A Blog Favorite-Theodore Dalrymple Appears With Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson and Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalrymple) have a discussion. The quality of Daniels’ prose, his experiences, and his thought, have given me pleasure, wisdom and understanding.

There’s a lot of wisdom about what much of the way the world is, as well as what the Humanities should be teaching (good writing, appreciation and understanding of talent past and traditions):

There Are So Many Ways To Do Better-Philosophy & Humanities 101

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University of Edinburgh. They’ve renamed Hume Tower (after arch-empiricist David Hume and one of the greats) at the University of Edinburgh.

Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:

The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking.  In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.

This is a good reason to get a good education!

It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were a problem.

A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.

I aim to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.  Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven:  Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“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.”

Quite importantly:

“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?

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

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

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Civil Right logic, and protest alone, isn’t likely deep enough to prevent against ideological capture: Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

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’

Repost-Roger Scruton ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Full article here.

So what’s lacking in the humanities?  Roger Scruton had some keen insights:

“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”

So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science  (however…it’s been done before with some success).  Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:

“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 now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:

“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.”

So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:

Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”

This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses.  Here are the last few lines:

“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”

One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

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

———————————————————————-

On another note:  Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth:  Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?

We know the humanities will never be a science.  Politics is always in conflict with the arts.   Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.   In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).

One target here may be somewhat political as well:  anti-social constructionism and anti-multiculturalism, though I am speculating.

Just some food for thought.

See Also On This Site:  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’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

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

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple-Some Links On Atheism, Identity & Speech

Theodore Dalrymple at The Epoch Times: ‘Surrending Freedom Of Expression To The Monomaniacs Among Us

We live in an age of bad temper…’ (behind a paywall).

As posted:

So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

I’ll write what I damned well please:’

Such a brave stance to take:  Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus didn’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Skeptics and aesthetics are best in small doses. Try and gather group dynamics around (R)eason, (S)cience and Religious skepticism, and be prepared to run into the problems with which religious groups are all too familiar.

Bari Weiss at Tablet: ‘Stop Being Shocked: American liberalism is in danger from a new ideology—one with dangerous implications for Jews

It’s all fun and games to indulge in liberation (sexual, moral, ‘the personal is political’), while embracing one’s identity as a group. It can be exhilarating to endlessly theorize, plan and rationalize the new society to come, but, Dear Reader, don’t forget human nature.

Many of the same judgments, in and out group dynamics, and minority vulnerabilities caution against full-throated liberatory politics.

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s liberation.

It’s rather enervating to watch ‘radical chic’ devour the minds of reasonable people leaning upon a still-functioning Republic, dismantling existing institutions without necessarily providing suitable replacements (often caught advocating presumedly universal human ideals, reasonable/[unreasonable]tribal political idealism, and negotiating with radicals).

This brought me back to Frenchman of The Left Bernhard Henri-Levy’s piece before the 2008 election:

“And one of the reasons I am so much in favor of [Senator Barack] Obama is that his election might be, will be—because I think he will be elected—a real end to this tide of competition of victimhood, and especially on the specific ground of the two communities, Jews and African Americans, who were so close in the 1960s.”

…”The Obama election would reconstitute the grand alliance.”

Hail the grand alliance!

It seems to me you’ve got a few options once you’ve become a member of a favored identity group, as like pretty much all of life, the clock is ticking.

  1. Game the identity system by using it to full personal advantage to try and escape its orbit (understandable, but maybe not the most honorable because of the bad people and the bad in people which come to lead, even if you just want a leg-up because you actually are poor and oppressed).
  2. Play the identity game and pursue your ambition within its orbit. After all, there’s meaning and purpose in treating enemies as evil in a War and the game of politics as rigged. Retreat to the ideological purity of your group when attacked and advance upon the enemy positions whenever possible. Until larger failures and/or the money runs out, rinse and repeat.
  3. Wait around long enough until the same underlying logic is used against you and/or your group, religion and/or ethnicity (Jewish folks seem to be on the outs lately, Muslims in—Asians being disfavored at elite schools). The identity politics game marches onwards towards utopia, against the oppressor. Being forced to choose between model failures or seeing the world anew outside your model, generally choose to project your personal and group failure onto your enemies, because after all, you’re Human, all too Human.

Repost-Is There Any Island Left For Islanders Like Him? From The New Yorker On Billy Joel: ‘Thirty-Three Hit Wonder’

Excellent piece here.

I think you’ve got to look at Billy Joel’s raw talent; the prodigious musical gifts and compositional ability; the mimicry, the voices, the piano-playing which became a vehicle for so many of his hits.  Add a quite nice voice and a road-warrior mentality trying to offer value at every show, and you’ve got quite a package.

An American Songbook kind of guy.

I can barely think of anyone more Lon-Giland, who put his abilities to the American grindstone, but whose talent often hovers above any chosen genre he finds himself in.

Thanks, Billy.

Nick Paumgartner on a Slate review of Joel:

‘He was terrible, he is terrible, he always will be terrible. Anodyne, sappy, superficial, derivative, fraudulently rebellious. . . . Billy Joel’s music elevates self-aggrandizing self-pity and contempt for others into its own new and awful genre: ‘Mock-Rock.’ ”

He [Rosenbaum] called Joel “the Andrew Wyeth of contemporary pop music.”

When I mentioned this to Joel, he said, “What’s wrong with Andrew Wyeth?”

What is wrong with Andrew Wyeth? On this site see: Spring Beauties’-A Brief Post And A Link On Andrew Wyeth

On sitting down with Joel:

‘In between pieces, he began to explain that these were variations on a motif and that they were telling the story of the history of Long Island, from its pastoral beginnings to the arrival of the Europeans—“I’m imagining the prow of a ship, and a Puritan hymn”—and then the bustle of the nineteenth century. Farming, fishing, the railroad. “Getting busy on Long Island,” he said. “This one’s almost Coplandesque, with big open fifths.” We were a long way from Brenda and Eddie. He played intently as the room went dark.’

That sounds like a pretty talented artist looking for roots and sifting through American history and Americana for inspiration to me…

Here’s a popular song in the seafaring style trying to do good for local people without the righteous self-flattery and regard stars so often bring to the table:

——————-

Repost-A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

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: Woman… Goethe’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’

Repost-Five Short Stories Likely Worth Your Time

I claim no special literary insight, other than these five short stories have stuck with me, as they have for many other readers besides. Links included.

Regular readers will recognize the same ol’ post.

——————–

1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street

Herman Melville

Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.

Our narrator:

‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’

We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:

‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!  ‘

——————–

2. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

As they were for many other high-school boys, the first lines were enough for me:

‘A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.’

Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?

———————-

3. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style often flirts with the grotesque, and can traffic in the macabre, but there’s reason behind it, and a brilliantly skeptical, humane eye.  Few writers get so many things right, in my opinion.

The world is changing, and so is the South.

Julian’s mother is living in the past:

‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’

——————–

4. ‘A Distant Episode

Paul Bowles

A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.

Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:

‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’

Let’s leave it at that.

——————–

5. ‘Araby

James Joyce

To what does a man put his hopes?

But such wonderful writing:

‘When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.’

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple On Making Graffiti Saints & Some Past Links-(M)an’s Ends

A longer-term, skeptical position held by this blog:  Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to certain ideological doctrines (Marxism, Socialism, Communism), leads toward violent revolution.

Many (H)istorical truth and knowledge claims, with an Enlightened elite claiming to possess knowledge of (M)an’s ends, have proven disastrous.

Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to socially liberal political ideals, claiming the mantle of moral progress (environmentalism, feminism, identitarianism, racism/non-racism), leads toward competing political factions.  Politics is, by its nature, coalitional and factional.

Universal truth and knowledge claims, coming from the (S)ciences and Social (S)ciences, or simply from many political idealists, unite some and divide others.

This can often lead to pretty bad outcomes for poor folks.

Dear Reader, what am I missing?

Here’s Theodore Dalrymple on using the social sciences as imprimatur, turning George Floyd into something like a grafitti saint. There’s always an ‘expert’ to be found, ready to justify the activist cause as virtuous and ‘normative’, reagrdless of the actual person and events.

An Orgy Of Self-Righteous Sentiment:

‘Blood does not boil without moral judgment, whether right or wrong. In other words, the passage I have quoted about prejudice and stigma is at best self-delusion; the author, unintentionally no doubt, for he is probably a kindly and well-intentioned man, is a corrupter of morals.

He presents himself as a man free of prejudice, but no one is, could or should be, free of prejudice. He clearly has a prejudice himself against prejudice and stigma, as if these were wholly bad and never good; but surely the most cursory self-examination would demonstrate to him that this is not so. One of the reasons one tries to be good, for example, is to avoid the stigma of being bad, and one avoids such stigma because man is a social creature. No one is a Kantian saint, pursuing the good only for its own sake, and if we met such a saint, he would not be very attractive. It is unexamined and rigid prejudice and stigma, impermeable to all evidence and human feeling, that are bad.’

As posted:

Apparently graffiti art does have a price, and it may be much more than $$$:

Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.

Would you be willing to undermine property-rights and the rule-of-law?

NY Curbed had original 5Pointz coverage here.

A NY Times beat reporter shared in the suffering of those graffiti artists whose 5pointz canvas was whitewashed in preparation for demolition by owner Jerry Wolkoff.

‘One street artist, who would give his name only as Just, had at least two works painted over. He spent hours early Tuesday gazing at the whitewashed buildings, leaning against a red-brick wall across the street. Then he bought himself a tall glass of beer, which he sipped slowly from a brown paper bag.

“Heartbreaking,” he said. “This is not just about graffiti — it’s about the unity of people who met here from all over the world.” He paused and took a drink. “That’s what really hurts.”

Three photos and some backstory here. 5pointz had become something of a graffiti mecca, arguably more than the sum of its parts:

Once the real-estate market began heating-up in NYC, Wolkoff decided to whitewash his building overnight..

Every bit of graffiti scrawled there over 40-years was at his discretion.

Personally, I don’t take pleasure in the erasing of people’s hard work and creativity, nor in the breaking-up of a graffiti-collective which traveled far and wide to get to 5pointz, nor even in the iconic stature they gave the place, but David Thompson sums it up pretty well:

‘The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas’

The pathos in the Times article stops short of a familiar ‘art will unite all races, classes, & genders,’ type of Leftist political ideology.

I”m getting a sense that even should graffiti become a longer-lasting vehicle for artistic expression, beyond the street, it likely began for many non-taggers possibly in affect, driven by ideology, or the boredom and rebellion of the suburbs and people looking for some meaning in their lives.

What are they overlooking? What are they looking for? What do the people looking at the work might think they’re looking at?

Or perhaps it would have been better to celebrate the way street-culture and graffiti has interacted with money and market forces through tourism. 5pointz arguably was a tourism draw.

From The Times piece:

‘Though street art is meant to be temporary, 5Pointz became known as a graffiti museum. And the medium itself, once considered a symbol of urban unraveling, became a sought after gallery-worthy commodity, with work from street artists like Banksy commanding millions of dollars. Which is one of the reasons the whitewashing of 5Pointz’s walls was greeted with such vociferous dismay. “What?! What did they do?!” cried a tour guide named Hans Von Rittern, as he raced out of a tour bus early Tuesday, his arms wide, his face crumpling as soon as he caught sight of Ms. Flaguel. They embraced tightly and wept.’

I can think of some possible messages being sent by the law:

You don’t have to work and own something to have ownership in it (normalizing a collectivism which rejects the property-rights of others…thus your property rights as well…for what’s to stop the next guy from tagging over your tag?). Someone else owns all this building anyways, so screw him, and screw the guy who came before me too.

The value of artistic creation is yet again associated with money in the modern world (partially out of guilt, I suspect), and not so much with self-expression, technique, craft, freedom, and moments which can elevate and expand, offering meaning within a process.

The criminality associated with graffiti is also tactily rewarded/overlooked by a court of law (there are real victims to the kinds of activity that can accompany tagging). I would much rather have lawmakers and law enforcers hold a simple line, rather than set the wrong incentives.

It can’t have been a good day for those who lost something. It’s hard out there.

Here’s a video:

More broadly, romanticizing the logic of the street, and taggers, comes with its own risks. Celebrate the spirit of creative lawlessness and turf warfare with the full acceptance that there ain’t much law involved. I’m sure 5pointz served as an escape, and a positive environment for many, but all the other things going on in these neighborhoods aren’t so uplifting, hence, it’s importance.

That’s right Banksy, it’s still a tagger’s world:

Related On This Site:Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’

So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’

Trading Robert Moses for Brailia…an authoritarian streak?: Brasilia: A Planned CityAnd AestheticsRoger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’

From The New Yorker: ‘Writing Powered By Amtrak’

Some Links On The Loss Of Civic Virtue, Ideologues In The Humanities & Alas, The New Yorker

Andrew Sullivan and Antonio Garcia Martinez have a discussion (Judaism vs Christianity, time and distance shortening technologies, the darkness potentially coming as we dissolve our common, civic bonds).

Surely you trust the people in the Federal Government?

Surely!

Here’s James Lindsay on the ideologies and ideologues filling many gaps within our institutions. The Humanities is the education where you can actually learn about your own human nature through dialog with the great voices of the past.

It’d be nice if such a defense weren’t necessary, but it is.

Alas, The New Yorker.

Don’t think the postmodern void and the search for meaning won’t suck on your legs as the tide goes out.

It’s okay to like the long-form stuff, high-quality cover art and criticism but…

…you will increasingly find reference to political violence, narrow true-belief and a rigid, cloying moralism. The logic was there, all along, beneath the human rights universalism, secular liberal idealism and profound moral concern for the ‘culture.’

The radicals haven’t changed all that much, but here’s one major difference: The new rules involve mainstreaming political violence and blaming your political enemies for it.

As posted, keeping an eye on The New Yorker-

Louise Perry at Unherd:  ‘An Untrue Claim In the New Yorker Speaks Volumes

‘One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.’

– Jill Lepore, New Yorker

Perry on Lepore’s piece:

This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.

And:

We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action. Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person. Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.’

Previous links on this site from The New Yorker:

Our sacred National Parks and EPA regions, uniting all races, classes, genders, and species in a non-corporate, environmental utopia, are being despoiled by the dirty masses:

Carefully balanced rock towers make a pretty picture, but the proliferation of cairns, fuelled by social media, has negative consequences for the environment. https://t.co/q4BGmJtAHC

— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) May 23, 2020

Judith Butler Wants To Reshape Our Rage (your rage isn’t even your own at The New Yorker, these days, it belongs to the collective).

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Not the ‘right’ kind of emptiness for Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, in Todd Phillips’ ‘The Joker.’

‘“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering.’

Brody’s review is as much about historical events (The Central Park Five), and moral judgments surrounding these historical events (racist and nothing else, Trump is horrible) as it is about the movie.

Basic plot, aesthetics, and stylized choices are kind of what I’m after in a movie review, with some of the reviewer’s own expertise and respect for the reader’s intelligence thrown-in (should I see this movie?).

The Boston Evening Transcript

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.


When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

T.S. Eliot

Mail delivery, Tuesday morning, Upper West Side. pic.twitter.com/nrSCvS52Ch

— Joe Nocera (@opinion_joe) December 13, 2016

Ira Stoll here:

‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”

Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.

Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.

***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

Or will this simply take care of itself?

As posted: Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also can bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.

The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.

According to some folks at The New Yorker magazine, the only answer to injustice is radical and revolutionary equality.

To be fair, the logic embedded within much radical chic usually reveals itself to be cool at first, the same old murderously bad doctrinaire utopianism a little later on:

From The New Yorker: ‘Writing Powered By Amtrak’

Thanks, reader:

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”…

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Related On This Site: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Repost-Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just is their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“...in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume