Snow falls: years of anger following hours that float idly down — the blizzard drifts its weight deeper and deeper for three days or sixty years, eh? Then the sun! a clutter of yellow and blue flakes — Hairy looking trees stand out in long alleys over a wild solitude. The man turns and there — his solitary track stretched out upon the world.
‘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!
Rod Dreher’s new book, ‘Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents‘, posits that soft totalitarianism is coming fast, and that, once instutional influence is gained by radical Leftists, networks of the openly religious will need to form and associate ad hoc networks on their own, to maintain resistance.
Arguably, the influence of religious belief as well as Natural Law/Natural Right doctrines, traditionally profound influences on American civic life, continues to diminish. So, the thinking goes, we are fast arriving at an increasingly divided civic and political life. The logic of Left political radicalism becomes ever more entrenched in our universities, media and politics, entrenching a more Right-radical, European-style response.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option), points to what he believes are signs of the obvious failure of modern, liberal doctrines to replace the kinds of meaning such religious doctrines have provided.
Here are two recent blog posts containing this worldview of his, about which I’ve provided additional summary and commentary (please let me know what I’m missing).
‘Advice For A Weary Ghost‘-A 35 year-old woman feels empty inside, writing to ‘The Cut‘ for advice. She doesn’t have a husband and can’t seem to maintain deep, meaningful relationships. She’s had jobs but not a career. Maybe it’s not just her.
The adviser promotes a surburbanely popularized vision of the rebellious and Romantically-inspired artistic life, reaffirming much of what Dreher and his commenters see as inadequate for most people, most of the time.
This view, I presume, utilizes the wrong maps to steer one’s (S)oul and inform life decisions. Perhaps it allows one to succumb to materialist concerns and potentially materialist doctrines (too strongly measuring one’s life largely by economic, professional and outward successes/failures). It also perpetuates the woman’s confessedly empty, Self-interested pursuits, cutting her off from the happiness of family and loved ones without much to show for it.
The ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, political activism etc.) are poor substitutes for a moral, meaningful life. The Church might just the place to be, but Catholic Church leadership, too, is corrupt and covered with the dust of this world. There will increasingly be witch hunts upon religious believers by the new SJW believers.
The lady’s probably not going to be an (A)rtist, the lady giving advice probably ain’t so great an (A)rtist either.
Can the humanities become a lifelong source of wisdom and meaning?
‘Manufacturing Consent To Gender Ideology‘-Boys wanting to be girls, and vice versa, is the latest (C)ause. These outliers upon distributions of human sexual behavior, often shunned, mocked and condemned to limited lives, must not only be included in everyone’s moral concern, but celebrated. Through social activism and protest, they are to become exemplars of the new normal.
Doctrines promising radical liberation, hinging upon revolutionary praxis, go about attacking and reforming current traditions, institutions, laws and arrangements, often grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting them to gain advantage. The grudging acknowledgement of freedoms gained through progressive activism and radical thought always come with costs.
And, given the natural ignorance of the human condition, and the basic desire humans have for group meaning, authority, security, identity and purpose, this latest (C)ause which promises liberation, will end-up delivering something quite different.
Cycles of utopianism and dystopianism await, and more disgruntled individuals drifting around aimlessly looking for an ad hoc ethics and politics, sometimes flirting with authoritarian and totalitarian Leftist doctrines as those doctrines become more mainstreamed:
‘The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.‘
Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:
‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.
That sounds pretty French.
In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:
Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal; It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky Closes slowly like an immense alcove, And impatient man turns into a beast of prey. O evening, kind evening, desired by him Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow, The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.
Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen, And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters. Among the gas flames worried by the wind Prostitution catches alight in the streets; Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out; Everywhere she blazes a secret path, Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack; She moves in the heart of the city of mire Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats. Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens, The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;
The gambling dens, where games of chance delight, Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices; The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy, Are soon going to begin their work, they also, And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.
Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment, And close your ears to this uproar; It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper! Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end Of their destinies and go to the common pit; The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one Will come no more to get his fragrant soup By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.
However, most of them have never known The sweetness of a home, have never lived!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?
Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?
‘The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’
‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’
I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.
Someone tell the French ladies of the night: Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online. There might be…options. Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).
There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:
On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:
‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:
Martha Nussbaum 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.”
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.