Wednesday, January 31, 2007
(3:22 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ExtraordinaryThe German government is seeking the arrest of 13 CIA agents involved in an "extraordinary rendition."
(9:08 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Science and Religion -- on TelevisionLast night's episode of House turned out to be fairly good, but there were a couple moments that had me on edge -- moments when it seemed like we were going to get the classic TV moment of a scientist whose very brilliance blinds them to the meaning that simple folk ... &c. This type of moment comes up very frequently on Bones, where the abjectly boring Agent Booth, in his down-home way, encourages Dr. Brennan to believe in "the Man Upstairs." Of course, since Dr. Brennan's parents disappeared when she was a child -- on Christmas Day, no less! -- we are encouraged to view her excessive reliance on reason as the defense mechanism of an emotionally damaged person.
One began to suspect that that was the direction they were taking it on House as well, but what initially looked like a generic "vulgar empiricist" viewpoint that didn't see the wisdom in religion, &c., turned into a viewpoint that bracketted the religious questions altogether in favor of investigating the role they played in his patient's life. On one level, this is incredibly disrespectful, failing to take the patient seriously. But from a different perspective, the only way to take her seriously as a person was to fail to take her at her word. Religion here was not viewed as some kind of natural capacity that certain freakish people (scientists) lack or suppress, but as a tool -- just as a doctrinaire insistence on "science" and "reason" can often be a tool (and surely they really can, even if TV shows overrepresent the phenomenon). And here the insensitive scientist turned out to have more insight than the sensitive open believer, at least in this moment.
The reason this episode was so satisfying for me -- aside from the fact that I really liked the character of House's main patient -- was partly the fact that the smug religious person didn't end up having access to a "deeper wisdom" than the poor impoverished scientist House. It does seem to me that it would be possible to have a tolerable ending wherein the religious person had more insight than (for example) House, but in order to do that, they would have to make it so that the insight came in spite of religion, something that seems unlikely. (Even in the faith-healer episode, the completely spineless dad decided to stop trusting the faith-healer son only on religious grounds.)
Ultimately, though, what made it satisfying was the way religious belief was brought up, then dismissed as not being the point -- none of this nonsense where the last scene shows everyone around House smiling because he finally found something he couldn't explain through reason and oh look is there a glimmer of recognition in his eye too of something bigger than him something mysterious and great, &c. No -- religious belief is not the point. If anything is the point, it's the interpersonal level, and insisting on impersonal ontological claims -- whether those of religion or of some strongly-specified materialist viewpoint (the kind for which atheism names a strong claim rather than an "of course" kind of question that isn't really interesting in itself) -- is very often a way of avoiding that level, foreclosing the moment of encounter and of decision.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
(7:58 PM) | Brad:
Shut Up and Sit Here Alone With MeThe Weblog Hall of Justice is filled with debris from the latest salvo in its epic struggle for, um, for control of, eh, the oil fields of, oh wait, wrong war. Well, whatever, it's just our headquarters qua sweat shop qua den of masculinity is a little trashed at the moment, so I don't think anybody will mind my adding a little more to the heap.
I posted most of what follows elsewhere, on a blog not to be named, and I'm sure some of you have passed over it already. But what good is having administrative privileges at a group blog if you don't abuse the power from time to time? Also, I thought that more people here might identify, or I suppose disidentify, with it.
After living in sin in Brussels & Glasgow for two years, I married a Belgian back in 2004. It's taken over four years of being in a committed relationship, but I can finally say I'm learning how to breath on my own again. I'm the sort of person who enjoys quiet, but not isolation. I like to go to movies by myself, provided I'm not the only person in the theatre. I like to walk without talking, but love having the dog with me. I love looking at a piece of art with the explanatory headphones on my ears but with the sound turned so low that it is nearly a whisper.
What took me so long, I guess, was figuring out if and how one can possibly live in solitude next to a loving partner in a happy relationship, or, more abstractly, when surrounded by neighbors in a community you are happy to call your own -- when one is happy even though neither the relationship nor community are necessarily perfect. The hard part, as I found it anyway, was learning how to celebrate this imperfection, its very fragility; and to understand solitude as an attunement and attention not to what is lacking in these relationships and communities, to their existence in some perfect state, but to one's place in the midst of their reality, in all its imperfect fragility. Which leads me to wonder whether it might actually be that much more difficult, impossible even, to achieve solitude in a relationship and community one regards as nothing short of horrible, for in these one's attention tends to be drawn effortlessly to its lack, its deficiencies, and thus to some imagined 'something' that might fix it. It is this culture of remedy, of self-help and cures, of redemption from weakness rather than redemption of weakness, that is really the culture of isolation -- isolation from the reality that the people with whom we intentionally surround ourselves (which may, I'm not sure, exclude our workplaces) are, well, people.
Solitude is a form of self-consciousness, which is not the same as a self-centeredness or a self-presence, borne of self-reflection. Too commonly, self-reflection is thought to mean isolation. This is a lie. When one looks in a mirror, one sees something. But this something that we call a "a reflection of me," is only understood as such if we are a part of something far greater than ourselves: a community of others, of other "me's," through whom I can identify myself as "me" and them as "not-me." If this is true, a meditative self-reflection is not nearly as narcissistic as some might think it, for it is in such a practice, be it specifically religious or philosophical or whatever, it matters not, that we are most aware of not only others but the constant creation of oneself as an other. Aware, that is, that we are, if anything, weak-kneed versions of ourselves -- even when playing the hero -- of all that we aspire to be, of our confessions and ideals. We, in short, tell the truth when we lie, for it's in this lie that we are finally being ourselves; and we lie most tellingly, betraying ourselves most fully without even the benefit of thirty pieces of gold, when we unsuccessfully try to tell the truth about ourselves. This is the Buddhist insight that not even Zizek can take away. It's not that we don't know this truth -- oh, we're well beyond self-discovery and finding of ourselves, but two of the self-perpetuated frauds that expose much more truth about ourselves than we'd like to admit.
Solitude draws one's attention to this because it is an intentional living, and thus a life truly lived; one lived aware of oneself as being amongst others who are different creatures, with their different stories, joys and heartbreaks, but all bearing the same weight of his or her creaturely life. It is an attunement to a harmonious dischord. The beauty of living in a city, be it Brussels, Glasgow, Chicago, Cincinnati, is that this dischordant voice falls upon all of the senses for -- it is a voice that can be seen, touched, and smelled -- and the one who lives in a kind of solitude cannot miss its atonal horror. Such is the beauty, which is surely not the appropriate word here, but neither really is the sublime, we can't stand most of the time, that often repulses and angers us, but that is the torturously cruel heart of life's mad melancholy -- which is to say, this life's capacity to create itself anew.
Postscript: I've way too many friends who live outside the country to claim that urban living has exclusive rights either to solitude or creativity. Claiming that is madness. Rural life may be immediately pastoral, with its dumb simplicity and splendor, sunrises and sunsets, but I am certain that there are those (though certainly not me) who know better. We get a hint of this, I think, when we watch movies like Fargo, read novels like In Cold Blood or anything by Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O'Connor, or when we drive south from the opulent horsefarms of Central Kentucky and stay in Harlan County, Kentucky for a week and learn about the social injustices & reality of rural poverty. No, solitude, the pulse of imagination and anything resembling hope, or if not hope, love, is beyond a division so simple as urban & rural, a fact exposed (ironically) by the masquerade of solitude in that mediated space between rural & urban: that is, the neither/nor, the medicated isolation of our communities of the car and suburban kingdoms.
(4:18 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Blogging and Pornography: A Scientific InquiryRecently I have been accused of playing no small part in keeping women from posting at The Valve. Granted, with my loin cloth, hunting bow, and BudLight in koozie replete with large breasted women in swimming suit I am incredibly masculine - even toxically so. The ooze which drips from my massive and bulging man testicles has been known to damage local water supplies. All this being true, I still don't know if I am really to blame for the lack of women authors at The Valve, or within intellectual and academic blogging generally. I mean, really, my writings account for very little within The Valve's comment boxes and even less within the blogosphere as a whole.
I have an explanation though and empirical data to help prove my point. Indeed, this post will constitute a veritable argument of scientific and rational rigour worthy of CVing. The answer, my friends, is simple - pornography. Specifically internet pornography. Internet pornography is a 2.5 billion dollar industry, with pornographic websites making up 12% of the internet and 25% of all searches. No one, except a complete a priori fucking idiot, can deny that pornography is to the internet what anal fisting is to Claire - inseparable.
What is interesting for the purposes of our question (Why exactly do women not post at The Valve and on academic blogs more generally?) is the breakdown of men and women who have admitted to using the internet for pornography. While only 28% of women use the internet in this way, 72% of men, 20% of which look up pornography at work. Of this 20% nearly 90% are academics. It's only academics who have the real privacy in their offices, between office hours and class, to look up porn on their computer at work. Now here you'll have to forgive my amateur psychologizing, but I ask you to trust in my near clairvoyant ability to know shit. Academic men are guilty by nature, much guiltier than academic women due to our unnatural attempts at feminism clashing with our insatiable urge to be called men resulting in hostile and hyper-masculine work environments. Due to this guilt academic men must create a reason for being online in the first place to create a situation in which they can, eventually, come to the real purpose - masturbating while watching porn. This creation - the academic blogosphere. Women simply don't post at The Valve because they don't need an excuse to go online, look up "slutty girls+ball gags" or “alt porn”, and jerk it. One can only assume that the most successful women bloggers have been made to play a man's game and so BitchPhD surely whittles away her time looking up pornography and jilling it before writing her next post on Plan B or the latest precocious happenings of PK.
I hope that this rigorous and scientific piece will put to rest any and all irrational speculation on why women do not post at The Valve.
(10:33 AM) | Claire:
Weblog Terrorist CellsAs most of you are probably aware, it's been a rough week for me. One reader has likened my posts to weekly shitstorms that descend upon the Weblog. I would be lying if I said this hasn't affected me. As a result, I did what most all-American bloggers would do: I parked myself in front of the TV, switched on Fox News, grabbed a box of tissues and a package of Entenmann's Glazed Chocolate Pop 'Ems, and wept. While watching a particularly fair and balanced episode of Hannity and Colmes, I was finally able to gain insight into my detractor's mindset: he doesn't hate my posts; he hates my Freedom.
I'll admit that my lifestyle had changed drastically since I moved up to the Associate Poster position. I've taken up residence in the Weblog compound in Suburban Illinois, where I frequently enjoy sexual favors from the tenured posters. I am free to disregard punctuation and other rules by which commenters (commoners?) are bound. My posting and comment topics are unrestricted and can switch without warning from HMO politics to anal fisting. I understand that my artistic and sexual freedom, as well as my luxurious lifestyle, will cause some deep resentment from those who have yet to achieve Associate Poster status. And I worry that as the gap between the associates, adjuncts, tenureds and the commenters grows wider, we will see the hostility from those left behind intensify. It is reasonable for all of you to expect increased acts of blog terrorism from disgruntled, disenfranchised commenters. I don't claim to have an answer to this problem. I reluctantly submit my hatreds, fully realizing that I'm a willing participant in a never-ending cycle of Weblog violence.
I hate that the turkey loaf I made has the consistency and odor of Nine Lives cat food.
I hate that it is 10am and I have already polished off two slices of turkey loaf.
I hate that now that I've finished the Glazed Chocolate Pop 'Ems, there's really nothing else to look forward to.
I hate that as it's been snowing the past few days, I've convinced myself that global warming can't be that bad.
I hate that 13% of all Americans have never heard of global warming.
I hate that I'm only a flappy bird in the douche-cock ecosystem.
I hate that no one takes my PhD in Philosophy from an online university seriously.
I hate that narcissists, by their very nature, are unlikely to be able to tolerate therapy.
I that I have this exchange every day:
Caller: Can I speak to Joe?
Me: I'm sorry he's on the phone right now.
Caller: No. I spoke to a woman.
Me: No, Joe's a man. I know- I work with him.
Caller: Well, I spoke to a woman.
I hate that Kreszentia Cheeseman doesn't have her own blog.
If you're feeling more inclined to love today, check out Richard McElroy's Tuesday Love
Hasta next week.
Monday, January 29, 2007
(10:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Just FYIHey everyone -- if you've ever been in an argument with me, you may qualify for Rich Puchalsky's undying loyalty. It really comes in handy: you can write a post, then wind him up, and let him speak on your behalf in the comments. Special features include:
- special insight into your (unstated) intentions in writing the post
- constant reiteration of your argument to all opponents -- sometimes including yourself if you change your mind about something
- relentless ad hominem attacks containing near-clairvoyant knowledge of the psychology of people he's never met
- calls to ban other people for their consistently rude and assholish behavior.
WARNING: Make sure you're ready for a lifetime commitment before cashing in -- he will absolutely dominate nearly every comment thread on your blog once you win his loyalty.
(9:52 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Monday Prison Break BloggingWorst episode ever?
The first half of the season was really getting frustrating, then they totally redeemed it when Kellerman shot Mahone and joined the rebel alliance. With this episode, they have officially exhausted that store of grace, and next week I will return to watching out of sheer stubbornness rather than out of breathless anticipation.
Hopefully they won't reach the level of Bones, though, which I only watch out of depression and self-loathing -- sitting through an episode of Bones is my way of telling myself that I've given up and will be in front of the TV the whole night. But I must admit: for a show featuring the most boring actor of our generation (an appelation I owe to Mike Schaefer) and a woman who is basically a walking cliche (the scientist who doesn't understand emotions!), it's actually surprisingly good.
In other news, 24 was also pretty boring tonight. Plus now they're picking on the new love of my life, the swarthy Arab analyst Nadia -- played by Marisol Nichols, a Mexican. (I feel like I should be linking to some kind of Unfogged comment thread here.)
(12:00 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
A few things, but mostly Scott McLemee.Long time friend of The Weblog, and someone I am glad to have met due to the blog , Scott McLemee has moved house. I'm sure the Head Blogger will make the change soon on the blog roll, but just wanted to let everyone know that Scott has entered the great age of real blogs. It really does look much better and for that I am sad. Still, everyone should read Scott's blog and his (usually) weekly article, Intellectual Affairs, over at Inside Higher Ed. This would be a good time to thank Scott publicly for the kindness and long distance friendship he’s extended to me, as well as to mention his new hairstyle is quite fetching.
Also wanted to let everyone know that I'm pretty much done posting here. I've taken up residence over at An und fur sich. Patrick was right that AUFS is a bit more of a 'lecture-y' space and I'm mostly posting working notes on vitalism, immanence, religion, and other assorted bizarre philosophical issues I'm interested in. Recently I put up a short profile of Lenoard Lawlor's new book which is the first such mention anywhere as far as I can tell. Anyway, I don't know how many of you are actually interested in what I write (and this isn't a cry for acceptance or adulation), but for those who are that's where to find me. I've had some pretty good comments over there and anyone who would care to address the substantive issues, for or against, of what I'm trying to do (N.B.: not grammatical issues) are asked to comment. I'll still post pleas for money to go to London and assorted non-intellectual things I find of interest and I'll be around the comment boxes as usual. The Weblog really is like a second home for me (in some freaky virtual sense) and it's been pretty good to me.
I also wanted to let everyone know that Collapse is a really great journal. I'm very glad to have dropped a bit on it. I personally still prefer print on paper, regardless of the inevitability of blogs taking over and (IMHO) ruining academia, and this is by far the most interesting new thing on paper I've seen in quite some time. The interview formats are nice and convinced me that I've been reading Badiou badly this whole time, while the kind of wild and free approach they allow their contributors is to be lauded over the stale state of many academic 'Continental' philosophy journals. As a bonus the physical size of the journal is conducive to jacket pockets. Seriously, buy it.
Alright, that's all.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
(2:58 PM) | Brad:
Where All Secrets Are RevealedNow that Bitch, PhD has linked to Adam's most recent post about meta-blogging -- because, yes, the internet needed yet another such post -- and if you don't believe me, just ask Adam himself, a man so demure & humble that he hosts his own group blog under the URL www.adamkotsko.com -- the Weblog is bound to get an unfathomable number of new links and hits. I hope you paid the bills, Adam, 'cause I'm not so sure this rickety shack can stand so many new guests -- oh wait, that's right, if you didn't you'll surely get enough money via yet another "I'm a poor, yet profoundly clever, doctoral student, so please PayPal me some money, or at least buy me a book" scheme. Anyway, a couple of pointers for those who are new to the Weblog:
(1) Adam Kotsko is an internet rock star. He has, at my last count, fucked all of the contributors -- yes, myself included -- typically without ever calling again -- as well as at least 80% of the commenters, and a good 50% of all who populate the Valve -- thus the rumors of his infamous penis scar that made the rounds at the most recent MLA & AAR. The bloggers at Long Sunday, apparently, have thus far rebuffed his advances. This is what I'm told anyway. Such is, of course, just more proof that they are not worth reading. As Adam says, when he unblocks me on IM chat, "To me, Brad, fucking & blogging are the same thing -- the two cannot be separated. If I don't want you in my bed, I don't want you in my Bloglines. That's the only metablogging theory that's really necessary." Gawd, Adam Kotsko rawks, doesn't he?And
(2) Everyone else who blogs here at the Weblog effectively function like opening acts. The shittier we are, the better Adam Kotsko looks. Sure, as at concerts, occasionally an opening act outshines the headliner, but you can be sure they won't be invited back for the second-leg of the tour. The same goes here at the Weblog. All those old contributors you once loved, the ones you never see or hear about anymore -- Adam has destroyed their blogging careers. I'm still sorry about how you were treated, Young Hegelian. Not even fleeing to Long Sunday saved you. Anthony & I, two of the longest-running contributors, are kept around clearly because we are the village idiots, truly unclever poseur-bloggers, whose only useful function is to highlight, via our marked contrast, Adam's casual brilliance.
(3) Old Doug Johnson is homo sacer. Or, barring that, he is the coming of death itself. It really all depends on his mood.
(4) Claire, plain & simple, is not to be fucked with. Seriously. I'm so afraid of her I don't dare say anything else.
(5) F. Winston Codpiece blogs from his cell at Gitmo, using a ThinkPad he cleverly disguised as a Qu'ran. I'm sorry if I've outed you, Codpiece, but it is for the sake of the blog. If this is not the case, and this is what Adam told one evening after he had his way with me & I was cleaning up the unused honey & marshmallow puff, Codpiece is actually Bret Easton Ellis in disguise.
(6) Amish Lovelock is a ninja. He, too, is not to be fucked with. In addition to any number of political assassinations -- he is, at last check, not employed by Adam Kotsko, and in fact the Weblog variable that truly frightens him -- he has ghost written at least four of Zizek's books -- five if you count On Belief, which he sent to Routledge as an indecipherable text message. This, of course, explains a lot, and is not something he is proud of.
(7) Dave Belcher is in hiding from Adam Kotsko. He is not to be trusted, but you can probably go ahead and fuck with him.
(8)Thomas J. J. Altizer is Adam Kotsko's personal bodyguard, and is currently in search of Dave Belcher. When he isn't blogging here, he is plotting your demise, or at least that of your god.
(2:03 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hauerwas QuoteI know that I've seen Hauerwas quoted as saying that attending to the sexual preferences of homosexuals cannot be a priority for the church. Does anyone know of the exact wording and/or the source for this quote?
(10:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Prolegomena to Any Future Meta-Blogging That Will Be Able to Come Forward as a ScienceThe academic blogosphere has been rocked by a wave of unprecedented meta-blogging. Certainly Scott Eric Kaufman has been responsible for well over 60% of the material in this deluge -- and in fact has gone far beyond the bounds of meta-blogging and founded a new genre: meta-dissertation-writing. His achievements in this field are unmatched and we will never be able to calculate the debt that blogging as an enterprise owes to his heroic labors. Yet it is Carrie Shanafelt, a lowly "guest author" at The Valve, who has moved the conversation forward decisively. She notes the proliferation of meta-blogging as well, but has reservations:
But with all this metablogular talk, I haven’t seen much in the way of a real, useful rhetorical analysis of academic blogging that could be accessed and understood by those who have experience with blogs and by those who need to be convinced that “the internet” is the present of academic discourse, not just the future.Also the future, certainly -- that was never in question -- but not just the future. This is where academic blogging asserts itself and begins to exercise hegemony over the other subaltern academic classes.
It is no accident that the same world-historical individual who proclaims the present sway of academic blogging is also the one who calls for a more rigorous theory of blogging. "[A]ll this metablogular talk" has been just that: "talk," undisciplined, free-wheeling, everyone reinventing the wheel every time (even if few have had the courage and fortitude of an RIPope, who found himself able to say in 2006, "It seems, several years into the blog phenomenon, few have pondered much about the medium itself"). It's almost as though these so-called meta-bloggers have just been ranting on a blog, the whole time!
What we need is a true meta-blogging, a methodologically sound meta-blogging, something that can account for such diverse phenomena as open threads at Atrios, posts of Holbonic length, the Troll of Sorrow, blogspats, the singular persistence of Robert "KC" Johnson, the color scheme at Scott McLemee's blog, Matt Yglesias's insistence on doing basketball posts, the precise function of links to former comment threads at Unfogged, Bitch PhD's marriage, and those times when you try to publish in Blogger and it just sits at 0% for like an hour. (Even this catalog is much too bloggishly impressionistic.) We need a meta-blogging that will introduce some discipline into this haphazardly assembled collection of tubes, that will allow blogging to be truly professional, truly CV-able.
It is not enough to have an academic panel at the MLA about blogging, nor even to write a peer-reviewed article on the phenomenon -- no, since we are both the present and the future of academic blogging, we bloggers must be recognized qua bloggers, recognized as professional academics precisely insofar as we blog. Our product is indeed superior in every way to the doomed academic practices of the past. Our chatty style makes us accessible to the unwashed masses. Our dutiful comment and trackback trolling guarantees that our latest thoughts on academic blogging will be read by far more people than would ever even learn of the existence of whatever tedious, jargon-ridden monstrosity that the latest self-hating assistant professor produced while on the verge of suicide.
The monograph: dead. The peer-reviewed journal: dead. The classroom: dead. Only blogging can guarantee the future of academic discourse, and indeed it is the only thing keeping it alive in the present! Open up your eyes, people! Look around you! Everywhere you look: blogs, beautiful blogs! Our blogs will give us tenure. Our blogs will give us cultural relevance. Our blogs will help us get the attention of that girl from college who was really cool but only seemed to want to date assholes. And if we manage to get into a flamewar along the way, all to the good.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
(4:16 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Pop[I posted a version of this on my site, but just realized today that it would probably be better suited here].
All of the following selections are taken from Theodor W. Adorno's "Popular Music" (Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1988), 21-38).
"To this day, pop music has scarcely participated in the evolution of material that has been going on in serious music for more than fifty years. Pop music does not balk at novelties, of course, but it deprives them of function and free unfoldment by using them--down to the seemingly haphazard dissonances of some jazz trends--as mere splotches of color, ornaments added to a strictly traditional tongue. They have no power over that tongue; they are not even properly integrated in it [....] What is incessantly boosted as exceptional grows dull, and the festivities to which light music permanently summons its adherents, under the name of feasts for the ears, are dismal everyday fare" (24-5).
Can pop music (which it seems, for Adorno, must today include nearly every style of music on the radio--except for the misnamed "classical" music) ever reach beyond this banality? What can we make of such "popular" bands as U2 (in their Pop period), or Radiohead, or Modest Mouse, or Coldplay? Or, what about OutKast, Cee-Lo Green, or Kanye West? Are they reduced to their market share?
"Standardization extends from the overall plan down to details. The basic rule in the American practice that governs production everywhere is that the refrain consists of 32 bars with a 'bridge,' a part initiating the repetition, in the middle [....] Nothing really new is allowed to intrude, nothing but calculated effects that add some spice to the ever-sameness without imperiling it. And these effects in turn take their bearing from schemata [....] The higher music's relation to its historical form is dialectical. It catches fire on those forms, melts them down, makes them vanish and return in vanishing. Popular music, on the other hand, uses the types as empty cans into which the material is pressed without interacting with the forms. Unrelated to the forms, the substance withers and at the same time belies the forms, which no longer serve for compositional organization.
"The effect of song hits--more precisely put, perhaps: their social role--might be circumscribed as that of patterns of identification. It is comparable to the effect of movie stars, of magazine cover girls, and of the beauties in hosiery and toothpaste ads. The hists not only appeal to a 'lonely crowd' of the atomized; they reckon with the immature, with those who cannot express their emotions and experiences, who either never had the power of expression or were crippled by cultural taboos [....] In an imaginary but psychologically emotion-lade domain, the listener who remembers a hit song will turn into the song's ideal subject, into the person for whom the song ideally speaks. At the same time, as one of many who identify with that fictitious subject, that musical I, he will feel his isolation ease as he himself feels integrated into the community of 'fans.' In whistling such a song he bows to a ritual of socialization, althogh beyond this unarticulated subjective stirring of the moment his isolation continues unchanged" (25-7).
No doubt there are many places where "standard" forms of music are challenged from within (even in the overly poppy music of someone like Gavin DeGraw where the chorus does not appear within the first minute...as in most radio pop), but would this constitute something new, for Adorno? Really, it seems we must look to the listener more than the production...to the "event of subjectivization," as Badiou might say.
"It is the banality of present-day popular music--a banality relentlessly controlled in order to make it salable--which brands that music with its crucial trait. That trait is vulgarity. We might almost suspect that this is the most avid concern of the audience, that the maxim of their musical mentality is indeed Brecht's line: 'But I dont want to be human!' Any musical reminder of themselves, of the doubtfulness and possible uplifting of their own existence, will embarass them. That they are really cut off from their potential is the very reason why it infuriates them to be reminded by art" (28).
We are reminded here of Adorno's negative dialectic, instilling a principle of non-identity into the "situation" (to borrow from Badiou again). The issue, it seems, with most pop music is that it is not (is not even possible to be?) subjectivized as an objective non-identity within the identity of the situation...it fails to take root as a motivation, of sorts, for the reconciliation of the non-identity in society at large.
"On the other hand [....] there is still some good bad music left today, along with all the bad good music. Under the pressures of the marketplace much genuine talent is absorbed by popular music and cannot be entirely crushed even there. Even in the thoroughly commercialized late phase primary ideas, beautifully arched melodies, pregnant rhythmic and harmonic turns will be encountered, particularly in America. But the spheres can only be defined from the extremes, not from the transitions, and besideds, even the most gifted escapades within popular music are marred by considerations paid to the appointed guardians of salability. Boneheadedness is shrewdly calculated and revved up by highly qualified musicians, and there are many more of those throughout the realm of pop music than the serious one's sense of superiority likes to admit" (32).
Not all are lost, it would at first appear...but the market is exceptionally good at co-opting even these and turning them to its own ends:
"Each single song hit is its own advertisement and a boost for its title [....] The whole entertainment music would scarcely have the scope and effect it has without the element Americans call 'plugging.' A song chosen for bestsellerdom will be drummed into the listeners' ears until they cannot help recognizing it and hence--as the psychologists of compositional advertising correctly figure--will love it" (34).
With this we remember U2's recent ad for iTunes...perhaps all are lost after all (and the ironies of the capital campaign of LiveAid, the "Red" campaign in cooperation with the Gap, etc. abound).
But, with that in mind, we have to ask about so-called "serious music" today as well. There is no doubt that people are not rushing to the stores to buy Philip Glass' recent choral recording, for instance (nor are "producers" merely catering to "salability," though of course this is not foreign to that "market"). Nevertheless, wouldn't a sociology of serious music be just as necessary...to discover the presence or absence of subjectivization? I haven't done that, so I have no real knowledge, but it seems like even serious music fails to be serious for us any longer...and does that mean that we have killed music--once our god, now replaced by "Empire"?
(10:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ConferencesThis weekend, I am apparently going to write some ridiculous thing on John Wesley and Jean-Luc Nancy. The reason I am doing it this weekend in specific is that the papers for the Wesleyan Theological Society are apparently due February 1, so that they can be posted on the website and people can -- apparently -- read them beforehand.
I am skeptical of this whole concept. While my charming and witty delivery style is well worth the trip to the conference, I think it's a safe bet to say that this will not be the case for all presenters. Certainly there's the off chance that (1) people will actually read the papers ahead of time and (2) this will lead to better use of the paltry five minutes of Q&A at the actual event -- but we can all think of a variety of more likely outcomes.
This does raise the obvious question of whether one could run a completely virtual "conference," perhaps via a blog on which only registered participants could comment. We all know that every paper at every conference is totally worthless and stupid and no one in their right mind would ever want to hear them, so this would save everyone a lot of misery -- we could get the line on our CVs without having to go through the bother of interacting with each other in person. The next step, of course, would be to eliminate the papers themselves, since no one reads more than the abstracts anyway, eventually leading to a point where an online conference would be a simple list of names and institutional affiliations, perhaps with some residual paper and session titles, which would attain to ever more baroque levels of decadence. "Sodomy as Ereignis: Dasein's Ownmost Possibility of Fisting." "Meatwad Sacer: An Agambenian Reading of Aqua Teen Hunger Force." "'That Dangerous Supplement...': Thoughts on Explaining Away Semen Stains on Student Papers."
This would inaugurate an academia that would go beyond its own exhaustion, suspending its own suspension of meaning in a desoeuvrement that fulfills academia by holding it in reserve as pure potentiality -- a messianic academia that would be purely gestural, communicating nothing but communication itself.
Friday, January 26, 2007
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Other, more desperate gamesI confess that I'm much better at making depressing mixes. I confess that I've used over half of the blank CDs Mike bought last time he wanted to make a mix. I confess that I miss Radiohead, to the point where I'm listening to the Thom Yorke solo album every few days. I confess that listening to music I used to like in college is a vivid reminder of how incredibly depressed I was at that time -- or, if it was summer vacation, either angry (Nine Inch Nails) or resurgently adolescent (Pink Floyd).
I confess that doing laundry yesterday didn't feel as good as it normally does. I confess that I may have problems that can't be solved with clean socks. I confess that even though I object to my family's policy that males as well as females must sit down to pee, I can see what they're getting at.
I confess that I have no idea who Kreszentia Cheeseman is, and I think it's better that way.
I confess that I'm having some serious difficulty getting myself to read The Nature and Destiny of Man other than on the CTA.
I confess that I'm having some serious difficulty getting to sleep without a fan, but it's too cold to have a fan on. I confess that perhaps the "but" should be replaced with a "because" -- the fan puts me in a coma-like state from which I am finding it harder and harder to emerge each morning.
I confess that last night I had trouble getting to sleep because I was worried that my bank account would be overdrawn, something that has somehow miraculously never happened to me. I confess that I have had dreams about the following: asking my roommate if he would consider scraping and rinsing his dishes more often; moving over closer to Damen to make it more practical to take the Wilson Express downtown once the catastrophic Red/Brown/Purple line delays start this spring; doing laundry somewhere that does not require quarters. There have been times when I was interested in someone and I had constant dreams that we were just hanging out and talking. I can only shudder at the horrific urges that underlie those dreams.
I confess that I still use my mom's favorite interjections -- namely, "rut roh" and "Oh my lands." I confess that I'm not totally sure that she still uses them.
I confess that I keep posting these things earlier and earlier. (Blogger needs a post-dating function. Automation is the key to successful blogging.)
Thursday, January 25, 2007
(4:54 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Nine Russian FilmsI'm not saying you should do this, as it may be illegal, but I thought some of you may be interested to know that you can download nine classic Russian films from the Soviet era.
(12:25 PM) | Claire:
Selected Ontological QuestionsDue to my holding a soul-crushingly boring job, I am able to formulate tons of ontological and otherwise-classified questions. I have determined that in order to continue to build a beloved community on the Weblog, it is necessary for me to externalize my philosophical inquiries. With this post, I hope to ignite a dialogue of greater than or equal to fifty comments. Can you help me achieve this?
1. What if drowned polar bears started washing up on the shores of Lake Michigan?
2. If the above event took place, would people in Chicago take global warming more seriously?
3. Why does my hairdresser ask me if I'm dating anyone and then proceed to give me progressively dyke-ier hair styles at each appointment?
4. Why did no one on Unfogged respond to my clever comment about a blow-up party sheep?
5. Why do so many men think that having a wife or girlfriend will solve all of their problems?
6. Why do I work at an HMO, but believe in universal healthcare?
7. Why, on multiple occasions, has Victor the maintenance man tried to fix my melting freezer by removing a container of oatmeal?
8. Why do so many callers fail to understand the mechanism of voicemail and accuse me of "transferring" them to voicemail, when, in fact, the intended call recipient failed to answer the phone?
9. Why does every caller have a child with ADHD?
10. Why do I feel a profound disdain for and impatience with each caller?
11. Why does my HMO consider it an achievement authorize a maximum of 5 inpatient days of treatment, regardless of the severity of the patient's mental illness?
12. Why does the sweaty, pie-faced, human-swine hybrid of a co-worker always look over me instead of at me?
13. Why did a homeless man on the corner insist on calling me 'captain'?
14. Why am I tempted to huff the spray dusting compound on my desk?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
(5:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Apocalyptic Tone Recently AdoptedJodi Dean is instructing K-punk in apocalyptic.
I note this mainly because I wanted to use the title. But I have a hard time believing that war in Iran -- if it is indeed being hatched -- is being hatched because of apocalyptic passions. Certainly all this kind of stuff can be used to drum up support of the lunatics (too great in number!) among our fellow citizens on the Christian Right, but this time around, it seems that Mr. Bush can hardly be bothered to drum up any support outside the Christian Right. And in any case, it seems improbable that war with Iran will lead to the literal end of the world. (Perhaps I will be proven wrong, but no one will be around to gloat about it if so.) So once again, the Christian Right is getting fleeced! No apocalypse, not now! The poor souls.
My question here, since we're talking about deep theological issues: what the hell ever happened to Bush's messianism? Remember how he was on a messianic quest to reshape the Middle East? Now all of a sudden we've shifted gears to apocalypticism. The two genres are clearly related in some way -- the seamless shift, if nothing else, should show us this. Is it the difference between, on the one hand, believing, however delusively, that one can actually achieve some goal and on the other, basically saying, "Fuck it, I'm all in" when you know you're going to lose? Does Mr. Bush know that he's going to lose? Can the concept of "losing" find a home in the vast and airy corridors of what we will, for the sake of social convention only, call his "mind?" That is, in short: yes, we know that Mr. Bush did not attend seminary. We know that he has not had much in the way of formal theological education. But can he tell messianism and apocalypticism apart?
(8:45 AM) | F. Winston Codpiece III:
Calendar ShoppingAs many of you know, each year I wait until the end of January to buy my calendars, hoping to beat the proverbial "rush," but also to experience a "rush" of quite a different order -- viz., that associated with getting a good deal.
This year, pickings were slim. Aside from boxes full of New Yorker cartoon wall calendars dated from 1993 to 2007 and a handful of "Odie" calendars (apparently meant as a consolation prize for those customers, like myself, who would be heartbroken to have missed out on a year of Garfieldian insight and edification), basically all they had was The Intimate Reinhold Niebuhr: 2007 Wall Calendar.
I was previously unfamiliar with this "very attractive figure among 20th century American theologians," but I have to admit: I like the cut of his jib. Take, for example, the image for January:
The sheer existential weight of this image makes it well qualified to represent April, the cruellest month:
And of course, for June, the month of his birth, they show a younger, sexier Reinhold:
If you hurry to the calendar kiosk at the mall, you may be able to secure a copy -- and I think I might have seen a couple H. Richard calendars as well.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
(12:00 AM) | Claire:
Passing the Torch of HatredThis past month has been emotionally trying; I've put my relationship on the line for the sole purpose of entertaining you, the readers. Some of you were intrigued by the saga, others were incensed by the "puppetry" and "shadowboxing". Whatever your opinion, you bore witness to pivotal events in Weblog history. To the majority of you, I want to say thank you for your positive comments; your enthusiasm; your support. I leave you with some of my most profound and heartfelt hatred to date.
I hate that some of you have been questioning my existence.
I hate that I am questioning my existence.
I hate that I'm actually excited to be shredding papers.
I hate that I'm so out of touch with sports that I asked someone wearing beads if it was Mardi Gras.
I hate that I have Justin Timberlake's "My Love" on repeat in my head.
I hate that in the Hippie's absence, Boring Married Guy served me my coffee.
I hate that Marta's Finnish friend took me seriously when I said that I wanted to move to Finland to be a mushroom harvester.
I hate that a Finnish mushroom harvester earns a better salary than I do.
I hate that even when fantasizing about picking mushrooms in an idyllic Finnish forest, I soon have visions of being accosted by woodland claims trolls who dump papers on a nearby stump and say, "These are for whenever."
I hate that I am sought after by alcoholic men of all stripes.
I hate that our newest employee is overly enthusiastic and has a pear-shaped head.
I hate that Ben Wolfson has outed our relationship as functional and I can no longer post dramatic pleas for his affection.
[Editor's note: Claire was initially given a one-month appointment as Hater, but unbeknownst to her, I have decided to promote her to full-time indefinite Hatred duties. Whether this is a reward or a punishment is unclear, but one thing isn't: Claire exists, and she is going to continue to fill our lives with hate every Tuesday right here at The Weblog. -- AK]
Monday, January 22, 2007
(9:37 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Best Pseudonym EverThis morning, a spam message slipped through the filter. I feel this was providential, because the sender's name was amazing: Kreszentia Cheeseman. Someone needs to claim this as a pseudonym, immediately.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
(10:56 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
Finding a Voice
There is this point at the end of one year and the beginning of another where I suddenly and abruptly re-discover literature. I immediately have a craving for novels, poems, and try to listen and read as many interviews with authors as I can. Part of the thrill is what appears to me as a complete economy with words many of these people have. In what can take three to four academic papers, writers accomplish in a sentence, and get the recognition for it. Reading them becomes like a swift, sharp strike to the head, or like an ice-cold bucket of water has been thrown in my face. They say what I wanted to say.
The question that seems to be presenting itself to me is the following: when does the academic become an artist? While the general reception of writers and artists is a mixed bag of confused reverance led by professional sales culture and tired journalistic idioms, and of academics, a useless intellectual elite simply there to put down naturally intellegent people and stop them from telling the truth, I sometimes really wish that academic writing could capture the economy of literature in this sense. There is a little quote that I read online the other day from a seminar on feminist memoir that tries to tell me why it can't.
"After all, I believe, I don't even think academic is such a dirty word. I mean, I did say once, when I was sitting in the subaltern studies party in Hyderabad, I was sitting and there was a lot of noise going on. I was speaking Bengali again; I hope someone can imagine what kind of word I used for "motherfucker," but anyway [. . .] Everybody else was milling around being very academic in the bad sense - a boys' club, mostly. I said to a woman friend, I entered this profession because I like to read, write and teach; and as a result, I'm thrown in with a bunch of motherfuckers. This is what I said. (laughter) So I know the problems, but nonetheless, I think, one should question oneself, that one sticks at the job, takes in young people in the name of teaching, makes a salary, makes a life, fights for tenure. And then, at the end of the day, says, I don't want to be in the academy, I want to write something, you can give it a nice psychoanalytic name. I don't even know what kind of name I would give it. It just seems too obvious to me. So, I'm not against education. We shouldn't burn the universities. But nonetheless, my desire in this thing has been to write in such a way that they would find the questions something that . . . I want to be haunted. Some people will know what I'm talking about. I want to be haunted by them. So it's a hauntological autobiography."
But then again I wonder if when an academic is regarded as an artist it is because he writes a book on Aristotle, Kant, Montaigne and Heidegger and calls it The Politics of Friendship, rather than calling it: "Friendship and Fraternity in the Western Canon from Aristotle to Heidegger." Why do people in philosophy departments get hooked to one, two or maybe even three individuals and write paper after paper with their names in the titles? For all the reasons cited above no doubt. People outside philosophy, sociologists (not the policy-driven kind) for example, look to philosophy for inspiration in tackling a specific issue or subject, but usually lack the time for proper engagement - social theory and philosophy/thought have never really come to terms with one another. I see people moving towards literary expression on the one side and maths on the other.
How the hell are people who believe it's important to do a huge amount of time-consuming research, read a lot of books, reflect on difficult philosophical, empirical and theoretical issues to produce intellegent knowledge expected to produce anything today? Something tells me that the question of finding a voice in today's academia is completely inseperable from the issue of academia's future.
...and I wish it was not.
(2:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
PsychologizingIn my experience, online discussions include far more "psychologizing" of people's opinions than face-to-face discussions. This is of course ironic, given that online discussions offer the least possible data for drawing conclusions as to a particular writer's mental state -- tone, facial expressions, nervous tics, etc., are all excluded, leaving only the bare words.
Perhaps it is precisely this lack that incites people to impute sinister motives to their interlocutors, as though there were something inherently sinister about disembodied words.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
(9:45 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
The difference between "or" and "and"In a few months no doubt the avid viewers of British television channel Channel 4 will be treated by Endemol to a special 2 hour docu-soap involving Jade Goody travelling to India on a good-will tour and Shilpa Shetty visiting Bermondsey (maybe they won't do the second). Throughout the whole thing there will be neatly edited clips of speeches made by Gandhi in Manchester, former Indian army troop testiments on how we all fought fascism together, the Kumar's may pitch in, they'll be stuff from Mandella no doubt, tears all round, and nobody will be "a racist," despite the fact that nobody was "a racist" in the first place and all were capable of practicing racism.
The posts on this at K-Punk and Foucault is Dead are nearly spot-on. That "under the cover of defending a housemate from racism, the media and the public have indulged in a slew of class hatred" is true. That the "British middle class resent their enjoyment of this jouissance and therefore develop a classist jouissance of their own" is true also. I can see that the need to "play-down" the moralizing division between "racists" and their "tolerant" counterparts made into some of the most bizare political capital I've seen recently by Gordon Brown and Ken Livingstone is necessary to catch this classist element. That moralizing division blurs the important similarities that exist between the two positions too. Tolerance is not about making those invested with the fantasy of governmental power less so, but inviting them not to exercise their power. Jade acts so we don't have to, we must be charitable and protect her victims, poor "sexy Indian babe" etc...
While Goody's is a conatus characterized by "miserable self-denigration and low self-confidence" "concealed behind borish bravado and conspicuous hedonism" molded and rewarded by Endemol, I don't see the need to take the "playing down" of the moralizing accusation to the following level:
While Goody and her compatriots have certainly bullied Shetty, I agree with Foucault is Dead that the treatment of the actress has not been straightforwardly racist. There have been racist remarks, but the central dynamic appears to be resentment and jealousy rather than racial hatred. There are certain structural similarities with racism in that the housemates who have attacked Shetty have done so on the basis of fantasies about the enjoyment of the other: Shetty, for instance, is held to have been given privileged treatment by Big Brother.
It is pleasing that the debate around the programme has concerned whether or not racism has happened rather than whether racism is acceptable or not. But it is worth thinking about why postmodern media abominates racism (at the level of discourse; it has, of course, done little to tackle racism and a structural problem) but is worryingly silent about class.
"Straightforwardly racist"? Does the label "racism" require "straightforward racism" or "racial hatred"? Is that what the last chapter of Tarrying with the Negative says? The postmodern media abominates racism because of the money involved in racism litigation, probably because of something to do with the legitimizing ideology of the postwar British regime, and to keep the relationship between the classist and racist joussance that everyone is talking about intact. In this sense, not "straightforwardly racist" sounds a lot like Goody's "I'm not a racist but..."
Lets not say "classist joussance" or "racist joussance" but and. Wouldn't it be great if someone actually understood Goody's words to mean "I'm not a racist, but I was being racist"? You know, I think even she might agree with that.
(11:56 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Partisan RancorDoes it seem to you that our political elites routinely overestimate the degree to which most people value bipartisanship and national unity? Having had a car for the last few weeks, I've been listening to a lot more NPR, and I've got to say that I'm sick to death of everyone -- reporters, pundits, politicians, everyone -- making continual reference to the need to move forward in some kind of unified way, almost as though a serious disagreement between the two political parties on a serious issue like Iraq would be more damaging than, you know, the actual effects of the Iraq War. As I recall, the political elites were pretty "unified" about how gravely necessary the Iraq War was, and all their wonderful "unity" didn't end up producing very desirable results.
And another thing -- in exactly what way is Iraq vital to our national security? I'm sincerely confused about this. What "dire" consequences would result for the US "if" we lost in Iraq? I'm pretty sure that the oil companies can handle things for themselves -- hire some South African mercenaries to guard the oil wells and let the rest of the country go to hell. Would Muqtada al Sadr be appointed president of the US if we pulled out? Would we be facing a major Sunni insurgency on American soil? Or is it just a matter of saving face -- if we admitted to losing a war, people would know that it's possible for us to lose a war?
I'm pretty sure people already fucking know that it's possible for the US to lose a fucking war. We've lost in Iraq! Get over it! Pull out now! Immediately, precipitously, "irresponsibly" -- just get the motherfuck OUT! That is the only "way forward," to get the fuck out. Just fucking stop. That's my "plan," which I am apparently morally required to produce if I am to criticize the sheer idiocy of arbitrarily sending in more troops. Iraq is probably unfixable, and in any case it's unfixable by us. There are plenty of failed states in the world where things will probably never get better, and we're not indefinitely occupying any of them.
Oh, also impeach Bush and Cheney, because they're war criminals who have also repeatedly and flagrantly violated the US Constitution and claimed the right to violate it further. It would probably divide the nation and appear to be partisan (i.e., because Bush and Cheney belong to a particular political party and therefore would obviously be impeached solely for that reason), but it'd totally be worth it.
(10:38 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
50 most loathsome peopleThe 50 most loathsome people is always a highlight of my year. 2006 is easily the best since I've been reading it. (Via Unfogged.)
Friday, January 19, 2007
(7:28 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Trend That Will Not DieLooking through the AAR's 2007 call for papers, I found that they're looking for people to talk about "Paul and Philosophy."
Maybe I can work something up.
(8:16 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: "I saw the world-spirit, posting on a blog"I confess that the illustrious Claire has started a special new blog. I confess that I find the continued bafflement about the Claire-Wolfson affair to be delightful.
I confess to the deeply held belief that marriage, like graduate school, should only be entered into if there is no way of avoiding it.
I confess that being in class again has given me more stuff to write about at An und für sich, including some remarks on Derrida and Agamben. I confess that no matter how good a class is, I am always at least a little impatient for it to be over. I further confess that I have a nervous tic of coughing throughout every class I am in -- I'm not consciously nervous to be in class, so I don't know exactly what the problem is.
I confess that "administrative" stuff is a good way to feel like I'm "doing something" while at the same time putting forth minimal effort.
I confess that while I'm tired of receiving e-mails from Amazon, I can't muster the energy to take myself off their mailing list. I confess that when I look at my wish list and see Calvin's Institutes at the very top, I become very sad -- but I will actually need to pick up a copy at some point for the course I am TAing next semester. I confess that the two-volume set costs nearly $80.00 at the Co-op.
I confess that the other day I went to Europa Books and saw that they were selling Sein und Zeit for over $50. Telling Ted about this, I mentioned, "I think it's cheaper at the Co-op," then realized that that may well have been the first time I -- and perhaps anyone in history -- had ever used the phrase "cheaper at the Co-op."
I confess that literally every time I read the meta-blogging of an "academic blogger," I feel like my analysis of academic blogging is being vindicated, either substantively or performatively. In other words, I was and remain deeply and truly right in all that I said in that post, and people are only now starting to face up to it. That's why this place is called The Weblog: only we -- no, only I have fully comprehended blogging.
(12:17 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Animal AdaptationThis is either going to endear you or freak you out. I'm endeared, but I'm guessing Patrick will be a bit disgusted. Perhaps Adam will be somewhat endeared, while Jodi will be slightly freaked out.
Courtesy of The Girl.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
(7:48 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
"Which"Normally, "which" is a relative pronoun. In everyday speech, however, I have noticed that in recent years it has taken up a new role. Like the traditional "which," this new use of "which" serves to introduce explanatory information, but it is normally followed by what is semantically an independent clause.
Furthermore, the tendency is for it to introduce information that is negative in some way. An example: "So he got here like three hours early, which, he never even called me to let me know he was coming." It functions somewhat similarly to "however," but seems to have more strongly negative connotations.
Is anyone else familiar with this new usage of "which"? I personally have heard it so often that I find myself occasionally using it, which, maybe that's not such a bad thing. More importantly, does anyone have any idea how it could've arisen?
(9:29 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Bank WoesWe were fined £38 for over drafting by £10. This is after we were told that our account couldn't overdraft, as it's a savings account and would just 'decline' payment. Add to this the fact that the damn bank didn't even pay out the £10 (plus £12 that we had in the accont) to the fucking water company and I feel pretty ripped off. £38 is a lot of money for us and it's not our damn fault that the system for magically turning dollars into pounds is incredibly slow and complicated.
So, who wants to buy me the last two volumes of Collapse (volumes I and II together, with postage, for £12)? Cause that and a few pints is what I was going to spend the £38 on.
I fucking hate banks.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
(2:23 PM) | Thomas J. J. Altizer:
Last night Jim Lehrer of PBS interviewed President Bush for almost thirty minutes. The topic being, of course, the renewal of the war in Iraq. Bush employed the usual pabulum, but with an overwhelming emphasis upon how ultimately important this war is and how devastating the consequences will be if we do not succeed and fully succeed. Towards the end of the interview, Lehrer noted what an enormous importance the president gave this war and recalled how presidents in time of war called upon the people to sacrifice, and asked why the President had never called for sacrifice and only spoke of the sacrifice of the military and their families. Bush became unusually flustered, apparently not having been prompted on this, and then immediately said that he would not raise taxes as a way of sacrifice because that would set back the economy and it was ultimately important that the economy flourish so that the people can be happy. But Lehrer continued to probe him, a probing that obviously became a challenge to Bush, and all that he could reply was that people suffer in seeing the war on TV, and that this is the sacrifice of the people in this war.
LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said -- and you've said it many times -- as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something?....
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.
Apparently the media ignored this interview, but I found it to be most revealing, as did the commentators who followed the interview. Sacrifice is clearly a category foreign to Bush, who can only associate the consequences of the war for Americans with happiness, and can only associate evil or destructiveness with our enemies, and enemies of whom we are truly ignorant, as Bush demonstrated in all he said of them. It was like encountering a contemporary Manichean. No, that is not true, for I don't think that he really believes anything, except for the ultimate importance of himself, his clan, and his allies. But I am intrigued that with all of the counseling sources available to him, none prepared him for the topic of sacrifice, despite the enormous sacrifices which his administration demands, including the sacrifice of the destiny of America itself. It is also revealing that despite his born again conversion and constant professions of the Christian faith he is simply incapable of thinking about sacrifice, but does he thereby speak for a new America, or a new American faith?
(11:49 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
"Enjoy using your card"In 2004, I was confused. I thought one of my credit cards was offering to upgrade my existing account to "Platinum," and being a huge fan of precious metals, I jumped at the chance. Turns out that it was actually a whole new account, the card for which I either never received or mistook for a credit card solicitation, and accordingly I never used it.
Fast-forward to late 2006: This card that I never used expired, and they sent me the new one. I called to cancel, and they said that for security reasons they first had to close the old account and issue me a new number, which I could then cancel. Today I finally got the new card and called to cancel it, a process which on their end involved three discrete individuals.
Just as when I cancelled my Chase credit card because they were trying to destroy the Zapatistas, once it became clear that they were approaching the crucial moment of losing my business entirely, they became desperate. (In this case, it was rather bizarre since I already have another card with them.) Would I take a balance transfer at 2.9% for 9 months? 4.9% in perpetuity? My credit rating must be going down for some reason, because it seems like only six months ago I would've been offered 0% -- maybe if I had pushed them, I could've gotten it.
But expiring 0% offers are a rip-off for two reasons. First, the transaction fee, normally charged as a cash advance, amounts to paying the interest up front -- in some cases, fairly substantial interest. For instance, I once got an offer of 0% for three months. The trick was that they were charging a fee of 4%, meaning that I would effectively be paying a 16% annualized rate, not counting the interest from the transaction fee (which, because it has the higher cash-advance rate, is "buried" below the nominally 0% balance transfer -- meaning that you will be charged interest every month). Second, they're obviously hoping that you're going to forget when it ends, exposing yourself to at least one month of monstrous interest while you try desperately to find some way to roll it over.
That's why I'm a "low rate in perpetuity" man now. But in any case, I got to thinking: what kind of demands could I make? 0% in perpetuity with no fee? Unlimited balance transfer with partial forgiveness? Full forgiveness? I doubt I'll be in a position to cancel another card in the near future, so I've missed my chance to gauge the reaction to such demands.
In any case, I successfully cancelled this account that I never thought I had in the first place, and they transfered that card's credit line to my old one. At long last, the upgrade I had desired! But the card remains a lowly plastic one, not platinum. The customer service representative, defeated by my stonewall tactics, wished me a good day and exhorted me to "enjoy using [my] card in the future."
(10:19 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Messiness of the elitesScott McLemee's column today discusses that book about how messiness can be "good" and "helpful." In general, I'm in favor of everyone finding their own method for their intellectual pursuits, and if this book persuades one teacher to give up on teaching a cookie-cutter "writing process" and requiring all students to go out and buy Trapper Keepers, its existence will have been justified
At the same time, it strikes me that messiness is now becoming a commodity for the privileged. Professors, executives, etc. -- they can be messy. Meanwhile, jobs in the service sector become more and more characterized by rigid formalism. It's just like so many other things that in some previous historical era were simply a given for almost everyone -- living "simply," getting physical exercise, eating food grown using natural methods -- but have now been repackaged as expensive luxuries.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
(11:46 AM) | Claire:
Bakery DreamsIt's my second to last hatred and I'm already feeling nostalgic for the time when I was a naive young hater, not yet embittered by a public feud with a distant lover, who, in the end, chose academia. With these hatreds, I'll attempt to bulldoze the emotional wreckage of the past few weeks and clear a path for pure, untainted hate.
I hate that mullet head has assigned me new detail work that I can supposedly do when I'm not answering 300 phone calls.
I hate that there's a half an hour until I can go to the bakery and purchase my generic coffee.
I hate that after going on the "Golden Revolution" pub crawl, I got doored by a car and fell off my bike in front of an audience of Wicker Park hipsters.
I hate that there is a flashing Christmas tree made of safety pins and plastic beads on my desk.
I hate that, in a vain attempt to mentally escape work, I have manufactured a crush on a young hippie/independent studier of agriculture who lives in a commune and works at the bakery.
I hate that instead of attending a lunch lecture on Freud, I stayed home and wrote a functional resume.
I hate that now that I've lost my Chicago Card Plus, I obsess about people taking it for joyrides all over the CTA.
I hate that my coworker's response to any question is a blank look, a shrug and nervous
I that I rationalize my reception job by telling myself that I am perfecting my velvet voice for radio.
I hate that at some point in the process of making my chronological resume functional, it instead became dysfunctional.
I hate that so many of you have been hurt by my feud with Ben Wolfson.
Until next week...
(8:51 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
The Infinite Deferral of the Decline of the WestApparently some British television producers saw Kids and thought, "We should make this into a television series!" I know everyone hates apocalypticism after it was so big last year and just maybe hedonistic teenage nihilism is back! And of course no one will be able to turn away, like watching a train wreck or kiddie porn beauty contests, we'll swallow the vomit and this will be all the rage with kids leaving comments on Myspace saying "Finally a show about my life! This is what my mates and I do every weekend."
Heidegger was wrong - only a god can destroy us now.
Monday, January 15, 2007
(3:09 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Annoying to-do listThis is what you signed up for when you started reading a blog that is partly my personal MySpace.
The semester at CTS starts early in February. I've already started two classes, and once CTS starts up, my schedule will look like this (at least until the quarter classes end mid-semester):
- "On Creaturely Life" with Eric Santner at University of Chicago
- "Derrida and the Question of Life" with Michael Naas at DePaul (auditing, but will probably still do a paper if allowed)
- "Judith Butler and Religious Studies" with Ken Stone at CTS
- TA: "Systematic Theology" with Dow Edgerton at CTS
While all this is going on, I'd like to try to finish up the 20th Century list and hopefully take the exam before the semester ends. I have fewer than 15 books to read, and apparently the semester is 15 weeks long, so hopefully that should be possible to achieve. I'd also like to finish up my medieval theology directed reading, but that seems like a fantasy -- more likely something I can finish up during the summer. (I can't remember exactly how this works, but it seems like there is a possibility that we can take our "methodology" exam separately from the main event, so I'd probably try to take that as soon as possible -- perhaps early in the fall.) That will leave me with 13 classes completed and one more to go, and unless something really grabs me at U of C or DePaul next year, I'm probably just going to do a directed reading on Deleuze at CTS in the Fall.
Then I could take the remainder of my exams early in 2008, achieving the prestigious degree of ABD at the tender age of 27.
So I guess I've just done a to-do list for the next calendar year and beyond, which strikes me as both normal and healthy. Other things that I'd like to do during this period would be to write a paper for the AAR next year, and maybe do a couple more reviews for RR&T (and perhaps also an article-length review on the two English-language secondary works on Nancy -- book review editors at journals, take note!).
Thank you for indulging me.
(9:11 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Martin Luther King DayOn this, the most traditional of blogs, my tradition for Martin Luther King Day is to post a link to this article:
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.Additionally, here is Dr. King's speech Beyond Vietnam, mentioned in the article.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
Sunday, January 14, 2007
(9:23 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Pynchon ReviewsI continue to pay penance for the fact that I'm not yet reading the new Pynchon book, which sits on the mantle, quietly judging me. I've purchased Slow Learner, which I intend to use as bus reading once the semester starts up. Mainly, though, I've been reading reviews, which have been among the best I've read in my long career as a book review reader. Scott McLemee has written a thing or two, which I'm sure that most of us have already read (or else should feel guilty for not reading). Here are a few of the other reviews I've enjoyed, with a more or less arbitrarily chosen sample paragraph.
Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader:
Against the Day's view of the late 19th century and early 20th evokes the vision of historian Eric Hobsbawm -- an irreversible slide from civilization into barbarism as capitalists duke it out with anarchists, culminating though hardly ending in the apocalypse of World War I. "All history after that will belong properly to the history of hell," one character predicts -- or remembers. One reason this book is so difficult is that we can't always distinguish between memory and prediction, between history and science fiction.John Leonard in the Nation (recommended by Rosenbaum):
We hear a lot about the fourth dimension in Against the Day, as well as double refraction, bilocation, perfect mirrors, imaginary numbers and lateral world-sets. We hear equally about US labor history, including Haymarket, Homestead, Coeur d'Alene, Cripple Creek, Ludlow and Mother Jones; and the Mexican Un-Revolution, that strut-and-fret of Diaz, Madero, Huerta, Carranza, Obregón, Villa and Zapata; and ethnic seething in the Balkans, before Rebecca West, Marshal Tito or Richard Holbrooke got a chance to do their fiddles; and turn-of-the-century parapsychology, with its mountain-misted tommyknockers and dreamworld Tenochtitlans. But because Against the Day is a full-blown and full-fledged Pynchon novel--and thus not only an occasion of joy in every nook of American culture except The New Republic but also a phantasmagoria whose only conceivable analogue is another Pynchon novel, Gravity's Rainbow--we hear almost as much about mayonnaise, Futurism, landmines, poison gas and the ancient Albanian honor code of Kanuni Lekë Dukagjinit.Luc Sante, the New York Review of Books:
Pynchon thinks on a different scale from most novelists, to the point where you'd almost want to find another word for the sort of thing he does, since his books differ from most other novels the way a novel differs from a short story, in exponential rather than simply linear fashion. Pynchon's work has absorbed modernism and what has come after, but in its alternating cycles of jokes and doom, learning and carnality, slapstick and arcana, direct speech and poetic allusiveness, high language and low, it taps into something that goes back to the Elizabethans, who potentially addressed the entire world, made up of individuals with differing interests and capacities. He also thinks big because he is extremely American (like many of his fellow citizens, he is never so American as when traveling abroad). In this way he is reminiscent of the "millionaire ascetic" in Borges's story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," who "declared that in America it was absurd to invent a country, and proposed the invention of a whole planet." Here, in Against the Day, by his own admission, he has made what "with a minor adjustment or two [is] what the world might be."Michael Wood in the London Review of Books (recommended by Brad, who also supplied me with this very Agambenesque quote):
In fact, there is no one in this book, not a spy or rebel or killer, not a mathematician or cowboy or dippy aristocrat, who doesn't have some intimation of a world beyond the familiar world. Sometimes it's a matter of remembering the dead, or what might have been; often it's a sense of a second life being lived even now, some form of bilocation; more often sstill it's an attempt to get beyond time. 'Watches and clocks are fine,' one character says, 'don't mistake my meaning, but they are a sort of acknowledgement of failure, they're there to glorify and celebrate one particular sort of time in one direction only and no going back.' And finally there is the remote possibility of an accommodation with time, what Pynchon calls 'agreement, even occasions of intimacy, with Time'. This would not free us from tickwise time, but it would allow us some movement among the other sorts, even if the promise is only 'a propaganda of memory and redemption'. Some people will never reach this agreement: 'salesmen, tourists, the resolutely idle, the uncleansably rich, and other practitioners of forgetfulness'. But some troubled and negatively privileged people will see faces, hear voices in the dark, travel to past and future. Who are these people? Who could they be except the permanent residents of Pynchon's novels, those who can't speak, at least not about what matters to them, those who are not saved, and those whose business is never finished: 'fugitives, exiles, mourners and spies'. Against the Day adds adds another term, both early on and as its last word: 'grace'. But this would have to be a grace that only the graceless can find, or even look for.In his acceptance speech for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, awarded by the National Book Critics Circle, Scott McLemee writes, "In the ordinary course of things, people do not grow up thinking that they would like to publish book reviews someday. But I did." I don't know if I grew up thinking that I would, but I have grown up to the point where I have published a few book reviews and where I would like to do more -- and one thing that Pynchon's new novel seems to have given us is a rapid succession of great examples of the unexpected possibilities of the book review as a genre.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
(3:53 PM) | Ben Wolfson:
Clarifying mattersHello, Weblog faithful. I imagine this post might come as a surprise to you—generally my participation on the front page has been confined to Tuesday Hatred. I have to admit, after Adam gave me my walking papers, I didn't anticipate a return to posting here; I thought I would just leave the place behind, let things run on as Adam intended, for he obviously has a plan. I'm sorry, therefore, to disturb the front page again. But I'm more sorry that it's necessary.
You see, when Adam opted not to renew my contract, although I was hurt, I didn't think too much of it. But then I saw that he had given the job to Claire, at a time when, as he knew, our relationship was, well, a little rocky. I viewed this as a sign that I was unwelcome around here, especially when Claire began devoting ever-increasing space in her posts to what remained of our relationship, with no comment from Adam, who knew the truth of the matter.
“The truth of the matter”, I say, and not without purpose. For Claire's posts have been, oh, I don't want to say that they've contained lies, but they have misrepresented the situation—to her own advantage, of course. I didn't think that would matter; we are, or at least, I am, an adult, and the other readers and posters at The Weblog are able to tell when a situation is private. Or so I thought, until I noticed that Adam's pet jumped-up restaurant reviewer had decided to stalk me and spout warrantless accusations. It's this that has finally prompted this post.
You see, Claire presents herself in this space as being concerned at my distance, both physical and metaphorical. She claims to be upset that, for instance, I spend all my time at work. She's obviously attempting to drum up sympathy for herself, and animosity towards me, and indeed, each of us would deserve those feelings were the actual state of affairs as she represents it. But in private, she's completely different. It's true that I do spend a lot of time at work lately, but when I was home more often, all I got was a neverending stream of abuse and insults. And I mean real abuse—I'm a scrawny person, and Claire, as those of you who know her know, is strong. I don't enjoy my work. It's the only escape I have from Claire's emotional and physical tyranny, a tyranny she's extending into the online realm. Adam knows the truth; his lack of defense for me, much less sympathy, shows that, at the least, he's decided I no longer deserve his friendship. I wouldn't be surprised if he's taken up with Claire, to be honest. Very well: I know when I'm not wanted. This is the last time I'll darken The Weblog's door. Just remember: Claire isn't to be trusted. You'll either take my advice now, or too late.
(11:59 AM) | Dave Belcher:
Kansas City--good jazz, cool art, many fountains...not much elseHoly Crap! I can't believe I still have posting privileges after my long absence from the 'Blog.
A quick update, and then two concerns.
Jodi and I are now in Kansas City (where Jodi is doing an MDiv)--a fairly cool place with a whole lot of art and a whole lot more poverty, racism, and even (yes) segregation...there is literally a dividing line (Troost Rd.) that used to serve to distinguish between the whites and blacks--still there, and still just as interpellatingly divisive; I am putting the final touches on my thesis on baptism and dispossession; and I will likely be applying for PhD programs in December for next fall (2008).
1) Kansas City might be fairly cool, but they suck when it comes to books. I literally called EVERY Christian bookstore--including every Orthodox Church in town that has a bookstore--looking for John Chrysostom's On Wealth and Poverty (this was after discovering that not a single theological library in all of KC has this book)...this is one of those later translations that is not available for free online (published by St. Vlad.'s Sem. Press in the Popular Patristics Series...sorry for no link). Now, this concerns me first of all because I need the book...soon; but, secondly, because all of the places I can get it (online)--including an Orthodox "supply" company--charge at least $12 for the book (St. Vlad.'s charges a whopping $15, even though--as printed in the backs of all the other Pop. Patr. books, like St. Basil's On the Holy Spirit--it was once listed at $9.95...inflation baby)...I don't think I need to mention, for those of you who have read the text, how ironic it is that one would charge any amount of money for this particular text. In addition, I can't find any library OR bookstore in town that has ONE book by Michel de Certeau; pray that I do not commit suicide.
2) The Kansas City Star has for the most part ignored the Somalia "incident," with the exception of this--merely informative--article from Thursday (notice how the Pentagon has already claimed a "pretty limited" involvement in the region, and especially claiming absence of troops in Somalia). For example, today, there was an oh-so-brief article about child soldiers in hiding in Somalia (important of course, along with the whole Invisible Children movement, but mentioning nothing at all about US involvement in the region); in #3 of the "Top 5" stories for Friday there was mention of Ethiopian and U.S. forces tracking down Al Qaeda personnel (repeated again at #3 in yesterday's Top 5); and taking the top spot in today's Top 5, there is a report of Ethiopian forces tracking Al Qaeda (notice the already absent US). But, perhaps the elusive nature of the US's involvement in the region is more national, and the KC Star is just victim of lack of information. Either way, it concerns me.
Hope you are doing well. Peace.
Friday, January 12, 2007
(8:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Chicago Transit ApocalypseI confess that the impending 25% cut in CTA service to the north side strikes me as a pretty bad thing. I confess that I may well join thousands of others and becoming part of the Vast Press of Humanity that characterizes the Blue Line -- not being able to move makes the ride go by faster. I confess that moving back to Kankakee might also be a good option, in terms of reducing my commute.
I confess that writing a post about how I'm going to shut down The Weblog was probably not a great idea, given that I'm not actually going to shut down The Weblog. But it's not like this was the first time.
I confess that now I feel completely back to normal and that I'm a little disturbed by how depressed the holiday season apparently makes me. I was really on the verge of despair for a while there.
I confess that I find it excessive that the office at the Div School where we lowly seminarians must go to register for U of C classes is closed every afternoon, indefinitely, so that they can process applications for next year. Perhaps with all that extra time, they can actually proofread the rejection letter this time around. I confess that trying to find the post where I mentioned the misspelling, I found this disturbing thread. I confess that this post was perhaps a little naive on the question of careerism -- though I am of course resolutely and even defiantly careeristic, I hope that it is at least somewhat offset by such gestures as claiming that Milbank's writing exhibits "a certain reckless majesty."
I confess that reading through these posts about my decision-making process make me a little whistful about the prospect of not being in so much debt, but at least this should be the last semester I really need to take out student loans. I confess that donations are always welcome.
I confess that I overuse constructions involving the generic "one."
Thursday, January 11, 2007
(1:10 PM) | Thomas J. J. Altizer:
The Nihilistic Ground of Contemporary PoliticsThere is a remarkable and little noticed phenomenon in contemporary American politics, and that is that despite the fact that the Iraq war dominates our political consciousness there is virtually no discussion of the causes of the war by our politicians and journalists, consequently there is no serious public controversy about the war, or none which could have any real effect upon the war itself, and if only at this point there is a gulf between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. This reminds one of the most catastrophic war in history, the First World War, which had no open causes at all which were not peripheral; and if its real cause was a clash between Western imperialisms, these imperialisms ultimately perished as a consequence of this war, and with them perished or were ultimately transformed the deepest grounds of Western civilization. It was the First World War that released nihilism into the very center of our history and consciousness, a nihilism that previously had been confined to a small minority, but which now becomes comprehensive throughout consciousness and society, as the world is turned upside down.
Now it is true that there is little genuine awareness of nihilism until the late twentieth century, and no agreement as to what nihilism is; nonetheless nihilism is a subject of pervasive concern, although this has yet to decisively enter our political arena. We are, however, aware of the nihilistic ground of a uniquely modern totalitarianism, one only possible as a consequence of the world having been turned upside down. And if Fascism and Stalinism are openly nihilistic, and clearly had overwhelmingly nihilistic consequences, here a political nihilism is all too clear. Can such a totalitarianism never return, are we now truly immune to a fully political nihilism, and how could this be if our world is in continuity with the world of a century ago, or is such continuity simply impossible? Despite the extravagant claims of spokesmen for postmodernity, there is clearly a full continuity in late modernity in the economic and scientific realms, and this is true in art and religion as well, even if real breaks or transformations have occurred socially and politically. Now just as a profoundly nihilistic politics once ravaged our world, can we imagine that this had no ultimate effect us, and certainly not upon our political life and institutions? Totalitarianism created a truly if not absolutely new political rhetoric, one divorced from all actuality, as fantasy for the first time becomes truly pathological, and an individuality that had been so powerful in Western history is not simply ended but reversed.
Hence totalitarianism created a truly new anonymity, and not simply a namelessness but a reversal of every naming that had previously occurred, thereby a truly new humanity is at hand, but has this humanity now wholly disappeared? Perhaps this is the point at which there is the clearest continuity between totalitarianism and our world, for ours is a genuinely anonymous world, as is perhaps most manifest in that wholly new electronic world which we have created; but so, too, a new anonymity dominates our political world, as for the first time American politics is truly anonymous, and is so in its rhetoric, its politicians, and its commentators, as everything that we once knew as political life has seemingly vanished. Who could imagine a genuine political controversy occurring in our world, or a truly political transformation, or has this indeed occurred, but only invisibly and inaudibly, and one leaving in its wake an ultimate political vacuum or void? Is this void not manifest in contemporary political language, and not only in the language of our political actors and commentators, but in every attempt that we now make to speak politically, including even our most guarded and private ones? If so, this would be a truly new impotence, and one historically unique, for now both the master and the slave can only act or speak anonymously, and now for the first time political power itself is ultimately anonymous, thereby ushering in the dissolution of all political responsibility.
It is fascinating that so little attention is given to responsibility in our world, it is as though responsibility has simply vanished, as is most clear in our political world where not only is no one responsible for anything, but the very question of responsibility is not even raised. Now seemingly the present administration is responsible for the war in Iraq, and this has aroused the fury of a great many, but this is an idle or inconsequential fury if it is free of all awareness of what actually initiated the war, or what its real grounds or motives were, and these perhaps will never become manifest, and surely not if responsible political action has ended. There is a genuine analogy here between the war in Iraq and the First World War, and even if we didn’t simply stumble into the war in Iraq, that did not occur in the First World War either, there were clear and comprehensive preparations for both wars, and this very momentum might well have made war inevitable, but an inevitability independent of all actual decision. If only at this point the Second World War is wholly different from both the First World War and the war in Iraq, but thereby we can see a chasm between our world and the world of the Second World War, but not a chasm between our world and the world of the First World War. Inevitably we associate the First World War with the advent of a fully or actually historical nihilism, will we come to associate the war in Iraq with the advent of an awakening to a genuinely American nihilism, an awakening of the world itself to a nihilistic America, but more deeply an awakening of America itself to its own nihilism?
The question of the meaning and identity of nihilism now becomes overwhelming, and all too few guides are at hand, for just as there is no common meaning of nihilism, there is no critical meaning either, nor even critical investigations which share a common ground. Yet decisive openings to the resolution of this question are certainly present in our imaginative worlds, and it is all too significant that our great American epic is Moby Dick, and while the White Whale that is here enacted is far more than a figura of America, Moby Dick is perhaps our purest vision of the Nothing, and of that Nothing which is an ultimate ground of American destiny. Dramatic enactments of this destiny occur most clearly in the major plays of Eugene O’Neill, who is not only our greatest but our most American playwright, one can perhaps discover our contemporary destiny being enacted here, and enacted as a genuine tragedy. Yet even as we enact this tragedy, we are politically closed to it, a closure marvelously enacted in the dramaturgy of O’Neill -- an O’Neill who gave us not only a uniquely American tragedy, but an anonymous one as well. Both Melville and O’Neill have given us profound enactments of an anonymous America, but apparently no one is at hand who can mediate these enactments to our contemporary political world, and it is possible that politics is no longer open to a genuinely critical investigation, or to any kind of imaginative unveiling.
If America is now the most powerful nation in the world, and perhaps the most powerful nation in history, it is not only open to demonic power, but perhaps must inevitably enact demonic power, one again and again enacted in the American imagination, and this not only in spite of an established image of American innocence, but perhaps even by way of that innocence. This appears to be true in both the Vietnam and the Iraq wars, as here a kind of tragic innocence is enacted, certainly a destructive innocence, and a truly self-destructive innocence, as America becomes the very opposite of its self-proclaimed identity, which may well be a uniquely American destiny. Yet the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam are very different wars, the Vietnam war evoked truly critical political controversy, one absent in the Iraq war, and absent because our politics has deeply changed during this brief period. Not only are we far less open to political responsibility, but our sense of evil, and of good and evil, has truly diminished. It is remarkable that even in this war an American president and an American administration can wear the mask of innocence, and one not even challenged by what presents itself as an opposition party, one could not even imagine this as occurring in another country, nor could one imagine it as occurring in a previous America, and if only here we can know that American has undergone an ultimate, even if invisible, transformation.
It is difficult to believe that only a generation ago there were sophisticated political actors and thinkers in America, or if not sophisticated actors truly worldly actors, actors who could actually enact their own roles, and not appear as puppets or automatons. Yet that would appear to be necessary and essential to contemporary politics, or to “postmodern” politics, a politics truly different from its predecessors, and perhaps most different in the universality of its masks, leading one to suspect that it will never be possible to write a genuine history of postmodern politics. How difficult it is to believe that only two generations ago there was a genuine concern for justice in America, and no matter how warped or distorted it may have been it actually was a political force, a force that would be inconceivable today, and yet our world is not even aware that this force has vanished. It is as though such a force is now unimaginable. So, too, our political categories have seemingly collapsed -- does either ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ now mean what it once did? And this is not simply the product of an inevitable historical transformation, but rather a collapse of these categories themselves. Perhaps ‘radical’ does retain a previous meaning, but are there any radicals in politics today, and does radical any longer have a genuine political meaning, or a genuine political meaning in America? Our greatest modern prophet, William Blake, could hail America as the most revolutionary power in the world, and in America could envision its revolution as realizing the death of Urizen or Satan, and thus as the inaugurator of apocalypse itself.
America may well be the most apocalyptic nation in the world today, and the only one whose political language embodies an apocalyptic rhetoric, one seemingly inescapable in our most popular political figures and movements, and inescapable in our foreign policy, too. No matter how impossible the war in Iraq becomes or the war in Vietnam became, we cannot dissociate our wars from apocalyptic conflicts. We should not imagine that “manifest destiny” is only true of nineteenth century America, it is far more powerful today, or more powerful in its impact upon the world as a whole, an impact even surpassing that of the Roman Empire. Manifest destiny is most opposed to any kind of tragic destiny, and despite its imaginative enactments America is seemingly more closed to tragedy than any other people, a closure fully manifest in its foreign policy, and never more so than today. Who can forget that our one modern innocent president, Jimmy Carter, was decisively defeated when he publicly and forcefully evoked the possibility of a dark future for America, a darkness now more fully embodied than he could have foreseen, or that any of our American prophets or thinkers have foreseen. But are we now living in a world which is beyond light and darkness, and beyond good and evil as well, so inevitably these have disappeared from our political language and consciousness, as American truly has inaugurated a brave new world.
But is it a truly new world? Or is it a truly old world which is disguised with the mirage of the new, a truly old imperialism veiled with the illusory garments of the new, an absolutely illusory newness embodied in the very advent of America? Has there ever been another people who so imagined themselves as the absolutely new, another people who enacted a comparable destiny, or another people who have been so radically an apocalyptic people? Now an apocalyptic politics is not new, it is forcefully embodied in the Nazis, the Stalinists, and the Maoists, all of whom attempted and in large measure realized absolute transformations of the world, transformations which have certainly transformed world history, and transformed it in such a way as to terrify all others. Is the world now responding to America in a comparable way? Or is it responding to it as a new and equally benign British Empire? Or is America all too innocent and ultimately powerless? Never before has a great power so defeated itself as America has in its Vietnam and Iraq wars, and just as the American Civil War surpasses all other civil wars in its violence and destructiveness, is American imperialism the most self-defeating imperialism in history? And is American politics the most impotent of all great power politics, or is it a truly new politics which is destined to be the politics of the world as a whole?