Our author speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party. Continuing on a recent theme around here and in society more broadly:
‘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.’
Her powers of analysis could be useful…and I still refer to her piece from time to time.
‘Is it best to take short views? Sometimes it is. When the going gets tough, it is best to pull in one’s horns, hunker down, and just try to get through the next week, the next day, the next hour.‘
But, speaking for myself, a life without long views would not be worth living. I thrill at the passage in Plato’s Republic, Book Six (486a), where the philosopher is described as a “spectator of all time and existence.” And then there is this beautiful formulation by William James:
Read through for the James quote…
‘In my experience, one cannot argue with another’s sensibility. And much of life comes down to precisely that — sensibility.‘
In my humble experience: Make space for the sensibility of others, because much of your sensibility is merely hardened habit and lessons wrung from experience. Shit happens.
Some of your sensibility is a makeshift shrine, fashioned from the popular ideas of your youth. Some of it is your deepest conscience speaking to you.
Young people are moving forward, as they should, to gain experience. Upon aging, I’m reminded constantly of how little I know. Would that becomes wisdom.
On that note, please enjoy a Seattle photo. If you like it, here’s another ‘Seattle Empire‘ photo. I’m an amateur, working at a thing. Photography has already given more that I could have expected.
‘Therein lies the central tension of Speak, Memory. Its prose is meticulous, suggesting memory as an exercise in exacting dictation from an omniscient oracle, yet its message points to memory as mutable, prone to the passage of time and the vagaries of imagination’
“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’
What’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?
A little bit about politics and also the politics amidst fellow writers and critics:
‘…when in doubt, I always follow the simple method of choosing that line of conduct which may be the most displeasing to the Reds and the Russells.’
‘Who’s in, who’s out, and where are the snows of yesteryear. All very amusing. I am a little sorry to be left out. Nobody can decide if I am a middle-aged American writer or an old Russian writer—or an ageless international freak.’
On his professional collection of butterflies:
‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.’
Via Youtube: An interviewer, Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita:’
Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.
Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).
‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’
***Why so many Britons on this site?(J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)
I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance. I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order. There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.
Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left. They can know intimately whereof they speak. It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:
This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.
‘These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.’
What I noticed in literature: Most of the old-guard had higher standards and more rigorous methods. They wanted closer readings and had clearer expectations. I suspect most thought they actually possessed both knowledge and wisdom and, frankly, they were there to impart both their knowledge and wisdom to us, the students.
‘What happened between them and me?’, I would find myself wondering.
As for the canon, there was the vague notion that it had been, no, still is, being dismantled. Some deeper epistemic questions tended to hang in the air, put to students straightaway (how does anyone know anything, man? What does a Self do against Nothingness and the Void? how should I be a Creative Self?).
***As for my own self-indulgent, amateur photos. Thanks for looking. I do it because that’s what keeps me interested. Most require words; associated with a lot of own experiences and attempts at getting better (you don’t really get better unless you’re your own worst critic).
I won’t really get you noticed, and I won’t likely bring you fame nor readership. But I really do thank you for stopping by.
I agree that students, when facing a syllabus, shouldn’t also have to face the great books mediated, nor their young minds circumscribed, by overt political ideologies.
‘In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”
Upon hearing “gender, sexuality, race, and class,” I confess my head hangs down a bit and a sigh escapes my lips. Such a lack of imagination does great disservice to works of such powerful imagination.
Then again, I remember my last trip to Southern California (zing).
Of course, there still needs to be an intellectual framework and curriculum for the humanities.
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
“…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.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds?:
Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.
But, no man is an island.
Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?
Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?
Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?
I suppose we’ll see what the French body politic decides to prioritize in conserving and changing:
‘Emmanuel Macron is running for his second term of five years. He is a political centrist. Five years ago, he won easily in a runoff against the far right Marine Le Pen. Until recently, it was assumed that Macron in this election would repeat that easy victory over Le Pen.‘
‘Funny word, “tribe”. Karl Popper used it a lot but you don’t hear it much today.
‘As Popper told the historical story, in the 5th and 6th centuries BC the tribal world of the old-time Greeks was breaking down. Everywhere there was change and decay—or change that looked like decay. And it is the anxiety and distress felt by men and women in this situation that leads them to try and freeze all change and return to the tribal past. He thought Plato’s thinking exemplified this.‘
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘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?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
After the Yale Silliman silliness and the Charles Murray Middlebury madness, a cruder skepticism might recommend writing many humanities/social sciences departments off altogether (hey, it’s Middlebury, after all).
Some departments are so open-minded, it seems, they’re allowing students to chant James Baldwin as though his spells will ward off the evil spirits of white-devilry (there’s still an air of the psycho-drama about all this). Perhaps, just perhaps, a University isn’t the type of place where angry mobs should shout-down invited speakers, hunt them to the after-party, and beat them away into the night.
Mockery and laughter can work wonders in the face of true-belief and rigid ideology (that’s not funny!), but relatively fewer people have the wisdom, moral courage and humility to earn back the trust to educate, not indoctrinate.
Frankly, I’m not holding my breath as long as enough money and influence are at stake, and the stakes, as they say, are still pretty low.
At least now a broader swathe of the American public has gotten a look at the unhealthy radical group-think festering within, the kind which arrives when ideas and bad ideas, unchallenged, are allowed to rule the roost. The consequences such ideas are having upon the pursuit of truth are damning.
‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.
I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.
So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’
“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.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
Apart from the rare genius, it seems the arts tend to ferment in groups and schools, made up of individuals with their own ideas, reacting to each other and events; reacting to their own developing talents and finding out through trial and error what works within some semblance of a tradition.
Culture matters, in the sense that the value a civilization chooses to place in one activity over another can dramatically affect outcomes for that particular activity; a framework emphasizing and incentivizing the activity to live on in hearts and minds of individuals.
Perhaps Modern Art just needs to be put into broader contexts, given deeper roots which can nourish the talent already being born.
My fiftieth year had come and gone, I sat, a solitary man, In a crowded London shop, An open book and empty cup On the marble table-top. While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed; And twenty minutes more or less It seemed, so great my happiness, That I was blessed and could bless.
What do they think has happened, the old fools, To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools, And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose, They could alter things back to when they danced all night, Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September? Or do they fancy there’s really been no change, And they’ve always behaved as if they were crippled or tight, Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming Watching the light move? If they don’t (and they can’t), it’s strange; Why aren’t they screaming?
At death you break up: the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true: We had it before, but then it was going to end, And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs: Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it: Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines – How can they ignore it?
Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms Inside your head, and people in them, acting People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning, Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning, The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live: Not here and now, but where all happened once. This is why they give
An air of baffled absence, trying to be there Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear Of taken breath, and them crouching below Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet: The peak that stays in view wherever we go For them is rising ground. Can they never tell What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night? Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well, We shall find out.
What are you doing with your time and imagination?
You’re fine, Mr. Corte. In fact, you’re looking a little better than yesterday…:
‘Giuseppe Corte didn’t need anything, but he began to chat freely with the young woman, asking for information about the clinic. In this way, he learned about the hospital’s unique practice of assigning its patients to different floors in accordance with the gravity of their illness. On the seventh floor, the top floor, only the very mildest cases were treated. Those whose forms of the illness weren’t grave, but who certainly couldn’t be neglected, were assigned to the sixth floor. More serious infections were treated on the fifth floor, and so on and so forth. Gravely ill patients were housed on the second floor; and on the first floor, those for whom all hope had been abandoned.’
You probably spent a lot of energy when younger, wishing to be older, and as you get older, find yourself spending time wishing you were younger.
Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.
Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’
Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?
Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).
(link may not last):
As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:
Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.
In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City
I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).
To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between romanticism and modernism:
Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee, And round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it, And sprawled around, no longer wild. The jar was round upon the ground And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where. The jar was gray and bare. It did not give of bird or bush, Like nothing else in Tennessee.
What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?
‘Whoa I wasn’t expecting this…the butterflies, I can’t stop thinking about her….am I…in love?
‘Oh my God, it’s over. This is it. She’s gone. We’re through. I’m a failure. All is black.‘
Recovery Step 1: It says here I’ve been changed at the physiological level and many behavioral scientists, with theoretical brilliance and empirical rigor, agree ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all‘.
Step 2: Prairie voles. A French philosopher. I’m not alone.
Step 3 (Optional,Inferred) Since I got my free brain-scan down at the clinic to address the suffering of loving, living and losing in a modern society, I’d better lobby Congress to make sure brain scans are free for everybody.
Has the danger, foolishness and chaos of being in love changed much? Is the comfort, wisdom and order of a committed relationship really so different?
In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27
I envy not in any moods The captive void of noble rage, The linnet born within the cage, That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes His license in the field of time, Unfetter’d by the sense of crime, To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest, The heart that never plighted troth But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.