‘Continetti notes that post-liberals are “mainly but not exclusively traditionalist Catholics,” and proposes a test for determining whether someone falls into the category:’
One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.
‘The late Michael Novak, who was no post-liberal, made a useful distinction between liberal institutions on the one hand, and liberal philosophical foundations on the other. Examples of liberal institutions would be the market economy, limited government and its constitutional constraints, and the rule of law. There is in fact nothing essentially liberal about any of these things, but they have certainly come to be closely associated with the modern liberal political order. Examples of liberal philosophical foundations would be Locke’s version of social contract theory, Kant’s conception of human civilization as a kingdom of ends, Rawls’s egalitarian theory of justice, and Nozick’s libertarian theory of justice.’
My speculation: A deeper, broader American conservative coalition has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), and some religious folks no longer see a path forward through current culture and/or politics. Some are recommending a retreat into communities of like minds in order to build again. Retreat and regroup, even in Britain. Genuine persecution is coming from radical activists pushing liberatory doctrines (Equality, Social Justice, Sexual Liberation), and these doctrines have increasingly become institutionalized (academia, government & corporations). Coalitions of liberal idealists fail to observe the barbarians agitating at their own gates; the instability of their own foundations.
Looking at a liberal, Left and Democrat coalition, it too has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), the most true-believing Socialists and Communists still seeking authoritarian/totalitarian utopias here on Earth. The persecution is coming from all existing forms of illegitimate, oppressive moral and political authority. Violent revolution remains an option. Anarchy is preferable to stability and slow change.
Coalitions of conservatives fail to observe the suffering and injustice of those not included within their closed-minded conceptions of home, hearth, family, Nation and God. Progress is generally a moral good. Coalitions of open-minded, educated, tolerant, individuals can make a better, human, more globally connected world.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”
I’ll keep putting it up, as it’s so relevant. A few central quotes from this article here:
“Huntington was instinctively a conservative because he valued an ordered society, but he also championed conservatism as a necessary instrument to defend liberal institutions against communism. In many of his books he attacked idealistic liberals for holding such institutions to impossible, utopian standards that undermined their effectiveness in the world.”
“An iconoclast to the core, Huntington never threw his lot in with left or right. He was too statist to be a libertarian, too realist to embrace neoconservatism, and too sympathetic to nationalism, religion and the military to identify with liberal Democrats. As a conservative Democrat, then, he is an intellectual rarity.”
Political Order In Changing Societies info here, a book likely worth your time.
Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.’
Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:
‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’
Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:
“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”
‘It is not that the average person is not concerned about the environment. Everyone weighs the balance of economic gain against a respect for nature. It is only the truly affluent, however, who can be concerned about the environment to the exclusion of everything else.‘
On this analysis, It’s the people who’ve benefitted most from industrial activity that are using their wealth and leisure to promote an ideology that is ultimately harmful to industrial activity, and the people who live by it. Tucker has been following how such ideas actually translate into public policy and political organization for a while. Tucker also invokes Thorstein Veblen, and highlights how environmentalism can make for strange political bedfellows:
‘But the Keystone Pipeline has brought all this into focus. As Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes, Keystoneis the dividing line of the “two Americas,” the knowledge-based elites of the East and West Coasts in their media, non-profit and academic homelands (where Obama learned his environmentalism) and the blue-collar workers of the Great In- Between laboring in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, power production and the exigencies of material life.’
Aside from the political and sociological analysis, I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion (or at least a political and organizational entity offering purpose and membership, as a religion has a pretty particular definition).
On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means. He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy? “spiritually aware?” morally good?). This obviously gives meaning to people’s lives, a purpose, belonging and group identity as well as a political and secularly moral political platform. A majority of these folks are almost always anti-industrial, and it’s worthy of note how environmentalism has grown in our schools, marketplace, and in the public mind.
It’s often tough to tell where the sciences end (and they are often invoked to declare knowledge that is certain, or near-certain, and worthy of action) and where a certain political philosophy (usually more communal, politically Left, Statist…regulatory, centrally planned economically) begins.
What say you?
Nuclear makes a lot of sense, but so does recognizing all the rather lost souls looking for some purpose in their lives, and making activism their purpose.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
How to separate reasonable environmentalism from the totalitarian impulses, the Malthusians and various other people who “know” how many people is enough? Now that environmentalism is a primary focus in our schools, it’s probably worth thinking about.
If you visit my Twitter feed, you’ll quickly realize the genius of Peace Pavilion West, a global peace raft overseen by a strong authority. Join us, fellow human (this is very serious business):
Who shall hear our cries? Gaia, Gaia. Who shall heal her wounds? We shall. We shall. Who shall clean our air? The Western Wind. -Community Morning Prayer from The Human Pagoda. Namaste, NPR.
The young can always be forgiven some youthful idealism, I suppose. As for idealism being the highest thing around…Brooklyn used to be a place where working-class people could afford a house.
Mind you, no one ever put-up a neon-sign, flashing away into the night and visible from the suburbs (unless it was probably done ironically, mocking the ‘crass commercialism’ of a ‘bygone’ and fetishized era), but there have been some interesting demographic shifts going on. The words ‘community’ and ‘craft,’ ‘artisanal’ and ‘fair trade’ get thrown around a lot.
‘The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool.’
Christian Lorenzten has a less flattering take, in order to get at a more pure definition of ‘cool’:
Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.
Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot.
As for the progress that actually might arrive through a large, bureaucratic structure…
What if through the social sciences and American institutional innovation (IQ tests for the military, academic placement testing), there dripped-down a battery of tests given to all American schoolchildren? After an hour or two taken out of a child’s day, a thick envelope would arrive at home a few weeks later; to be examined or unexamined by the parents and/or child:
What about good ‘ol Jeffrey Dahmer?
While possessing above-average intellience, JEFFREY scored high for violent imagery and/or ideation. JEFFREYmight display a predilection to become fixated on objects, animals and/or other living things in his attempts to understand and navigate the world. Providing positive and rewarding outlets for JEFFREY will likely enhance learning opportunities and the chance to develop fruitful interpersonal relationships.
Oh, there are a few more out there…
As posted, someone’s going to be running our institutions and making rules out of a presumed universal and common sense set of assumptions:
Gurri offered an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.
‘The senior people, largely white and male, seemed to believe that, in punishment for the sins of their fathers, trust had fractured along identity lines. Women today were thought to trust only women, for example. Muslims trusted Muslims, and no one else. Some archetypical essence of “woman” or “Muslim” made internal communications possible, and separated each group from the rest of the human race. It was, to be sure, a disaster of biblical proportions – the story of Babel told in the times of the tweet – and it left the men in charge desperate to put forward individuals of a different sex and skin coloration, to say the things they wanted to hear.
For younger elites, trust involves a sort of cosplay of historical conflicts. They put on elaborate rhetorical superhero costumes, and fight mock-epic battles with Nazis, fascists, “patriarchs,” slave-owners, George III, and the like. Because it’s only a game, no one gets seriously hurt – but nothing ever gets settled, either. Eventually, the young cosplayers must put away their costumes, take one last sip of Kombucha, and set off, seething with repressed virtue, to make money in the world as it really is.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
I’d been charting the return to ‘Hitler Year-Zero‘ as a product of the Frankfurt School and the radical Left’s infiltration of the American academy. ‘Anti-fascism’ was, after all, driving many socialists, communists, and various other collectivist utopians into war with the fascist right (see Orwell in Spain). Through the Straussian lens, at least, both these manifestations of Left/Right are two sides of the same coin. Their highest goods are totalizing, collectivizing ideologies, coalescing into warring political factions.
Left-leaners dislike the suggestion that supporting radical activists while supporting ‘classical liberalism’ (free-speech, free-markets, individual liberties as many do in their personal lives) might be conflicting goals, requiring of hard choices.
The drive towards ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’, mobilizing every injustice in activists’ lives, often falls apart in the face of definitional scrutiny. So, only you support ‘democracy’ and your political adversaries don’t? What do mean by democracy, exactly? Rule by the demos? Which problems arise from rule by the demos?
As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.
The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, you’re f**ked.
A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals.
I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.
It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.
I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.
‘Back in the 1940s, the United Nations brought itself into disrepute by entrenching the right to holidays with pay as a universal human right, something that most workers outside the West could barely conceive of, much less enjoy. Here, then, we have a set of rights that operate in two ways:they satisfy a need in cases where the bearer of the right cannot satisfy that need out of his own resources, and they also entrench a status. The element of a status is involved, for example, when an employee cannot be dismissed by an employer unless a tribunal can be persuaded that dismissal has good cause. Here is a striking development of a right, because the costs of its implementation are off-loaded by governments onto employers. Here is the State’s ability to coerce used in a new way.‘
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books. 2010. Print. (Pg 67-68).
‘One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being played out in our century: as the victims of despotism and backwardness from third world nations pour into Western states, the same ivory tower intellectuals assert that Western life is a nightmare of inequality and oppression.’
Dear Reader, have you heard about Peace Pavilion West?
Our Leader, Dale, is the next ‘Great Man Of History’ as foretold in the Book Of Secular Revelations. His thoroughly (S)cientific visions align with the restless postmodern search for meaning and the (S)elf. Our Community mediates the pressures of global awareness and local identity, validating the feelings denied by existing hierarchies and rules.
After your personal has become political, and your politics has lost an election or two, the wind blows cold.
Ablute yourself with the waters of Gaia.
Some links and thoughts on such endless performance and protest, and making your highest good doomsaying, culty behavior.
‘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‘
Look out for the irrationalist response to the increasing authority of the secular liberal vision.
I’m still stopping short of anarchy (interesting discussions abound with ‘they’ and Michael Malice).
Some of what you might have heard about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial might be true, but a lot of it is likely manufactured and politically motivated bullshit. When it comes to facts and law, we really need to support a reasonable discovery of facts and reasonable application of law. In my opinion, if generally better men, seeking to protect the public square from generally worse men, are actively punished by the law for mostly bad reasons….well, don’t say you weren’t warned. We’ll see which, if any, charges stick.
As mentioned, I saw the same dynamic emerge with C.H.A.Z. or C.H.O.P. here in Seattle. What might have possibly resembled legitimate protest, and any semblance of reason, appeared briefly at the beginning of this systemic failure of law and order. By the time C.H.O.P emerged, the protest model was thoroughly exhausted (long before then). Over the next few weeks, unsurprisingly, within the anarchy, crazier and more thuggish people made their will felt.
Members of the ‘John Brown Gun Club’ and various other Leftist militia types started doing what the vacated police could not. There were murders and a few rapes.
As I see things, the anti-authoritarian authorities (Seattle political leadership) pretty much failed in describing and understanding reality and human nature, as the fruits of their ideas ripened in the public square.
As always, use your judgment and keep many files open as to what’s true. My biggest concern: Violence is not prohibited, and is, in fact, actively encouraged, within radical doctrines. Religious belief, tradition and much patriotism is shared only by a plurality or only a minority of Americans these days.
My dead horse to beat: It’d be nice if many liberal idealists, instead of mostly leaning on Boomer over-built institutions (while shrieking at conservatives and Republicans and the clusterfuck found therein), would admit that behind the rainbow flag was always a certain amount of anarchy and radical violence. Now it’s just spilled from the academic enclaves into the public square.
What’s caught my eye is a tweet by Mary Harrington regarding Wendell Berry. I don’t see many folks dipping into the Twitter Catholic enclaves (I have my doubts) nor mentioning Berry’s poems.
I’ve recognized in Berry a very good poet, as well as a poet offering potential direction to the Romantic-Modernist-Postmodern conceptualization of (N)ature. It appears Harrington is conceptualizing Berry’s appropriation below as ‘post liberal’. On the further Left, such conceptualization often occurs in the form of Romantic Primitivism, celebration of The Noble Savage, social constructionism, and ‘any-oppressed-people-is-a-friend-against-my-Oppressor’ logic.
Amongst many liberal idealists, such conceptualization often occurs as progressivism and progressive idealism, Boomer secular-one-world-humanism (the Beatles, man….the Beatles and maybe the World Bank too), global institutional collectivism and the hipster return to the nature in your backyard (a serious over-simplification).
A lot of the Civil Rights logic has resulted in a vast expansion of Federal Authority (the same used to oppress) now backing into a lot of technocratic bureaucracy and Statist authority.
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?
Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).
Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.
Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:
‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.’
Sandall again on Popper:
‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’
‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’
So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:
‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’
Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?
‘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.
‘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. ‘
Back to Sandall:
‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold inhis 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
A rather tangled web indeed…
Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:
‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
‘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.
‘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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
What are these poems being asked to do?
And moving away from poetry into the realm of ‘performance art,’
Many folks have explained why Communist revolutions begin in violence and end in such misery, and why so many followers cling to these doctrines with a sort of religious fervor, selectively blind hope, and continued loyalty.
Or at least some folks held their ground and documented the mess:
‘The preceding days have demonstrated that information peddled by Castro’s legion of academic and celebrity apologists has deeply penetrated the mainstream media consciousness, with credulous reporting sundry revolutionary “successes” of the regime: not so good on free speech, but oh-so-enviable on health care and education.’
‘And how does Reuters describe Castro? After 50 years of brutal one-party rule, to apply the appellation “dictator” seems a rather contentious issue: “Vilified by opponents as a totalitarian dictator, Castro is admired in many Third World nations for standing up to the United States and providing free education and health care.” And again, we return to education and health care.’
Democratic socialism, and social democracy, are often just the distance some folks have migrated from their previous ideological commitments (tolerating market reforms and ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy out of necessity, not necessarily a change of heart nor mind).
For others it may be the distance they’ve unconsciously drifted towards such ideas more recently.
For other brave souls, it may be the distance required to stick one’s fingers into the political breezes which blow over the floor of the EU, in order to ‘stay engaged’:
Remember, this is the non-elected President of the EU Commission.
‘He told me about what happened at his sister’s elementary school a few years after Castro took over.
“Do you want ice cream and dulces (sweets),” his sister’s teacher, a staunch Fidelista, asked the class.
“Yes!” the kids said.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Put your hands together, bow your heads, and pray to God that he brings you ice cream and dulces.”
Nothing happened, of course. God did not did not provide the children with ice cream or dulces.
“Now,” the teacher said. “Put your hands together and pray to Fidel that the Revolution gives you ice cream and sweets.”
The kids closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They prayed to Fidel Castro. And when the kids raised their heads and opened their eyes, ice cream and dulces had miraculously appeared on the teacher’s desk.’
As previously posted:
Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.
Christopher Hitchens took a helicopter ride with Sean Penn, and that tracksuit-wearing strongman of the people, Hugo Chavez-Hugo Boss:
It’s a long way out of socialist and revolutionary solidarity, which continually occupies the South American mind. One more revolution: Adam Kirsch takes a look at Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dream Of The Peruvian.
A sensitive subject, and much deeper than party, ideology, or political ideal. All may not be well in Europe due to demographics, immigration, rapid technological change challenging a rather poorly designed centralized bureaucracy. The less there is, or is perceived to be, the uglier it tends to get.
On that note, ‘neo-conservatism’ is a label of particular heretical significance on the Left, for neo-conservatives are often believers who’ve left the fold.
Perhaps the deep antipathy for religion, and its courageous equal application to Islam separated Hitchens from many peers (especially after Rushdie). Perhaps a slow acculturation to life in the U.S. helped lead to support for the Iraq invasion: