Repost: A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

This will be a longer one, so thanks in advance.

From the comments on this piece:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As to the epistemological questions surrounding Modernism, below are four poems. Hopefully, each is a representative example of a move away from the Romanticism that had been prevalent up until the late 1800’s.

In addition to the move away from traditional Romantic rhyme and meter towards modern blank verse, there’s also a certain conception of the Self rendered in them; a presentation of our natures that might be worth examining in some detail.

I believe we can see clearly a move away from tradition towards the Self, the Poet isolated, the poem itself as a means of communication, and an anxiety so common within the 20th century.

I should note that a friend points out Harold Bloom does it much better (well, yes…obviously). From this blurb:

‘At the heart of Bloom’s project is the ancient quarrel between “poetry” and “philosophy.” In Bloom’s opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior.’

Says the guy who writes about poetry…


What does one find within, as one looks without, waking from sleep and dream?

What kind of world is this, and can the poet actually help us know it?

T.S. Eliot (Preludes: Stanza 3)

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.

As consciousness creeps in, building a bridge to the day, to the world, to the facts left as though they were the first facts, the light as though it were the first light, what one finds is distressing, both within and without.

That distress must be ‘made new,’ which is to say, the suffering (original?) in which we all sometimes find ourselves must match our experiences within the modern city and world, at least, the world created within Eliot’s lyrical verse.

Of the four poems, only the first and last have a 3rd-person subject.

Wallace Stevens‘ ‘I’ is in a more contemplative state, but it’s an ‘I’ exploring similar themes, and experiencing some distress in trying to know how the world actually is, and what might lie within.

The journey to The Self may not be a journey for the faint of heart.

The Poems Of Our Climate (stanzas II and III)

II
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.

III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Even if the verse can describe a perfected world, delivering us, perhaps, a little closer to perfection, our poet is still not free from the impulses and desires which simply never cease.

Interestingly, we end-up not with a discussion of the heart, the spirit, libido etc. as a source for those desires (for Plato, the irrational), but rather, for Stevens, just a mind.

We also find more Romantic elements of language and an almost baroque/rococo arrangement of words and ideas, dandyish even, yet combined with an intense effort to abstract, define, and clarify. From here, the poet may proceed on his task of flawed words and stubborn sounds.

***I find myself thinking of elements of modern architecture and abstract-expressionist painting. The meaning, or at least some delivery from our restless existences, can be found within the abstract itself. Or at least within a retreat to the abstract for its own sake, away from the world.

The modernist, glass-walled house on the hill will exist in its own space, offering and defying meaning. The structure’s own shapes will be stripped down to often mathematically precise forms interacting with Nature. These shall guide Man, or at least offer individual men a little refuge.

It is perhaps in Stevens’ poem we can see the questions of knowledge about the world suggesting questions about whether there is a world at all, or, at least, what kind of worlds each Self might be able to inhabit.

Here’s one of Robert Lowell’s poems, occurring a generation later, in the mid 20th-century, as part of the confessionals.

The Self is extremely isolated. In fact, Lowell went more than a little crazy. Unlike the known nervous breakdown of Eliot from which Eliot recovered, Lowell’s life was essentially one long breakdown from which he never recovered.

Here he is, looking back:

Epilogue

Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write
With the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot
lurid rapid garish grouped
heightened from life
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

The weight of having to make that meaning, for yourself, and by yourself, is a horrible weight indeed. One can glorify one’s Self and family, but that, alas, only goes so far. Rhyme and form still carry one’s living name, as far as they do.

Of course, there’s still wonderful rhythm and form here (this is excellent verse), but blanker now, with a relentless focus on the ‘I.’ The poet is perhaps talking a little more to himself, and the poem keeps self-consciously calling attention to itself.

In fact, it reminded me of the poem below, by Robert Creeley, which was published a few years afterwards.

From this page:

‘Creeley was a leader in the generational shift that veered away from history and tradition as primary poetic sources and gave new prominence to the ongoing experiences of an individual’s life. Because of this emphasis, the major events of his life loom large in his literary work.’

There’s Nothing but the Self and the Eye seeking and making meaning, by itself within a void of emotionally compact and precise language (of course there’s still form and other things besides).

Can the poet fit inside the little abstract chapel of words he’s building for himself (let alone the world, tradition etc.)?

For all the talk about ‘space,’ there seems very little.

The Window

Position is where you
put it, where it is,
did you, for example, that

large tank there, silvered,
with the white church along-
side, lift

all that, to what
purpose? How
heavy the slow

world is with
everything put
in place. Some

man walks by, a
car beside him on
the dropped

road, a leaf of
yellow color is
going to

fall. It
all drops into
place. My

face is heavy
with the sight. I can
feel my eye breaking.

The distress is still there…but I’d argue that we are now a good distance away from the grandness of Eliot’s vision, his religiosity and virtuosity with form and meter at the dawn of Modernism. Very few people can/could do what Eliot did (addition: even if he can help us gain knowledge of our Selves or the world).

That said, it’s unclear there’s enough tradition and confidence to even undertake such a project, now, even as such talents come along. The state of things is more scattered. We’re in a very different place of selves and artists isolated, of anxiety and post-anxiety.

Aside from the very accomplished poets above, in terms of both knowledge (epistemology) and being (ontology), we often have writers feeling pressure to weigh-in on such questions without even being about to write that well; artists who can’t draw or paint that well, and frankly, quite a bit of bullshit besides.

So, where are we headed? Who’s ‘we’ exactly?

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.


As previously posted:

Why not just put a few algorithms to work in writing those artist statements?

Bathe in the bathos of a warming world:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘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.’

Oh boy.

What are these poems being asked to do?


And moving away from poetry into the realm of ‘performance art,’


Tilda Swinton At MOMA-From Arma Virumque: ‘Nightmare In A Box’

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’

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

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

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Dogs, Snakes & Alas, Words

In the moment: There’s mention of Roger Scruton and some other interesting thoughts: ‘The ways of dog to Mann.’

Having had many dogs, I’m pretty sure I could infer what they were thinking a lot of the time (where are we going now? can I eat that? I’m gonna eat that), but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know what it’s like to be a dog.

Speaking of which, what’s it’s like to imagine oneself a snake and write about that? What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

Long experience, but none yet yours?

 XXIV

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, — did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, —
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson

It’s not so much the social science knowledge claims which worry, though there are epistemological problems of accuracy and reproducibility.  More often, it’s the hopes and moral sentiments which can follow into institutional rules, group-think, policy, and law.

Many people are quite reasonable, but some people need to be right because they can’t be anything else (watch out for this part of yourself).  Deeper problems within the latest published paper can be mere loose-ends, whereas getting funding to meet payroll and printing-out motivational mantras for the next meeting are what really matters.  Or worse yet, making the personal political and punishing political enemies.

Still, it’s interesting to get some data from longitudinal studies.  Tyler Cowen links to this book.

Cowen:

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen. The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive. Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32. Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.’

Just thought I’d Throw This In There:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths:  Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’

Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility

Two Kinds Of Elite Cities in America?

There are people with careers writing about elites, becoming somewhat elite themselves, which haven’t fared too well

Repost-Plenty Of Reasons To Lament The Losses

Theodore Dalrymple:  ‘The Will To Outrage

‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’

Michael Totten: ‘The Ghost Of Communism In Asia’ And A Few ThoughtsMichael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’…Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

As previously posted:

Full piece here.

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.’

And:

‘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 other forms 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.

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead

Worth a read.

As posted:

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic: ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities. Don’t let it happen.

-Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responded to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia had some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:

According to Paglia, there were the real Marxists, and then there were the Post-structuralists and Deconstructionists.  She favors the radicalism of the ‘real’ Marxists against the careerism and priestly cant of the latter, though I doubt either group is necessary for a good humanities education.

With a somewhat Nietzschean (Schopenhauer’s ‘Will‘ is now the ‘Will To Power’), and New Historicist approach, Paglia is also a bit disposed towards an appreciation of art, religious art, and religion, within a longer anthropological view.

She sees feminism and the ‘studies’ departments as ungrounded, wanting biology, medicine and anthropology to provide structure in order to study the arts:

Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

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

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

Repost-Marxist Jamborees In Paris, Getting A Humanities Education & Getting To Space-Some Recycled Links

Claire Berlinksi visited a Marxist Jamboree in Paris a while back (The City Journal):

‘“Oh.” She rearranged her face to look less judgmental.’

Roger Scruton on his experiences in 1968 Paris (behind a paywall at The New Criterion):

‘In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing. The plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back…’

Speaking of The New Criterion, they have a piece on Jeffrey Hart:

‘Lit by an inner illumination, which regularly showed through the glimmer of his blue eyes, he checked his politics at the door and let the lyricism of “books, arts, and manners” lead the way for students.’

Rand Simberg at The New Atlantis on ‘The Return Of The Space Visionaries:’

Saganites view the universe as a precious jewel. How beautiful! “Look at it — but don’t touch it!” Tumlinson quips. Space is for scientific inquiry only, and that is best done by investigating it with robots. Later in life Sagan recognized the value of sending humans to other worlds, but as an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, his goals were focused on science, not economic development or settlement.’

Barring revolution, an attractive option for many committed ideologues lies in gathering under the ideals of education, health-care, peace and the environment, becoming institutionalized at taxpayer expense.

Common threads?: ‘Social’ justice is a kind of unclear concept.  Ideology ain’t necessarily science.  Many adrift in the postmodern humanities are quite hostile to the sciences, living within their own dramas and [even] doing dirt on the arts.

As previously and consistently posted-Thanks to a reader. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘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.’

Universal wokeness need not be confined to Earth.  Zoe Satchel, cast adrift from her graduate English work at Yale, discusses Space Oppression!

Have you read Zoe Satchel’s piece about pre-blaming the West for any potential damage done to any potential extra-terrestrial life? Now that’s groundbreaking.

— Chris Navin (@chris_navin) March 11, 2019

Repost-Some Links On Robert Kagan’s New Book: ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World’

Our author reviews Robert Kagan’s new book ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World.’

The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t advocate for too many young people to join a military run by the current institutional leadership without serious thought. You may have your reasons, but think twice:

That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’

Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”

There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).

The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).

It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:

The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’

Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist:

Also On This Site: Taking on the telos of progress and questioning  modern liberal assumptions with a largely nihilistic approach (progress is learned but doesn’t stay learned in human affairs; the lesson of various 20th centry writers and one of the main purposes of a humanities education): Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’…Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’…Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

People on the Left and a more moderate middle, and from libertarian conservative backgrounds are increasingly challenging core ideological assumptions of far Left doctrines having crept into so many institutions.  They must defend their own disciplines and be of exemplary character: Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview…Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’…Charles Murray From ‘The Happiness Of People’…The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Repost-Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

A restatement of Anglican, British conservatism with deep Kantian, Hegelian roots: Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’…Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

The Religious Conservative American right advocating a step back from a common Constitutional project?: Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do... Another view of the 60’s radicalism on campus: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The New English Review-‘Houllebecq And Call’

Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:

‘Hou[e]llebecq 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.’

Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):

As previously posted:

Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.

Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).

‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’

On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:

‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘

Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.

Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?

And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?

From the comments:

‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.

Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.

Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’

Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:

‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’

As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.

I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.

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

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

From Reason’s Hit And Run Blog: ‘It’s Everybody Bomb Anybody Who Draws Mohammed Day in France!’

Repost-Have Some Green Onions

Are deeply tragic and exiquisitely-timed comedic writers having trouble finding newer audiences within older forms?

What effects are the distance-shortening and attention-altering technological networks having on more traditional arts?

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana

English writers Ian McEwan and Martin Amis have a discussion; a bit about writing, a bit about personal habits and audience attention spans, but also about this past century’s ideological fever dreams.

You might just recognize some of these living and dead horses:

AC This idea of belief systems comes out in both of your books, doesn’t it – what people will do in the name of the beliefs that they’ve constructed or developed.

MA Yes: it’s a world in itself that – belief systems. Ian’s been talking about religion, but also ideology. Although what I discovered when I’d gone on reading about the Holocaust over the last 25 years is that in the Russian case, very pedantically following various Marxist tributaries and deviations, the ideology remained very strong.

I was shocked to learn that Gorbachev, just as the whole empire was crumbling, was up all night reading Lenin, saying, “The answer must be here.” But in Hitler’s case, in the German case, there was no ideology. There were two or three ideas: Lebensraum – extra land empire; hallucinatory anti-Semitism; and just wanting to stay in power – and that was it. People weren’t attracted to Nazism because of its ideology; it was a sort of rallying cry for sadists and that was all it was meant to be.

IM Yes, those black flags of Northern Iraq are another case – it acts as a great attractor for every available would-be torturer. Psychopathia is thinly spread through all populations and they just need their historical chance, don’t they?

AC And why are novelists drawn to it?

IM We love things going wrong.

McEwan mentions the death of the inductive novel, or novel as puzzle to reason through, perhaps requiring greater and deeper attention which is occupied elsewhere.

Are you willing to go on this type of journey with a good artist?  From this Playboy interview with Vladimir Nabokov:

Nabokov:On the contrary, I shudder retrospectively when I recall that there was a moment, in 1950, and again in 1951, when I was on the point of burning Humbert Humbert’s little black diary. No, I shall never regret Lolita. She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle—its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look.’

Is the artist supposed to solve a puzzle or ask you to help solve his puzzle?

On that note, serial, narrative fiction and reasoned problem-solving meet with you-know-who:

by Colin Angus Mackay

“I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A discussion of deductive and inductive reasoning here, as it might relate to solving crimes (which is highly dramatized in our culture, perhaps partly due to Holmes).

Strange Maps has this.

221B Baker Street page here.

In the meantime, once you’ve thought long and hard about a problem, find a groove and settle-in.

Have some Green Onions for Christmas.

Ken Minogue From ‘The Liberal Mind’, Denis Dutton On Geoffrey Miller and Good ‘Ol American Jeff Koons Again-The Celebrification Of Art & Politics

Ken Minogue from the preface to ‘The Liberal Mind

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.’

Pg xi

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.

Satire beckons.

The late Denis Dutton on Geoffrey Miller’s book: The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature

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.

In the meantime, enjoy the show?

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…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.

Hmmm…..

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