Tag Archives: Culture

Ideology On Campus-Some Links

From The New Criterion: ‘Campus Inquisition:’

‘McAdams ended by observing that, “like the rest of academia, Marquette is less and less a real university. And, when gay marriage cannot be discussed, certainly not a Catholic university.’

From The FIRE blog: ‘Student Accused Of Sexual Assault Sues Brandeis For Alleged Due Process Violations’

‘Of course, how could anyone defend themselves against charges without knowing precisely what those charges are?’

As previously posted:

Camille Paglia’s piece ‘The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil’

Well, I don’t know about the whole campus, but with freedom comes responsibility.

Addition: Or as a friend puts it: Some ideologues on campus want to hermetically seal their place within it, and the campus itself, into a ‘zone’ under which they have influence, where reality and many parts of human nature can’t enter.  This is not practicable long-term.

Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:

‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’

Well, that’s quite a worldview, but like me, you probably agree that there are bad, possibly evil, crazy, and dangerous people among us. The kinds of extreme badness and goodness one can find in war aren’t really ever that far away.  Our knowledge and our civilization are often assumed to be less fragile than they are.

Related On This Site: Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’

Full piece here.


‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”

Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.

Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties.  Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.

Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.

As previously posted:

Adam Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony:

‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’


‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

Oh boy.

What are these poems being asked to do?

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

Repost-A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Progressive Convention, 1912. Moffett Studio & Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co.  Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-USZ62-116075

Progressive Convention, 1912. Moffett Studio & Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-USZ62-116075


Current liberal establishment thinking under Obama is naturally reacting to Obama’s leadership.  I’d argue that it’s getting more difficult to appreciate self-reliance as a result, and to maintain a healthy respect for the limits of government.   A healthy respect for the limits of government reflects a healthy understanding of human nature, its limitations, and the fact that all politics is local.  Power ultimately rests with “We the People,” after all.

Obama’s activist brand of local politics benefits from a lack of self-reliance in people, otherwise the need for the activist is lessened.  Activists become adept at organizing and inspiring (if not inciting) people to collective action under collectivist principles.  Once organized, the people’s interests can be aimed toward broader goals, some quite productive, but many often extracting money from businesses as well as federal and local governments.  Activists can be rabble-rousers, or they can be high-minded, but the model they’re using relies on redistributive logic (getting other people’s money redistributed to themselves and their constituents).

Political power is too easily the currency and the reward.

In the long run, obviously, there’s only so much of other people’s money to go around.  In the long run, there’s always a nagging question of how much the activist is really doing for his constituents by gaining all that political power for himself.  In the long run, we’re all more likely to have a few ruling the many under such a model, through an erosion of self-reliance.  In the long run, we’re more likely to end up in “tyranny of the majority” scenarios.

The growth of federal programs under Obama has been dramatic.  We still have many unelected czars and it looks as though Obamacare may be here to stay. Here are some IRS forms you’ll be filling out shortly.  A maze of new laws regulating the financial industry under Dodd-Frank has been signed into law, some of which have already passed costs along to the consumer.  We’ve seen the growth of the EPA and heavy regulation of the energy sector.


I’d like to try and work towards a theme:

While still being one of the best, and most thorough, news-gathering services, NPR generally cleaves to a Left-Of-Center political philosophy.  I suspect many folks at NPR aim to be like the BBC in Britain, or the CBC in Canada:  Not only the national standard in news but perhaps the nationalized cultural gatekeepers as well.  According to their lights, they see themselves as having a duty to promote and fund the arts, education, and knowledge.

That said, NPR is guilty of what many Americans have been guilty of, something which seems to transcend politics:  They’ve followed the national greatness model and assumed that American greatness, economic dominance and good times are a guarantee.

Here are two problems with NPR’s approach:

-NPR usually puts environmental interests above business interests.

The dangers of environmental policy can be seen in California, where environmental regulations can stagnate the economy.    These policies shift the cost of land management onto individuals and landowners, while creating laws whose oversight those citizens must finance, often inefficiently through a system of taxation and regulation.  Politicos have every incentive to keep taxpayer money flowing to themselves and a few companies, pressured by the green lobby and riding waves of green public sentiment, always with an eye on reelection.  This has actively driven many individuals and families out of the state.

Perhaps even some conservationists realize that activism generally leads to big money and big politics, and that  everyday people can suffer the most, especially those who aim to be self-reliant.

Californians can leave California, but on the national level, sadly, the rest of us have few options.

-NPR has promoted multiculturalism and diversity often as the highest ideas around.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism creates a system of incentives which rewards racial and identity politics, and at its worst, a kind of modern tribalism where group membership and loyalty come first.

Identity groups can remain Balkanized, and treat the public treasury like a piggy bank, politics like a system of patronage, and the laws like bludgeons in order to gain and maintain political power.  This is especially true of big-city machine politics, where the corruption is baked-in.  Government’s the only thing we all belong todoes, in fact, reflect a gaping hole at the center of modern liberal establishment thinking.  If such thinking continues to follow Obama’s brand of activism, that hole will continue to be there.


Monticello.  Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-F8-1046

Monticello. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-F8-1046

In response, it might not be a bad idea to promote a more agrarian Jeffersonian liberalism instead of the California or the current NPR liberal establishment models.   It’s a little worrying that California has traditionally been a cultural bellwether for the rest of the nation.  There’s a fiscal crisis in the Golden State, and enough multiculturalism and environmentalism that Californians may well keep voting for the model until it crashes, or they are forced to act otherwise.

I’d humbly ask that Northeastern and old school Democrats, the classical liberals, the Jeffersonians, the self-reliant, and the reasonably skeptical to reconsider where the current liberal establishment is headed under an Obama administration.

It’s affecting all of us.

Addition: NPR has roots in 60’s Civil Rights activism, and thus is often most sympathetic to 60’s type coalitions of protest models including feminists, environmentalists, race and identity politickers etc. They can get criticism from their Left for being too mainstream, and they can attach these 60’s coalitions to mainstream liberalism, politics and culture. I’m guessing you’re not going to find nakedly partisan or activists behind the scenes, really, but rather people so embedded in their own worldview (that of secular liberal humanism and progress) that they presuppose such a worldview when reporting on events.

Liberal, Left-liberal and Center-Left statists are words that seem to apply.

Another addition:  I should add that I don’t believe we either can, nor should want to return to an agrarian society, but rather, contra Hamilton, we should aim for institutions that promote the individual, his family, and the free associations he makes above political activism, lobbyists, big government and big corporations in bed together, which is where ideas like environmentalism and multiculturalism most often lead.  It’s the political philosophy that lies behind, and beneath what’s become of current establishment liberal thinking in that has not yet figured out how to protect the individual from the big money and big politics that are a result of such thinking in practice.

Related On This Site:  Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art.  The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

Michael Moynihan Reviews Russell Brand At The Daily Beast

It can take a village to raise an idiot, and there appears a space in Britain into which sometimes witty, constantly preening and narcissistic performance artist Russell Brand has plopped himself.

After much shameless celebrity-seeking and many attempts to plop himself over here as well (through manic, self-absorbed word and idea play, the performing part, apparently), Brand has also trafficked in thera-speak, victimology, and making self-piteous demands for inclusion of former drug addicts like himself into society through social programs (though, hats off to anyone who’s kicked such habits).

Michael Moynihan reviewed his book so you don’t have to (no, please don’t get up).  ‘Russell Brand’s Revolution For Morons

‘These are sentences that stupid people think are smart; a simple concept brutally assaulted by a thesaurus. When he hits upon a phrase he likes, the reader should prepare to be smothered by it. Scattered throughout Revolution, Brand denounces “the occupants of the bejeweled bus,” “the bejeweled fun bus of privilege,” “the eighty-five occupants of the bejeweled bus of privilege,” “the occupants of the bejeweled bus,” the “bejeweled bus with eighty-four other plutocrats,” and a “bejeweled misogynist making money by moving ice.” The writing isn’t just excruciatingly bad, but exhaustingly repetitive.’

On that note: It’s not the vapid, radical chic Leftist ideology that Brand tries to wave around without much reason…however…Lena Dunham seems at a crossroads of feminism, the celebrity cult of Self (complete with knowing meta-winks at fame), the inwardness of the writer and artist confessing away, as well a lot of wannabe radicalism and warmed-over 60’s bohemian counter-culture.

Kevin Williamson wasn’t too impressed with all the posturing, holding Dunham to her own standards: “Pathetic Privilege.”

I can’t speak to her art, but I think I know why she’s been feted in many quarters.


Moving along: Should the culture drift further Left, perhaps one could expect the rather lonely Peter Hitchens-type conservative arguments brought against Brand’s bathos.

Perhaps you don’t entirely agree with Hitchens, but if fewer people believe in the spirit of the laws which criminalize drug-use and possession, and fewer believe in the prosecution of those laws (War On Drugs over here), then a lot of the authority based on the presumption of free will and responsibility aimed for in the law-abiding (applying pressure to never use drugs in the first place, especially the hard ones), is likely significantly eroded.

Russell Brand’s arguments aren’t particularly well-made, but I suspect there’s much more space for them, and for compassion without, perhaps, full consideration of the consequences and a lot of other costs besides.


So, this is just liberalism, right?  It’s not race, it’s class.  It’s not ideology, it’s only science.  Look at all this equality!

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s… for a rich account of the times

Which Way, Venezuela?-Michael Moynihan At The Daily Beast: ‘No Mas Democracia’Who Needs A Growing Economy, When You’ve Got Solidarity?-Michael Moynihan At The Daily Beast: ‘The Death Of Stalin’s Songbird’

Christopher Hitchens At Slate: Yale Surrenders

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Robert Tracinski At The Federalist: ‘Neil DeGrasse Tyson & The Metaphysical Dilemma Of The Left’

Full piece here.

Explainers and popularizers often run into the problem of hubris; what they know of their limited fields is limited (even and especially if it is physics). They can often be pressed to become public figures and end-up cogitating on everything under the sun.  If left out in public too long, bad things can happen.

Not all Neil DeGrasse Tyson followers are Leftist ideologues I imagine; people constantly on the lookout to advance their ideological preferences and failed theory of history under the veneer of (S)cience.  Many people, however, are clearly trying to put something into, and take something out-of, DeGrasse Tyson that has little to do with physics.

Human ignorance and metaphysical scorn towards the sciences aren’t merely the provinces of religion either, as the need for meaning, purpose, belonging, identity etc. are ever-present.  The radical, nihilist, and anarchic types more often found under the banner of liberalism are clear proof of that. The group-think and proclamations of evil coming from the Left serves another fine example.

Many artists, writers, musicians etc. are consistently in the meaning-making business through their arts.  Their contributions will live or not live on through following generations and through their art.

I remain highly skeptical of people in the ‘narrative’ business (as I engage in the very same), people who might see their tasks as cultural gatekeepers; perhaps to protect and advance the arts, but who often bring a lot of unexamined ideological and political assumptions along.

This isn’t really science, either.

We should be clear on that part.

Tracinski on the Leftist part:

‘Now put these two together: the left’s imperative to think of itself as a tradition of free-thinkers opposed to religious dogma, and their need for a scientific theory that validates their prejudice against capitalism—and you get the impetus for the whole mentality of what the blogger Ace of Spades calls the “I Love Science Sexually” crowd (a play on the name of a popular Facebook page). And you can also understand their adulation of popularizers like Neil deGrasse Tyson who repeat this conventional wisdom back to them and give it the official imprimatur of science.’

On that note, one of the key questions in political philosophy is:  Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

A general who’s fought honorably in a decisive victory? A religious leader? A scientist with/without practical knowledge of politics and just how local it is?

A Statesman who maintains your favored principles and isn’t too personally or politically compromised to get things done?

What do you think ought to be the duty of a scientist in relation to all of that?

Surprise! Sex Sells, But Do We Need Legalized Prostitution?

Reihan Salam at Slate: ‘It’s Time For Legalized Prostitution:

Apparently, it’s not time:

‘So will Americans soon start clamoring for legalized prostitution? I doubt it, because it’s going to be very hard for people to stop looking down on those who buy and sell sex.’

Along the knife’s edge of sexual revolution can be found many an ideologue to whom the idea of liberation (sexual and otherwise) goes hand-in-hand with ideology. To them, your freedom to buy and sell sex would be part of a much larger project of ideological liberation from opposing historical forces and foes such as the Catholic church, the Puritan roots of America, the ‘Patriarchy,’ the squares, the bourgeoisie etc.

Apart from actual radicals, activists and ideologues, however, everyone’s got thoughts on prostitution. I’m guessing the idea of legalized prostitution is more popular amongst liberals and some libertarians, artists and the avant-garde, the younger generation and a steady band of older goats and ‘sex-positive’ types (my sympathies on your diagnosis).  Perhaps feelings run highest amongst those with a personal stake in the matter, after all, dear reader, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

It’s a complicated issue.

This blog remains open to empirical arguments from the data, and well-reasoned debate, with a lot of skepticism.

Some years ago, Martha Nussbaum tried to bail-out Eliot Spitzer after he was caught visiting a prostitute while also being in charge of prosecuting prostitution laws:

She writes:

“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”

Maybe the U.N. could have drafted a hooker human-rights charter to trump local laws?

As usual, this blog is concerned with the potential for Statism, the deployment of not just science but scientism, not just reasonable arguments but a lot of rationalism as well, with a slavish devotion to experts, a trendy desire to be like Europe, brochures and bureaucrats to fill the hole (ahem).  Many secular humanist ideals are claimed to be universal ideals, which is enough to back our way into a lot of illiberal institutions.

There’s none quite so moralistic as those who’ve fought to overthrow some other forms of moral judgment.

On that note, here are some related videos for your viewing pleasure:

Did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:


Here’s a good cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer,’ which includes the lines:

‘Asking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job…but I get no offers…just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue…’

Turns out Paul Simon was reading the Bible a lot while writing the lyrics.

Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

Full piece here.

-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (an unfortunate photo at the link).

-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast: Another attempt at cultural criticism.

In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me is how much talk there is about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new: An isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.

The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces, yet with soothing, professional demeanor, offering an invitation to return a part of of your Self to you and make you whole again within the work produced by his Self. Jeff Koons is a brand.

Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel as well. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.

As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair…here are a few quotes from the piece:

“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.

Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!

‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’

You need the cultural legitimacy of an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days.

‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’

Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives?  Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?

Everyone’s an artist, these days.

Establishing modernist credentials for the brand:

 ‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’

Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:

‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’

And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:

‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”

Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’

Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.


Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And BubblesWinter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Some quotes from Koons:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it.  I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans.

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within.

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom thrown in)…

…as a result race, identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many others on the political right are doing.

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.” “

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.


As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…).

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’

Full piece here.

Banksy’s website here.

Here’s what much of that ‘meta’ commentary on commerce and transgressive street-art might get you.  Local thugs charging those Banksy groupies to see his art.  Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?:



‘The enormous interest his work arouses, disproportionate to its artistic merit, shows not that there is fashion in art, but that an adolescent sensibility is firmly entrenched in our culture.  The New York Times reports that a lawyer, Ilyssa Fuchs, rushed from her desk the moment she heard about Banksy’s latest work and ran more than half a mile to see it.  Would she have done so if a delicate fresco by Peiro della Francesca had been discovered in Grand Central Terminal?  In the modern world, art and celebrity are one.  And we are all Peter Pan now:  We don’t want to grow up.’

Well, I certainly hadn’t noticed an adolescent sensibility at the NY Times.  Certainly not.

An image of one of those Peiro della Francesca frescoes here.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to view Banksy as a kind of poor man’s Damien Hirst:   A ‘working-class’ British guy with some native talent but not too much in the way of formal training nor arguably lasting artistic achievement (perhaps in the ‘graffiti’ world).  Instead of working as a gallery, mixed-media modern installation artist like Hirst, he’s followed the street-graffiti path leaving ‘transgressive’ messages on politics and ethics scrawled across the cityscape in anonymity.  For all his irony, and the fact that he’s likely in in on the joke, Banksy still finds himself subject to the larger forces at work where art, money, & fame are meeting.

As a girl in Seattle here mentioned to me at a party:  ‘His work is a meta-commentary on art, commerce, greed, creativity and all that.  His becoming a commodity is the ultimate irony.’

Deep man, deep.

Yet, as to Dalrymple’s point, I could imagine an adult sneaking off to check out a Michaelangelo fresco with childlike anticipation, and maybe even a little childish or adolescent delight at being the first to arrive.  Of course, I think that fresco tends to engender a much deeper and complex response than that of Banksy’s work and ‘social commentary’, but the desire for beauty, hope, and brief bursts of transcendence aren’t going anywhere.   This reminds me of Richard Wilbur’s poem:  ‘First Snow In Alsace.‘  which evokes the grim realities of war and suffering covered up by a beautiful snowfall.

Here are the last stanzas and line:

…You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children’s windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

The worst war can bring is juxtaposed against our simple childlike wonder (and possibly childish) delight at that which is beautiful and mysterious in nature.  Of course, such desires can help cause the destruction of war, too, but…hey.   People love to be the first and the coolest.  As Dalrymple argues above, these childish impulses are the ones that should not be so easily encouraged nor celebrated, especially by Banksy nor his reviewers at the NY Times.  I pretty much agree.


Performance artist Marina Ambramovic and Jay-Z are together at last during a 6-hour lip sync performance-art pieceto promote Mr Z’s new album.

Still, it’s probably more engaging than Tilda Swinton in a box.

Maybe Jeff Koons got there first, where marketing, money, and branding met pop art:  A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

***I’d currently argue that in a successful commercial culture such as ours, with such strong tensions between the individual artist and the demos, and such high and low-art available, and where we’re awash in pop culture, music & entertainment, it’s natural to have strong debate going as to what’s ‘cool’ and what’s good art.  Clearly, religion and religious duties come into constant tension with both commerce and art.  Clearly, that commercial culture has formed a celebrity culture which is also affecting our politics.  Clearly, whether or not you’re an art snob, an aesthete, or a secularly or religiously moral person, you can easily see how that culture produces a lot of crap, and can arouse the base desires in people which can be as harmless as a crush, sexual longing, a desire for romantic love and/or the cult-like worship.

Here’s Robert Hughes being especially critical of an Andy Warhol modern art collector, and where money, marketing, art and fame meet:


Addition:  I’ve gotten a few emails suggesting this is too negative.  Bah.  I like some of Banksy’s work for it’s cleverness and wit, and his experience in doing what he does.  Beyond that, not too much and there’s way too much hype.

Related On This Site:  Jay Z And Marina Abramovic Via Twitter: A Pop-Rap Art Marketing Performaganza

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Update And Repost-From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

Full post here.  (including video link)

Detroit may have seen better days, and may have its problems, but is it to be seen through a tragic lens?  Should it viewed as an artifact whose meaning is to be determined by young artists looking for a sense of community, social integration, and a certain definition of “culture?”


Continuing towards a theme:  Reason magazine recently did an interview with David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme for HBO.


At the end of this enjoyably contentious interview, Simon says we must learn how to live in cities.  He says this as though it were a moral imperative, and as though his presentation of a rather tragic vision of human nature, good and evil, individuals navigating through corrupt and decaying institutions, were enough to actually live in those cities.

Here’s some of what Detroit living is like for many people:


The lights are off.  There aren’t enough police.  Like parts of Baltimore, it’s dangerous and unsafe, overrun with criminals and criminal activity.  Detroit doesn’t have enough revenue to provide basic services.  Clearly, some of what Detroit needs is to attract companies that are actually generating revenue back into Detroit.  I doubt that the people still within city limits can focus on the crime and victims of violent crime, the broken windows, and the corruption at City Hall until something like this happens.

I realize we’re looking at decades of decline, and no easy answers. I also understand that Simon spent a lot of time writing at the Baltimore Sun, observing closely the stuff of which he made his show, the actual lives and rational incentives that guide many of his characters.

I don’t begrudge anyone their art nor experience, nor their own ideas and principles regarding that experience.  I also don’t begrudge people their freedom to move into Detroit and grow community gardens, and seek some kind of ‘organic’ solution, though they will clearly run into problems.

Obviously, in getting individuals to contribute to institutions that aren’t already corrupt, or in some cases barely functional, much more is needed, including reasonable freedom from violence, the freedom to move out of a terrible neighborhood if you’re able, and the opportunity to get a job and develop skills that don’t relate to the drug trade.


Perhaps we are also in a Western wave of semi-nihilism passing through the arts and our culture:   Individuals are isolated from, and in conflict with, nearly all institutions and traditions on such a view, led by the isolated artist himself.  Artists usually have problems with religion, politics and convention.  If they’re any good, they can show us beauty, bending our imaginations within the scope of their imaginations through their chosen medium.

You probably recognize the theme these days:  The beautiful city, raucous and ruined, corrupted and decayed.  The isolated, flawed characters making their way tragically through that city, casting long shadows.  You can hear echoes of romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism throughout.

Personally, I doubt some form of soft collectivism or communalism (anti-corporatism) which is being attached to this nihilism is a good solution to such problems between the individual and his institutions in our society.  A lot of liberals are entertaining it these days, in cities like Detroit and post-Katrina New Orleans.

I suspect such an approach will eventually make it harder to defend individual freedoms against the institutions such liberal ideas can actually create, which don’t work so well in the real world.  Our freedom as Americans to make art and engage in free speech are central to our lives, but they are also intimately connected with our political and economic freedoms as well.

This makes for more culture wars, I suppose.

Related On This Site: Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…  Here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?… some people don’t want you to have the freedom to move to the suburbs and are attaching creativity to political goals: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’… From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar Man

From Strange Maps: ‘Crime Topography Of San Francisco’… What about the victims of crime, not all this romanticization of criminals?:  Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’..sometimes religion works for cities:  Repost-William Stern At The City Journal: ‘How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish’

Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’


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