Wednesday, May 31, 2006
(3:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The American Dream: On the Necessity of Rejecting ItAt some point in an Unfogged discussion -- but this logic is replicated elsewhere -- I was presented with the truism that we can't run a political campaign based on the message "Stick it to the rich." I asked, "Well, why the hell not?" The answer was obvious (and indeed I already knew it): it wouldn't work. People wouldn't go for it.
(N.B.: Keep in mind in all that follows that I have no power to influence the actual direction of political campaigns and/or events. None whatsoever. My words here are doomed to irrelevance, whether or not they turn out to be somehow "realistic." [Matt Christie has been doing much to remind all of us bloggers of this very simple fact, which so many seem to forget or willfully ignore: we are powerless spectators.] So let's just consider my words in the abstract -- if it were possible for me to create a world such as I describe [and who knows what is really possible or not -- does some person sitting behind some desk writing into some low-traffic web site really have a very rigorous grasp of what is possible? If you wanted to know what was possible, is that the kind of person you would ask -- a blogger? By no means!], would it be a desirable one?)
The reason people wouldn't go for it is that they don't resent the rich. They want to join the rich. All of us Americans -- even me -- have some degree of hope that we will someday be rich. And so naturally we identify with the rich, sympathizing with their heavy tax burden (which will be our burden as well, some sweet day...), etc. How could we want to do anything to harm the rich when they have pulled off the best possible human achievement? How would happiness be possible in a world without rich people, without the hope of becoming rich oneself?
This is a banal observation, a truism. We all know this. I think we even all know that we buy into it -- a life of no work, of nothing but consumption? That's the life! Even just "admitting" this is banal, accomplishes nothing at all. Simply saying that this is bullshit also accomplishes nothing -- the rejection of "consumerism" in itself is a purely reactionary gesture, producing nothing but a brief moral narcotic. ("Yeah, fine, we're all consumerists -- get over yourself.")
What, then, is the kind of life that I want to want? That's fairly simple: a life in which I was not burdened, in either direction, by material possessions. That is, I would want a life in which I would not have to worry about the material conditions of my continued existence and also a world in which I would not have to spend a lot of time worrying about securing my continued possession of material things in excess of those conditions. I'm not against provisionally "having" things as required by particular projects -- even "having" things on an indefinite basis because no one else has a use for them (this is my loophole to allow for the stockpiling of books, perhaps). But it seems that the ideal of ownership -- still less of an "ownership society"! -- is an unnecessary excess, something that distracts our attention.
Why not an "economy" whose basis is sharing rather than ownership? Not even collective ownership or state ownership -- simply sharing. Sharing out, of course -- it makes no sense for me and my friend to "share" a meal without each taking a particular portion. But why not embrace the principle of "contribute according to ability, take according to need"? It doesn't seem like this would have to be sheer chaos -- it's possible to imagine an "economy" (if we can use this word still) that would be in some sense regulated, in which the claim of justice could still be respected.
So I guess what I'm saying is: communism, or whatever we need to say now that the experience of Real Socialism has rendered that word useless to us. Surely if we were to try something answering to the hope of communism again, we could do better than centralized state ownership and unlimited exploitation of both workers and the environment, right? I mean, we would almost have to.
But I don't know. After all, I have no power to do anything at all. Just: words, words, words.
(11:09 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Frontiers in BullshitOn NPR News, I just heard that student loan interest rates are going up a second time this year, ending a decades-long trend of low interest rates. This story provides some details, though without citing the reason that NPR gave for the increases: an attempt to reduce the deficit. Yes, that's a sure-fire way to fix this deficit problem -- squeeze a few hundred more dollars a year out of some recent college graduates just starting their lives as independent adults.
At this point, one might be better off taking out a normal bank loan, because then you can at least declare bankruptcy. If student loans are not going to have significantly lower interest rates than commercial loans, then the much more stringent terms -- most notably the utter inescapability -- are arguably no longer worth taking on.
It's too bad that raising taxes on the rich or cutting military spending would contradict certain important laws of physics, or else we could get rid of the deficit with broad-stroke methods rather than nickle-and-diming debt-ridden people who are living hand-to-mouth.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
(10:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Aesthetical InquiryIn The Muses, Nancy does a lot of work on the cave paintings at Lascaux -- Plato's allegory of the cave is interpreted as a memory of this initial moment of painting in the cave, the tracing of hands on the cave wall is given significant attention, etc.
My inquiry is simple: Is there anyone else who is doing anything similar with these cave paintings, that is, taking them seriously as art -- even as determinative in some way for aesthetics?
(I've mentioned this before, but The Muses is a really nice little book, and it also contains a lot of helpful expositions of some of the primary threads of Nancy's thought -- for instance, my previously confessed occasional despair at understanding what he means by "sense" has been calmed significantly by reviewing this volume.)
(9:45 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Dereliction of DutyI hate that it's so hot. I hate waking up sweaty. I hate that our fridge isn't working at all and that the freezer side is operating at a low-functioning fridge level.
I hate articles recommending that Democrats should become more like Republicans in order to be able to win elections. There are two drawbacks to such a strategy. First, it seems to me that many people would distrust the Democrats as wanting power for its own sake rather than having some real convictions -- thus exacerbating an image problem that already exists. Second, it would only increase the fractiousness of the party, which is already a major obstacle. In short, it doesn't seem like a good idea.
I hate our nation's chattering classes in general.
I hate that I didn't fully think through my brilliant idea to put my computer work area next to the window -- for instance, what do we do with the fact that the window is normally going to be open and that it sometimes rains? It's frustrating, though, because it's such a nice little spot. Maybe I'll board up the window.
I hate it when Ben Wolfson derelicts his duty to Tuesday Hatred.
I hate when Tuesday Hatred isn't up before Tuesday Love.
Monday, May 29, 2006
(12:41 PM) | Thomas J. J. Altizer:
The DaVinci Code: An Opportunity for Radical Theology
I believe that we are now being presented with a golden opportunity that is most unlikely soon to recur, and that is the furor occurring over the movie, The DaVinci Code, apparently all established film critics have harshly rejected it, but let me limit myself to the mild review in Time. It speaks of the book as the publishing phenomenon of the decade, but I gather that it is far more insofar as it has apparently sold more copies than any book apart from the Bible. The review also speaks of the movie as being politically brave, and politically brave simply in making a movie of the book, although this is guaranteed to make a vast fortune. Perhaps I am one of the few theologians who has actually read the book, a gift of my son-in-law, and it gave me great fun, although I must confess that I love conspiracy books of this kind. But even if we acknowledge that this is just fun, the fun is being had at the expense of all Christian establishments, and they are being accused of committing murder and mayhem over two millennia to preserve a false Christ and a false Christianity, having wholly inverted an original Christianity and an original Christ. Yes, we are here being offered a rather crude Gnosticism, and certainly one that would be wholly foreign to virtually everyone. But why such an intense response?
Vast numbers of people are responding to a rather intense and dramatic accusation that our established Christianities have been duping the world for two thousand years, and even employing violence and a comprehensive propaganda to enforce that duping, so that our religious establishments are guilty of heinous crime and deception, indeed, the greatest deception in history. Now one cannot here limit that deception to the Catholic Church, for it must have occurred in all Christian orthodoxies, all of whom have inverted the original Christ, even if they have done no more than accepting a Constantinian orthodoxy that embodies an inversion of an original Christianity and an original Christ. Pause! Think about how so many millions of people have become absorbed in this, and how the theological world has wholly ignored this obsession or only attacked it. Then consider how Heidegger himself makes a comparable even if far less dramatic point, and how these words of Heidegger have been ignored by both our philosophical and our theological establishments. Of course, I am referring to his remark in Parmenides (#3) when he says that “Latinization” is the passage of Greek alethia into Roman imperium, wherein the domination of command passes into the very essence of ecclesiastical dogma. So, too, one could call upon both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche who deeply understood and proclaimed that historical Christianity has wholly transformed and inverted the original Christ. Even if this has little resonance in our contemporary religious and theological worlds, it clearly is effecting an enormous response in the public itself and so much so that this is one of the major events of our time.
I am enjoying reading accounts of how the Catholic establishment is apparently making a decision to be silent about all of his, fearing that an open assault would do more harm than good, which itself is a most revealing decision. So, too, I am enjoying reading accounts of how established religious authority is wholly unthreatened by this scandal if only because the book employs obvious and demonstrable historical fictions. Yes, these are such fictions, but they can easily stand for profound historical transformations of Christianity which in fact have occurred, and it is fully possible that millions of people are not only sensing that, but responding intensively to it. Now this may well be of little concern to our religious establishments, but I presume that few of us have any confidence in them. Yet we should approach this scandal in the context of a new and powerful political conservatism that derives much of it’s power from its alliance with a new and reactionary religious establishment. I think that the majority of people are well aware of this alliance, and even suspect that such a rebellion against our religious establishment is also and inevitably a rebellion against our political establishment, too, and that it is not wholly coincidental that this scandal has occurred at a time of collapse of public confidence in the Bush administration.
Of course, this takes me back to the days of the public controversy over the death of God, and to public sermons proclaiming that the God of our established Christianities is the very reversal of the self-emptying and self-annihilating God of Christ, and it is this alien God who has died and brought us ultimate liberation. Recently I was sent a DVD of a NET television program of forty years ago on Altizer and the death of God that contained clips of my preaching then, many of you have seen this, and are there not genuine parallels between that world and the world of this scandal occurring today. One deep difference, however, is that our religious establishments were not then so reactionary, as witness in this tape the Archbishop of Atlanta defending me. Indeed, would it be possible for The Davinci Code to be so enormously successful in a world not dominated by reactionary religious and political establishments? Just as at the time of the death of God controversy a critical consensus arose to the effect that the controversy could only have arisen on such a large scale as a consequence of a general loss of confidence in established religious authority, so, too such a loss of confidence is apparently being revealed by the Code.
Surely this is an enormous opportunity for us, just such an opportunity arose for conservative Christians with the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion, but it was not news then that there are millions of conservative Christians in this country, whereas it is certainly news if there are millions rebelling against conservative Christianity, or millions who intensively respond to a violent attack upon it. I wonder how the publishing industry will respond to this, surely the publishers of The Davinci Code are reaping what could well be or become the greatest publishing royalties in history, and the movie is receiving more attention and publicity than any I know of before, even at BJ’s there is a large table devoted to it. Now don’t misunderstand me, I certainly don’t admire Don Brown as a novelist, but I do admire how he has realized such an enormous effect, and I wonder if we don’t have a deep lesson to learn from this. Could radical Christianity become a mass movement or even a movement at all? Why not? Now that is an ultimate question to ponder.
I have just been to our local movie theatre, two blocks away, to see The DaVinci Code, and I was impressed, while this may have been because this was the first time I had been in a movie theatre for perhaps thirty years, and only now encountered a contemporary projector with its dazzling technology, I think that more is involved. This is certainly the best thriller that I have seen, perhaps because it is a theological thriller, and its hero and chief villain are theologians, even as its language is largely theological, although theologically heterodox. Critics have complained that it is too loyal to the book, thus making its plot too complex for a movie, and there is truth in that, but nonetheless something comes through although it may demand a prior reading of the book. And while I wish that a radical theologian had been consulted by Dan Brown, he does a great deal with what appears to be so little theologically, and this is certainly enhanced by contemporary film technology, and the great question to me is what will be the theological effect of this movie? The audience today appeared to be an ordinary one, none left before it was over, and I heard only complimentary comments.
There are predictions that this will be the most popular movie in history, but how could that be with such a heavily theological movie, and one that is theologically so purely heterodox? The villainy here is perpetuated by the Catholic Hierarchy, just as the Church as such has here imprisoned humanity, and this beginning with the Constantinian Establishment, just as it includes a sensible discussion of Constantine. Leonardo and Newton are gods here, and there is a fascinating scene when “The Last Super” is theologically unlocked and the Holy
Grail unveiled, could this have an effect upon contemporary feminism? How could one see this without becoming all too suspicious of our religious hierarchies? And is that a deeper purpose here, and one that is ingeniously intended to hit the jackpot, as though someone understands that this is a decisive way to vast amounts of money? Are we radical theologians incredibly naive? Have we been posed to triumph for a long time and was I too stupid to realize this in the days of the death of God frenzy? Let me urge you to see the movie and ask yourself these questions.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
(6:41 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The new Lincoln Square Headquarters is now fully operationalThe move was completed early this evening. The last major item moved was a dining room table, which we put in the back porch/storage room to create a more welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. In order to save on the cost of a moving van, I took multiple loads in my truck, supplemented by one load in Hayley's car and by the borrowing of a larger truck to carry the mattress and bedspring.
Unfortunately, that truck was towed within five minutes of parking it in the long-vacant KFC lot where we and our neighbors routinely park for our momentary convenience -- forcing me and Lauren (who was already nervous about borrowing this truck in the first place) to drive down to a tow yard near 36th and Ashland in order to pay those fucking bastards $150 so that we could get back the borrowed truck that they stole from us. I mean seriously, the guy had to have seen us pull in and get out of the truck. Anyway, this obviously blew my original plan of saving money by not renting a moving van, in addition to giving Lauren the privilege of seeing me turn into a huge raging green monster in ripped-up purple jeans. I had this kind of "Jack Bauer" mindset about the whole thing -- first I was going to try to catch up with the tow truck, run him off the road, and force him to give it back. This was after I loudly and repeatedly demanded that the woman at the tow lot call off her driver and bring the vehicle back, culminating in my getting hung up on. Apparently even when we finally arrived at the tow lot, I was still in Jack Bauer mode almost unconsciously, because Lauren told me that I was really scoping out the fence, as though I was trying to see what it would take to climb over it and break the truck out.
This came at the end of a day during which I did not eat anything whatsoever. I'm still not sure what causes this obsessive single-mindedness in me, but now I at least factor it in -- I kept myself from doing any packing at all throughout the week, because I knew that once I started, I would continue working non-stop until I was fully moved in. If not for the wasted hour and a half of driving to 36th and Ashland in order to pay $150 to the people who stole the truck I was borrowing, I would have probably been able to get everything moved yesterday, but I still had a couple trips left this morning.
Right now I'm feeling absolutely drained, but I can't sleep. I might actually go to Burger King, pathetic as that is. After years of abstaining from the stuff -- not out of any kind of principled objection, but just out of never having any desire to eat it -- I've been having fast food cravings lately. Plus, I mean, it's Memorial Day weekend -- how could I not have a hamburger?
On a positive note, I managed to rearrange my books in such a way as to actually gain some free space, thus gaining me a few more weeks in the grad student's ongoing battle to avoid buying another bookshelf.
Plus, obviously the Internet is up and running. Comcast must have changed something in their processes within the last year or so, because my experience was distinctly non-nightmarish this time around. The amount of time they keep you on hold, however, remains ridiculous.
Anyway, yeah, the The Weblog's new Lincoln Square Headquarters is fully operational. All blogging activities at the Logan Square Headquarters have substantially ceased due to lack of Internet access (hopefully with the exception of occasional reconnaissance missions to gather photos for cat blogging).
Friday, May 26, 2006
(3:45 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
The Endless Fascination of Andrea YatesLate in June, Andrea Yates will be retried for murder in the drowning deaths of her five children. Yates' case has, and will continue to be, endlessly fascinating. So many of the most salient, structurally productive contradictions of American culture are constantly aswirl.
For starters, Yates' situation is easy picking from any number of feminist perspectives suggesting either that the real villian in the situation is Andrea's husband who badgered her into having five kids and then forbade her from having any contact with other adults, especially women, or that Andrea is just the most notable example of the phenomenon produced by a patriarchal culture and pointed to in Desperate Housewives, a show initially inspired by the hype around the first trial. At one point, there were rumors that Yates husband would stand trial for his role in driving her crazy.
In response, some on the religious right have been livid at such suggestions and have brought out tired old odes to individual responsibility, expressing scepticism that there is even such a thing as post-partum depression or mental illness (the most notable instance of this came in World Magazine, a mouthpiece of Chuck Colson et al). Others such as James Dobson have tried to stick more closely to a sort of standard medicalized psychiatry perspective.
Within the field of medicalized psychiatry there have been all manner of attempts to sort out just what went wrong: How do we make sure people take their medications? Why wasn't she hospitalized at the time? Should someone like Andrea have children? That many children? Should her children have been taken away from her? Should women with as severe of problems as Andrea had long displayed be permanently institutionalized?
Then there is the long history of legal development that allowed Yates to become the poster child for a new form of criminal finding enacted in Texas in the wake of conservative outrage at John Hinckley's not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity after shooting Reagan in order to win Jodie Foster's love. Yates was found 'insane but guilty.' This category of guilt completely guts the traditional legal meaning of insanity in allowing a jury to put aside everything else that matters in a defendant's life and simply ask itself whether or not a defendant knew right from wrong at the precise moment, in the precise situation of the crime.
On this note, reference should be made to one of the more intriguing characters in the charade: Park Dietz. Dietz is the reason for the retrial. Apparently, he had consulted with Law and Order for an episode remarkably similar to the situation and testified in court that Yates almost certainly saw the show and copied the crime, thus premeditation, thus no insanity defense. The show never aired; hence, retrial. Dietz has testified himself at the trials of John Hinckley, Jeffrey Dahmer, and, perhaps soon, the D.C. Sniper trial. Together with his associates, Dietz and co. have testified in just about every significant U.S. case that could possibily involve psychological testimony in the last couple of decades. As one interviewer (fascinating interview) summarized, Andrea believed in Satan and therefore believed in right and wrong, hence she wasn't insane under Texas law.
Actually, however, cases such as Yates' are the very hardest for Dietz, and I'm quite sure that a damn good defense attorney could flip Dietz testimony against into a strong argument for at least 'reasonable doubt.' Another intriguing article on Dietz, which includes the following bit relevant to our sporadic returns to Agamben's The Open and perhaps also the current Chimp Fest at I Cite and Infinite Thought,
The earliest documented acquittal for insanity occurred in 1505, and the concept
was around at least as early as the 13th century, when the jurist Bracton wrote,
"For a crime is not committed unless the will to harm be present." People look at someone like Joel Rifkin, who killed 16 women in New York and sometimes drove around in his truck with the naked corpse of one of his victims straddling him, and they want to believe only a psychopath could do such a thing. Dietz offers the parallel of villagers centuries ago who find a horribly mutilated corpse, with human tracks in the snow around it. "Do they conclude a man did this?" Dietz asks. "No. It had to be a man-beast. Hence the vampire. Hence the werewolf. Other times and places: Would a man do this? No. Only a witch. Only Satan. In our time: Would a man do this? No. Only an insane person would do this." He recalls successive classes at Virginia in which his students observed interviews with two killers. One, who had murdered his mother with a hatchet, laughed throughout the interview; he kept staring at the ceiling and rubbing his crotch. He was clearly crazy and the students seemed jovial and unconcerned after the interview. The second session, though, was with a man who had raped, sodomized, and strangled a 12-year-old girl, leaving her body with a stick jammed into the vagina. This killer seemed rational and composed. He was the students' age, and he dressed like them and looked like them. The students emerged from that interview, Dietz says, badly shaken: "If it looks too much like us, it's intolerable."
So, Yates: pop culture, feminism, law, madness, politics, the religious right, werewolfs - geez, our corner of the blogosphere should be all over this.
J. has written a paper dealing with madness in Thomas Aquinas in which she references the Yates trial. Most importantly, J. discovered that Aquinas may not completely buy the 'evil as privation' only line of Augustine and all theology since. Aquinas suggests at one point that madness can result from an excess of love. Evil as excess. I like it. For a few years, J. and I had discussed how we were loathe to buy into the privation only theory, but hadn't thought of a way out until that discovery.
(12:24 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: How about the power to move you?I confess that I am moving -- mostly packing today, then moving tomorrow.
I confess that I will most miss the following things about the Logan Square Headquarters:
- Hanging out with Anthony and Hayley
- Hayley's cooking
- The incredible amount of space
- Being legally permitted to park my truck on the street
- The constant fear that a cat is going to urinate on my possessions
- The mail delivery person who just drops the whole building's mail in one big pile
- The punk kids in the alley
I confess that every time I watch a Seinfeld rerun, a little piece of my basic human decency dies.
I confess that I compulsively push ctrl-S every few seconds while writing something in Word, and that this habit carried over into blogging just now, resulting in a premature blog publication.
I confess that I don't know how great of an idea a web-based office suite is.
UPDATE: I confess that I like the new logo, created by Jared Sinclair, based on an image sent to me by Adam Robinson.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
(9:15 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Quantum PhysicsI was deeply satisfied to find the post The Universe is structured like a language in my Technorati results. In it, our narrator, Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance, reports that he went to see the Zizek movie and found the opening monologue on quantum physics particularly interesting:
I naturally cringed a little at the mention of quantum mechanics, but his description ultimately got it right. Our universe probably did originate as a quantum fluctuation, either “from nothing” or within a pre-existing background spacetime. Mostly, to be honest, I was just jealous. As a philosopher and cultural critic, Žižek gets not only to bandy about bits of quantum cosmology, but is permitted (even encouraged) to connect them to questions of love and meaning and so on. As professional physicists, we’re not allowed to talk about those questions — referees at the Physical Review would not approve. But it’s worth interrogating this intellectual leap, from the accidental birth of the universe to the richness of meaning we see around us. How did we get there from here, and why?Through an account of another scientists' ideas, he arrives at the statement in the title of his post. In summary:
- An actual scientist listened to Zizek talk about quantum physics and connect it to broader questions.
- He thought Zizek got it basically right.
- He was jealous that Zizek got to apply scientific ideas to broader questions of human meaning and took Zizek's ideas as an opportunity to try his hand at doing so himself.
Anyway, yeah, it's an interesting post, and not just because it delivers a crushing blow to my enemies.
(Who are also my friends. At least some of them are.)
(11:12 AM) | Adam R:
adamslistIf someone with a Writely account were to send me a Writely invitation, I would be grateful. Very grateful. Seems likely that a Weblog reader would be in on this already.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
(9:22 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Stunted GrowthDo I do personal posts anymore? It seems like all I ever do that's "personal" is to rattle off a list of things that I need to do. To wit:
- Write a review of The Parallax View for JCRT
- Write up notes for Nancy directed study
- Read Derrida materials about Nancy; take notes on those
Perhaps this is connected: I've been feeling nostalgia of late for my sojourn in Kankakee, in large part because of the intellectual exploration. Interestingly, though, that was also the place where I was most miserable. Yet there's a certain nostalgia for the misery, because it seemed to lend life a certain kind of meaning or urgency that it lacks right at the moment. I'm perfectly happy and content, and at the same time, I'm bored. There are certain kinds of misery I don't want, of course -- the deeply distressing money problems I faced over the course of last summer did not grant me any existential insight, for instance. But there was just something about the way problems presented themselves in Kankakee, a certain (largely unwarranted) weight that they had there -- due almost entirely to the involvement of religion.
Here in Chicago, for example, it doesn't matter that I'm not married. I'm with someone right now, and I know that I'd be deeply sad if we were to break up for some reason, but still, it seems clear that after the mourning process had run its course, the experience of singleness would be different -- a simple absence. By contrast, in Kankakee it often felt as though there was some deep religious significance to marriage, as if I was not only failing to discharge my duty, but was missing out on a uniquely meaningful experience. Since I am a person who read Jude the Obscure at a very young age and followed it up with far too much Kierkegaard, I obviously looked at marriage with quite a bit more skepticism than some of my peers -- despite the fact that my parents have been happily married for my entire life. In Kankakee, however, this very skepticism about marriage had to take on a religious significance -- it couldn't just be one choice among others, but instead had to be some kind of statement, perhaps an ascetic observance, perhaps a prophetic witness.
The language of self-actualization never made much sense to me, probably because my religious frame made the stakes seem too small. A failure to self-actualize may present a deeper meaning -- a decision to allow myself to remain emotionally stunted as a protest against God would have been a possibility, for instance.
Now, ironically enough, I'm too much of a Christian. People find me incomprehensible for that reason.
I'm going to read a novel. The Zizek review can wait until tomorrow.
(2:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Philosophy of Music and Music as PhilosophyVia Brannon Hancock, I learn that Jacques Derrida has produced a techno album. Not to be outdone, Gilles Deleuze has done the same.
Martin Heidegger is in the database, but he has not finished his debut album, reportedly to be entitled, "Martin Heidegger and the Question Concerning Techno."
Slavoj Zizek has surprisingly not yet become a major recording artist, although his second cousin John Zizek has. Most observers agree that Slavoj Zizek would do well to team up with Canadian anarcho-syndicalist postrockers Godspeed You Black Emperor for a remake of their classic track "Dead Flag Blues":
The car is on fire, and there's no driver behind the wheel.(Click here for the original voiceover, which has a somewhat ambiguous relationship to what was actually recorded on the album -- at least if I remember correctly from listening to it 1,000 times.)
And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand chocolate laxatives.
And a dark wind blows.
The government is corrupt, and we're all so many Leninists with the radio on and the curtains drawn....
While I'm editing song lyrics, one might try to edit Elton John's incomparable classic in order to fit the title "Tiny Blogger." Here's an attempt at the chorus:
Hold me closer tiny blogger
Count the comments in the thread
Take a look at the SiteMeter
You sure got nothing done today
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
(8:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On Academic Blogging: A DiagnosisMeta-blogging is the greatest vice yet developed by humankind. Nonetheless, I am starting to wonder what exactly can be done in a blog post. This is prompted primarily by a not-to-be-linked blogfight, which has prompted some reflection on my part. I've been asking myself: Why do these conversations go nowhere? Why do particular people make me so angry? And the answer seems to be a rather simple one: they are asking for things that cannot be profitably done on a blog.
I know that the blog is a developing genre and that we might be surprised by what is finally done in this genre, but the general contours of its utility are becoming clear: first of all, it is best suited to matters that can be treated conversationally. This goes for the posts and especially for the comment threads. Once a conversation devolves into a quest for rock-solid arguments or evidence, it becomes abusive -- of the blog-form, and of the participants. A conversation that becomes a quasi-debate -- always "quasi" because it cannot really be pulled off in a satisfactory way -- tends inevitably toward the point where someone, in order to prove his (and let's be honest, usually "his") point, will have to do some serious extra-blogospheric work. Either he does it, and proves himself to be an idiot (objectively speaking -- who writes a dissertation to win a bar bet?), or else he doesn't, and his opponents get to gloat over his failure to provide evidence for his statements.
In essence, this is why I don't think that academic discourse can be very profitably pursued in the blogosphere, beyond gossipy stuff, book recommendations and capsule reviews, calls for bibliographic help, etc. -- that is, the superficial social stuff. When one's intellectual project becomes involved in any serious way, the intellectual project on which one's career depends, then conversation simply cannot profitably happen anymore. When one is attempting to advance that project through blogospheric methods, one is asking for trouble. It's analogous to cornering someone at the party and definitively proving to him that Jean-Luc Nancy represents a real advance over Heidegger's understanding of Mit-sein -- except in this case, you end up potentially dealing with forty people yelling back at you that Nancy's a hack, or you never understood Heidegger in the first place, or you're not taking into account this obscure text of Heidegger, or Lacoue-Labarthe was the real brains behind the operation and it's all been downhill for Nancy since the breakup, etc., etc., etc.
So I would say that blogging is a great way for academics to socialize and should be encouraged -- it's especially great for academics who would otherwise be quite isolated from other academics of similar interests. But what goes along with that is a tacit agreement -- nothing can exceed the level of rigor of a conversation at the pub after class. If people make overblown statements, no one necessarily has to call them on it. No one has to be convinced of, or especially prove, anything on the spot -- because that's the kind of thing that we do in journal articles and books. And we do that kind of thing in those formats because it's the kind of thing that takes a really long time and a lot of work and study and because it's not easily digested in any other way. Maybe it's a shame that certain articles aren't read very much, but the point isn't to put those ideas into a blog so that they'll get read -- the point is to say, "Hey everyone! There's this cool article out that I just read!" You know, social stuff. Recommendations. Passing the news along.
But there are other, deeper reasons why we do that kind of stuff in print rather than in person -- at least most of the time -- and those reasons are psychological. We all know that there are neuroses that are the unfortunate, but apparently necessary, biproducts of the academic system. These neuroses primarily present themselves in explicitly professional situations, and most academics I have met are able to keep them under control in social situations. But then there are those people who try to make every social situation into an opportunity for advancement or victory over someone -- those are the people everyone hates. If you put professional academia into the instant-response environment of the blogosphere, you're going to get all the neurosis and none of the rigor or interest -- there's just no way around that. To follow the founding metaphor of a great literary weblog, if we want a safety valve, it'd be best not to clog it up with the same shit that's suffocating us on the professional end of things.
This might seem too limiting. After all, there have been book events, even at this very blog, which have not developed a toxic atmosphere. The key, for me, seems to be to find something where everyone is, to some extent, still a learner -- something like a faculty seminar, we might say by analogy. No pressure, no one to impress -- just working through this stuff together. But we all know that blog book events don't always go that way -- and that may well be because they are trying to do something that is inappropriate to the situation. It might be that someone is deciding what books to read based on some kind of predetermined point that they're trying to make -- rather than, for instance, just polling a social group to see if anyone's interested in reading a little Agamben.
I'm explicitly trying to avoid making this sound like some kind of moral issue, although I do think that this attempt to inject academic professionalism into blogging almost inevitably produces a toxic atmosphere and hard feelings. It's more of a category error thing. The guy at the dinner after the lecture at DePaul, the guy who interrogated me about Laclau while I was just trying to eat some Thai food -- I'm sure he wasn't a bad person. I'm sure he'd hold the door open for me, or let me borrow his truck when I was moving, or whatever. It was a category error -- not allowing things to remain in their proper places.
What goes on in academic journals, books, and conferences is good and necessary. I am glad that I have been able to be a part of such things and hope to continue to be a part of them in the future. Blogging is something else, or at least it is showing itself to be something else. That something else is valuable -- a social space for people who would otherwise be dispersed in an unhelpful way. I have found those social developments to be tremendously helpful -- I can't count the number of times I have put out my questions about translation issues, for instance, and been pleasantly surprised by the volume and quality of responses. It is a rare privilege to meet someone in person for the first time and to have an instant feeling of comaraderie based on sharing the social space of blogging -- it would be good for academia, I think, if there was more of that.
Aside from the emotional benefits, perhaps these new types of connections would mean that more articles would be read and more conference sessions attended. Arguably that's already happening -- I'm sure that the readership of my Nancy review at JCRT, for example, was much higher than it would have been without my blogging presence. And I'm very likely to go track down something written by John Holbo or Scott Eric Kaufman or any of my blog friends. This is good stuff, a good use of blogs for academia. There are many good uses. There are also bad uses. For our own mental health, we all need to put our blogs only to good uses.
As we know, I have called this blog "The Weblog." Although some have assigned labels to it -- an academic blog, a philosophy blog, a religious blog -- it has no theme or agenda whatsoever. My only hope for The Weblog is that it will only ever have been a blog. There is a dignity to being a blog, to being a place of welcome for those far dispersed, those who need to know that they are not as alone as they think they are. I hope it is not arrogant to say that The Weblog has mostly been such a place -- to the extent that it has, it certainly hasn't been my doing. What it has achieved, it has achieved by being only and always a blog.
That is my hope for all blogs -- that they will have been nothing but blogs, that they will have achieved nothing other than being blogs. We have other spaces for other things -- but here, let us be bloggers and nothing more.
(1:16 AM) | Ben Wolfson:
Tuesday Hatred: Every man is, or hopes to be, a hater.I hate this whole unfogged crap, what with the comments and the hosting and the this and the that.
I hate that I had, some time on friday or maybe saturday or maybe, gosh, could it have been thursday already? maybe thursday, thought of some droll story—the drollest—which I was planning to employ in this, the Tuesday Hatred of 5/22/06, for you see, it involved hatred intimately, in its innerest essence. But I didn't make a note of it, and now I've forgotten it. This, the forgetting, is actually what I hate; I don't hate having thought of the story, not at all; that I said I did was merely poor writing on my part.
I hate that my "love" life is a picaresque in which nothing happens. However, I would probably like to read a picaresque in which nothing happens, provided it were well-written, so perhaps my real problem is that my life isn't being plotted by Flann O'Brien or some such a one.
I hate the band "This is a Process of a Still Life" for turning out utterly unremarkable post-rock pap and therefore being of absolutely no interest to anyone.
I hate the odd temporal compression to which my weeks, months and days are subject. Deadlines loom larger the later they are, so that there seems to be nothing but a monolithic wall of things that need doing, at all times, imposing against one just they way one imagines Jayne Mansfield's chest (check out Sophia Loren's glance askance), or the Alps, must have imposed against people unlucky enough to be caught in the shadows of either towards sunset. On a monday, for instance, all I can think of is everything I have to do that week.
Relatedly, I hate having been introduced to this game, which isn't even that good. I hate that my chess partner, the one with whom I play in person, has left Palo Alto and won't be back until the fall, leaving me all bereft and chessless. I hate Adam Kotsko for having been right about limerick chess: it really is too hard, or rather, when you're in the thick of the game, you don't really want to pause to think up some utterly perfunctory poetastery just to move the game along, and the result is best not spoken of in polite company. Plus, I lost the last game I played (in which actually the final five or so moves were unaccompanied by martial amphibrachs), a defeat which stings with the sting of a thousand defeats, each of which etc. This is only slightly offset by my totally awesome checkmate in the previous game.
I remember Tuesday Hating you for Tuesday Loving me.
Monday, May 22, 2006
(10:19 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Very Serious Philosophical ReflectionFor my Nancy directed study, which was somewhat insanely paired with an Agamben directed study as a single class, resulting in perhaps the single largest reading list of any class I will ever take, I am rounding out my reading of primary texts with The Birth to Presence. Although it is a very large book, I am finding it to be the most enjoyable so far, aside from perhaps The Muses -- something of a shallow way of assessing Very Serious Philosophy, but still important in such a long engagement.
My two favorite essays so far have been "The Jurisdiction of the Hegelian Monarch" and "Menstruum Universale [Universal Solvent]," an essay on the concept of Witz [wit]. I have decided that Hegel's theory of the monarch is my favorite philosophical topic that I will never do anything with -- it's very charming in its simple-mindedness. The idea is that a "state" cannot say things (primarily performative things -- "I declare that the law is as follows," etc.), because only a person can. Thus, the monarch is reduced to being the mouth of the state and the body that immediately is the concrete unity of the abstract state. It's hereditary because that's the best way of making it sheer "luck of the draw" -- the point is not for the king to have appealling positive characteristics, but just to have a warm body there to "say Yes and dot the i's." The analogy with Bush is pretty clear -- arguably, we Americans have only attained to the ideal of the rational state within the last five years. (Zizek does a lot with the theory of the monarch in his For they know not what they do, as well, which is interesting because they are a series of lectures given during the initial "honeymoon period" of Slovenian democracy. It seems to me that the theory of the Hegelian monarch is important to understand what Zizek does with the Stalinist leader.) In any case, when I looked at the table of contents and saw the monarch essay, the entire volume was already "worth it" in my mind. And what Nancy does with it is very interesting and ties in with his general attempt to think "the body."
"Menstruum Universale" is interesting primarily for a series of ironies. He retains the German term because he claims that German Romanticism is where Witz was really thematized as such -- but he also claims that the true domain where Witz was enacted was in English literature, and that the intervention of the French term esprit (also meaning something like "wit") was necessary for the German language to figure out what it really meant by Witz. Interestingly, he finally claims that the reason Germans ended up placing so much importance on Witz was basically that they were insecure that they weren't witty -- they bought into the cultural stereotypes. Thus, it is only in its feared or presumed absence that Witz attains its true importance for thought -- which is doubly ironic to me, because of all the ways one might describe Nancy, "witty" does not leap immediately to mind. (Perhaps this last remark is unfair. I do like his jabs at what might be called Heidegger's "tackiness.")
This is a rather superficial treatment of Nancy's thought, as befits a blog.
One last note: reading Nancy and Agamben makes me think that I need to take a year off from whatever I'm doing and finally just memorize Sein und Zeit (in German, of course).
UPDATE: Looking at the Library of Congress information for The Birth to Presence, I notice that it is "translated from the French." Why "the"?
Sunday, May 21, 2006
(10:01 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Post That Should Not Be ReadThe German language is famous for its ability to create new compound words in order to capture human experience more precisely. Last night, Anthony asked if German had a word for the wet spot in the bed after sexual intercourse. Whether or not such a term is already extant, I figured it was theoretically possible and set to work with a dictionary. Keeping in mind that I have had no formal training in the art of creating compound German words, here is what I came up with:
GeschlechtsverkehrfolgendefeuchtigbettstelleLiterally (at least as far as I can tell), that is "sexual-intercourse-following-moist-bed-spot." If there are any more versed in German lore -- ideally native German speakers -- who can improve upon this attempt, I would be eager to learn. (For instance, I know that German sometimes throws an "s" in between two parts of a compound word, but I haven't been able to pick up on a pattern for when this should be done. I put an "e" at the end of "folgend" in order to improve the flow, rather than based on any concrete reason; this may not be allowed in real life.)
Saturday, May 20, 2006
(3:57 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
My Life as a Presumed Meth AddictWithin the last several months, the State of Illinois has implemented a new law dictating that products containing pseudoephedrin (apparently a key ingredient in crystal meth) should be available only behind the pharmacy counter and that anyone purchasing said products should be required to produce identification so that his or her name and address can be logged, along with the size of the purchase.
In my own life, I have found that the most effective way to cope with my allergy symptoms is to take the normal 24-hour Claritin, combined with occasional doses of a ibuprofen-based "cold and sinus" medication. If I take Claritin D for several days in a row, I begin to cough up blood; by regulating the decongestant separately, I avoid this problem. As such, I very frequently have to wait a long time -- normally during a period when I am feeling like utter shit and don't really want to be out in public anyway -- to make a very small purchase ($4.38, most recently).
On Friday, when the allergy season apparently began in earnest, I walked into my local neighborhood Walgreens to find that there was a wide assortment of allergy products available right out there on the shelf. Assuming the stupid law had been revoked, I eagerly grabbed a box and went to the register. Yet when I got home and started taking it, I found it rather ineffective and felt drowsy. I thought it was just a severe allergy attack, but no -- looking at the label, I found that it was a new formula without pseudoephedrin.
I just got back from another trip to Walgreens where I got the thing I normally get, so we'll see how it works, but the initial evidence seems to indicate that pseudoephedrin is an essential ingredient for my quality of life. So now, unless the law is repealed at some point, for the rest of my life the state is going to have a record of my purchase of cold and sinus medicine. It's a minor thing, of course, but it seems petty for the state to require the pharmacist to hassle me every time I buy the stuff, especially since my "just-in-time" inventory system means that I very actively need it every time I go out and buy it.
Interestingly, before this law was implemented, I had no idea that the cold and sinus products I was using were at all connected to crystal meth -- now, however, I am starting to suspect that a meth habit might be the best possible way to solve my allergy problems once and for all.
(11:57 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
New Zizek ArticleVia Young Hegelian, Freud Lives!:
A century ago, Freud included psychoanalysis as one of what he described as the three ‘narcissistic illnesses’. First, Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth moves around the Sun, thereby depriving humans of their central place in the universe. Then Darwin demonstrated that we are the product of evolution, thereby depriving us of our privileged place among living beings. Finally, by making clear the predominant role of the unconscious in psychic processes, Freud showed that the ego is not master even in its own house. Today, scientific breakthroughs seem to bring further humiliation: the mind is merely a machine for data-processing, our sense of freedom and autonomy merely a ‘user’s illusion’. In comparison, the conclusions of psychoanalysis seem rather conservative.
Is psychoanalysis outdated? It certainly appears to be. It is outdated scientifically, in that the cognitivist-neurobiologist model of the human mind has superseded the Freudian model; it is outdated in the psychiatric clinic, where psychoanalytic treatment is losing ground to drug treatment and behavioural therapy; and it is outdated in society more broadly, where the notion of social norms which repress the individual’s sexual drives doesn’t hold up in the face of today’s hedonism. But we should not be too hasty. Perhaps we should instead insist that the time of psychoanalysis has only just arrived.
Friday, May 19, 2006
(9:39 AM) | Brad:
On the Natural History of Destruction
In the summer of 1943, during a long heat wave, the RAF, supported by the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force, flew a series of raids on Hamburg. The aim of Operation Gomorrah, as it was called, was to destroy the city and reduce it as completely as possible to ashes. In a raid early in the morning of July 27, beginning at one A.M., ten thousand tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the densely populated residential area east of the Elbe, comprising the districts of Hammerbrook, Hamm-Nord and Hamm-Süd, Billwerder Ausschlag and parts of St. George, Eilbek, Barmbek, and Wandsbek. A now familiar sequence of events occurred: first all the doors and windows were torn from their frames and smashed by high-explosive bombs weighing four thousand pounds, then the attic floors of the buildings were ignited by lightweight incendiary mixtures, and at the same time firebombs weighing up to fifteen kilograms fell into the lower stories. Within a few minutes, huge fires were burning all over the target area, which covered some twenty square kilometers, and they merged so rapidly that only a quarter of an hour after the first bombs had dropped the whole airspace was a sea of flames as far as the eye could see. Another five minutes later, at one-twenty A.M., a firestorm of an intensity that no one would ever before have thought possible arose. The fire, now rising two thousand meters into the sky, snatched oxygen to itself so violently that the air currents reached hurricane force, resonating like mighty organs with all their stops pulled out at once. The fire burned like this for three hours. At its height, the storm lifted gables and roofs from buildings, flung rafters and entire advertising billboards through the air, tore trees from the ground, and drove human beings before it like living torches. Behind collapsing façades, the flames shot up as high as houses, rolled like a tidal wave through the streets at a speed of over a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour, spun across open squares in strange rhythms like rolling cylinders of fire. The water in some of the canals was ablaze. The glass in the tram car windows melted; stocks of sugar boiled in the bakery cellars. Those who had fled from the air-raid shelters sank, with grotesque contortions, in the thick bubbles thrown up by the melting asphalt. No one knows for certain how many lost their lives that night, or how many went mad before they died. When day broke, the summer dawn could not penetrate the leaden gloom above the city. The smoke had risen to a heigh of eight thousand meters, where it spread like a vast, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus cloud. A wavering heat, which the bomber pilots said they ahd felt through the sides of their planes, continud to rise from the smoking, glowing mounds of stone. Residential districts so large that their total street length amounted to two thousand kilometers were utterly destroyed. Horrible disfigured corpses lay everywhere. Bluish little phosphorous flames still flickered around many of them; others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size. They lay doubled up in pools of their own melted fat, which had sometimes already congealed. The central death zone was declared off-limits in the next few days. When punishment labor gangs and camp inmates could begin clearing it in August, after the rubble had cooled down, they found people still sitting at tables or up against walls where they had been overcome by monoxide gas. Elsewhere, clumps of flesh and bone or whole heaps of bodies had cooked in the water gushing from bursting boilers. Other victims had been so badly charred and reduced to ashes by the heat, which had risen to a thousand degrees or more, that the remains of families consisting of several people could be carried away in a single laundry basket.
The exodus of survivors from Hamburg had begun on the night of the air raid itself. It started, as [Hans Erich] Nossack writes, with "constant movement in all the neighboring streets . . . going no one knew where." The refugees, numbering one and a quarter million, dispersed all over the Reich, as far as its outer borders. Under his diary entry for August 20, 1943 . . . Friedrich Reck describes a group of forty to fifty such refugees trying to force their way into a train at a station in Upper Bavaria. As they do, a cardboard suitcase "falls on the platform, bursts open and spills its contents. Toys, a manicure case, singed underwear. And last of all, the roasted corpse of a child, shrunk like a mummy, which its half-deranged mother had been carrying about with her, the relic of a past that was still intact a few days ago." It is hard to imagine that Reck can have invented this dreadful scene. All over Germany, one way or another, news of the horrors of the destruction of Hamburg must have been spread by distraught refugees vacillating between a hysterical will to survive and leaden apathy. Reck's diary at least makes it clear that in spite of the news blackout suppressing all detailed information, it was not impossible to know how horribly the cities of Germany were being destroyed. A year later Reck describes tens of thousands camping out around the Maximilianplatz after the latest air raid on Munich. He writes: "On the nearby main road an endless stream of refugees [is moving], frail old women with bundles containing their last possessions carried on sticks over their backs. Poor homeless people with burnt clothing, their eyes reflecting the horror of the firestorm, the explosions blowing everything to bits, burial in teh rubble or the ignominy of suffocating in a cellar." The remarkable aspect of such accounts is their rarity. Indeed, it seems that no German writer, with the sole exception of Nossack, was ready or able to put any concrete facts down on paper about the progress and repercussions of this gigantic, long-term campaign of destruction. It was the same when the war was over. The quasi-natural reflex, engendered by feelings of shame and a wish to defy the victors, was to keep quiet and look the other way. Stig Dagerman, reporting from Germany in the autumn of 1946 for the Swedish newspaper Expressen, writes from Hamburg that on a train going at normal speed it look a quarter of an hour to travel through the lunar landscape between Hasselbrook and Landwehr, and in all that vast wilderness, perhaps the most horrifying expanse of ruins in the whole of Europe, he did not see a single living soul. The train, writes Dagerman, was crammed full, like all trains in Germany, but no one looked out of the windows, and he was identified as a foreigner himself because he looked out. (W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, 26-30)
(4:45 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: What do I love when I love my blog?I confess that today I was in denial about the onset of allergy season, meaning I have no decongestant on hand, meaning I have hardly slept.
I confess that turning in my paper for Marion's class has given me a (probably unwarranted) feeling of liberation. I confess that I'm enjoying slipping into a new schedule now that the "state of exception" of paper-writing has been called off. I've tentatively decided that I'm going to spend an hour a day reading alternately German (Taubes) or Latin (Augustine). I hope to work my way through the world's only existing "Italian for Reading" book soon, but not before I'm done with the Nancy directed study (for which I still need to read The Birth to Presence, Derrida's book on Nancy, and Derrida's critique of Nancy in Rogues -- and then, the part that brings joy to my soul: going back through the texts and taking detailed notes). I confess that I sometimes despair of ever understanding what Nancy means by "sense." I confess that Nancy's use of "à même," usually translated as "right at," is one of my favorite things about his work.
I confess that I have spent far too much time on this blogfight to end all blogfights. It's now at over 250 comments, and there still seem to be enough outstanding issues to carry it through to 500. I confess that even though I complain about people approaching these discussions as a battle to be won, I feel deep satisfaction when I feel like I have won against such a person -- similar to the feeling that comes over me in a chess game where I know that my victory is becoming more and more inevitable. I confess that I often despair of ever feeling that wonderful feeling again, at least in chess games with Richard McElroy.
I confess that I get in blog fights like some people go outside for a cigarette and that sometimes I'm tempted to just try smoking instead. At least no one out there in the smokers' area complains at you that you're not putting enough effort into smoking. Although I guess maybe some people do smoke rings? I can't.
I confess to worrying that an article I sent to a journal will be rejected due to some kind of mix-up with my cover letter. I confess that if I'm going to keep trying to publish stuff, I'm going to need to get my hands on some CTS letterhead, to make people think I'm a professor. I confess that I know I'm not doing "as much as I could," but I feel like I've freed up a lot of energy just by getting myself to stop worrying about it so much -- no need to waste my finite mental resources on "meta" issues.
I confess that I feel very happy nowadays, even disconcertingly so. It's like I've overcome my tendency toward excessive self-examination. I used to worry that it was hurting the quality of the blog, but I even managed to shut that off.
I confess that my obsession with checking for the mail has only increased since I am now expecting a check any day now and am hoping for some kind of news about a particular long-delayed publication.
I confess that I have frequently referred to a literary publication held in very high esteem by certain of my blogging peers as "the best possible bathroom reading material -- the real top-shelf stuff." By comparison, I have compared The Atlantic Monthly to "vodka in a gallon plastic jug."
I confess that I bought "patriotic" cookies because I thought it would be funny and more importantly because I wanted cookies.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
(12:05 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
State Racism, cont.
For my part, one outstanding question in the comments here was raised by Jodi, pressed further by Adam in a slightly different way (reformulated a few times), and finally affirmed as critical and needing still to be addressed by Amish. That question pertains to whether the differences between Europe and the U.S. matter. At one point Adam said
I don't remember Foucault ever mentioning the United States in Society Must Be Defended ... . He seems to be talking primarily about France, not surprisingly. Racism is obviously a big factor in the United States, but it does not seem to function in the same way -- for what seem to me to be obvious historical reasons, first of which would be the fact that in the region of the US and Canada, the conquerers were able to virtually annihilate the conquered race.
With this new discourse of race struggle, ... [w]e are closer to the Bible than to Livy, in a Hebraic-biblical form ... . [F]rom the second half of the Middle Ages onward, the Bible was the great form for the articulation of religious, moral, and political protests agaisnt the power of kings and the despotism of the church. Like the reference to biblical texts itself, this form functioned, in most cases, as a protest, a critique, and an oppositional discourse. In the Middle Ages, Jerusalem was always a protest against all the Bablylons that had come back to life ... . The Bible was the weapon of poverty and insurrection; it was the word that made men rise up against the law and against glory, against the unjust law of kings and the beautiful glory of
the Church. To that extent, it is not surprising that we see, at the end of the middle ages, in the sixteenth century, in the period of the Reformation, and at the time of the English Revolution, the appearance of a form of history that is a direct challenge to the history of sovereignty and kings ... and that we see a new history that is articulated around the great biblical forms of prophecy and promise (SMBD 71).
(11:01 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Inclusive LanguageWe thought we had purged the English language of the supposedly "inclusive" masculine. One no longer says "mankind," much less "man." We are confused as to generic pronouns -- sometimes we use forms of "they," even with a singular meaning, or forms of "you," even with a third-person meaning, but certainly never a generic "he."
And yet -- how often do we say "you guys"? We're very sensitive when refering to third parties and when refering to the human race as a whole, but when it comes to talking to people to their face, the "inclusive" masculine has slipped in through the back door.
Certainly part of it is that we don't want to sound like a bunch of Southern hicks, throwing around "you all" in order to make up for the English language's lack of a distinctive second person plural pronoun. Who would have thought that our Southern compatriots would have come up with the perfect solution to avoid a gratuitous "inclusive" masculine? Perhaps the incongruity is too great, so that people avoid it as if using a distinctively Southern turn of phrase brought too much baggage -- as if its very Southernness militated against the cause of tolerance and social justice, even if it objectively offers a way out of an impasse.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
(1:54 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Closing of Chicago Fair Housing AdvocateLongtime commenter Brey reports that the Leadership Council, founded by Martin Luther King, Jr., to fight housing discrimination and presently the only organization dedicated to fair housing in Chicago, will close within the next couple weeks. In the 5th most segregated city in the country, this is a major loss.
(1:33 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Left BehindWhen the Rapture comes, we will all be left behind. It is money that will be taken up into heaven -- all of it. We all know, deep within our hearts, that the world is not worthy of money, its endless self-replication. We have caused money to suffer, through taxing it, through exhorbitant labor demands, through declaring bankruptcy. At one point it seemed as though money somehow required human beings, or at least natural resources, but now money has finally reached its highest point of development, the point at which it finally breaks free from humanity altogether, revealing what had really been the case all along: money was never "about" us, never "about" the merely human. It alone has turned a profit, and the Father that sees in secret will reward it by entrusting it with greater things -- giving compound interest, the only truly new force to have developed throughout the history of the universe, infinite space in which to grow and accumulate value.
Or is it the other way around? Will we all be taken, leaving money to range across the surface of the earth, unopposed by national borders or the antagonism of labor? Will we have been the "vanishing mediator" of the natural world, the accidental site where the "noo-sphere" called money emerged? Freed of the constraints of biology, the economy will be able to expand into the uttermost reaches of the universe, endlessly approaching an infinity of value. Thus God will have saved what was constitutively valueless.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
(8:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Use of StudyToday, I'll admit it: in Augustine class, my mind wandered. As Prof. Marion discussed the Aristotelian theory of physical motion and its relation to Augustine's thought, I said to myself, "This is all awfully complex. I'd be surprised if most of Augustine's readers caught most of what he was getting at -- even those who knew him personally." The same would be true of Paul -- before Origen, who was perhaps the first mind within Christianity to equal (or perhaps even surpass) Paul himself, there was not much attempt at extended commentary, and the first forceful interpretation of Paul, that of Marcion, was certainly a misunderstanding (albeit an understandable one). And with both of them, here we stand centuries later, still trying to figure out exactly what they're saying.
You'd think we would have it figured out by now. And I guess, depending on who you ask, some associate professor at some first-tier school actually does have it figured out, or at least has Paul figured out. (And who can forget the RadOrths, who understand Augustine so fully as to be able to deploy him effortlessly in contemporary philosophical debate!)
I'm of the school that says that texts that are figure-out-able, in some straightforward sense, are not worth reading -- that is, they are disposable. They are worth digesting -- but they are not worth reading, strictly speaking. The transfer of information from one mind to another is valuable, but for a text, it seems like direct transfer is undesirable. I didn't get a lot of "information" out of Augustine's De Trinitate, but I would love to read it again. I just turned in a paper tonight, and I could write another, and another, and another.... It's just that kind of text. Augustine is just that kind of author.
It's not for everyone. I know that. But maybe it is? Maybe it could or should be?
My question, I suppose, is what the initial appeal is. What determines whether a text is going to survive in just that way? Is there something in us that is delighted by not understanding, or at least that can be delighted? That willfully takes on an infinite task, that keeps it from being the spurious infinite? I can think of worse things than spending all of eternity in a library -- worse things than spending my days trying to piece together why it was written in just that way.
I'm hooked on this language-learning thing, for precisely that reason: it opens up a whole new depth to texts that were, after a certain point, closed to me. It's not because I want to talk to people or transact business in other countries -- my native tongue is already the language of the transaction. But it's not the final language of study, because the whole point of study is the multiplicity of languages, their irreducibility one to the other -- and the infinite task of translation.
Could it be that the appeal of Paul's letters was, on some level, an intellectual one? That they were preserved precisely because they were not understood and therefore were not disposable like any other list of temporal points of advice might be. Preserved because they were, precisely, useless? What is study but a refusal of the horizon of use, in the sense of utility? What is the study of a text but the quintessence of the concept of ususfructus, of enjoyment without ownership, freedom to range over what will never be one's own, freedom from one's own?
That's what appeals to me about being an academic: the lack of power, the supreme uselessness -- which does not exclude importance or even helpfulness. The university loses something when it forgets that it grew out of the monastery. Contemptus mundi is the quintessence of all study, and the one who studies should never be surprised that contemptus mundi will have turned out to be a double genitive. We are exiles, even when tenured, even when we trick the state or some private foundation into giving us a guaranteed income -- and we cannot count on being able to pull off that trick forever. The task of study is the rejection of the world and its ways -- the much-lauded "real world" must not be connected-to, except in order to change it, a possibility whose frequency is often exaggerated.
We all know that the professionalization never really "took," that it was all a misunderstanding caused ultimately by some congenital defect in the Prussian national character. We all know that we never will have been "good citizens," least of all "good Americans" -- that at the end of the day, we just want to be left alone by the state, to forget that the state even exists. We (though not only we) are doing what people will do after the Revolution, in our own small and fragmentary way.
In any case, Daniel Green, my new favorite Valve contributor now that Ray Davis has retired, has a wonderful post up on Harold Bloom, which was what made me remember my class-time musings.
(2:52 AM) | Dominic:
Google TrendsAn endless source of Killer! Facts!
For example: it appears that Foucault is very popular in Latin America at the moment...
Also, Google can pinpoint the exact moment when Badiou became trendy!
(12:46 AM) | Ben Wolfson:
Tuesday Hatred: unusually curtailed editionI hate being, or feeling, overcommitted; I hate the heat (dry though it be) and the fatigue and inability to concentrate that it may or may not engender but which are, in any case, plaguing me like a thousand plagues; I hate the failure of limerick chess to win converts the world 'round; I hate the behavior of the GTK2 file select dialogue, wherein if you try to select a file that already exists to save to, it acts as if it's a folder (what?). I hate seeing a possible checkmate but knowing that it's not a sure thing, and not knowing if my opponent will fall for it.
Monday, May 15, 2006
(4:32 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Augustine, De TrinitateI just discovered an online text of Augustine's De Trinitate: here.
I found it by searching for the word "perfruitione," after waiting forever and ever for the Perseus version of the Lewis and Short dictionary to load. Apparently it's fairly unique to Augustine, since the very passage I was looking at was one of the top search results -- the others being one of JPII's encyclicals and an article about this passage (sadly, behind the Project MUSE paywall).
Predicted comment count for this post: 0.
(12:01 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
PatriotismUnfogged is discussing the idea of taking part in a resistance movement in the event of a fascist takeover of one's (totally hypothetical, of course) country. The post itself includes a long section about patriotism, which makes me deeply uncomfortable -- I don't think that something like "love of country" is a very good reason to oppose fascism.
But of course, I've never been in favor of patriotism, nor much understood it, to be honest. I can understand pride in a particular city, or even a particular state. For instance, coming from the Flint area, I'm proud of the role the city played in the labor movement, and I have a particular affection for the small town of Davison, where I grew up. I don't want anything bad to happen there, although the ship has already sailed on that with Flint. The same with Bourbonnais and Kankakee, and now with Chicago. But on the level of the entire country? I don't know. It's just too abstract, and I think that's a big part of what makes it dangerous.
Even in my own experience, which is far from patriotic, discussion of the US as a whole is always very abstract -- to follow national politics in the US is almost always to be a spectator. On the other hand, almost no one is really paying attention to local politics -- local newscasts are probably the worst thing on TV, and local newspapers are definitely struggling. I could probably have a bigger effect starting a campaign to get the CTA to extend the Red Line to 130th Street before building the Circle Line than I could conceivably have on federal judicial appointments, for instance -- but from that realization, what course of action necessarily follows? If I'm not going to actually start said campaign (or work with a campaign that already exists), then isn't this just a matter of which TV shows I'm going to watch, what media I'm going to consume? Is local politics more "indie" and authentic? ("Everyone's talking about George W. Bush, but have you heard of this Mayor Daley guy?")
Sunday, May 14, 2006
(10:09 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Objectively Pro-FascistIt seems to have gone out of style for the moment, but during those early, urgent days of the War on Terror, many right-wingers enjoyed using this George Orwell quote: "Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other." Thus, people opposed to the Iraq war, for example, were objectively pro-Saddam.
A thought occurs to me, though. These right-wingers obviously have no sympathy for communism -- in fact, this whole terrorism thing is basically a consolation prize for them now that their treasured communist enemy is no longer a major threat (even China is not usually considered a threat qua communist). Interestingly, though, in World War II, if the pacifists were objectively pro-fascist, then the Allies were objectively pro-Stalinist. Our hagiographic accounts of World War II (surely what these right-wingers were trying to invoke with the Orwell quote) would have the Allies on the side of freedom and democracy -- yet they allied themselves with what would be considered the foremost enemy of freedom and democracy for the next several decades.
So what can we say that the current crop of Orwellians were disavowing? Is Andrew Sullivan objectively pro-death squad? Is Donald Rumsfeld objectively pro-insurgency? Or is the whole administration objectively pro-bin Laden, objectively pro-al Qaeda, since they hampered the effort to track down the real perpetrators of 9/11 in favor of their idiotic Iraq adventure? Maybe they're even pro-9/11 attacks, since they viewed those attacks as an opportunity to sell the Iraq War. So during the early stages of the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Middle Eastern Street, one might say that the so-called "good guys" were in some sense allied with the terrorists, even if there was no explicit conspiracy -- recall, for instance, how eagerly everyone waited for a new tape from bin Laden, almost as though he were a respected thinker or elder statesman, since his speeches would further justify our desire for war. And now, of course, the US -- or rather, the US military -- has a very serious terrorist problem to deal with, as opposed to a single, unrepeatable attack.
In the context of World War II, it does seem like a pacifist position would not have worked, and even if Orwell was wrong to vilify the pacifists in his situation, he did "have a point." But this time, of course, the pacifists were totally right.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
(12:35 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
On 'Revolutionary' Language in Contemporary Evangelical Youth Culture.Having grown up Evangelical, but hardly in a pure manner, I still get the urge to listen to what those folks are talking about over there. Just as Old is not impressed with the American Religious Left's use of nation-specific covenant language, I'm not all that impressed with Emergent and other self-described post-modern Christian's use of the rhetoric of revolution. It's not exactly co-equal with the academic faux-Left's use, but it does share some interesting correlations. They both appear to believe that "getting the message out" about injustice will automatically bring about a change in practice. Both appear to me mainly upper-to-middle middle class white folk. Neither apparently knows too much about the history of actual revolutionary movements (their mixed character, for one, and their own contradiction of place within those movements). The use of revolutionary rhetoric singles precisely the cure to having to take revolutionary action! For, if one is already revolutionary by virtue of their belief, what demands that revolutionary action be taken.
This rhetorically-based revolution shares with the Emergent church it's liberal respect for the sacraments within orthodox churches (Anglican/Episcopal, Roman, and Eastern). They think that sacraments are a great post-modern way of participating in the common life of the church, without actually having to believe in the baggage of the theological content of the sacraments themselves. They are often described as having great symbolism, when, of course, the Eucharist is not really the best symbolism at all! The Emergent movement allows one to say clever things about the Eucharist as the highest Christian act - a truly revolutionary act!
Was Jesus a revolutionary? Well, sure, why not. I'll be one of those naive Marxists that champions the early Christian church (with Engels) as a place of a different kind of revolution (a more rhizomatic one perhaps). Does being a Christian mean that you are participating in a revolutionary movement? Hardly. At least not if one is actually practicing a form of religious of Democratic Socialist party membership. If being revolutionary simply means becoming a youth pastor and making the Christian gospel more relevant to contemporary society. These things are not revolutionary in the least and they merely form the liberal component to the rise in war-language in Republican Evangelical denominations.
Not to say that there isn't some kind of hope here. I'm fascinated by how passionate former evangelicals are when they get involved with Leftist politics. They really believe in this shit! Finally! And, for some reason, they take seriously the promise of revolution. I can't deny that this is the reason why Emergent Christians are so drawn to this language - just as they are drawn to the good shit in the sacraments, they are drawn to the beauty of revolution. They are drawn to orgasm. It's the old Derridean line about the promise of the to-come of all good words. Not that they can't be truly revolutionary potential in things like eating together, but in so far as they don't believe in the pure shit of these actions they fail to actualize any of this.
Friday, May 12, 2006
(9:49 AM) | Brad:
Eating WellAnthony suggested a week or two go that I cross-post this, but I kept neglecting to do so -- plus I wanted to edit it a little. It's a slow day at work, so here goes.
My desire to eat well is not altogether different from my desire to be (in a sense) religious. I do think there is a value to both, but I do not typically have the will to truly accomplish either. The flesh, as it were, is weak. I'd like to be able to differentiate the two. That is, I'd like to fashion a religious piety that makes my weakness a strength, and thus provides me with some kind of redemption. As it is, though, I am increasingly having a hard time fathoming such a redemption without a commitment to eating well.
What does it mean to eat well? For most of us, it is just a matter of eating healthy -- of balancing the bad stuff we put in our body with good stuff; or, even better, putting in our body more good stuff than bad stuff. In this sense, "healthy" presupposes either a state of equilibrium or an appropriate ratio (of good stuff to bad) to be the ideal, the result of which being that one lives a longer and/or more (mentally & physically) productive life. In my mind, this is only one part of eating well. Or, perhaps we frame it more positively: this is the general structure of eating well. When we get more specific, though, we find that eating well, eating healthy, cannot simply be about me & mine eating well/eating healthy. Rather, in order to keep eating well, to make it a habit that allows & animates life, that is perpetuates a life animated by true living, eating well must be extended beyond me -- to others, to every other. This is precisely because of the interconnectedness of human existence: as much as we might like to think our health & well-being is ours alone, it is in a give-and-take relationship with & through the activities of others -- and thus, their health & well-being, as well. (Not to mention the fact that the truest measure of life, that which happens after it is over, after we've died, and thus even the truest measure of the "afterlife," is what we leave behind, the results of our [the plural] eating well.) Eating well, then, is more than counting calories & carbs; it is more than avoiding nuts if you're allergic to them. It is more than making sure you get enough iron & protein. It is, in short, more than insuring you & yours have all the vitamins necessary to live long & vital lives. It is, rather, having the will to insure that others have the capacity to do (& thus to will) this as well.
If this is true, eating well is perhaps the most revolutionary, radical action possible. The most unthinkable, even, what for the ever-present first-world dominance over food cultivation & distribution. In the name of profitability, we are sold (and gladly purchase) cheaper, typically less healthy, goods, which all too often not only inject us with the poisons that kill us, the consumers, but also kill the laborers who are paid to grow & produce it, by forcing them to abandon their natural sources & markets of subsistence.
I really want to eat well, as much as I want to believe in miracles, in beginnings that never stop & that thus change the social fabric and our conception of what is possible and what is not. I really do, and yet I still do not. The question then becomes, Where, then, to begin?. The article I link to here is about a kind of hyper-libertarianism, whereby an individual has a personal buying-relationship with a farmer, and thus eats only what is available on that land, by that farmer, during that season. There might be smething to this; but, as with a lot of libertarian arguments, the solution seems too individualistic, and, indeed, seems unviable the moment it becomes "the norm." As such, it doesn't seem like the agent of radical change some of its participants in this article seem to hope it is. As an individualistic solution, though, could this be construed as a beginning of a radical thought -- all such thoughts have to start & come from somewhere, from actions and agents.
So what do you think? Is this a red herring solution? -- some liberal panacea? Or is there potential in it for a radical twist?
(8:10 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Take me home tonightI confess that I have a strange anxiety about travel. This weekend is my sister's graduation; I had already said I was going to attend several weeks ago, but only realized early this week that it was coming up so soon. Since then, I have been thoroughly out of sorts. For instance, I spent much of the week not writing a paper. Procrastination is normal, of course, but this exceeded all reasonable levels, especially since I knew exactly what I wanted to write, what passages I wanted to focus on, etc. I really think that the anxiety about an upcoming trip is what did it -- I no longer felt "settled in" at home, and thus I wasn't able to focus on a longer project because of a largely unconscious feeling that I wouldn't be able to finish it before being uprooted (even though, in point of fact, this week was plenty of time to write fifteen pages before leaving Friday morning). More generally, I have been exceptionally irritable throughout the week.
Some have proposed that it's specifically a problem with visiting family, but that can't be the case since I had the same levels of anxiety (probably even worse) when I attended the WTS conference in Seattle last year, with my family nowhere to be found. I am usually anxious about going home for holidays, but it does seem to be the travel as such rather than the expectation of any kind of problem or conflict with my family. Some have also proposed that it's due to my working from home over the past year, but I still had the same problem even when I was living in Kankakee and therefore working outside the home and commuting to CTS two days a week -- the routinized travel didn't seem to be a problem in the same way that unexpected or occasional travel is. (I am sometimes even anxious about visiting friends' homes and often attempt to routinize socializing -- for instance, I'll see this person every Thursday, I'll hang out with my girlfriend Tuesday nights and Saturdays, etc.) Plus I always want to go to the same bars, I prefer to study at CTS's library instead of the Regenstein because it feels more like "home" to me, I always go to the same grocery store and get the same things....
I confess that sometimes I want to draw up a specific schedule for my days, particularly with a view toward keeping up languages and working my way through the 20th Century Theology reading list this summer, but I already tend so naturally in that direction that I feel like if I made a conscious, "official" routine, I would never do anything spontaneous again. Should I just give up my state of denial? Is that what's holding me back? After all, Kant only became a great philosopher after he became a person such that people could set their watches based on his walk through town.
Did you know, by the way, that Kant earned a living as a professional gambler for a time when he was young? It's true.
I confess that self-consciously spontaneous people can annoy me deeply. I confess that there is no type of person I am more attracted to. I confess that I can keep up for a while, but it's draining. I confess that once someone has said it's time to leave, I become very impatient to actually go ahead and leave. I confess that when I have to leave somewhat early in the day, but not first thing, I tend to go through various phases of getting ready to leave -- putting on my shoes, then later getting my coat and putting it on a chair rather than on the rack, then later filling up the water bottle I keep with my bag, then later laying out my bag (properly packing it so that there will be room for anything I am using but that I also need to take with me).... I need to feel "ready," apparently.
Back to this paper thing, though -- I confess that I have a math problem. On Tuesday, the first day that I had set aside to write, I wrote zero pages. On Wednesday, I wrote one page. On Thursday, I wrote eight pages. It's pretty clear to me that I am following a classic exponential growth curve and that I'm going to be writing a truly staggering number of pages today. What I want to know is how to figure out a function that approximates this curve so that I can calculate exactly how many pages I'll write today. Engineers of the world, unite!
That's probably enough. What's your confession?