‘The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions.’
Yes and no, probably.
Traversing the rocky outcrops of the postmodern landscape can lead to occasional outbursts of moral grandeur. Beneath the fog, hilltops can present themselves as though all of ‘(H)istory’ is coming into view.
Bathing in the thermal pools of group identity, deep inside of this ritual or that, perhaps chanting ‘power-theories’ to feel some warmth and comfort; all may quiet the conscience for a time.
Sooner or later, though, action is required. The injustice becomes unbearable. The Self lies suspended atop ‘(H)istory’ and the utopias to come under its oppressions.
What were once Romantic visions of grandeur high above the clouds (is that an old German castle?) were still available to some Modernists, but maybe even fewer postmodernists, yet.
Where are these things headed?
Addition: It would seem I can state the radical case well enough that actual radicals are mistaking this post for one of sympathy.
Be careful where you put your Self, dear reader, as your moral sentiments, hope and despair will follow.
If I’m going to make an appeal to your Self, then at least let me do it in more pragmatic fashion, away from these many post-Enlightenment dead-ends and radical discontents.
Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.
Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘
and about providing a core to liberalism:
‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’
And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind. But to what purpose Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know. Other echoes Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, Round the corner. Through the first gate, Into our first world, shall we follow The deception of the thrush? Into our first world. There they were, dignified, invisible, Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves, In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air, And the bird called, in response to The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery, And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at. There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting. So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern, Along the empty alley, into the box circle, To look down into the drained pool. Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged, And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight, And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, The surface glittered out of heart of light, And they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty. Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children, Hidden excitedly, containing laughter. Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind Cannot bear very much reality. Time past and time future What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present.
You may have noticed modern ‘-Ist’ movements focus upon the material and rational, often to then move further into the nihilist and irrational, towards an utopian ideal. Market comparisons are leveraged to prove a woman’s worth, usually against some previous constraint or tradition. Housework=x. By itemizing and assigning a dollar value to every household task a woman performs, the goal is likely to liberate and bring her closer to the males free to compete in the marketplace. Freedom is next!
Since women have been oppressed and left historically with fewer choices (certainly true in many respects and many places), this individual woman will be liberated from the previous oppression, using the market as her yardstick. Think of a dollar sign behind every daily chore she does, regardless of all the other deeper reasons she/we/any of us might be doing such chores. At a minimum (the fallback defense), such a move will grant more individuals the freedom to choose (free to choose a job or stay at home with the kids), harnessing all the intelligence, drive and ability which had previously been constrained through narrower religious and traditional channels.
I first came across the argument through Laura Kipnis (a feminist), and I support her in pointing out the absurdity of campus sexual identity politics and the encroachments upon reason:
Within the postmodern soup, however, the union of a visual artist, feminist theorist, and dry contrarian academic bureaucrat [is] probably a sign of the times.
What I think is true: Ignorance is usually the rule in human affairs, not the exception. Many women make bad choices, and must live with them (the rest of us, too, just like the men making bad choices). Some women are not particularly bright and are of pretty limited scope. Women aren’t inherently better nor worse than men. The feminist position staked out through the the humanities (Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolfe) certainly showcases what creative ability and brilliance can do. Yet, it, too must also help us confront the nature of human evil, the poor judgment which comes with the passions, and the pursuit of truth.
So, perhaps the previous traditions and grooved channels were a reflection of much of what we are, for good or ill. Their ruins are those through which we still walk.
Human nature probably hasn’t changed all that much during the last few centuries, either. Raising good people, good students, and good citizens is probably one of our highest callings, both men and women alike. Any one of us, throughout our lives, can allow worse passions enough leverage to cause tremendous misery and suffering to ourselves and others. Such truths are absolutely vital in maintaining the institutions which maintain a Republic.
I think the materialist and rationalist position fails to really account for what really motivates most of us, most of the time. I also think it represents an ultimate move towards the postmodern (S)elf left to resolve such questions alone, or through the increasingly strident modern ‘moral cause’ and politico-identity movements which don’t necessarily bring ‘peace’ nor consensus.
–On that note:
I think some Catholics are saying true things about modernity and secular humanism. It’s refreshing because liberal idealism and secular humanism have generally come to dominate, with all of their triumphs and problems.
Let’s not forget all the problems of truth, corruption, authority and knowledge which come with the Catholic church, while supporting the critique of the ‘-Ists’ and ‘-Isms’ in both fashion and considerable power.
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…’
‘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?
‘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.
When I was younger it was plain to me I must make something of myself. Older now I walk back streets admiring the houses of the very poor: roof out of line with sides the yards cluttered with old chicken wire, ashes, furniture gone wrong; the fences and outhouses built of barrel staves and parts of boxes, all, if I am fortunate, smeared a bluish green that properly weathered pleases me best of all colors.
No one will believe this of vast import to the nation
‘The minor vogue and rapid extinction of Imagism, a movement whose influence we still feel, has been hashed over by literary critics for a century. Its rehearsal here is merely to bring the poem into focus within the slow progress toward the densities of language, the images like copperplate engraving, that made Pound Pound.’
Thorough and well done.
The result would echo back to the States years later:
Once we start arriving at ‘ecological’ appreciations of nature, and the postmodern, confessional altar of Self and the turn inwards to the Self a subject for the art, and the desperate search for meaning, I get more and more turned off, for my own reasons. Such good poems will carry on.