Culture

Update & Repost-From The LA Review Of Books-‘Death By Prefix? The Paradoxical Life Of Modernist Studies’

Full piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘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 previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.  Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity?  Reverence?  Good old Longfellow?  Sonnets?  Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas:  An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or  perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own.  Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader.  Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot  

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Repost-From Roger Sandall: ‘The Slave Girl and the Professor’

Full piece here.

Sandall discussed a book and move titled I Am Slave as well as Kwame Appiah’s essay entitled “What’s Wrong With Slavery.” On some of Appiah’s thinking:

“What he calls “the central moral questions” about liberating slaves are the author’s main concern, and he affirms that freedom comes first. But according to Appiah “freedom is not enough”. After the act of liberation we also have a duty to guarantee every freed slave respect, dignity, and both social- and self-esteem.”

In the ‘best of all possible worlds’, perhaps we do, as far as self-esteem is concerned.  Sandall finds Western liberal establishment thinking a target when it comes to the depths of moral arguments necessary to address such an issue:

‘According to the title of a recent book by the amiable Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal we live in The Age of Empathy, something he attributes to our warmly social hominid instincts. Also recently published is a book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, arguing that the modern era has been one of moral progress accompanied by a steady decline in violence. It seems that what Norbert Elias called “the civilizing process” is nowadays on many minds, and Kwame A. Appiah’s 2010 book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, might be seen as broadly in the same vein. Taking an idiosyncratic view of moral and social progress, he sees national and social honour playing a key role in the outlawing of the duel, in the abandonment of Chinese foot-binding, in the abolition of slavery, and in the ongoing struggle by enlightened men and women in Islamic lands against the horror of “honour killings”. All these changes are what he calls “moral revolutions.”

Of course, one moral injunction might run:  “One should not enslave another”  which sounds straight-forward enough, but as we see in Africa and increasingly in Britain via Africa, some people are still engaging in the practice.  In fact, for much of American history, and in various other parts of the world in the past, now, and presumably in the future, many people can be said to violate such an injunction.  Human cruelty and indifference, the spoils of war, economic and competitive advantage, and the complex relationship between master and slave just to name a few, are reasons that one person will enslave another, and which allows other people to look away.

‘As a result, what amounts to an uncivilizing processis now flourishing on Europe’s fringes. For that is what the modern slave trade represents — the trade that trapped a 12-year-old girl in the Sudan and has doomed hundreds more African youngsters from elsewhere. This also relates to Appiah’s respectful anthropological account of the several grades of domestic servitude and patriarchal subordination in traditional West African society, grades blandly euphemised by apologists as “our regional family culture,” and that all too easily collapse into subjection and brutality’

Interesting essay.

Some truth and courage in the face of barbarism, but also a lot of sentiment, and dramatic romanticization of Africa: Kony 2012.

Related On This Site:  Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Romantic primitivism in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?:  Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Hirsi Ali seems to have found the embrace of the West out of both tribal localism and its customs, Islam, and the short-sightedness of multiculturalism.  Notice non-Muslims are not the ones threatening her with death: Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily BeastRepost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote ForTolerance And Inclusion’

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At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Blackburn not so impressed with the Blank Slate: Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy DepartmentAt Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.

Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.

I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).

I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority. Process can often matter as much as outcome.

Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.

This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.

I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.

***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.

Related On This Site:

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Please Don’t Join A F**kin’ Cult-Some Gathered Links And Stray Thoughts

Technology can affect each of us personally and intimately; vast distances suddenly bridged and scaled downwards.  Endless distractions.

How to live and what to do?  Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, people in the academy; some people are handling this change better than others, personally and professionally.

High rates of technological change are likely a leading cause for our institutional chaos right now; the political extremes dominating discourse, the shifting middle, the more visibly grubby political class members ascendance and the social media mobbing.

From where I stand, it seems some on the religious and political right suggest withdrawal from the public square entirely.

It seems many on the ideological Left are thinking the same (back to the Commune), despite a longer, rather successful march through many institutions and likely being overstretched at the moment (the dark web cometh).

I figure if you know how to value that which matters most, you’ll navigate alright.  Don’t forget to do right by those you love, and those who love you:  Work, effort, and sacrifice.  Take a look at the stars when you can.  Keep learning.  Take it easy, sometimes.

And don’t join a f**kin’ cult!

-Nxivm is pronounced ‘Nexium,’ which sounds prettly classy (the purple pill) and legit (like something carved at Caesar’s Palace parking lot) : The ‘Sex Cult’ That Preached Empowerment

-Is Nxivm lower on the rung of ‘bad ideas’ than Heaven’s Gate (a steaming pile of scripture, New Age lunacy, weird sexual abnegation and half-baked astronomy..):

-Lawrence Wright on his book-Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison Of Belief.

Maybe I’ll help gore a sacred cow or two:

Dorothy Thompson speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party.

‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’

Power through discipline!  Strengthen your will!

Intellectuals running things…who joins mass movements?

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle?  Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

===============

As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people.  They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence.  That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply  From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Full post here.

Saving the humanities from some humanists, anti-humanists, ideologues and people who understand too little and expect too much of both the arts and the sciences?

A brief response by our author to this NY Times Op-Ed piece:

“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”

and:

“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”

Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences?

Here are some links gathered over the years:

1. Lots of people invested in ideology will naturally seek to extend their ideological commitments, worldview, and beliefs into the books they read (including this blogger?).  What are you hoping to get out of that book in your hand?: Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’…

2. Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities, via a lot of German philosophical idealism Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgmentbut some German influences may come with other problems.

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

3. Keep politics (add: and business) out of academia, when you can?-Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

4. Strauss and the Straussians-Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom…Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

5. Just read for its own sake, man, it doesn’t need an endpoint, because art’s pretty useful and useless: Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

6. Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-The Cresting Of A Hipster Wave?-From The New York Observer: ‘Brooklyn Is Now Officially Over: The Ascendance of Brooklyn, the Lifestyle, Above All Else’

Full piece here.

First the Beats, then the Hippies, now the Hipsters?

For many years now, Brooklyn seems to have become a beacon for people involved in a restless search for culture and authenticity, group-membership and belonging, identity and some sense of purpose. This seems to be in addition to all the other job/career/immigration/mating reasons people have typically moved there.

It was a place where working-class people could afford a house.

Mind you, no one ever put-up a neon-sign over Brooklyn, flashing away into the night and visible from the suburbs (unless it was probably done ironically, mocking the ‘crass commercialism’ of a ‘bygone’ and fetishized era), but there have been some interesting demographic shifts going on. The words ‘community’ and ‘craft,’ ‘artisanal’ and ‘fair trade’ get thrown around a lot.

Have hipsters become part of the fabric of the city?

Here’s an interesting piece from Christy Wampole At The Ny Times ‘How To Live Without Irony:’

‘The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool.’

Christian Lorenzten has a less flattering take, in order to get at a more pure definition of ‘cool’:

Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.

Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot.

(Addition: Of course his version of ‘authentic’ seems to be that hipsters haven’t thankfully gone full Lefty).

Below are the Mast brothers, taking that hipster ethos into the business and branding of themselves as chocolate-makers, along with an entirely ‘old-timey’ aesthetic. Few chocolate-makers take pains to mention Mark Twain & Ralph Waldo Emerson:

——————–

It seems the tide may already have receded a bit.

From the Observer:

‘Economic bifurcation has increasingly divided a borough known for its vibrant blend of cultures, classes and races into two different worlds, each with its own set of schools, stores restaurants and bars, with those at the bottom receding from the larger consciousness of Brooklyn identity to the degree that The Wall Street Journal recently labeled Bed-Stuy’s “underserved” those who could not, until now, find a craft beer for under $7. ‘

Has the hipster been good for Brooklyn?

That’s debatable, and it depends on just who we’re talking about. I’m guessing the local anti-hipster perspective found at DieHipster.com represents genuine sentiment and grievance: Their Brooklyn has become a playground for extended childhood. Rents get raised. Locals are pushed-out and overrun. The area gentrifies and can actually become more divided. For all the talk of ‘community’ and ‘authenticity,’ there’s a surprising (or unsurprising, really) naive idealism and post-Boomer narcissism, self-regard, and self-interest amongst the hipster crowd.

All politics is local, and it’s playing out in Brooklyn.

Is the hipster good for free markets?

Theses are some pretty vague terms I’m throwing around. Obviously, some folks are, and Whole Foods is a good example, but I wonder about the creep of collectivism and communalism into the culture more generally.

Here’s a quote I put up before.

The late Jacques Barzun at The American Scholar-’The Cradle Of Modernism‘:

‘For yet another cause of unhappiness was the encroachment of machine industry and its attendant uglification of town and country. The Romanticists had sung in an agrarian civilization; towns were for handiwork and commerce. Industry brought in not factories only, and railroads, but also the city — slums, crowds, a new type of filth, and shoddy goods, commonly known as “cheap and nasty.” And when free public schools were forced on the nation by the needs of industry, a further curse was added: the daily paper, also cheap.’

*I’m aware that this type of cultural criticism and/or ‘sociological analysis’ is often done by those typically invested in abstract categories of ‘culture’ about which I remain skeptical.

**No, I’m not from Brooklyn, and can make no particularly persuasive claims upon it.

Related On This Site: Some Links On 5Pointz, Graffiti, & The Arts–Property Rights & The Rule-Of-Law

Well, art doesn’t need to be in service of a socialist vision, but it can: Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Hipster Romanticism?-From The Atlantic Photo: ‘Adventures Of A Serial Trespasser’

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Hipster hope, artists, collectivists and small business types can’t save it either: A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

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

Full piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!

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

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

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

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

Everyone’s an artist, these days.

Establishing modernist credentials for the brand:

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

Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some quotes from Koons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

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

 

Poems By Robert Frost And William Carlos Williams-The Poet And The Crowd-Tuesday Timewaster

Maybe I’m just confusing two human pursuits (poetry and politics), and doing justice to neither.

Neither Far Out Nor In Deep:

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day. 

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull. 

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea. 

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep

Robert Frost

And now what about going to a baseball game, that fairly individualistic, uniquely American (descended from cricket), and usefully civilizing (fun) sport?:  William Carlos Williams focuses on the crowd.  You’d think he’d at least bother to learn more about the game.

Jeez.

“The Crowd at the Ball Game”

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius —

all to no end save beauty
the eternal –

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied —
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut —

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it —

The Jew gets it straight – it
is deadly, terrifying —

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly —

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought.

Addition: What can the artist see when looking upon a crowd as an individual apart?  Can he really reduce their ignorance to his own? How can he really know that they all attend the ball game for one large, abstract concept of beauty communicated through his art?

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I’ll just put up some quotes I’ve put up twice before:

“Public opinion, I am sorry to say, will bear a great deal of nonsense. There is scarcely any absurdity so gross, whether in religion, politics, science or manners, which it will not bear.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute.”

Abraham Lincoln

Via The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Bats Away Calls For Resignation After He Sought Special Treatment’

As I see things, by the time institutional rules are being written and enforced not by those with the most talent, making the most sacrifices, with their own skin in the game (the people whose habits, skills and resources you most need), but by secondary and tertiary actors pursuing their interests, there is already a lot of rot.

Public institutions and political parties, at any given time, are full of a lot second- and third-raters, and a lot of rot.  Even among talented people, meaning well and making serious sacrifices, you’ve got to get the incentives right to keep hope of competency and to stay ahead of the rot.

In a voluntary system, the people whose habits, skills and resources you most need often are often the first to flee from the institutions charged with public obligations if they have the resources to do so (it’s not merely a matter of race, but the pursuit of rational self-interest and basic human nature).

Cities are places of serious freedom, competition and inequality.

In inner city schools, particularly, the social problems are often so grave there is little hope, but the below may be a special indicator of rot:

Don’t forget:  It’s the kid ready to learn, eager to engage, with some care and concern for his/her natural gifts who most loses out amongst kids who are maladjusted, acting-up, potentially violent, and who place no internalized value on learning.

It doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have some moral obligation to our fellow citizens, but I think it does mean that we all need the freedom to discuss the rules governing our interactions with our fellow citizens, and the kinds of arrangements into which we choose to enter. These are reciprocal relationships full of hopes, ambitions and dreams.

Wouldn’t you want as much?

May you let others be free to do as much.

As previously posted:

Full post here.

‘Rhee believed that mayoral control gave her the power to work her will and to ignore dissenters or brush them off as defenders of the status quo. Mayoral control bred arrogance and indifference to dialogue. She didn’t need to listen to anyone because she had the mayor’s unquestioning support. Mayoral control made democratic engagement with parents and teachers unnecessary.’

Diane Ravitch seemed to think that Michelle Rhee didn’t allow the people who need to ulimately take control of their own lives do so…which is why she was voted out.

Yet, the endemic poverty and political corruption in D.C. has led to an untenable situation, not able to be solved by those who hold up ideals of democracy broadly either.

This is still not a reason to get into bed with the status quo, and all the political, ideological and monied interests involved who want to keep things as they are and get their share.

Judge the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians not by intentions, but by outcomes:

Also On This Site:  From Reason.Tv: ‘NBC’s Education Summit-Joe Trippi, Michelle Rhee & More’From The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee To Announce Resignation Wednesday’

Rhee stated much the same here:  She didn’t with the people who I are most involved…Michelle Rhee At Newsweek: “What I’ve Learned”Repost-’Too Much “Quality Control” In Universities?’

Robert Samuelson Via Real Clear Politics: ‘Why School Reform Fails’From The Bellevue Reporter-Walter Backstrom’s: ‘Educational Progress And The Liberal Plantation’

Walter Russell Mead has a series built upon the argument that the ‘blue’ progressive social model (building the Great Society) is defunct because America will have to adjust to new economic and global realities.   In the [then] current post, he focuse[d] on the part of the model that creates and directs government agencies to try and alleviate inner-city poverty and its problems for black folks.

‘This is one danger for the Black middle class and it’s an urgent and obvious one: the good jobs are going away — and they won’t be quite as good anymore.  The second danger is subtler but no less important.  In the past, government work served to integrate ethnic minorities and urban populations into society at large.  In the current atmosphere of sharpening debate over the role and cost of government, the ties of so much of the Black middle class to government employment may make it harder, not easier, for Blacks to take advantage of the opportunities that the emerging Red Age economy offers.’

A quote from John Locke, found here:

For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour’d with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven.”

A Few Midweek Links

Full piece here (published in 2011):

I don’t know if I would choose to study anthropology…:

“Within a few days, the executive board began receiving angry e-mails from self-identified scientific anthropologists who were irate about dropping the word “science” from the long-range plan.”

—-

James Damore at Quillette: ‘The Case For Diversity

‘One’s stance on diversity policies often just depends on what metric you’re trying to optimize, causing both sides to talk past each other. This lack of dialogue is destructive, creating multimillion dollar programs of marginal efficacy and harmful side-effects. If done well, diversity can be good, but it’s far from the panacea it’s made out to be.’

Damore’s piece reminded me of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

Perhaps Mr. Damore’s case can act as evidence for it:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

Related On This Site: Perhaps you can make judgments in the humanities, and they don’t need to be political:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

What are the ethical obligations of an anthropologist/author/journalist? From Savage Minds: More On The Lawsuit Against Jared DiamondFrom The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit…and: Jared Diamond: “Vengeance Is Ours” In The New Yorker

More of the spirit of theory slipping into politics…another sign of the times?:  The Economist on Moral Thinking: David Sloan Wilson’s Research