‘Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’
I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.
‘The centerpiece of Miller’s argument is the making and appreciating of art. Miller’s idea of art, as we might expect, is wide-ranging and popular, drawn more from everywhere in culture: dancing, body-decoration, clothing, jewellery, hair-styling, architecture, furniture, gardens, cars, images such as calendars and paintings, creative uses of language, popular entertainments from religious festivals to TV soaps, music of all kinds, and on and on. Miller’s discussion is less focused on the high-art culture of modernism and postmodernism, since it anyway distinguishes itself against popular taste.‘
Of course, there will be all manner of reductionism (art=sex) and popularized idiocy (Bach + brain-scan = pop-neuroscience) to follow.
There’s something about both our cultural tilt towards (S)cience-ifying every aspect of life (stretching out these new fields of knowledge) as well as the popularized explanatory journalism (Jesus Christ not another think-piece) which are worth thinking about.
Witnessing the outcomes and consequences of such truth and knowledge claims downstream, some quite possibly more true than others, invites skepticism.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Don’t worry, ‘ethics’ on the fly, in universities and in journalism is everywhere these days, and beneath that, some crazy new true-believers.
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebribrification of art):
There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.
This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.
I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).
Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American
The blue booby lives on the bare rocks of Galapagos and fears nothing. It is a simple life: they live on fish, and there are few predators. Also, the males do not make fools of themselves chasing after the young ladies. Rather, they gather the blue objects of the world and construct from them a nest—an occasional Gaulois package, a string of beads, a piece of cloth from a sailor’s suit. This replaces the need for dazzling plumage; in fact, in the past fifty million years the male has grown considerably duller, nor can he sing well. The female, though,
asks little of him— the blue satisfies her completely, has a magical effect on her. When she returns from her day of gossip and shopping, she sees he has found her a new shred of blue foil: for this she rewards him with her dark body, the stars turn slowly in the blue foil beside them like the eyes of a mild savior.
Laura Kipnis, a former Marxist-materialist feminist (who among us hasn’t longed for an economy run by Marxists?), and still quite Left-feminist, has become a source of information and resolve against Title IX abuses and the shadowy kangaroo courts which have resulted.
In the audio interview, she mentions part of what really interests her is not this task, nor university and government policy, but finding ‘freedom on the page,’ partially guided by by Twain, Whitman and various others.
Naturally, I support her in this, and, of course, this kind of ‘freedom on the page’ and exploration of the human condition with wit, humor, tragedy, and irony is the point of a good humanities education.
Or, it certainly was before many campus radicals and Marxist-materialists came to town, helping to create bloated bureaucracies, sexual paranoia and byzantine federal mandates…oh you know the rest.
Dear Student, this letter has been sent to advise you to appear before…Falco!:
Facing West From California’s Shores
Facing west, from California’s shores, Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound, I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar, Look off the shores of my Western Sea—the circle almost circled; For, starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere, From Asia—from the north—from the God, the sage, and the hero, From the south—from the flowery peninsulas, and the spice islands; Long having wander’d since—round the earth having wander’d, Now I face home again—very pleas’d and joyous; (But where is what I started for, so long ago? And why it is yet unfound?)
I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman – I have detested you long enough. I come to you as a grown child Who has had a pig-headed father; I am old enough now to make friends. It was you that broke the new wood, Now is a time for carving. We have one sap and one root – Let there be commerce between us.
‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.‘
Such bad use of language!
Blink if you can hear me.
The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.
I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’
‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’
I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal. They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.
Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:
‘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.’
‘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, overwhelming 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.’
And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:
‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’
Charity has limits.
This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.
In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.
Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:
‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’
Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.
‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’
It may be as simple as following the money.
On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.
Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:
Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.
It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.
This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.
And let’s not forget one of the masters (as though putting such words here imbues this blog with the same stuff):
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief, That thou her maid art far more fair than she: Be not her maid, since she is envious; Her vestal livery is but sick and green And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. It is my lady, O, it is my love! O, that she knew she were! She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that? Her eye discourses; I will answer it. I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks: Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return. What if her eyes were there, they in her head? The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven Would through the airy region stream so bright That birds would sing and think it were not night. See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O, that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that cheek!
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
‘Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.’
‘In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.’
‘The important thing to understand about journalists is that they are the lowest ranking intellectuals. That is to say: they are members of the intellectual class, but in the status hierarchy of intellectuals, journalists are at the bottom. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status cues of the working class: the drinking and the swearing, the anti-establishment values and the commitment to the non-professionalization of journalism.’
and on professors:
‘The important thing to understand about academics is that they are the highest rank of intellectuals. That is why they have traditionally adopted the status symbols of the 19th-century British leisured class—the tweeds and the sherry and the learning of obscure languages—while shunning the sorts of things that are necessary for people for whom status is something to be fought for through interaction with the normal members of society (such as reasonably stylish clothing, minimal standards of hygiene, basic manners).‘
Stanley Fish on being recently disinvited from speaking at Seton Hall (behind a paywall):
‘Recently I was invited, then disinvited, to speak at Seton Hall University. Members of a faculty committee had decided by email that they didn’t want a university audience to be subjected to views like mine. I had been writing on the emergence on campus of what I call a regime of virtue. this was the first time I experienced it directly.’
A fairly typical pattern: A group of student activists claim that a certain speaker’s views are so dangerous that this speaker cannot be heard.
Many ideologically aligned, sympathetic, or sometimes cowardly, faculty members encourage or endorse these student activists.
‘In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.
This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: “There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining.”
A few conservative folks have said to me: Whether it be Kant, Mill, Locke or even Isaiah Berlin, conservatism (conserving what is) does not necessarily require a movement towards Continental and rationalist systems of thought.
It’s a trap!
There’s important truth in such a statement, of course, but I don’t think you know quite what you’re up against, here, and who my audience is. I’m looking for anchors.
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.