Edward Hopper, Deconstructionists, The NY Times & Postmodernism-Some Links-Where Are You Headed?

Via Althouse via the NY Times, applying decontructionism to the works of Edward Hopper:

They’re coming for your ‘myths’, America.

Some of them, anyways:

“Yes, there’s a lot of talent and beauty and all that,” said Mr. Shadwick, who remains a big Hopper fan, “but there’s also a very conscious awareness of his place in history, and of the purported Americanness of the scenes he was painting.”

Althouse:

I think the “awareness” he’s referring to is in the minds of people who value Hopper. Maybe those minds are full of delusions and mythology. They’re only half-aware. Not… woke.

It’s not as clear to me a deconstructionist would go after obvious ‘woke’, so much as interrogate other things, driving towards (S)elves without myth nor national character in an increasingly flattened landscape.

From the author’s site, where he is making a career out of ideas about ideas about Hopper:

This relation of Hopper’s works to their broader social history will underpin an interrogation of the development and cultivation of Hopper’s Americanist persona, challenging notions of Hopper’s quintessential ‘Americanness’ and deconstructing the implications of such rhetoric in relation to the artist’s canonical reputation.

Hmmm….as to choices artists must make. From the NY Times piece:

In rendering his pioneering views of everyday life in average America (or, as Mr. Shadwick would say, in the America Hopper helped define as average), Hopper chose an everyday style that brings him closer to the modest commercial illustration of his era than to the certified old masters.

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

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

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

When it comes to the Old Masters, I can’t help but think of Auden:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden

The Fall Of Icarus

Discussed in the video: James Lindsay’s cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.

Also, the two touch upon Critical Theory, and the next generation of post-post-modernists, reacting against the previous generation.

I doubt movements like this ever really die, especially ones committed to the logic of radically standing apart from all institutions of authority, traditions, systems and social arrangments; the lone, brilliant artists and the academic poseurs cloaked within the glamour of nihilist jargon and bad epistemologies.

Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate: ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty

Related On This Blog:

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

The Sokal hoax:

“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”

Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

Mentioned In The Review: Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…


Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism through post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Fries):

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]


Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:

On this site, see:

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Steven Pinker piece here.

Pinker boils his argument down to two ideals:

‘The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’

and:

‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’

Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss the ‘treasure chest’ vision of science, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.

————————

Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:

‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions.’

One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, as all manner of other ideas fill the void.

Addition: I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).

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

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

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

From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

More here from the Times Literary Supplement.

I suppose ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and/or ‘libertarian socialism’ is better than the dead-ends of socialist doctrine. Noam Chomsky actually had enough computational/scientific training to be dismissive of postmodern thought. Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Repost-Ken Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘Christophobia’ and the West’

Full piece here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Minogue framed it thusly:

Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom:  To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.

——————–

As previously posted:

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith.  Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London.  He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists.  You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

—————————

RelatedA definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Welcome To The Western Skies Motel-Some Old & New Links On Place In America

Ernst Haas-Western Skies Motel, Colorado, 1977. It’s a wonderful use of color, along with those clouds and that light. A mood is created, and not much extra visual information is provided.

Ernst Haas-There’s so much visual information, but is there? What is communicated through your eye and to your brain? Route 66 Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, British photographer Mark Power’s Good Morning, America, vols. 1 (mostly Arkansas) & 2 (mostly across the South).

Power:

‘I keep a physical and metaphorical distance between myself and the subject. It’s a way of delineating my ‘foreignness’ and is a similar stance to the one I took while working in Poland making The Sound of Two Songs (2004-09). It’s comes very naturally to me; I’ve always felt I’m better at observing than participating, so to stand back and watch from afar suits me very well.’

I often find myself drawn to photos with some distance.

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, Steve Fitch Photography has neon motel signs glowing into the Western night.

He also has a book simply titled ‘Motel Signs:’

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?

Nabokov in America:  On The Road To Lolita.

Michael Dirda review of the review here.

“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.’

Well, there’s Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, which looks interesting:

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.

But it can be empty, and lonely, and full of hard work and suffering:

MT-3 Storm Breaking-3

Montana Pastoral    

I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.  

J.V. Cunningham

Detroit Nocturne‘ found here. Via Mick Hartley.

I’m partial to ‘Joey’s Meatcutter Inn, Bar & Grill 2017‘:

Joey's Meatcutter's Inn, Eastside, Detroit 2017

Immediately, I think of Edward Hopper: The lonely cityscape at night or the familiar glow of gas station lights cast into the American wilderness. The eye might want to linger among the colors, shapes and clouds even though the mind knows this is pretty much an empty street in a ‘post-industrial’ zone.

Perhaps it has do with another strand of expression: The break into free verse from past forms. The move from American Romanticism to Modernism which occurred this early past century. William Carlos Williams produced many good poems from a process of earnest, scrapbook-style intensity in trying to discover, redefine, and order a new poetic form within a modern ‘urban landscape.’

The individual artist is quite alone in the task he’s set before himself, and like much of modernism, it’s a rather big task.

Pastoral

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

William Carlos Williams

Do you believe any of that to be of vast import to the nation? Are you no one?

Charles Murray, Edward Feser, & Ernst Haas-Some Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The False Rhetoric of Systemic Racism: Charles Murray on Race Differences and America’s Ideal of Individual Equality of Rights

In Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America (2021), Charles Murray argues that the rhetoric of “systemic racism” in America is mistaken for four reasons.’

Glenn Loury further discusses with Murray:

==

Via Edward Feser At Substack, philosopher Michael Robillard explains how he left academia, and how academia left him.

We’ve continued to see the application of quantitative reasoning, and applied mathematics, to many fields pursuing knowledge and truth of our interior lives (psychology), how we act in groups (sociology), where we might have come from (anthropology) and not merely how to buy and sell stuff, but markets themselves (the quants on Wall Street). Much of this will be highly useful knowledge, new knowledge even, with a lot of truth to it.

At the same time, however, the further pursuit of not merely quantitative reasoning, mathematics, the natural sciences and computer sciences, but the (R)ational, is in conflict with the (I)rrational, the nihilistic, The Will and Will To Power. The (S)elf is a primary conception alive in the West today, and thus does the postmodern (S)elf permeate the arts, art movements, and the (C)ulture at-large. The Hegelian conception of (H)istory, and its re-appearance in Marx, provides intellectual backdrop for many ideologues and ideologies active in many American institutions.

In the meantime, maybe pick up a hobby? Maybe it’s poetry, or music, or off-roading, or mining, or photography. Learn how bad you are at something, as you slowly become better through hard work. Come to appreciate those who worked hard and came before.

Thanks for reading!

Friday Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Dreams Of Cities: The Anglosphere Will Be Full Of Mutual Admiration & Skulduggery-Some Theodore Dalrymple, Clive James, Sting & Tom Wolfe Links

Let’s start this off with a quote from Italo Calvino, an Italian by way of Havana:

“The city of your dream is Lalage. Its inhabitants arranged these invitations to rest in the night sky so that the moon would grant evrything in the city the power to grow and grow endlessly. “

Calvino, Italo.  Invisible Cities. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1974. Print.

Via the City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple reflects upon his visits to New York City, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans-Cities and Memory: An Englishman reflects on his travels in urban America:

‘The first time I visited New York, between 40 and 50 years ago, it was a place of ill repute, at least among foreigners. Rumor and report made the city sound like a low-intensity war zone, and you would find yourself regaled with advice on how to stay safe there, un-mugged and un-shot.’

and:

‘Just under a half-century later, the level of civility in the two cities has switched: New York now feels safer than London.’

It was the really pretty girls, and the tall, ambitious guys, among my cohort, who made made their way to Manhattan.

Touring the city, I was shown a dream, gazing down from Midtown; a forest of skyscrapers on a clamorous loading-dock.  I saw people easily dead within a week, and people trying to write their names in marble or maybe a concrete cornerstone.

We all have ambitions.

The recently deceased Clive James (England via Australia) visited New York in the 1980’s for his Postcards series.  He seems very worried about getting mugged a second time.

That’s a lot more likely these days.

Everybody knows you take a classy, beautiful lady on a classy movie date, down in Times Square:

I don’t know about all these Brits roaming around.

Here’s Sting singing his classic ‘British Guy In The Five Boroughs’

In fact, what people with a longer history can teach us about history is that people might forgive, but they rarely forget:

Ambitious Southern Gentleman makes his way to New York and gets hip to The Arts & Journalism, fact and fiction:

Repost-Postmodern Conservatism, Celebrity As Currency, Protest Art, Politics And Some Bad Prose

Dear Reader, lately I’ve been lurking in the shadows, strolling from streetlight to streetlight, leaning and loitering. I feel like the character you confront while skirting the edge of the park, dimly established, on your way home.

Well, no, not really. Life is often boring, full of work and loved ones, and what’s good.

True tales from my twenties, while on brief vacation: I remember lying on a hotel bed in Vienna, restless with the euphoria of travel, the sounds of a foreign city alive in my ears. I remember arising, standing at the window and staring at the moon and the mansard rooves across the street.

I had seen the same rooftops in the changing light of late afternoon and dusk; the clotheslines swaying and the water stains on the walls, my eyes darting from small detail to facade to vast, unfamiliar horizon.

Life is so strange!

Now, in the middle of the night, I was with unlit cigarette (one or two a day for a year as I was very, very, cool). I remember striking the lighter and my eyes catching a flash of light from across the street. From the mansard rooves.

I flashed the lighter again. One flash.

One flash in return came from the mansard rooves. Fourth floor. Dormer window.

I gave two flashes.

Two flashes came from the window.

I held my flame for about five seconds, about chest-level. I heard the sounds of a few cars down below.

I finally saw a light and the face of girl with dark hair, much younger, bigger nose, nice eyes, olive skin.

Was she alone? Was she a Muslim immigrant? Why is she awake? Is she too young? Am I a creep? Should I try morse code?

If I have drawn your interest, I will say I remember that after a few more flashes and some rather innocent, thrilling moments of communication across the darkness under a strange moon in a strange city, I eventually found my way back to bed and to sleep.

I hope she’s well, and now too has a happy life.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’ (not so sure about that…), here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project. I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

On that note, Jesus Christ already...

Yes, there’s nudity, and it’s not nearly so unappealing as a lot of art-activist-nudity out there.

The shock for shock’s sake, childishness, and resemblance to political protest arguably demean without much reward. I doubt this ‘artist’ has reached the sensibilities of any pilgrims nor nuns (the foolish and childish, the mature and wise). In fact, this isn’t really art, nor even political protest nor does it reasonably address the various matters of deep disagreement for which people can end up killing each other.

Go learn how to sketch, draw and paint. Appeal to truth, pleasure, or beauty.

Or get paid for being naked and become an artist’s model.

‘In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artist has questioned Christianity’s exploitation of female figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who are often portrayed on opposite sides of the stereotypical spectrum of female chasteness: virgin or whore.’

Admittedly, I don’t think the Virgin Mary above displays as shamelessly little talent as did ‘Mattress Girl,’ who after the hysteria and histrionics of lugging a mattress around Columbia campus, eventually did ‘classy’ pornography a disservice.

Thanks for the memories, Mattress Girl:

I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’

Why should I, you, he, she it or they care?: ‘Mattress Girl’ got a ticket punched to the State of The Union by Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the state of New York. It seems worth asking what the people making our laws believe and what they are saying they believe.

What do they do? How do they behave?

Liberation is next!

Previously on this site,

Interesting piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

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

From the comments:

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

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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

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

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

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

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

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

Lileks’ take:

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

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

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

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

Results vary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

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

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

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

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

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

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

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

T.S. Eliot

Mind Your Business, Strangers & Perverts. Bah, Humbug-Some Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Hayek’s Mistake: ‘The Ancient Evolution Of The Human Trading Instinct and the Neanderthal Extinction:’

I have often argued against Friedrich Hayek’s claim that socialism appeals to our evolved instincts…’

The late Jerry Gaus: ‘On the Difficult Virtue of Minding One’s Own Business: Towards the Political Rehabilitation of Ebenezer Scrooge

We can only live with strangers and perverts if we refrain from making their lives our business. This restraint has a considerable cost, of which contemporary “communitarians” are well aware. Some advocates of the Great Society seem to suggest that one can do anything one wants to in such a society as long as, following Mill, one does not harm another.

From the old Opie & Anthony show (mild perverts), a discussion of a truly disturbing subject (N.A.M.B.L.A.).

Which reminds me: Yesterday’s liberationists are today’s would-be authoritarians. Yesterday’s utterances are today’s chalkboard rules, echoing in the minds of the young.

Come on out to Peace Pavilion West. Dale Lonagan was born the child of a leading climate-change bureaucrat and the U.N. journalist sent to cover him. People say he ran with Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Manson.

The Great Man of History emerges between memory and dream. Sometimes he comes on horseback. Dale is this savior in shadow, (S)cientist and (W)orld (C)itizen, leading us all into the Light Of Reason. He waits for every one of us, on the horizon, where sunny utopian promise meets harsh reality.

Read about it here.

Some will say this is a photo of the roof of a Best Buy parking garage.

I say: The Future!:

From OldSchoolContemporary: ‘Kenneth Minogue’s Christophobia And The West‘:

Globalization is having very odd effects on our thinking, but none is more curious than the Olympian project of turning the West’s cultural plurality into a homogenized rationalism designed for export to, and domination over, the rest of the world‘.

Some people don’t, and won’t, think like we do. And the ‘We’ is in question.

Beautiful Images, Some Good, Bad, and Popular Ideas

Natalie Christensen via Mick Hartley: Santa Fe Color and Light.

The dumpster photo really is remarkable.

Via a reader: Saul Leiter’s just a great photographer. Each photograph is well-composed, layered, with excellent use of color. They are like paintings. Abstract Expressionism was hot in the painting world, and it shows. He didn’t pursue too much attention, making some great images with the tools he chose, in search of beauty:

Moving along:

Readers of this blog know I harbor deep skepticism. I’m not persuaded that many people advocating for change are any more ‘peaceful,’ ‘democratic,’ or worthy of authority than what’s come before. Will radical ideologies wrapped in high ideals actually work any better than a sovereign nation, full of citizens following the rule of law?

At the ol’ Human Church, the crazies gather in the back pews.

Ross Douthat at the NY Times (behind a paywall): How Michel Foucault Lost the Left and Won the Right:

The place of Foucault in 2021 is not just a matter of academic interest; his changing position tells us a great deal about recent evolutions of both the left and the right.

Hmmm…

Oh, there will be rules, and authority. Beneath that, a group of influence-peddling scribes, directing flows of received opinion and vaguely new information. ‘Explainers’ as they say. I suppose we all need to keep explaining the world to ourselves, and for ourselves, for as long as we can.

As posted:

Some years ago, Stuart Lawrence, on the late Roger Sandall’s site, imagined Plato and Aristotle having a conversation about Grand Theft Auto.

Lawrence:

‘Used judiciously and with a suitably grim humour I think Plato can be a help. On the one hand he suggests that the issues raised by the relation of Showbiz to the rest of society have changed little over more than two thousand years. On the other, that the myriad effects of high-tech modern illusionism, both social and political, should not be too casually brushed aside.

The ‘is-ness’ of say, Unit Vector scaling (used in game dynamics) need not answer the many questions we might have about reality and the world (how should I behave? why am I here? what is my purpose? where is all this headed? when should I turn GTA off and go to bed?) but hopefully, such knowledge will simply produce people capable of understanding this knowledge and applying it, as well many others just enjoying a game.

Against the modern grain of having such questions asked solely by the religious, countered by the New Atheists and the secular, but also by the increasingly moralistic ‘-Ismologists’ and ‘Wokists’, it’s interesting to cast such a debate in more ancient terms.

Such framing can even provide breathing-room beneath the arguments flung over the table between analytic philosophers and many a postmodern nihilist.

Which Way The Humanities? Five Links & Quotes Gathered Over The Years, Culture Wars Included

Camille Paglia has her own take, from 40 years spent within, and on the fringes of, American academia. This is quite a curious mix of 60’s radicalism, art theory, history and criticism, some political philosophy, pop culture and various other influences:

A body-positive, quite radical/anti-anaesthetic and associative feminist art historian (with deep Italian Catholic roots)?

Free Speech And The Modern Campus:

‘However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)’


Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”

This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, deep the shards of disruptive radicalism embedded),though I certainly respect the attempt.  We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?


On that note, 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”

“…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.”

Much like Paglia…

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?

The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?


As to the policial/social climate, did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?

Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:


Robert Bork’s  ‘Slouching Towards Gomorrah’ here. Bork died as of December 19th, 2012.

What did a man who eventually became an openly practicing Roman Catholic witness during the 60’s protests on campus?

Bork argues that during the 1960’s, likely starting with the SDS, a form of liberalism took shape that promotes radical egalitarianism (social justice, equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (excessive freedom from the moral and legal doctrines which require an individual’s duty and which form the fabric of civil society).  This is the New Left.

Bork is quite explicit about the violence and threats of violence he witnessed, the barbarism on display, and the confused, tense years that unfolded (culminating in the Kent State debacle).  He was one of two conservative law professors at Yale during the late 1960’s and he argues that events have rarely been represented accurately as he saw them.   It is a personal account.

Related On This Site:  Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

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

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’