Thursday, August 31, 2006
(8:33 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Dylan's Modern Times
At its worst, especially in "When the Deal Goes Down" (track 4), Nashville Modern Time Out of Line, comes off like a Willie Nelson "b" side. Near its best Dylan's latest album 'conjurs up long dead songs from their crumbling tombs.' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (track 3) channels the sound of Blonde on Blonde's "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" and is almost certainly this set's catchiest tune with a vintage Dylan scheme built on repeating lines followed by one liners rather than on a chorus/stanza structure: "Well the warm weather's comin' and the buds are on the vine/ the warm weather's comin' the buds are on the vine" followed by "ain't nothing more depressing than trying to satisfy this woman of mine." So, yes, Dylan the heartbroken misogynist comes out in nearly full force here. From the same song: some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains. And, "this woman so crazy, I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years." As is usually the case, however the act can't last: Well I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long ... Let's forgive each other darlin', let's go down to the greenwood glen/Let's put our heads together now, let's put old things to an end."
Also here is the Dylan of the Christian phase. From "the writing on the wall" near the outset of track one ("Thunder on the Mountain" - rockabilly at its finest possible) to the penultimate lines, "Excuse me, ma'am, I beg your pardon/There's no one here, the gardener is gone," of track 10 ("Ain't Walkin'), Modern Times oozes theological themes and Biblical references from every pore. The eery sound of Ain't Talkin' (just walkin') feels like an extended rumination from beyond the grave, or "the mystic garden," and that even more than any of the offerings with a similar ambiance on 1997's Time Out of Mind. Ain't Walkin', and thus the album, ends with Dylan's "Heart burnin', still yearnin'/In the last outback at the world's end." Of course, it wouldn't be Dylan if there weren't some downright loopy lines. A ryhming scheme in Thunder on the Mountain "... said my religious vows/Sucked the milk out of a thousand cows" recalls some of the other rare couplets from Dylan's past that don't quite work ("little red wagon, little red bike/I ain't no monkey, but I know what I like" from Blood on the Tracks' "Buckets of Rain").
The best this album has to give in the way of political protest is in its offering of a different kind of cowboy. Self-assurred, yes. But also deeply reflective, jilted, often dwelling in the lonesome valley of the shadow of night. The most explict attempt to live in a political world withers on the vine. Verse one of "Workingman's Blues #2" (track 6) fires up with extraordinary promise
There's an evenin' haze settlin' over town
Starlight by the edge of the creek
The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down
Money's gettin' shallow and weak
but begins to sputter before the first go at a chorus that manages to carry the listener through the following verses as they cough, spin their wheels, and finally collapse in the platitudinous final lines of the final verse: Some people never worked a day in their life/Don't know what work even means.
"Spirit on the Water" (track 2) and "Beyond the Horizon" (track 7) could become the most ground breaking musically. They have a neo-1940's, one might say even a slow, big band rhythm. Spirit on the Water is a love song, but leagues and leagues below the standard set by "Make You Feel My Love" on Time Out of Mind. In fact, I only somewhat unfairly jotted down CCMesque lyrics in my notes the first time through the album. The ever ambigous "You" rears its ugly head as Dylan croons such lines as "I wanna be with you in paradise." To be more charitable it must be added that that line is followed up with "And it seems so unfair/I can't go to paradise no more/I killed a man back there." Beyond the Horizon, however, sneaks up on you. It wasn't until the third or fourth listen that I realized what a wondeful piece this is. It is indeed "touched with desire"; if you want a love song, here it is:
My wretched heart is pounding
I felt an angel's kiss
My memories are drowning
In mortal bliss
Beyond the horizon, the night winds blow
The theme of a melody from many moons ago
The bells of St. Mary, how sweetly they chime
Beyond the horizon I found you just in time
One reason this song took a bit of listening to in order to truly discover is that its sound contrasts so starkly with those that its sandwiched between - Workingman's Blues and the trio of tracks that complete the album with a pensive flourish. Besides Ain't Talkin', that trio includes "Nettie Moore" (track 8) and "The Levee's Gonna Break" (track 9). "If it keep on raining the levee gonna break" is twice repeated in every chorus before a line such as "Everybody saying this is a day only the Lord could make," "some people don't know which road to take," or "some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones"; but also "without you there's no meaning in anything I do" and "I tried to get you to love me, but I won't repeat that mistake." In other words, this is only obliquely and in part a song about New Orleans. It is also a break-up song, a break up song with spiritual themes making their appearances here and there.
I must admit that a large part of me hoped beyond hope that the five years that have transpired since 2001's Love and Theft might have gone some way toward reviving the Dylan of the sixties. I knew that the album wouldn't disappoint, but that it wouldn't be nearly as political as those of us who love Dylan, but especially the Dylan of The Times They Are A-Changin', could possibly hope. This song is nothing if not emblematic of such ambivalence. So Dylan sings a song that can't help but be inspired by Katrina and its aftermath, and it's a right good song. A kind of muted buoyancy pervades. But isn't there anything, anything at all that could reinstigate that flamethrowing pillar of fire of the turbulent sixties?
But so it goes. And that leaves us with Nettie Moore (track 5 "Someday Baby" is relatively humdrum for a Dylan song). By far and away my initial favorite. The song is governed by a soft, but constant beat on a solitary drum. More Indian than Cowboy. And most definitely reminiscent of Oh Mercy's "Man in the Long Black Coat." Together with Ain't Talkin' the very picture of the kind of driving but piecemeal poetry that could only be written by the aged travelling bluesman who also happens to be the greatest English speaking poet of the twentieth century. So he has to fight with T.S. Elliot in the captain's tower for that honor. A whale of a fight, indeed, but one that Dylan's endless range of styles, tricks, and weapons wins in my mind. "Lost John sittin' on a railroad track/Something's out of whack," begins the song. "Blues this mornin' fallin' down like hail." And the chorus
Oh, I miss you, Nettie Moore
And my happiness is o'r
Winter's gone, the river's on the rise
I loved you then, and ever shall
But there's no one left here to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes
It has its levity too: They say whisky'll kill you but I don't think it will. If anyone would know, surely its Dylan. He keeps on riding. Keeps on producing. Keeps on carrying his heavy burden. And, of course, continues to tour--which is where you have to go to find him at his very best these days, he's been talking about how much he hates the way album's sound on CD's. To this musical ignoramous the album sounds haunting, glorious, track after track of music that will sustain a thinking man for a long, long time. But for the man now nearing seventy who gave birth to Modern Times if not modern music, "the sun is strong, I'm standing in the light/I wish to God that it were night."
(5:57 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Ceci n'est pas un partiA simple question: Does the Democratic Party, qua party, actually exist? I know that it exists as an institution that many politicians officially belong to and receive funds from, but is it a party in any relevant sense?
(Another possible French title for this post: "Ce parti qui n'en est pas un.")
(3:50 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Worship: StylesToday I had an orientation event for the PhD students serving as TAs in MDiv required classes and receiving partial funding through a grant-based program at the seminary called the Center for Community Transformation. Part of it was having one of the faculty members who is teaching in that program tell us about his course in liturgy. Also, I am involved -- although I feel bad about my slackerhood in this regard -- in planning a chapel service for the PhD Student Association, which I apparently "lead" now.
This has led me to think about my liturgical preferences. Simply put, I prefer the Catholic "low mass," the stripped-down version of the liturgy that is normally celebrated on weekdays. The church I attended in Oxford also did something like a low mass for most of its Sunday services -- they had one mass a week that was total liturgical overload, sung Latin mass with choir and incense and three priests and seventeen altar servers, but everything else was basically one priest and one altar server, occasionally supplemented by additional priests who would come out of nowhere and help distribute communion.
Partly, this preference is emotional. Music was such a key part of the emotional manipulation in church while I was growing up that I find it to be a pleasant relief when there is no music at all -- even though the music in Catholic churches is normally of a very different style. Also, even though I have obviously been to many "low masses" that were the primary Sunday masses, the association is more closely linked to daily mass. I prefer the daily masses because of the smaller crowds -- if you're lucky, you can avoid the smarmy hand-shaking altogether. Somehow the uncrowded church and the matter-of-fact approach add to a certain objectivity of the proceedings, a sense that I personally don't matter and can come and go. That's how I feel about the regular Sunday services as well, but in the daily mass, it feels somehow more okay -- I feel out of place either way, but for the daily mass, the out-of-place-ness is more constitutive of the experience. The very fact that I'm there is gratuitous, more than enough.
Nothing makes me feel lonelier than going to church on Sunday morning, in any denomination. Not eating Burger King while watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on a Friday night, nothing. The daily mass gives me space to be alone -- which I actually am, most of the time, and which I actually want and need to be. "So what you're saying," asks the evangelical superego, "is that you want a worship experience that doesn't make demands on you?" Well, no -- I don't want a worship experience at all. Or maybe I do. I want to stand-sit-kneel every so often, I want to say the words the congregation is supposed to say, I want to sit patiently through the bad homily, I want to taste the wafer and maybe the watered-down wine -- I want to make sure I don't forget. It's nice to be reminded, every so often, that this stupid and pointless thing is happening, and to participate in it, to waste a half hour on it and walk away with nothing. I think that's important.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
(3:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Theodicy QuestionThe really important question of theodicy is not how to reconcile the experience of evil and suffering with the existence of God. The answer to that question is relatively straightforward: God is crazy.
The more important question is: Shouldn't we be suspicious that he didn't make the world even worse?
(11:12 AM) | Brad:
Huzzah!Congratulations to Infinite Thought. Though, it should be noted, she now owes me one job.
(10:31 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Rhetorical StrategyThere are some central rhetorical strategies I've noticed that seem to be closely associated with the right wing. In the spirit, though not precisely the style, of Mark Kaplan's Notes on Rhetoric, I'd like to catalogue a few of them here.
- Obsessive focus on minor details -- normally these details are basically rhetorical, such as an overblown analogy. The conversation must be put completely on hold until it is acknowledged by all that these minor slips thoroughly discredit everything the person is saying, such that the argument has to begin again from scratch.
- A deep concern that politicians' motives must never be questioned -- For example, Bush's policies lead to death and destruction on a massive scale, but the really important issue is that everyone start from the premise that Bush basically means well.
- A total disregard for context or history -- It's as if the world were created anew every day and peopled with a frightening race of absolutely autonomous individuals who are (or should be) impervious to social conditioning and the effects of history. More than that, every point must be proven from scratch -- for instance, even at this late date, one might hear complaints that people are just assuming that the Iraq War was a disastrous mistake rather than arguing for it, as if all of us had been cryogenically frozen for the past four years and were just now hearing about this "Iraq War" thing for the first time.
- Giving advice on what would actually be convincing -- this is closely related to the above. The conservative interlocutor, ever willing to be convinced, generously supplies the arguments that would convince him, if they were offered. Since he would have already convinced himself if he found such arguments truly convincing, this is yet another red herring, meant to give him control of the terms of debate. If his opponent argues the point on the conservative's terms, it will lead to a complete loss of any substance.
- Being "willing to be convinced" -- but only if the conservative's opponent can provide a thorough, definitive, and bulletproof argument on the spot. The existence of vast libraries of literature is most often disregarded (the only exception in the history of arguments being baa's decision to read The Second Sex in this thread) -- in any case, it's the duty of the conservative's interlocutor to supply the conservative with the perfect book, totally representative of all work on the topic, reasonably short, not overly academic, hopefully with pictures.... Most people seriously studying a topic read many books and articles, but the conservative reserves the right to make a definitive decision after reading a single book, preferably of fewer than 200 pages.
- Radical abstraction -- every fact and person is to be treated in almost complete isolation, with a huge burden of proof on the one who presumes to recognize a pattern
- The "blank slate" -- the topic at hand is to be treated as though no one in the history of humanity had ever discussed it before this discrete occasion.
- The pose of open-mindedness -- but his finger is poised on the garage door opener of his mind. It's not his fault if his opponent can't do a competent job of convincing him before he has to reclose it.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
(1:46 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Advances in Shaving Technology: The Latest in an Ongoing SeriesI write about shaving a lot, but I have finally come up with the ultimate in shaving technology, the razor than which no greater can be thought: a razor that not only shaves, but also exfoliates.
The closest possible shave would be attained, and the world could safely end, because finally, the human race would've gotten one thing completely and marvellously right.
(12:12 AM) | m2:
Tuesday "Freaking" HatredI hate Bill Maher. I hate his voice. I hate his hairstyle. I hate his routines. I hate all of the propaganda that touts him as an important national figure. He is a combination of Bill O’Reilly, and an even uglier Hugh Hefner, in the mode we call “want-to-be.” He is singularly unfunny. If anything, he is consistently unpleasant. How his career has advanced to the point that he has a show with HBO, is beyond me. He should be shunned, and HBO should be ashamed.
I hate my car horn. It is of the bzzz-beep type. It falls far short of the air-compressor-backed-semi-truck-trailer horn. How am I to accurately express a warning, or my rage, when my automobile horn-sound does not correspond to the depth of my anger? At least it isn't one of the "AYE-YOOOOH-GUH" horns. Then again, having one of those horns would be pretty funny.
I hate "professional" networking. If I wanted to sell myself, in any way, I’d be a prostitute.
I hate Tom Cruise. I hate seeing his face on magazine covers in grocery store checkout lanes. I hate to catch even a glance of his name on the news-websites that I frequent. I hate the inevitability of me purchasing a magazine if Tom Cruise is on the cover. I hate that I take the magazine home, tear out all of his pictures, affix them to my naked body (with a harsh adhesive, of course), and cut myself with a box cutter, as if I were tattooing the sun, in prison.
Where there is hate, there may also be love.
Monday, August 28, 2006
(9:09 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Prison Break BloggingI am really enjoying the new season of Prison Break. There was a period last season when I started to get impatient because everything was so contrived, but then Richard mentioned that the show was intended to have a comic-book feel, and everything suddenly fell into place. I look forward to new episodes in the same way that I used to look forward to the next issue of my favorite comic books. (24 somehow doesn't have that same feel in my mind.)
Now I need to find something to replace playing Final Fantasy for hours on end. Some of the blogfights I've been in have approximated the tedium of walking around in the forest for hours "levelling up" -- and beyond the tedium itself, it replicates the sensation of fighting the same enemies over and over and over. "Oh, what a surprise, another group of three grey goblins..." "Oh, what a surprise, someone's sarcastically thanking me for 'making his point for him'...."
(10:49 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
September Sign-Up SheetDuring the month of August, we at The Weblog have been experimenting with a sign-up sheet to allow various blog-related entities to write this blog's two regular weekly features: Tuesday Hatred and Friday Afternoon Confessional. I consider this program to have been a rousing success and would like to continue it. Accordingly, I have created a new sign-in sheet:
Tuesday HatredAs always, all regular participants are welcome to officiate; Blogger invitations will be sent out as needed.
September 5: Richard McElroy
September 12: Ben Wolfson
September 19: Dominic Fox
Friday Afternoon Confessional
September 1: Rob
September 8: Adam Kotsko
September 22: Dominic Fox
September 29: Anthony Paul Smith
Thanks to everyone who participated during August. Everyone did a very good job.
(8:43 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Class UnconsciousnessThere's a case to be made that class -- the economic kind, not "social class" -- is the biggest issue facing the United States and the world today. Just within the United States, you can see completely and totally obvious signs. For instance, there's a story out in the New York Times entitled "Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity" -- that is, workers are producing more and more for the owners, and workers are getting a proportionately smaller and smaller share. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Social programs are nickled and dimed while the rich get tax cuts. The acknowledged reason that getting an effective single-payer health care system in America is impossible is because of corporate interests (insurance companies). We are in the midst of a war in which primarily lower-class people are doing the fighting, and meanwhile major defense firms are getting multi-billion-dollar contracts. A major city's poor black population was left to die in a hurricance; a year later, their city still stands in ruins and its people are spread out in isolated trailer parks. The same does not generally happen when a hurricane endangers Florida's retirement communities. Globally, the exploitation of poor nations by multinational corporations is a brutal daily reality.
Yet everyone acts as though it's impossible that class could ever be an issue, and day after day we are barraged with fantasy stories about how "moral values" are the biggest issues or about how the greatest danger to global security is "religious extremism" -- not preemptive imperialist war, not the looting of natural resources, not the exploding population of third world urban slums.
This stuff is all so obvious, and yet so completely off the radar. Liberals don't talk about povery -- it's all about the "middle class" for them. Income inequality is an opportunity to talk about how bad the Republicans are. "National security" is all focussed on spectacular but low-probability events that in any case will never effect most areas of the country -- security from want and bankrupcy is the kind of "national security" most people would actually benefit from. Now somehow the liberals have to come up with a "serious" way to talk about the "threat" of Iran -- a threat that does not exist.
America's entire political life is based on fantasies, when it's not based on outright lies.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
(10:11 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ResourcefulnessLast night I found this nice website called Religion Online that has a lot of books and articles in full text. You can check out the full index of all resources or the list of the 200 books they have. Here are some sample books:
- Thomas J. J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism
- Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death
- William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
- Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era
- Rudolph Bultmann, Jesus and the Word
- Sallie McFague, Speaking in Parables
Still, it's always nice to have online texts available for those times when knowing whether the quote is on the left or right page just isn't enough.
TYPICAL OFF-TOPIC WEEKEND UPDATE: Enrique Dussel's Ethics and Community is excellent. I'm about halfway through it right now, and I already feel like it's my "favorite" book that I've read for the 20th Century exam -- another possibility being Gogarten's Christ the Crisis. I also really enjoyed Marion's God Without Being, but I read it at a very different time in my life and may not enjoy it as much now.
My initial response to concepts is based on aesthetics rather than standards of argumentative rigor, and perhaps I never get away from that. I want to say more about this, but I can't concentrate enough today -- allergies are killing me.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
(8:37 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
Amish Lovelock's Height of Good Taste
So, back from Seoul after ten days of nearly non-stop eating I'd thought I'd share with you all some pics of what I ate. Here we have from the top left: gamjatang (a pork spine soup with potatos, green onions and chilli), seolleongtang (an ox/beef-bone soup), bulgogi (this one is broiled which is the tastiest I've ever had it - it's a dish made with thinly sliced sirloin marinated in soy sauce, pear puree, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, onions, ginger, wine and sugar), hoe (Korean sashimi), sogumgui (barbequed pork), traditional dduk (Korean variant on the rice cake with sweet plum tea), galgoksu (swishing thin slices of beef in spicy broth - great for hangovers) and various kinds of banchun (side dishes).
In conclusion, Korea is one of the best places to eat in the world and you should all go there right now. Go on. Right now. Off with you.
(12:13 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ShavingI can always tell it's summertime when every time I shave, it represents a radical change in my appearance. This morning was the first time I'd shaved in close to two weeks -- now I'm shocked when I look in the mirror. It's a shame, because I had passed through the "unbearable itchiness" stage and could've just shaved my neck and called it a beard. I felt I needed a change, however.
The real reason I shave so seldom is because those Mach 3 cartridges are too expensive, yet my tender skin will not tolerate anything less.
UPDATE: To continue the Consumerist Turn here at The Weblog, I ask you: Is there a better store-bought cookie than the Nutter Butter? Is a better store-bought cookie even conceivable? I daresay the answer is no.
DID YOU KNOW: that there was a school of theology called Boston Personalism, based at Boston University? I just read a little bit about it, and to me, it sounds a lot like process theology. Perhaps I'm reading into it because it's Cobb's Living Options in Protestant Theology, but it's from Cobb's pre-process days.
Apparently Cobb's big book on Whitehead is available online, full-text, hard-core. Indeed, I now discover that Living Options itself is available online! Here's the chapter on Boston Personalism. I'm thinking of doing my dissertation all on out-of-date things, but acting like they're still "living options." For instance: A Critique of Boston Personalism in Light of the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley. Or George Santayana and Emil Brunner: A Synthesis.
My account of all these matters may be unreliable, as I recently experienced a major crash after eating a dozen Nutter Butters.
Friday, August 25, 2006
(8:43 AM) | it:
Friday Confessional: I weep for PlutoI confess I had job interview yesterday. This time I didn't make accidentally polemical comments about [sneer] bureaucracy or students 'not thinking of themselves as clients'. But I did, er, exaggerate a little bit about how close I was to finishing the PhD. But it wasn't any different from the lie I tell myself, so I didn't blush, I didn't look away, and I certainly didn't hesitate. It was like the truth, only more convincing.
I confess that the night before aforementioned interview, I had an anxiety dream in which I had to give a presentation about the academic import of...'the money shot'. In the dream, the presentation went badly. I suspect this means I feel slightly guilty for writing about porn and posting pictures of sad-looking girls with cum in their eyes at the same time as trying to prepare myself to come over as a potential perky lecturer-colleague with 'RAE yes yes yes' stamped all over my arse.
I confess that my life oscillates between Rumspringa-like levels of drunken debauchery in which I truly go to live among 'the English'... and monk-like passages of reading and typing in which I see no one and speak about three words a day. I cannot understand how to reconcile the two 'modes of being' in some sort of rational, sensible, non-self-destructive mid-point. This is why, I confess, I believe that Descartes' 'mind-body' dualism has a lot to recommend it, at least as an existential claim.
I confess that often the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning (apart from the chance to read more sf) is the thought of dressing up. I confess I spend all my money on alcohol and vintage clothes (and the thing that unites them both - dry cleaning). I confess this probably makes me a drunken slattern, or at least an irresponsible drabble-tail.
Confess you whores!
Thursday, August 24, 2006
(9:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Cereal KillerI never feel quite right if I don't have a bowl of cereal in the morning, even if I'm having something nice like French toast. Almost every day, I have Frosted Mini-Wheats, as I have since I was in junior high -- with some interruptions now and then. I went through a Frosted Flakes phase and found that it was only good if I was able to eat it quickly, while it was still crunchy. Right now I'm eating Frosted Cheerios, not because of any particular fetish with frosting, but because I have a rule against ever paying more than $2 for a box of cereal, and the Frosted Cheerios were the only option last time I was at the store.
It's delightful to drink the milk after eating a frosted cereal -- I feel like I could drink milk forever if it all tasted like that. How awful, by comparison, to drink the milk after eating the dread Honey Bunches of Oats! Within three seconds of pouring the milk, you're dealing with a soggy disgusting mess -- with the exception of the "bunches of oats" themselves, of course. By the time you're done, all the flakes have disintegrated, and there's always this residue. It's consistently pretty cheap, but my supplementary rule for cereal-shopping is never to get Honey Bunches of Oats unless literally every other kind of cereal is $6 a box.
What cereal do you eat?
UPDATE: Man, I just do not want to read today. Does anyone want to play ping-pong? We'd have to find a table first.
Other things I don't want to do:
- Play piano
- Do the dishes
- Clean the bathroom
- Make lunch
- Go anywhere
- Stay home
- Take a shower
- Shave -- I've got some vicious growth
- Write anything of substance
- Check yet another task off a list
- Listen to music
- Learn a foreign language
- Watch television, particularly the following:
- South Park
- Family Guy
- Chappelle's Show
- Daily Show
- Colbert Report
- Get a haircut
- Check my bank balance
- Read blogs
- Post this list
Craziness. I actually posted this cereal thing because I'm so sick of people telling me they feel lost in the "philosophy posts," and here I am, whining philosophically.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
(10:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Cultural DiversityOne of the greatest things about Chicago is its cultural diversity -- almost all ethnic groups are represented, and in many cases have a particular area where the culture of their native land is practiced and original languages are spoken. I'm happy to say that this is true not only of Koreans, Poles, Indians, and Assyrians, but also American Rednecks. I know this because I live next door to some.
They grill out literally every night. They talk loudly. There is a sign in their back yard reading, "Proud to be an American." All the women are morbidly obese. They seem to have a dozen dogs, and their primary way of disciplining them is to yell, "Hey!" Just the other day, while taking out the garbage, I got a good look at the loud-mouthed guy who seems to be the ringleader: a skinny guy with a NASCAR shirt and cap and a mullet. He looks like the husband of my co-worker back in my chiropractic days, the one who commuted from Indiana because her husband refused to live in a state other than Indiana. (Kankakee is very close to the state line, so this was doable -- but he worked in Illinois, too!)
This only increases my impression that I have somehow stepped into a bizarre gap in the fabric of space-time which has resulted in Kankakee County being dropped and scattered into the middle of Chicago. We even have our own little Momence, by the Rockwell Brown Line, with small town-style hole in the wall bars all named "Old Style." At that point, the Brown Line is even at ground level; people who have sat for a half hour waiting for a train in Momence will know that this is essential to the overall feel of that particular "border town."
My commute down to Hyde Park takes a similar amount of time to the drive from Kankakee as well (back in those innocent days before the catastrophic construction on the Dan Ryan expressway). It doesn't feel as long because I can read or work through a vocabulary book or something instead of making the impossible choice between Fresh Air and Rush Limbaugh -- but still.
Anyway, that's about all I have to say about this, because I'm trying to cut back on unnecessary typing today. My left thumb felt fine yesterday, but I woke up today to find it back to "the new normal" -- for example, I experienced some discomfort clipping my fucking fingernails. I'm sure I had similar problems back in Bourbonnais, but I've come to idealize those times, what with the amazing combination of regular paychecks and comparatively low rent that allowed me such luxuries as going out for fast food a couple times a week, or having one additional magazine subscription.
Monday, August 21, 2006
(11:59 PM) | Brad:
Tuesday Hatred: Red Wine EditionTwo bottles of cheap red wine are empty on the desk, the dog is at my feet under the desk, and I've five hours before I need to be awake and hungover for work. An ideal time to hate!
For starters, I hate academic fanzines. With all due respect to the editorial staff the International Journal of Žižek Studies (but not to the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies because I do not have sufficient faith that they know any better), a veritable who's who of people due all respect, or at least the civility not befitting a drunken rant, I really just do not get it. That is, I do not find Žižek to be either so underexposed, what for his playing the role of the blogging intellectual's Paul Krugman the last few years, or so patently significant or novel to warrant such a journal. (One man's fusion of Lacan & Hegel is another man's Schelling, I guess.) And I unashamedly like much of his work! Sure, I see the practical significance of such a journal -- it's a great way to professionalize an otherwise career-killer, and it is good to get like-minded people on the same page (literally) -- but its practical significance is, for me, analogous to spouse-swapping orgies. There is a potential for a tremendous practical boon, but it is otherwise sullied by other equally practical things like (a) wanting only to hang out with your spouse-swapping-orgy friends, and when you don't having to feel other couples out before you can feel them up; or (b) sleeping on a wetspot you had no hand (or otherwise) in causing or enjoying. If it is not like that at all, then it is most certainly like showing up to a Def Leppard concert wearing their Hysteria Tour t-shirt w/out a hint of irony -- because such earnestness is bound to an invitation to the spouse-swapping orgy backstage. With this in mind, book your Žižek tickets early! Perhaps what I hate more, though, is that I'll likely submit an article to the journal within year's end, and be rejected by the end of 2008.
Moving on ... I hate that every woman I've ever slept with, excluding my wife, has gotten a divorce. Perhaps most tragic on this list is the ex-girlfriend whose wedding I performed, a scant year after she asked to meet me at a picturesque park so that she might tell me that she might be pregnant with somebody else's baby, namely, her ex-fiancé's (she, in fact, wasn't), and that all things considered she'd really rather get back with him, and that "Hey, maybe you'd like to perform the wedding?!"
I hate that pornography is now a legitimate source (and, for some, medium) of philosophical discourse. I can't link to it at the moment, perhaps in the morning, but Infinite Thought has a fantastic example of this (link works now). Now, I don't hate the philosophical reflections made about pornography. Nor am I fundamentally opposed to the idea that a cumshot to the eye might be indicative of something more than bad aim, good sense or retribution. No, I just fear that it threatens to ruin, by virtue of such a discourse being a readymade excuse, the potential scandal of the posthumous porn-stash discovery. Paul Tillich died too soon, sadly.
I also hate that I am more embarassed of the random bits of deviant pornography in my internet history than my wife, K., ever is -- including the she-male pictures sent tonight from the Weblog's resident Eliade-fellator, Pat R. Which leads me, finally, to the money-shot: I hate that this embarassment is likely due to the fact that I not-so-secretly suspect my wife's best orgasms are reserved for when we watch wife-swapping orgy porn together.
Drink up, friends! But remember to follow that shot of hate with that chaser called Love.
(12:19 PM) | Adam R:
Serial Novel: Chapter TwoRead Chapter One here.
Chapters! Great! This ought to help me over the hurdles. My new plan of attack is to start a new chapter whenever I get bogged down with the intricacies of not having a story.
He is on a ship, a great, metal, hulking ship, and he was on it. And he is on it. And he continued to be on it for several days. He was in a room – and remains in a room – with a small porthole that opens to an ocean view. There was nothing else, just an ocean view in a white room. After several days on the ship he awoke, and then he was awake for some time until he was sleeping again. He continued this routine but he eventually became hungry. First, though, he was curious about the pain that was blossoming in his body, then it occurred to him he had a physical need having to do with his face, because his mouth was constantly opening and closing, kneading his lips. He put things there, first his fingers, then the spare deposits he had been instinctively leaving in the corner of his room. These came back up, into a different pile.
Any discussion of the primordial things quickly becomes grotesque.
Finally – when he found himself at a place that was neither sleeping nor waking, and no longer standing or sitting or lying but flopping – his head knocked into a handle on a security door and he was thrown into the world, and Harris was walking down the corridor and he was flung into Harris, who said, “Criminy, Robby, where’ve you been?” He said “been” like “bean” and then, covering his nose he said “cripes” and scurried away. Robby fell to the ground where he remained until he woke up in some place that was not the ground but softer, much softer, and in his arm he saw a tube, to which he attributed his feeling of well-being.
This room was white, too, but bigger than his last room, and he was in it, but more specifically he was in a bed in it, until he found that he could rise from the bed and by standing he could see a city through a window, shining. He did this, stood and saw, then he went to the city through a door in the room, through a hall, then over the side of the ship, then down, down, then a splash, then down, down into the salty water. At this point he was set upon by numerous jelly fish and he struggled against them. He found himself ascending through the water then, and then at the surface of the water, where he gasped, and then once again he noted he was sinking down, and down he sunk and struggled and rose, gasped, was set upon by jellyfish. After repeating this routine for several minutes he once again struck his head, this time on an iron bar, and his hand shot out for the bar before he sank again, or was set upon again. The iron bar was bolstered on each side by iron rails, and above the bar he found another iron bar, then another, and so on until he found the last iron bar, and then he did not care about the bars any longer because he was prone on the hard ground, heaving and returning through the mouth as he had done before in the first room on the ship that he had been on and in. Life, as he knew it, was a challenge. But he was learning many things.
His skin was red and stung. The wellness he had felt was gone, and he stayed for a while on the ground of the biggest room he had known so far, and it was not actually white but all sorts of colors. He was there. And he was there underneath a bush. Later, standing again, the city did not seem to shine as much. He attributed this to the darkness. The water made splashing noises and the air was cool.
The next day he found himself on a bench, happy at the promotion. He had grown used to waking up under mysterious circumstances. The swelling had gone down on his body, and as the pain had abated he found his mouth moving again. He went off to find something to put there, and everywhere he saw others like him asleep beneath the trees. From behind a hand reached out and grabbed his arm. “Hush,” the grabber rasped, “you’ll wake ‘em, the roaches. Come this way.” And the rasping grabber tugged him onto a path.
“What have you got?” rasped the grabber. He did not respond, because his learning had not yet brought him to an understanding of such a question. “One of them, I see.” He had ceased grabbing but continued to rasp, and doing so turned to face the harbor. “One of them, but" -- he turned back with purposeful drama – “but you seem intelligent enough. You have an intelligent look. Are you intelligent?” This was the most rasping the man had ever heard. The only other words he could even recall were the ones he heard in the hallway on a nautical occasion. He thought he’d give words a try.
“I think I’d like something to eat,” he found himself saying, he said, he spoke, saying he’d like something to eat, he thought. He spoke that he thought, which did not strike anyone as a miracle, as the miracle, as the miracle. It did not startle the rasping erstwhile grabber, who chortled, “Well, that’s brains for sure, old bum. Come on, then.” And as the man did not move, the chortling rasper stopped a few paces away, turned, and rasped, “Then fine, stay there.” He disappeared into the trees for several minutes, and just as the man was about to wordify again, the disappearing chortler reappeared with a loaf of bread. “Take, eat,” he said. “That’s the way,” he said.
The man remained where he stood and shoveled the bread into his mouth voraciously. He could not remember such a satisfying experience, and even as he waited for the food to return out of his mouth, the bread made its way into his stomach and the blood carried the nourishment to several parts of his languishing body. He stayed where he stood and ate, and the disappearing, rasping chortler who had grabbed him and now fed him stared standing in awe. “Criminy, Jim, but you’re eating now.”
”Eating,” said the man. Crumbs fell our of his mouth and he laughed.
“Like you haven’t eaten before.”
“Cheese, where you from, brains?” The man shrugged. A ship was in the harbor, so he pointed to it. “You come on the Eretria? Small wonder. They gonna miss you?”
“. . .”
“Say, what’s your name, Rocks?”
“What’d you have? A fall?”
“Robby, maybe. Someone called me Robby in a hallway.”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Robby.”
“Such manners and all are uncommon around here.” He waved his arms to indicate the people sleeping under the trees. “Buncha cockroaches. Somebody needs for stepping on them.” He paused, and there was even a raspiness to the silence. “Well, here. I’m Bill.” Bill thrust out his hand proudly. “You might as well shake it, Robby, you’ve eaten through my bread.” Robby took Bill’s hand in his own, and they looked into the city. | Main Page
(12:16 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Scholarly RigourWith all due apologies to Mortimer Shy, I am providing a copy of my paper on the Trinity in 20th century theology. Its content is relatively unremarkable, but I'm pleased with the general flow.
Unrelatedly, Adam Roberts' post on Beowulf is excellent and should be read by all.
UPDATE: Dark matter apparently exists (via Crooked Timber).
(8:52 AM) | John Emerson:
The Cynic EmperorMeditations
Marcus Aurelius, tr. Hard, intro. Gill
Wordsworth Classics, 1997
Anyone who tries to live his life according to principle will normally be regarded as a prig. Marcus Aurelius even predicted what some of us would think of him:
Suppose that he [the deceased] is serious-minded and wise, there is sure to be someone there at the last [at the funeral] who will say of him , "What a relief to be finally freed from this schoolmaster; not that he was ever harsh with us, but I could sense that he was silently condemning us." (10.36)
In Marcus' case, there's also the imperial factor: somehow his advice about facing adversity rings false when you realize that during the time when he was writing his book, he was the Emperor (or heir-apparent) of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
On the other hand, his qualifications for giving advice about resisting temptation are excellent, and for an Emperor (and certainly by contrast to such imperial predecessors as Nero and Tiberius) he lived a wonderfully temperate and benevolent life.
He was unimpressed by the Emperor biz:
Take care that you are not turned into a Caesar,that you are not stained with the purple; for such things do come about. (6.30)
Go on, then, talk to me of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius. If they saw what the universal nature wishes and trained themselves accordingly, I will follow them; but if they merely strutted around like stage heroes, no one has condemned me to imitate them. (8.3)
Marcus counts as a Stoic, but he also had Epicurean tendencies and, most surprisingly, an unmistakable Cynic streak. With him cynicism didn't manifest itself in antinomianism, as it does in our day, but in an ascetic detachment from, or even a contempt for, such conventional goals of life as power, wealth, reputation, pleasure, and comfort. (Though again, one doubts that he had any idea what it would be like to be destitute and genuinely powerless.)
All that is highly prized in life is hollow, putrid, and trivial; puppies snapping at one another, little children bickering, and laughing, and then all at once in tears. (5.33)
His cynicism even led him in the paranoid kamikaze direction:
Let people see, let them study, a true man who lives according to nature. If they cannot bear with him, let them kill him! For it were better to die than to live such lives as theirs. (10.15)
The Meditations are addressed to "you" -- to Marcus himself, or to the generic reader (us). It's mostly ethical reminders, exhortations and advice. Often enough, it seems that Marcus was refreshing himself on the best way to deal with a particular kind of problem he had just encountered -- e.g., "annoying people". Most of the time, he seems to be reaching for a new statement of one of his main ideas. The book has no apparent overall plan, though certain themes cluster in certain sections.
His book has been admired for its naturalism. He speaks of the gods, but these are distant and impersonal (the stars) and require only the conventional sacrifices. He also speaks of a singular God, but this seems only to be the single governing principle of the universe, which is shared by men as the governing principle of their own lives.
Revere the highest power in the universe, the power that makes use of all things and presides over all. And likewise, revere the highest power in yourself: this power is of one kind with the other. (5.21)
You honor your governing faculty alone and what is divine in you. (12.1)
One animal soul is distributed amongst irrational creatures, and one rational soul has been divided amongst rational creatures. (9.8)
He regards all outcomes as inevitable, and toys with the Epicurean idea that events are entirely the result of chance and mere physical causes. He teaches us to uncomplainingly accept constant change and the inevitable perishing of everything, including ourselves, without an afterlife. And since everything is inevitable, and either the result of a benevolent design or of pure chance, it is unreasonable and unnatural to complain about anything.
Either a hotchpotch and the entangling of atoms and their dispersal, or unity, order, and providence. (6.10)
Whatever happens to you was preordained from time everlasting, and from eternity the web of causations was weaving together your existence and this that befalls you. (10.5)
Perhaps a man who is worthy of the name should put aside this question of how long he should live, and not cling to life, believing what old wives say, that "no one can escape his destiny", and turn his attention to this instead, to how he can live the best life possible in the time that is granted to him. (7.46)
Universal nature set out to create a universe; and now it is either the case that all that comes to be does so as a necessary consequence of that, or else even the most important things, to which the governing faculty directs its own efforts, lie outside the rule of reason. Remember this, and you will face every trouble with a calmer mind. (7.75)
However, to the Epicurean "atoms and the void" he prefers the Stoic idea that everything is governed by divine providence -- an established order which tends inevitably toward the good. In this he deviates from naturalism in the direction of a belief in design and preordained outcomes, and his supposed determinism thus somewhat resembles religious fatalism. The visible and efficacious gods he refers to are the stars, leading one also to suspect that he was at least tempted by the claims of astrology.
To those who ask, 'Where have you seen the gods, or what evidence do you have of their existence, that you worship them so devoutly? I reply that they are in fact visible to our eyes, ..... from what I experience of their power at every moment of my life, I ascertain that they exist and pay them due reverence. (12.28; n. pp. 151, 153)
Everything, such as a horse, say, or a vine, has come into being for a purpose; and why should you wonder at that? The Sun himself would say "I was born to perform a function", and so would the rest of the gods. (8.19)
Constantly think of the universe as a single living being, comprised of a single substance and a single soul. (4.40)
Now there is a single harmony which embraces all things. (5.8)
All things are interwoven,and the bond that unites them is sacred, and hardly anything is alien to any other. (7.9)
Nothing happens to anyone that he is not fitted by nature to bear.(5.18: compare I Corinthians, 10:13).
There's a fudge in his presentation of design, however. Design works to the good of the whole, and Marcus merely asserts that, of course, nothing that works to the good of the whole could be thought to harm a part. This amounts to the expectation of complete altruism from of the parts.
Nothing which benefits the whole brings harm to the part. (10.6; also 6.45.)
What universal nature brings to each thing is to the benefit of that thing, and to its benefit at just the time that she brings it. (10.20)
His teaching about how to relate to one's fellow man is mild, showing nothing of the famous Roman sternness. We should never react with anger, but (knowing that misbehavior, too, is part of the inevitable plan) should only ask ourselves how it was that the offender came to act the way that he did:
You are angry at a man if he smells of stale sweat, or if he has bad breath? What good will it do you? He has such a mouth, and such armpits....(5.28)
Whenever someone wrongs you, ask yourself at once, "What conception of good and evil led him to commit such a wrong?" (7.26)
He goes beyond this to recommend that our attitude toward others be love, since we are all parts of the same whole. (It may be noted, however, that this love is a rather condescending, schoolteacherly one):
It is a special characteristic of man to love even those who stumble. And this love is realized as soon as the thought strikes you that these are your relations and do wrong through ignorance and against their will..... (7.22)
If you can, show them the error of their ways; but if you cannot, remember that kindness was granted to you for this. The gods themselves are kind to such people..... (9.11)
It is impossible to cut a branch from its neighbor unless you cut it from the tree as a whole; and likewise, a human being cut off from a single one of his fellows has dropped out of the community as a whole. (11.8)
The monism breaks down here. Others are to be understood as ruled by blind causes, whereas we are to reject anger, which is "against Nature", and choose love. In fact, anger is the primary and possibly the only crime against Nature:
An angry expression on one's face is utterly contrary to nature. (7.24)
Consider every word and deed that accords with nature to be worthy of you.... (5.3)
In so far he is out of tune with universal nature, and gives rise to disorder by entering into conflict with the rational order of the universe. (9.1)
And whenever your governing faculty complains about anything that comes to pass, at that moment too it deserts its proper station. (11.20)
The soul of man does violence to itself when it becomes, so far as it can, an abcess and a sort of morbid outgrowth of the universe. For to set your mind against anything that comes to pass is to set yourself apart from Nature..... (2.16, also 4.29)
If the renunciation of anger against one's fellow man is benevolent almost to the point of Buddhism, the proposed renunciation of anger against one's fate and one's lot in life is imperial and oppressive. In any case, just as others are loved primarily as parts of the great whole to which we also belong, rather than as individuals, our unquestioning acceptance of the great whole to which we belong requires us to submit willingly to whatever happens.
When our author speaks of those rebels and complainers who wrongly resist the order of nature, his ultimate argument comes from the ethics of demeanor: you should play an honorable role in a dignified way, and not behave ignobly. (This is one of a number of ways in which his philosophy resembles Confucianism):
Look on anyone who is pained or discontented at anything that comes to pass as being like a little pig kicking and screaming at the sacrifice. (10.28)
What is the present content of the part of me which is commonly called the governing faculty?And whose soul do I have at present? That of an adolescent? That of a woman, of a tyrant, of a domestic animal, of a wild beast? (5.11)
One who flees from his master is a runaway slave; now the law is our master, and one who departs from it is therefore a runaway slave. (10.25)
The monism paradox, which is said to be insoluble, raises its head again here, for Marcus realizes that even ignoble people or angry people are playing their part in the order of Nature, and that there is in fact nothing that can be "against Nature". He does not go so far as the heretics of the fortunate fall, or the heretics who revered Judas, or the Buddhists who found even evil in the all-encompassing Buddha nature, but I would imagine that stoïciens maudits, who deliberately chose the inevitable ignoble roles for themselves, were to be found even then:
But take care that you assume no role such as as that mean and ridiculous verse in the play which Chrysippus mentions. (6.42; Chryssipus had said that funny lines in comedies, like vice in the universe, when seen from a providential standpoint, can play a beneficial function: n. p. 136).
When you are shocked by anyone's shameless behavior, ask yourself at once "Is it then impossible that there should be no shameless people in the world?" It is quite impossible. So you should not demand the impossible : this person is one of those shameless people who must necessarily exist in the world. (9.42)
If there was any doubt that the cosmology of The Meditations was politically and not scientifically grounded, and that Marcus speaks from the seat of power, the passages below (along with his passing remarks on the poor little pig and the runaway slave) should lay it to rest:
The universe should be regarded as a kind of constitutional state. (4.3)
If that be so, the world is a kind of state. For in what other common constitution can we claim that the whole world participates? (4.4)
Marcus Aurelius was The Man if anyone ever was, and it's easy enough to deconstruct him as a falsely-benign authoritarian patriarch -- in fact, that's more or less what I just did. On the other hand, I've also spent a fair amount of time studying such genuine brutes as Genghis Khan, and Marcus's mildness is actually highly impressive. (I, for one, cannot be sure that I would restrain myself as effectively as he did if I had his power to put annoying people to death -- and I could name names here.)
On the evidence of this text, it would also seem that the Roman Empire, at least during his reign, was much more civil and much less absolutist than we have thought. The main message, of course, remains the same: living your life deliberately is difficult, no matter who you are.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
(3:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Fun Facts!Apparently, it is possible for a custom dictionary in Microsoft Word to become full. 64K is the limit! The lesson here: don't be profligate about adding words to your custom dictionary. When you are tempted to add a word to the custom dictionary, ask yourself, "Am I going to be using this word often? Am I going to be using it in multiple documents? Might not 'ignore all' work just as well for this particular word?" On a shared computer, one might also consider whether other users are likely to benefit from having that word in the custom dictionary.
By working together, we can make the most of this finite resource.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
(5:07 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Saturday Plan-BloggingThings I want to do before the beginning of classes (September 5):
- Today or tomorrow -- Finish 20th Century paper. Working title: "The Trinitarian Turn in 20th Century Theology: A Selective Survey."
- After that's done -- spend a week or so working through some liberation theology: Guttierez, A Theology of Liberation; Dussel, Ethics and Community; Sobrino, The True Church and the Poor. At some point, perhaps squeeze in Sally McFague, Models of God, to follow up on all this process stuff I've been doing.
- Then begin at least my thought process for the panel on Theology and the Political. My tentative theme: People actually sometimes did theology after the High Middle Ages, you know. In fact, some of them even talked about the stuff you're gesturing toward, and it might be helpful to check out their work!
- Concurrently with those two things, get back on the wagon with Latin -- I'm almost done working my way through the grammar book (although I got a little bit bogged down in the various forms of conditional statements), but I didn't do a very good job of keeping my reading process going alongside that. Hopefully I can get through the rest of the grammar book and a couple more "books" of the Confessions before the school year begins.
- Also before the end of the summer, I'd like to take a day or two and hammer out a solid draft of my presentation paper on "Situating Zizek's Paul." (In anticipation of this, I have been reading Santner's Psychotheology of Everyday Life -- though honestly, I don't think that my knowledge has particularly been enriched. It seems like a variation on the time-honored Zizekian genre of "well guess what -- Important Figure X is secretly just like Lacan!" Santner does a lot with Freud, Lear, and Laplanche, too, but the overall structure is pretty similar, and even the writing style has some echoes.) I already have some usable material written, and it would be good to have this out of the way.
- I'd also like to get Reinhold Niebuhr's Nature and Destiny of Man read before the summer ends, but that doesn't seem likely at this point.
If all goes well, I'll start the school year with no outstanding incompletes, with at least one and hopefully two conference papers already written, with a much better grounding in Latin than I had in the beginning of the summer, and with only around 15 more books left on the 20th Century list.
Next semester, I am taking Philosophical Thought (a PhD required class), a directed reading in Medieval Theology (hence the desire to shore up my Latin), and (tentatively) Homosexuality and Hermeneutics -- though I may drop the latter and take a hypothetical seminar on Butler and Foucault if it ends up being offered. I am serving as a teaching assistant in History of Christian Thought, as I've mentioned before, and I am also most likely going to take the 20th Century exam before the end of the semester.
Thus, by Christmas time, I will have completed my required TA position, ten or eleven out of my fourteen courses, and one out of my six exams, and I will also have made my AAR/SBL debut and had an article and a full-length book review published. Truly, I will have earned my presents!
Given that I'm going to achieve so many wonderful things, though, I can't quite understand why it seems so overwhelming to write eight or so more pages on this dumb paper.
Friday, August 18, 2006
(7:43 AM) | Tara Smith:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Instant PleasureI confess to experiencing untempered pleasure at a well-loaded dishwasher. When the plates line up exactly right; when the large spoons are all in the same section of the silverware holder and the small spoons are all in an adjacent section (knives always--ALWAYS--in the furthest away or hardest to reach section); when the same style and size of cups parade along the top rack in unison.... ahhhh! Obviously, the magic doesn't happen every time (particularly not when one loads the dishwasher over the period of several days: it's just unreasonable to plan that far in advance). But when you have the leisure and the inclination to load a full sink right, really right, well... you just know. You just know.
Deviant pleasure confessions are good ones, so here are some more. I confess to taking pleasure in the following:
- When my view from the passenger's seat allows the windshield wipers to appear to hit in exact intervals between the yellow dotted lines of the road.
- When a person's phone number makes sense. Here's an example: 624-6222. That one is perfect, obviously, which almost never happens, but usually I can make do with less.
- The same phenomenon described above, only with license plates.
- Being mentioned.
- When not ending a sentence with a preposition still sounds natural.
And that's about it.
Hey, let's make this an all-pleasure edition: what are your guilty pleasures?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
(3:34 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
SloppinessAfter watching Five Easy Pieces with the mysterious Bitch PhD, I started to regret not having done more with the piano. Specifically, I am sad that I had such a nice keyboard all summer (on loan from the mysterious Marta) and didn't take advantage of it to learn any new pieces. Now learning a new piece seems overwhelmingly laborious -- the only new thing I've learned in the last few years has been the Chopin waltz that's in the same opus with the "Minute Waltz." I think back on all those Hanon exercises left unplayed, which if mastered would've greatly increased my accuracy and sight-reading abilities, and just on the general sloppiness of my approach -- as though I could get by solely on having the "balls" to attempt music that was too difficult for me, and slopping my way through it would be forgivable.
There was always this odd disproportion -- I could bluster my way through the "Revolutionary Etude," but never play a simple accompaniment, or serve as a church pianist. I was never comfortable with anything approaching improvisation, prefering instead to play all the way through each piece a million times, at first improving in certain areas but eventually hardening my habitual mistakes into unchangeable features of my way of performing that particular piece. Even with this "new" Chopin waltz, there's one particular measure where I never quite memorized the chords I was supposed to play in the left hand, so I just fake it, every single time, even though it would be a simple matter to get out the music and just look at what it is.
This sloppiness isn't necessarily limited to the piano -- there's an overall impatience with small details, or more exactly with new small details. That's what killed me in high school science classes, not being able to be bothered to memorize the different types of rocks or to gather the various types of leaves. It always seemed transparently like a huge waste of time, an insulting imposition. Something like math or physics made more sense to me because of the obvious logical necessity of everything, and I was initially fascinated by the periodic table -- but simple brute facts that showed no inner necessity were not worth my time.
It's the same with people who want everything to be broken down into clearly defined arguments: I actually hate that. It seems transparently worthless to me, and I never condescend to formulate my ideas in ways that will satisfy them. Partly it's just a matter of not wanting to learn a new game -- just as I have never picked up a new video game in close to a decade, but am virtually unbeatable at Street Fighter II. But it's partly just that I recoil from the idea that my statements will be rejected due to formatting errors, or that the truth can fail to win out based solely on the contingent fact that falsehood was defended with stronger arguments. I went straight for opacity, skipped over clarity altogether -- wanting to be Derrida or something, but without doing all the work, just as I want to communicate the idea that I am playing a very difficult piece without going through the tedium of mastering it, hoping that no one will notice that I'm trying to cover over my mistakes by blurring everything with excessive pedal.
And so there's most often this tension, seldom the calm fluency that humbly refuses to showcase how difficult this all was, how hard-won. I learned one piece well enough to have the calm fluency -- the third movement of Shostakovich's second piano concerto, a piece so difficult that trying to just play all the way through it was obviously not going to work -- and it served as a kind of culmination for my piano career. I finally persuaded myself that I could really do it, that I could really play well and be proud of what I had accomplished -- not to the level of a concert pianist, but at least to my own satisfaction. So strangely useless, though, so closed off -- not a career as a concert pianist, not an accompanist, not a church pianist, just nothing, just myself measuring my own skill by my own standard, sometimes thinking someone is overhearing and duly "impressed," but not wanting to talk about it.
(12:42 AM) | Brad:
Altizer on LeahyI'm under absolutely no illusion that this essay is up everybody's alley. For some, its content will be irritating; for others, it will have no discernible content at all, what for Thomas Altizer's style & cadence of his prose. And yet, I find something strangely intriguing, and at times hypnotic, about it. Granted, I consider myself a friend of Thomas Altizer, and am not immediately opposed to the philosopher he is writing about here, D. G. Leahy, and this may predispose me to a kind reception.
But it is more than that. Again, I know it will inevitably rub many of you very badly, but I rather like the hyperbole Altizer employs -- and, in the eyes of many, has lived for most of his life (see, for example, his memoir). According to him, the little-referenced, little-known Leahy is not only the "next Hegel," he is the "most pure" thinker of the 20th century (note: Altizer wrote this review in the late '90s). And this is just some of the lighter praise Altizer heaps upon his friend! Indeed, it is just this kind of praise that probably got this review excised from the pages of the Journal of Religion. But, such is what you get with Altizer. It is what makes him attractive for some, and something to ignore for others.
Having said all that, I'm not at all sure what one can "do" with Leahy. In my eyes, his thinking of creation & beginning, at the end of the day, is not a purely theological or mystical vision, but an aesthetico-theological insight, & one that is perhaps crippled by the very (cumbersome, to say the least) philosophical means that articulate it. If there is any truth to it at all -- & I find it potentially very compelling, sort of like a deranged version of John Milbank sans the disingenuous Christian baggage he espouses but doesn't actually need to make his point -- I suspect it is something that can only be enacted, and not something "tamed" into disciplinary/discursive submission (cf., the Rancière essay on "in-disciplinarity" that I linked to earlier this week).
This is a long disclaimer, I know. But, hey, it is a long, robust review article about a philosopher most of us have never heard of let alone read that desperately needs it! Consider this before you flame it in the comments: damning it is really only the most obvious & easy thing you could do -- its flaws, if that is what they are, are all too obvious -- and thus the least interesting contribution you can make. Now that I think of it, maybe this is the unintended aim, versus simply alienation and obfuscation, of Leahy & Altizer's styles.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
(4:12 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Process and ConspiracyAs we have mentioned here before, David Ray Griffin, noted process theologian, has espoused 9/11 Conspiracy Theorism and written way too many books on the topic. This might leave you wondering: Is there any connection between process theology and conspiracy theorism?
In my research, I have uncovered conclusive evidence that there indeed is a necessary conceptual and empirical connection between conspiracy theorism and process thought. I will present my results here briefly.
It begins in the original edition of Process and Reality. Throughout, Whitehead makes connections between his concept of God and the "wicked conspiracies of the Freemasons," which are said to control the course of history in an analogously indirect way. While not denying the government and business leaders of his time their autonomy, the "poisonous lies of the Freemasons" work to influence them in the direction that the "treacherous cabal" desires. The 1979 edition of Process and Reality leaves these passages out. (It goes without saying that David Ray Griffin was a co-editor of this expurgated version.)
Upon his retirement, Whitehead is said to have stumbled upon a pamphlet arguing that FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming and let it happen in order to have a pretext for entering World War II. He wrote two books on the topic: The Pearl Harbor Myth and Roosevelt's Whitewash: Inconsistencies in the Official Account of Pearl Harbor. These volumes had very small print runs; no copies are currently extant. The library at Claremont Graduate School lists its copies as "lost or stolen"; reportedly, the University of Chicago "lost" its copies when the Divinity School's library was absorbed into the Regenstein. Coincidence? Hardly.
Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead's most prominent student and one of the most decisive figures in process theology, followed a similar trajectory. Though he initially distanced himself from Whitehead's views on Pearl Harbor, his continual work with Whitehead's texts appears to have produced the same effects we've observed in Griffin -- by Hartshorne's own testimony, "almost immediately on hearing about it [the assassination of President Kennedy], I knew it had to be an inside job. Only a child could believe that a confused youth acting alone could have assassinated the president." Students report that Hartshorne spent hours analyzing the sole video recording of the event, pointing out what he took to be the numerous inconsistencies.
Hartshorne's published statements on this matter are largely limited to letters to the editors of smalltown newspapers in Texas; more reputable venues refused to run Hartshorne's angry and often rambling and incoherent screeds. He completed four manuscripts on the topic, none of which found a publisher. It was his disillusionment over this issue that led him to devote most of his final years to bird-watching.
John B. Cobb, Jr. has shown more discretion than Whitehead and Hartshorne in terms of publications, but his students report that his lectures have always been riddled with paranoid statements -- throughout Reagan's presidency, for instance, Cobb made insistent reference to the "strange coincidence" that the hostages in Iran were released only after the election, and he later claimed to have "documented proof" that all ATF agents had called off work the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. He has more recently distanced himself from Griffin for not being extreme enough.
So as you can see, there is a necessary relationship between being a process theologian and being a conspiracy theorist, as shown by a brief, unbiased, and thoroughly documented survey of the careers of its leading exponents.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
(10:16 PM) | Brad:
My Latest FlirtationAdam thinks I'm developing a crush on Jacques Rancière, and you know, maybe I am. But, alas, while I've not yet gotten into his pants, I am getting into his philosophy. I find something fundamentally intriguing about the "anachronism" of his appeal to aesthetics in the thinking about politics and equality. Now, I'm still wrapping my head around it & coming to terms with what I think about it, esp. as it (if it?) relates to theology, but it's been a fun journey so far.
Thankfully, the journey was made that much more interesting by this recent interview, which more than adequately spells out the ten-cent version of what Rancière is on about -- hopefully, though, the end of the interview is not indicative of what I'll discover about the whole of his work, because it really kind of trails off pretty badly once he starts talking about the internet. There are several good bits, though. I'll save a little commentary for another post on another day, but an excerpt may be in order if the link itself isn't appealing enough.
TL: There are a lot of actors defining the public sphere all the time. For example, when the Bush Administration talks about "weapons of mass destruction" and "terrorists", they are setting an order that should perhaps be opposed. Isn't that a way of constituting the world, which is to say aesthetic activity?
JR: Yes, we can say it is a kind of aesthetic activity, a framing of what is given and what we can see. If you take the example of "weapons of mass destruction": I was in the US at the time of this huge emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. What struck me was that this was not only a mischievous design of some far Right politicians and members of the media. I remember all the rather well-off Democratic politicians that were also on TV arguing about weapons of mass destruction. What is fascinating is that it is very easy to impose the existence of something which does not exist at all. This is very easy with some words; it doesn't demand a massive effort of documentation, argumentation, and persuasion. You are framing what is given, what is visible. Of course, this case is paradoxical, because weapons of mass destruction were precisely invisible, yet it was so easy to accept. The core of this is this kind of gestion of the population through terror. You are threatened, and if you can persuade people that they are frightened, then you can designate what threatens them.
TL: But, on the other hand, can you see the terrorists as a part of this that doesn't participate, or that is trying to participate?
JR: No, I don't think so at all. What is done by the so-called terrorists is a form of military and psychological action. From my point of view, it has nothing to do with politics. Politics is when you create a stage where you include your enemy, even if your enemy doesn't want to be included or you are fighting against that enemy. I think it is very different in the case of terrorism. Terrorism is only a military question: "We want to destroy or impair the capacity of the enemy." That is all. The problem is that they don't help anybody to act against the form of power they are suffering under.
[. . .]
JR: Aesthetic has to be rethought precisely in its political meaning. What "aesthetics" meant when it was created at the end of the eighteenth century was something very different from beauty or a philosophy of art. It was a new status of experience. Aesthetics meant that for the first time, artworks were not defined according to the rules of their production or their destinations in a hierarchical system, but taken for a kind of specific sensation. So artworks were no longer addressing a specific audience or social hierarchy. This was conceptualized at the time by philosophers like Kant and poets like Schiller, who thought there was something specific, a new kind of equality, involved in the aesthetic experience. At this time, the idea was born that in aesthetic experience and in aesthetic community there is a possibility for another kind of revolution.
TL: So, you use "aesthetics" as a means for understanding how meaning is constituted?
JR: What I meant is that aesthetics is not a discipline dealing with art and artworks, but a kind of, what I call, distribution of the sensible. I mean a way of mapping the visible, a cartography of the visible, the intelligible and also of the possible. Aesthetics was a kind of redistribution of experience, the idea that there was a sphere of experience that didn't feed the traditional distribution, because the traditional distribution adds that people have different senses according to their position in society. Those who were destined to rule and those who were destined to be ruled didn't have the same sensory equipment, not the same eyes and ears, not the same intelligence. Aesthetics means precisely the break with that traditional way of embodying inequality in the very constitution of the sensible world.
[. . .]
TL: How can those who don't take part get involved? Should they be educated, should they use violence? How can they be empowered? Should they just be heard? Herbert Marcuse talks about the repressive tolerance, that being heard is not enough to gain the power to change things.
JR: It's difficult to know what is enough. There's that old French joke that democracy means cause toujours, that democracy means that you can speak, but it doesn't matter, it has no outcome. What I consider to be the real emergence of free speech occurs precisely in places that were not supposed to be places for free speech. It always happens in the form of transgression. Politics means precisely this, that you speak at a time and in a place you're not expected to speak.
(12:07 AM) | m. leblanc:
Tuesday Hatred with 20% More Trials and TribulationsI hate that I almost didn't get to write this post, because the world is currently conspiring against me to make my life unnecessarily and prohibitively difficult.
I hate that my purse was stolen from a bar in Berlin. I hate that it's kinda my fault, because I put it on the floor underneath my chair and I should have known better. I hate that that means I no longer have a driver's license, which means I have to borrow someone's car to take the test again, so I can drive when I need to, which is occasionally. I hate that I lost $200 and all the receipts for meals in London for which I was going to get reimbursed.
I hate that American Airlines seems to have misplaced my sole piece of luggage somewhere between Berlin, London, and Chicago. What's more, I hate the terrorists, because it is due to their failed plot that I had to put everything in my checked bag, including my phone and my computer. You can see why it has been difficult to write this post. I hate that I have no clean underwear, and that I have spent the last five hours assembling IKEA furniture because I have nothing better to do: I don't like watching television, and I'm too tired to read. I hate that I am entirely crippled without my phone and my computer, and that I had to do the dread pop-in on a friend today just so I could talk to another human.
But as much as I hate all of these things, the hatred of all of them combined is still surpassed by my hatred of the petty, obnoxious, and self-absorbed nature of most other human beings. I hate seeing people who are stressed out while traveling; they become astonishingly rude, pushy, and show little regard for others. I hate that each person thinks that it is more important for him to get on the bus, get through security, get on the plane, and get off the plane than every other person in the entire airport. I hate that because I refuse to be one of those people, I always end up getting things last.
I hate that this post is as petty as the people I hate. I hate that my recent purse-stealing and luggage-losing experiences have eclipsed my original hatred, which was a hatred of this war in Iraq. I hate that as much as I read, I still can't seem to figure out precisely what's going on, and that no one outside of military personnel seems to have any more information than I do. I hate that there are still people who support the war, even now, who still say invading Iraq was the correct choice. I hate that I've become numb to the reports of Iraqi deaths in the news and that I suspect many other Americans have, too. I hate that we are trying to fight a war against an idea, a nebulous and ill-defined idea, a war that will never end as long as it keeps allowing the executive branch to expand its own power.
I hate that for the first time since 9/11, I was scared to fly, was very anxious leaving Heathrow yesterday. I've never even had to try, to give myself the "if we're afraid, the terrorists win" speech—I've simply been certain that I would stay out of harm's way. But I hate that on a rainy Sunday morning in London, as a hushed Boeing 777 was pushing up through the fog, I shed five or six tears without making any sounds, scared of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, scared of dying.
But most of all, I hate that even though the men who want to blow up planes have made me cry salty dehydrated (because no liquids) tears into my tray table, I can't help but feel that they kind of have a point.
[UPDATE: Tuesday Love awaits. --Ed.]
Monday, August 14, 2006
(12:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
MindsetI'm not currently "studying for exams" in the full sense of the word -- the 20th Century Theology exam can be taken basically whenever you're ready. I'm doing a lot of reading this summer and will definitely take it before the school year is out, but there's not a lot of urgency. I am, however, noticing that it is causing a shift in my mindset. The list for the exam, though huge and unrealistic, actually is little more than an introduction to what has been going on in theology in the 20th Century and among some of its more prominent forebears. So now, for instance, I have Schleiermacher's Christian Faith -- a 750-page tome -- out from the library in order to use it for the 20th Century course paper (on the Trinity), and I'm thinking to myself, "You know, while I have it out anyway, I might as well work my way through it, since I need to know it." Similarly, although I originally scoffed at the idea of reading the constructive part of Ritschl's Doctrine of Justification (of similar length), now I'm thinking, "Well, he represents an important development in liberal theology, so I probably need to read that, too."
Don't even get me started on the amount of Whitehead I've read, far out of proportion of the amount that was explicitly listed on the reading list. You see, to really assess process theology, I need to know its ostensible roots... and now I'm scanning used bookstores for Hartshorne as well. Before long, you'll see me on the train reading Schubert Ogden. I also thought about reading Weber's Sociology of Religion, surely a worthy task -- but my reason was solely that Mary Daly cites it in Beyond God the Father. And I should probably read the later Mary Daly stuff, too, even though it apparently exists solely in order for other feminist theologians to have someone to reject for "going too far." I'm even thinking about reading some Carl Jung -- primarily so that I can one day teach a course called "Famous Karls and Carls of the 20th Century": Karl Barth, Carl Jung, Carl Schmitt... Plus, you know, I've got to squeeze in Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament at some point.
Reading Whitehead has also alerted me to the gaping hole in my knowledge of the history of philosophy, pre-Kantian modernism. Somehow I have to squeeze in Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume.... which reminds me that I have to delve a bit more into the later Plato if I really want to understand some of this patristics stuff -- and then there are all the church fathers I still haven't read. Plus I don't know Greek yet. Or Syriac!
All of a sudden, the whole world is full of books that I want to read solely because it would be good to know that stuff. I now know the function that my arrogant dismissiveness of whole swaths of knowledge was serving -- stopping the damn floodgates! When I already knew so much stuff was worthless, it was a lot easier to keep up and to maintain an air of "knowingness." Now I'm kind of trying to recover that "knowingness," except this time have it be earned.
On the other side, there are certain things that don't currently seem to be worth pursuing further than I already have: Lacan, for instance. "French theory" in general has been covered well enough for the moment. Plus, although I get the creeping feeling that I'm going to have to reread Being and Time, delving back into the rest of Heidegger's stuff doesn't really seem like a priority.
I can only imagine how this will be when I'm really intensely studying for five exams instead of somewhat casually studying for only one.
This is kind of off-topic, but I'm also taking a directed reading in medieval theology, and in my capacity as TA for Ted's "History of Christian Thought" course, I am slated to do lectures on Origen, Radbertus/Ratramnus, and a medieval Eastern thinker of my choice. What do we think? Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite? Maximus Confessor? John Damascene? Symeon the New Theologian? Gregory Palamas? Or the elusive Theodore the Studite? I feel like I have a good start on this because I know those names. What they actually think, though? (My first impulse is to say: "Same as every other damn Orthodox theologian," even though I know that's not true.) I'm really trying to avoid delving into Aquinas and scholasticism, because that seems like another massive floodgate that I'm barely keeping closed. Yet there's something odd about the idea of my knowledge of Christian doctrine basically leaving off with Anselm and picking back up with Schleiermacher. And eventually Luther and Calvin must be dealt with... though one is allowed to skip Protestant Scholasticism, right?
God, it's a good thing I'm not working!
Sunday, August 13, 2006
(12:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Work of the People: A Sunday MeditationIf we trace its meaning to the original root words, "liturgy" literally means "work of the people." We normally understand this "work" to be prayer and worship, but I sometimes wonder if that is the full story. Is there another type of "work" that the "people" out in the pews should be doing, a "work" that will help to bring about the type of inner peace and joy that all Christians desire?
The other day, I was talking with my good friend Ben Wolfson, and he shared with me a fascinating German word. The native tongue of Martin Luther, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, and countless other great expounders of the Christian faith, the German language has a special claim to our attention due to its long use as a supple instrument for the expression of the deepest truths of our religion. The word in question was verrichten, and it has three primary meanings (as you can see by following the link): to work or perform a task, to pray, and to defecate. When we put this word together with the root meaning of "liturgy," it opens up broad new horizons for us in our spiritual walk. Simply put, we must ask ourselves: Are we shitting as the Lord intended?
The idea may sound absurd at first. After all, what does the Lord of heaven and earth care about something as mundane as defecation? But we know that our heavenly Father knows the number of the very hairs on our head -- is it inconceivable that such a caring God would not similarly number our bowel movements?
Think back. Remember some of your very best craps -- those precious times when high volume was coupled with that ever-elusive solidity. Did you not experience peace, even joy? Didn't you want to share what had happened to you, what the Lord had done in your life? Those of us who do not have the privilege of being married often miss out on testifying to God's goodness to us in this area of life, but what can parallel the experience of finding a friend with whom to discuss this great blessing of the Lord? What a rare intimacy and mutual understanding comes from the open discussion of our bowel movements! What an untapped resource this is for building up the unity and sense of purpose in our churches!
When we meditate on our experiences on the toilet, the Lord has not left us without guidance. There are many passages in Scripture that speak of this fundamental human experience, both explicitly and implicitly. Take, for instance, the opening lines of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Here the Psalmist is clearly talking about an experience we have all faced: the agony of constipation. By day and by night we sit groaning on the toilet, feeling as though God has abandoned us. In this situation, what encourages the Psalmist?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
yet you are holy,God here is pictured on a "throne," thus in solidarity with those fruitlessly sitting on the toilet. Here the connection we have discerned between prayer and defecation as the "work of the people" is made very explicit. The Lord hears those crying out, unable to bring forth anything by their own effort, and saves them from the shame of an abortive trip to the bathroom.
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
Lest we think that God only cares for the constipated, this very same psalm speaks to the opposite problem:
I am poured out like water,Clearly, if we take into account the differences of Hebrew idiom, we are dealing with the phenomenon of diarrhea, or "crapping one's guts out." God attends to the full range of digestive problems, if only we will trust in him. When we reflect that this was the psalm that our Savior quoted during his agony on the cross, its meaning is only deepened.
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted in my breast...
And so I challenge you today: ask your brother or sister in Christ if all is right with their bowels this day. Ask if they are experiencing the joy and contentment that can only come from a healthy crap. Watch them as they leave the bathroom -- do they slink out, embarrassed and defeated, or do they have the glow about them of those who have truly relieved themselves? We can only attain to the full unity of the Body of Christ if we share each other's joy and sorrow in this bodily function.