an entire nation and rendering large swaths of it uninhabitable, we've got to face the facts.
that despite the nihilistic methods of world history, I remain seated at the dining room table, puzzling over ancient texts? Specifically, this sentence from Augustine, De Trinitate, X.5.7, puzzles me:
Multa enim per cupiditatem pravam tamquam sui sit oblita sic agit.The subject of the sentence is "mens." The translation I'm using has this:
In fact many of the things it does show that it has twisted its desires the wrong way round as though it had forgotten itself.That may well be a great way of getting at the idea of what Augustine is talking about, but it offers me very little help in trying to figure out how the actual Latin text hangs together.
(For those who are curious about the structure of Marion's class, he is assuming that we will read the whole text in the course of time, but he is assigning short sections that will be the subject of presentations in the first half of the class, followed by his own lectures on particular topics in the second half, presumably based mainly on the text presented. My procedure then will be to read as much of the entire text as possible in translation each week, while going through the assigned text in Latin several times during the week. One interesting point that he raised last week was to say that just as Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit is a way of bringing the subject to the point where the System becomes thinkable, so also Augustine's Confessions provide a path to the point of contemplating the topics treated in The Trinity.)
that one of Jacques Derrida's first publications was a translation of a text by none other than W. V. O. Quine himself? And that when Quine was in Paris, he used Derrida's office? Small world! (Source: John D. Caputo, Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, pg. 365, n. 4.)
Friday, April 07, 2006
(11:01 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Thoughts on GnosticismThe recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas will likely precipitate yet another predictable round of conspiracy-theory type discussions about how terrible it is that the church suppressed Gnosticism, about how they must be keeping something from us, about how terrible it is that they won't include this in the Bible now -- probably they can't handle the truth, etc., etc. However, as I have commented on a thread on The Valve, sadly joined by one of my arch enemies[*], Gnosticism wasn't necessarily this really cool thing that is being kept from us.
Everything you hate about Christianity was present in Gnosticism, except worse. Do you object to Christianity's devaluation of the body? Gnostics were even worse. Do you think that orthodox doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation are needlessly complex and abstract? The multiple emanations of deity in the pleroma are much more complex, with seemingly infinite room for further complications. Do you find the symbolism and numerology in Revelation and other parts of the Bible repellant? Well then, you'll certainly hate most Gnostic texts even worse. Do you object to the almost instinctive anti-Semitism of the Christian tradition? Well, one of the leading Gnostic teachers, Marcion, taught that the God of the Hebrew Bible was evil and that Jesus came to save us from that God. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that a good first step in understanding Gnosticism would be to take the least appealling aspects of Christianity as popularly understood and then step it up a notch.
I know this is all horribly elitist to call someone's religious beliefs stupid -- and Gnosticism was nothing if not hugely popular, kind of like evangelical Republicanism is today -- but what do you know? Gnosticism was itself hugely elitist! Once again, take the rather grim doctrine of double predestination, but step it up a notch: not only are some people predetermined to be saved and others to be damned, but the saved people have a different nature. That's right: it's not just that we're all equally unworthy humans and God decides in his grace to save only some of us, it's that the saved people are also inherently better from the start. And one proof of this superiority? They alone can understand these bizarre speculations about the emanations of the divine in the pleroma....
In this case, then, I think that the catholics were right to reject Gnosticism, unequivocally right. In fact, I think that the dismissive tone of Irenaeus is exactly right as well. Christianity would undoubtedly be a much worse and stupider religion today if something like the Gospel of Judas had been included in the canon. The established church is not maliciously trying to hide this beautiful countercultural extra-super-special populist truth from you by refusing to admit Gnostic texts into the canon of Scripture. The fact that Gnostics are opposed by the established church does not make Gnosticism automatically good, any more than the Republican party's opposition to fundamentalist Islamic terrorism makes terrorism really cool. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, etc.
[*] I consider my top three blogging arch-enemies to be as follows:
- The Troll of Sorrow
- Rich Puchalsky
(7:49 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Gas Station Hot DogsI confess that yesterday I basically checked out of every area of life. My excuse for this was that class was cancelled and I decided to skip the academic council meeting, such that the time that normally would have been taken by that was a "freebie." I confess that toward the end of said period, I started to have a severe headache that restricted my ability to do anything at all. I confess that I'm still not sure of the cause.
I confess that I hope that vitamin supplements will make up for poor eating habits. I confess that when I go grocery shopping, it must be abundantly obvious that I am a bachelor. I confess that when I saw what the guy in front of me was buying and how old he was, I assumed he was some sad divorcé just trying to somehow get his life back together. (The tip-off was the jar of pickles.) I confess that I didn't want to talk to the clerk about the lutein supplements that I was buying -- and I further confess that I bought them as a result of a market research project I did last summer.
I confess that I'm not a very good student representative, skipping meetings during a very turbulent period in CTS's history. I confess that I don't feel like I have the skills to make much of a difference in this situation, but I did post something on the brand new CTS bulletin board system.
I confess that I've never had a gas station hot dog. I confess that I've lost touch with the Trigger's crowd, as I become "busier" and come to "like driving" "less." I confess that people are surprised that I wrote, much less managed to find a publisher for, a paper on Bonhoeffer -- one professor asked, "Is it the same Bonhoeffer?" I confess that I was not successful in getting a paper published in the very prestigious Journal of Religion. I confess that I felt like a jackass when I didn't rush to volunteer for a presentation in Marion's class on Augustine (now taught by Marion alone, because David Tracy is having health issues), but even if I had tried to get one, I likely would have failed -- and I'm better in writing than in extemporaneous situations anyway. I confess that the class is probably going to cause more of a work pile-up than I initially thought, because he wants the papers a couple weeks before the end of the quarter so as not to have to lug them to France. I do have an idea or two, though. (Or, more accurately, just one.)
I confess that I was very happy to see so many of The Weblog's contributors jumping in this week -- particularly the long-absent Young Hegelian. I confess that Ben Wolfson was admirably hateful. I confess that if anyone who hasn't already taken a day would like to cover Thursdays for good old Doug Johnson during the month of April, I would appreciate it.
Thank you, everyone.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
(12:12 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Disappointing Thursday's in AprilMy day to post, but I've squandered the short time I've had in commenting on Matt's previous two post. Given those, I'll not rush something substantive up since I have something like writer's block. It's not that I don't have anything to say; it's that I have too much to say and not enough time to work through writing. Most notably, I need to work through a substantive response to three blog posts elsewhere and critical comments here with respect to the State Racism post from a few weeks back. That response will be my next substantive post, but I don't see how I can set aside the couple of hours needed for that until Jodie's semester closes near the end of April.
As such my posts today and the next three weeks will be like last week's basement, ping pong, and beer bottle post, as aptly described by Anthony (that is unless short bursts of inspiration strike).
(9:50 AM) | Matt Christie:
Names Left Wanting?In The Time That Remains, Agamben remarks in an aside, and in typically perceptive and enigmatic fashion:
There are still people today–although really only a small group, who seem to have almost become respectable these days–who are convinced that one can reduce ethics and religion to acting as if God, the kingdom, truth and so on existed. At the same time, the as if has become a highly popular nosological figure verging on a common condition. All of the people whose cases cannot be clearly ascribed to psychoses or neuroses are called as if personalities, or borderline personalities, because their "problem" consists in the fact that they have no problem, so to speak. They live as if they were normal, as if the reign of normality existed, as if there were "no problem" (this is the idiotic formula that they learn to repeat on every occasion), and this alone constitutes the origin of their discomfort, their particular sensation of emptiness. (34-35)
Agamben wants to recast and so reclaim the question "of the as if", as "infinitely more serious" than Hans Vaihinger would have it. But one wonders to whom else this aside might be addressed.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
(7:54 PM) | Matt Christie:
communism will be backHeavy intellectual shitting about on Wednesday will kill blog stats, I know that. And over on Long Sunday, Wednesday is our biggest day. Indeed Wednesdays we average 9,716 page views and 10,897 individual hits (don't ask how). And that's just on our best day! We're a middle-of-the-week blog; Wednesday hits and people long for Sunday. They're ready for something heavy but not too much!
Raking leaves today whilst listening to Counting Crows (on my brand new spanking used discman, which they give away now, if you nicely ask), it occurs to me that the war on Terror is correct. Insofar as they gesticulate forever vaguely toward a fear fantastically devoid of any dread, in this, our softly fascistic extension by other means of the war on Communism*, these old warriors are quite correct to worry. It's hard work to fight in this new world, using only paradigms that are obsolete and dead; they must continuously up the stakes! Communism will be back, however, though it will be different and may even be called "democracy", who knows, because this shit is just too ridiculous. Furthermore it is unsustainable. As the movement of November 99 continues to demonstrate, the people are uniting.
When the R. Murrows of the world defend the characters of those besmirched by the McCarthies of the world by describing the unjustly besmirched as good and honest, hard-working and patriotic capitalist citizens, they are nevertheless also wrong. Art is onto-communist. Those who think outside the box are also onto-communists. In fact, anyone who thinks at all may well be onto-communist. Self-expression is certainly onto-communist. People yearn to be, precisely, communist. Onto-communism is a universal.
Bearing all this in mind, I'd like to compile a list of pop songs that best betray, or rather, embody, the onto-communist spirit. What I like best about this project so far is the title, which will be, quite elegantly, "An All American Communist Mix." Ideally, this would be something to share with the entire planet, for which bloggers will at first suffice." However, there are so many songs to choose from that I confess I am a little stuck. So far I have Bruce Springsteen's joint, "57 Channels (and Nothin' On)" to go somewhere in the middle (right after Tupac,
nb. I hear there are also countries outside the USA, and that some of them even have their own music. So perhaps someday this could become an international series.
*"Clinton's" economic boom was just a burp, as everybody knows. Furthermore the "free trade" ushered in was in many respects as 'objectively fascist' (to use Orwell's term) as what everyone who was anyone predicted would inevitably follow.
(9:45 AM) | Brad:
Living a LifeThe following is a repost from another blog, which is ordinarily against the rules. I am, however, re-reading the book in question, and it reminded me of this post & the situation discussed, both of which I still find delight. Most of you haven't read it before anyway -- indeed, maybe none of you have read it before. Which makes bending the rules that much more okay. Something original should be posted later today.
I'm living Paul Auster's life for him, which as those of you who've ever read any of his stuff know might not be as unthinkable as it seems on the surface. Yes, I'm living Paul Auster's life, or at least that life rendered in quasi-fiction/semi-memoir in The Invention of Solitude -- or, more precisely, a paragraph, ripped out of its context, from said book.
When night comes, the electricity dims to half-strength, then goes up again, then comes down, for no apparent reason. It is as though the lights were controlled by some prankster deity. The electric company has no record of the place, and no one has ever had to pay for power. At the same time, the phone company has refused to acknowledge A.’s existence. The phone has been here for nine months, functioning without a flaw, but he had not yet received a bill for it. When he called the other day to straighten out the problem, they insisted they had never heard of him. Somehow, he has managed to escape the clutches of the computer, and none of his calls has ever been recorded. His name is off the books. If he felt like it, he could spend his idle moments making free calls to far-away places. But the fact is, there is no one he wants to talk to. Not in California, not in Paris, not in China. The world has shrunk to the size of this room for him, and for as long as it takes him to understand it, he must stay where he is. Only one thing is certain: he cannot be anywhere until he is here. And if he does not manage to find this place, it would be absurd for him to think of looking for another.
Yesterday I tried to report at fault with British Telecom, only to be told very politely but with a steady amount of angst, that I should not exist -- or at least should not be talking on the line that I professed to be, at that very moment, using. My confirmation to that effect was not enough for the Customer Advisor with whom I was dealing, due in no small part to the fact that I called five minutes before he and the rest of his call centre cadre were set to clock out for the evening. Upon calling again this morning, Customer Advisor #2 was so rattled by the mystery that she accidentally hung up on me after a fifteen-minute analysis of the problem. Customer Advisor #3, who I reached after a twenty minute, wholly unsuccessful, endeavour to find a neighbor to call me, just to make sure I was in fact real, refused to believe there was a problem at all. She instead enquired whether I was happy with my British Telecom service. Of course, I indicated that I was quite happy with them as long as they kept providing me free service, which she tacitly indicated might very well happen because "there's nothing I can do for you on this end. We will call you back at that number [the one that, allegedly, does not exist] when we know what's going on."
In other words, it is a mystery. This matter of the telephone . . . this matter of me. Which is it, Paul?
In the interim, in the void between the moment he opens the door and the moment he begins to reconquer the emptiness, his mind flails in a wordless panic. It is as if he were being forced to watch his own disappearance, as if, by crossing the threshold of this room, he were entering another dimension, taking up residence inside a black hole.
Oh okay, thanks.