‘The anthropological idea of culture is fundamentally German: Kultur. It would be hard for such an idea to arise in Anglo-Saxon thinking, basically utilitarian, empiricist and individualist. The German strain — Kantian, idealist and collectivist is much more open to it. It is interesting that the continental Pole, Malinowski, always thought of culture as his subject matter (A Scientific Theory of Culture), and thought it should be analyzed in terms of how it answered human needs.‘
‘We’ Germans has certainly posed problems these past centuries (I’ll spare you Lefty-driven Hitler year-zero talk, which, I believe, like our language debates, is driven by ‘problematic’ ideas valorizing liberation over liberty).
If a ‘kultur’ approaches music (math, patterns & free-flowing creativity) like the Germans have, maybe you get a Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. This is good to remember if find yourself squaring-off against the German Army.
Could it be the desire for Weld-Peace also triggers the desire for Weld-Domination?
As readers know, I believe the turn towards Romanticized Nature away from industrialization, and subsequent modernized ‘Nature’ (industry=BAD) is traveling full-speed ahead as part of a process of secularization. Add the post modernized nihilistic ‘Self vs void’ narrative and I believe we have a lot of forces pushing somewhere both new and old.
You can wrap all these American changes within Civil Rights Idealism, secular humanism, liberal idealism and universalism, and call all these changes ‘good.’ That said, you probably look more clueless and partisan if you do, without accounting for the ‘bad.’ Such changes don’t seem to be working out in the real world without shitting on everything religious, local, traditional and un-modern.
I think this helps explain our current political climate.
Then again, here in the States, we have had our own Puritans; much more likely to support a certain moral and religious order. Their DNA is especially visible in New England and the Boston area.
There are also a lot of deeply religious folks in the Mennonite and Amish villages dotted throughout the country. From Texas to Iowa to Pennsylvania, there are swathes of strait-laced German influence.
These have often existed apart from the new, secular, progressive religion, where there is a lot of sorrowfully crying into soft, institutional pillows, supporting the latest activist (C)ause (usually with someone else’s money and time), while punishing non-believers.
Human nature and reality await.
It seems a lot of folks who are religious, local, traditional and un-modern might also be secularizing, to some extent.
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
As to the epistemological questions surrounding Modernism, below are four poems. Hopefully, each is a representative example of a move away from the Romanticism that had been prevalent up until the late 1800’s.
In addition to the move away from traditional Romantic rhyme and meter towards modern blank verse, there’s also a certain conception of the Self rendered in them; a presentation of our natures that might be worth examining in some detail.
I believe we can see clearly a move away from tradition towards the Self, the Poet isolated, the poem itself as a means of communication, and an anxiety so common within the 20th century.
‘At the heart of Bloom’s project is the ancient quarrel between “poetry” and “philosophy.” In Bloom’s opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior.’
Says the guy who writes about poetry…
What does one find within, as one looks without, waking from sleep and dream?
What kind of world is this, and can the poet actually help us know it?
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.
As consciousness creeps in, building a bridge to the day, to the world, to the facts left as though they were the first facts, the light as though it were the first light, what one finds is distressing, both within and without.
That distress must be ‘made new,’ which is to say, the suffering (original?) in which we all sometimes find ourselves must match our experiences within the modern city and world, at least, the world created within Eliot’s lyrical verse.
Of the four poems, only the first and last have a 3rd-person subject.
Wallace Stevens‘ ‘I’ is in a more contemplative state, but it’s an ‘I’ exploring similar themes, and experiencing some distress in trying to know how the world actually is, and what might lie within.
The journey to The Self may not be a journey for the faint of heart.
The Poems Of Our Climate (stanzas II and III)
II Say even that this complete simplicity Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed The evilly compounded, vital I And made it fresh in a world of white, A world of clear water, brilliant-edged, Still one would want more, one would need more, More than a world of white and snowy scents.
III There would still remain the never-resting mind, So that one would want to escape, come back To what had been so long composed. The imperfect is our paradise. Note that, in this bitterness, delight, Since the imperfect is so hot in us, Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
Even if the verse can describe a perfected world, delivering us, perhaps, a little closer to perfection, our poet is still not free from the impulses and desires which simply never cease.
Interestingly, we end-up not with a discussion of the heart, the spirit, libido etc. as a source for those desires (for Plato, the irrational), but rather, for Stevens, just a mind.
We also find more Romantic elements of language and an almost baroque/rococo arrangement of words and ideas, dandyish even, yet combined with an intense effort to abstract, define, and clarify. From here, the poet may proceed on his task of flawed words and stubborn sounds.
***I find myself thinking of elements of modern architecture and abstract-expressionist painting. The meaning, or at least some delivery from our restless existences, can be found within the abstract itself. Or at least within a retreat to the abstract for its own sake, away from the world.
The modernist, glass-walled house on the hill will exist in its own space, offering and defying meaning. The structure’s own shapes will be stripped down to often mathematically precise forms interacting with Nature. These shall guide Man, or at least offer individual men a little refuge.
It is perhaps in Stevens’ poem we can see the questions of knowledge about the world suggesting questions about whether there is a world at all, or, at least, what kind of worlds each Self might be able to inhabit.
The Self is extremely isolated. In fact, Lowell went more than a little crazy. Unlike the known nervous breakdown of Eliot from which Eliot recovered, Lowell’s life was essentially one long breakdown from which he never recovered.
Here he is, looking back:
Those blessed structures plot and rhyme- why are they no help to me now i want to make something imagined not recalled? I hear the noise of my own voice: The painter’s vision is not a lens it trembles to caress the light. But sometimes everything i write With the threadbare art of my eye seems a snapshot lurid rapid garish grouped heightened from life yet paralyzed by fact. All’s misalliance. Yet why not say what happened? Pray for the grace of accuracy Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination stealing like the tide across a map to his girl solid with yearning. We are poor passing facts. warned by that to give each figure in the photograph his living name.
The weight of having to make that meaning, for yourself, and by yourself, is a horrible weight indeed. One can glorify one’s Self and family, but that, alas, only goes so far. Rhyme and form still carry one’s living name, as far as they do.
Of course, there’s still wonderful rhythm and form here (this is excellent verse), but blanker now, with a relentless focus on the ‘I.’ The poet is perhaps talking a little more to himself, and the poem keeps self-consciously calling attention to itself.
In fact, it reminded me of the poem below, by Robert Creeley, which was published a few years afterwards.
From this page:
‘Creeley was a leader in the generational shift that veered away from history and tradition as primary poetic sources and gave new prominence to the ongoing experiences of an individual’s life. Because of this emphasis, the major events of his life loom large in his literary work.’
There’s Nothing but the Self and the Eye seeking and making meaning, by itself within a void of emotionally compact and precise language (of course there’s still form and other things besides).
Can the poet fit inside the little abstract chapel of words he’s building for himself (let alone the world, tradition etc.)?
For all the talk about ‘space,’ there seems very little.
Position is where you put it, where it is, did you, for example, that
large tank there, silvered, with the white church along- side, lift
all that, to what purpose? How heavy the slow
world is with everything put in place. Some
man walks by, a car beside him on the dropped
road, a leaf of yellow color is going to
fall. It all drops into place. My
face is heavy with the sight. I can feel my eye breaking.
The distress is still there…but I’d argue that we are now a good distance away from the grandness of Eliot’s vision, his religiosity and virtuosity with form and meter at the dawn of Modernism. Very few people can/could do what Eliot did (addition: even if he can help us gain knowledge of our Selves or the world).
That said, it’s unclear there’s enough tradition and confidence to even undertake such a project, now, even as such talents come along. The state of things is more scattered. We’re in a very different place of selves and artists isolated, of anxiety and post-anxiety.
Aside from the very accomplished poets above, in terms of both knowledge (epistemology) and being (ontology), we often have writers feeling pressure to weigh-in on such questions without even being about to write that well; artists who can’t draw or paint that well, and frankly, quite a bit of bullshit besides.
So, where are we headed? Who’s ‘we’ exactly?
Predictions are hard, especially about the future.
‘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.’
What are these poems being asked to do?
And moving away from poetry into the realm of ‘performance art,’
Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.
In fact, he finishes with:
‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’
I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor. These are simple folk, really. The J6 event (at least a riot) simply acted as confirmation.
Traditional folks, country folks, religious folks and unmodern folks have all become out-groups, treated with scorn, pity or, perhap; sad rubes to be rounded-up by the new fields of knowledge implemented within a benevolent managerial state.
Welcome to the minority! There sure was a lot of dishonesty, cowardice and injustice in how this profound shift is playing out.
We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right? Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.
Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?
Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?
Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth: It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.
Irving Kristol is just one example. I like to imagine his son, Bill, employing his talents as a regional franchise manager for some Honda dealerships in central Ohio or Wendy’s in Tennessee. Would his views remain the same in the salons of the Upper East side?
Would anyone care?
Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost. There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’
Such views are having more and more real-world consequences.
Human nature and reality await.
I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?
How much equality is enough? How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?
Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me? Are these worth the trade-offs?
If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.
In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:
‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’
Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.
Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:
Technology: Chapt GPT will likely create an assistive-technological training platform for the ambitious and reasonably bright. Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated; and many more technological skills will likely live on steeper curves of obsolescence. There’s no replacement for competence, reliability, and focused attention, of course. People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).
Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector. There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.
Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.
America has an aging population (less so than China and many European countries), and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist. This is a serious, serious problem.
Aren’t you glad we’re so busy politicizing many personal problems?
The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets. Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change. With the postmodern move, and all the ‘studies’ departments and busy-work administrators, I don’t see how pretty dramatic change isn’t forced upon a lot of people unwilling to move their food bowls.
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve. The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king. At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their antient edifice; they did not however, dissolve the whole fabric.’
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
From where I stand: Many people can be seen clamoring towards (S)cience these days (or at least claiming some of its authority), but the people doing science are, well, doing science. They might be informed by their political beliefs, but their political beliefs shouldn’t be present in their work. Natural philosophy, mathematics, statistical modeling, empirical research etc. go on in the public and private sector, despite potentially serious supply/demand and other structural issues.
Institutional capture, however, also continues, and incentives within institutions. Many Arts & Humanities departments have been over-run by the ‘studies’ types, especially within administrations.
Activist sexual, moral and political liberationists could be said to be the driving force behind much in American life right now. Such movements tend to attract true believers who punish their enemies, seeking administrative/bureaucratic control of our institutions and political life.
The postmodern roots are pretty deep. Good luck with your prognostications:
When it comes to the arts, do you know what’s coming next?:
It’s not so much that change is occuring, but in pointing out the change agents, and many ideas driving change, and questioning many such ideas opens one up to the mob.