Did you know Hawthorne had a son who wrote for Hearst and rubbed shoulders with Twain?:
‘Over the course of his long life, Julian Hawthorne seems to have met every major literary and public figure of his time. As a child, he sometimes listened in as his father conversed with Emerson, Thoreau and Melville. At birthday parties, he played games with little Louisa May Alcott.’
“As a student of his native literature, Mencken favours writers with the authentic American yawp – Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, the humorists George Ade and Ring Lardner. Huckleberry Finn is the novel he loves most (followed, somewhat surprisingly, by Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim). He judges Emerson to be overrated – “an importer of stale German elixirs, sometimes direct and sometimes through the Carlylean branch house”. He can’t bear the circumlocutions of Henry James and the gentility of William Dean Howells”
Menand wonders in his new book, why it often can take 9 years for a humanities PhD to get their doctorate. He suggests part of the answer lies in the numbers: fewer opportunities and fewer university programs since 1970. Overtrained and underpaid.
Via Althouse via the NY Times, applying decontructionism to the works of Edward Hopper:
They’re coming for your ‘myths’, America.
Some of them, anyways:
“Yes, there’s a lot of talent and beauty and all that,” said Mr. Shadwick, who remains a big Hopper fan, “but there’s also a very conscious awareness of his place in history, and of the purported Americanness of the scenes he was painting.”
‘I think the “awareness” he’s referring to is in the minds of people who value Hopper. Maybe those minds are full of delusions and mythology. They’re only half-aware. Not… woke.‘
It’s not as clear to me a deconstructionist would go after obvious ‘woke’, so much as interrogate other things, driving towards (S)elves without myth nor national character in an increasingly flattened landscape.
From the author’s site, where he is making a career out of ideas about ideas about Hopper:
‘This relation of Hopper’s works to their broader social history will underpin an interrogation of the development and cultivation of Hopper’s Americanist persona, challenging notions of Hopper’s quintessential ‘Americanness’ and deconstructing the implications of such rhetoric in relation to the artist’s canonical reputation.‘
Hmmm….as to choices artists must make. From the NY Times piece:
In rendering his pioneering views of everyday life in average America (or, as Mr. Shadwick would say, in the America Hopper helped define as average), Hopper chose an everyday style that brings him closer to the modest commercial illustration of his era than to the certified old masters.
The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…
When it comes to the Old Masters, I can’t help but think of Auden:
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Discussed in the video: James Lindsay’s cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.
Also, the two touch upon Critical Theory, and the next generation of post-post-modernists, reacting against the previous generation.
I doubt movements like this ever really die, especially ones committed to the logic of radically standing apart from all institutions of authority, traditions, systems and social arrangments; the lone, brilliant artists and the academic poseurs cloaked within the glamour of nihilist jargon and bad epistemologies.
Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate: ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty‘
“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”
Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.
Mentioned In The Review: Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…
‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’
Worth a read.
The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?
Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?
I could be wrong.
Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.
Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.
‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’
‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’
I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:
So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
‘The first is that the world isintelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’
‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’
Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss the ‘treasure chest’ vision of science, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.
Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:
‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge ishard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions.’
One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, as all manner of other ideas fill the void.
Addition: I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).
I suppose ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and/or ‘libertarian socialism’ is better than the dead-ends of socialist doctrine. Noam Chomsky actually had enough computational/scientific training to be dismissive of postmodern thought. Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…
‘BC:What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.‘
From Mike Nayna’s Youtube channel: Radical students and some of their thought-leading administrators have a talk at Middlebury:
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
As previously posted:
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.
Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
‘I keep a physical and metaphorical distance between myself and the subject. It’s a way of delineating my ‘foreignness’ and is a similar stance to the one I took while working in Poland making The Sound of Two Songs (2004-09). It’s comes very naturally to me; I’ve always felt I’m better at observing than participating, so to stand back and watch from afar suits me very well.’
I often find myself drawn to photos with some distance.
“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’
Well, there’s Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, which looks interesting:
As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:
Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.
But it can be empty, and lonely, and full of hard work and suffering:
I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises. I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,
Thirst where the grasses burn in early May And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.
There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.
So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,
And found no images of pastoral will, But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.
Perhaps it has do with another strand of expression: The break into free verse from past forms. The move from American Romanticism to Modernism which occurred this early past century. William Carlos Williams produced many good poems from a process of earnest, scrapbook-style intensity in trying to discover, redefine, and order a new poetic form within a modern ‘urban landscape.’
The individual artist is quite alone in the task he’s set before himself, and like much of modernism, it’s a rather big task.
When I was younger it was plain to me I must make something of myself. Older now I walk back streets admiring the houses of the very poor: roof out of line with sides the yards cluttered with old chicken wire, ashes, furniture gone wrong; the fences and outhouses built of barrel staves and parts of boxes, all, if I am fortunate, smeared a bluish green that properly weathered pleases me best of all colors.
No one will believe this of vast import to the nation
We’ve continued to see the application of quantitative reasoning, and applied mathematics, to many fields pursuing knowledge and truth of our interior lives (psychology), how we act in groups (sociology), where we might have come from (anthropology) and not merely how to buy and sell stuff, but markets themselves (the quants on Wall Street). Much of this will be highly useful knowledge, new knowledge even, with a lot of truth to it.
At the same time, however, the further pursuit of not merely quantitative reasoning, mathematics, the natural sciences and computer sciences, but the (R)ational, is in conflict with the (I)rrational, the nihilistic, The Will and Will To Power. The (S)elf is a primary conception alive in the West today, and thus does the postmodern (S)elf permeate the arts, art movements, and the (C)ulture at-large. The Hegelian conception of (H)istory, and its re-appearance in Marx, provides intellectual backdrop for many ideologues and ideologies active in many American institutions.
In the meantime, maybe pick up a hobby? Maybe it’s poetry, or music, or off-roading, or mining, or photography. Learn how bad you are at something, as you slowly become better through hard work. Come to appreciate those who worked hard and came before.
Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame. Take the moral law and make a nave of it And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus, The conscience is converted into palms, Like windy citherns hankering for hymns. We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take The opposing law and make a peristyle, And from the peristyle project a masque Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness, Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last, Is equally converted into palms, Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm, Madame, we are where we began. Allow, Therefore, that in the planetary scene Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed, Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade, Proud of such novelties of the sublime, Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk, May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres. This will make widows wince. But fictive things Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white, On a white heal-all, holding up a moth Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth– Assorted characters of death and blight Mixed ready to begin the morning right, Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth– A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth, And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white, The wayside blue and innocent heal-all? What brought the kindred spider to that height, Then steered the white moth thither in the night? What but design of darkness to appall?– If design govern in a thing so small.
‘The first time I visited New York, between 40 and 50 years ago, it was a place of ill repute, at least among foreigners. Rumor and report made the city sound like a low-intensity war zone, and you would find yourself regaled with advice on how to stay safe there, un-mugged and un-shot.’
‘Just under a half-century later, the level of civility in the two cities has switched: New York now feels safer than London.’
It was the really pretty girls, and the tall, ambitious guys, among my cohort, who made made their way to Manhattan.
Touring the city, I was shown a dream, gazing down from Midtown; a forest of skyscrapers on a clamorous loading-dock. I saw people easily dead within a week, and people trying to write their names in marble or maybe a concrete cornerstone.
We all have ambitions.
The recently deceased Clive James (England via Australia) visited New York in the 1980’s for his Postcards series. He seems very worried about getting mugged a second time.
That’s a lot more likely these days.
Everybody knows you take a classy, beautiful lady on a classy movie date, down in Times Square:
I don’t know about all these Brits roaming around.
Here’s Sting singing his classic ‘British Guy In The Five Boroughs’
In fact, what people with a longer history can teach us about history is that people might forgive, but they rarely forget:
Ambitious Southern Gentleman makes his way to New York and gets hip to The Arts & Journalism, fact and fiction:
This is coming from a pretty honorable, pretty reasonable guy on the pro-speech, pro-Science Left.
My guesses: Youtube management develops its algorithms with a lion’s share of user data, outsourcing much judgment to AI models and a complex automation process.
Youtube management probably feels pressure, as a company, to direct user attention towards paying clients (existing news outlets and networks just as many such media companies are being hollowed-out by….Youtube). The conflicts of interest in health, the sciences and politics don’t necessarily mean all the truth and getting at the truth.
Many human biases are pushing towards the broad, humanistic goals of equality and ‘democracy’. Ever more freedom, led by Enlightened, benevolent Western sorts.
Freedom is next! Health and Safety first!
For my part, with COVID-19 about, I’m seeing an inconsistent application of rules, bureaucratic authoritarianism, and some clear political corruption and conflicts of interest.
Following the threads of radical liberation doesn’t necessarily weave a strong cloth. In fact, many such threads lead to further institutional decay and ideological capture. The assumption of equality across race, sex, and ability doesn’t necessarily map the terrain.
Many of the wrong people and wrong types of people are ending up in wrong places.
Human nature runs deep. It certainly ain’t all good. Maintaining legitimate authority, our Constitutional constraints, and the consent of the governed ain’t easy.
Addition: I’ve gotten some pushback on: ‘The assumption of equality across race, sex, and ability doesn’t necessarily map the terrain.’
What I mean: I believe basic equality in dealing with another person is a moral obligation, but not one which begins and ends with the laws of men. Civil Rights logic is a major step towards civil recognition and freedom for those oppressed, but is also a massive expansion of State authority which oppressed. Some claiming Civil Rights leadership have devolved into racketeers. Many ideologues reaffirm daily the wish to destroy that which exists. Something like a new belief system, and civic religion, is being formed, likely of necessity. Some minds haven’t (and maybe can’t) necessarily have been persuaded, only coerced.
This is asking a lot of our laws and institutions. Perhaps too much.
Comparing men and women across all domains (personal, biological), while encouraging the many divides between the sexes be remedied by the guiding light of humanistic ideals, and increasingly dense law, does not necessarily mean good law. In fact, it might not accurately map many personal experiences, deepest hopes, nor biological imperatives. Among those charged with highest responsibility in maintaining laws and institutional authority, there is a foundational belief that change comes first. How might such a belief work in practice? Can many current rates of change be sustained?
Individuals aren’t equal in ability, often not even while compared across different days…with themselves. Incentives matter.
These are reasons for deep pessimism, of course. I hope to be proven wrong, or certainly, incomplete, in my thinking.
On that note, re-constituting a good humanities education, speaking to deepest needs, might be a good place to start.
This probably means kicking out many entrenched ideologues, mid-level managers and gravy-trainers, or just letting some folks rot on the vine.
I won’t pretend to have the knowledge in deciding who’s who and how much.