Snow falls: years of anger following hours that float idly down — the blizzard drifts its weight deeper and deeper for three days or sixty years, eh? Then the sun! a clutter of yellow and blue flakes — Hairy looking trees stand out in long alleys over a wild solitude. The man turns and there — his solitary track stretched out upon the world.
‘A YouGov poll on behalf of Homes & Antiques magazine has revealed that Banksy is Britain’s favourite artist.’
Dear Reader, I used to read ‘Homes & Antiques Magazine‘ religiously, hours of orange rinds scattered on my plate. ‘What can it mean?’
I used to drive half-dressed to the last parking lot on Earth, a few final photons bending through our atmosphere.
I could not outrun a racing mind, pacing among the dunes, staring out across an empty bay, salt winds curling the grasses: ‘Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are FOURTH on the yougov most popular food and snack brands list.‘
This calms me, anyways:
Once you accept the idea that a good work of art can play deep chords, elevating you, proffering wisdom, awe, and pleasure, you generally wish to preserve it and hold it close, sharing in its illumination. In such a light, a lot of other stuff can resemble so much kitsch strewn after a storm of technological and engineering progress..
Depending on how deeply and often you do this, you can become ‘refined.’
‘We have been replacing a lack of cultural quality with cultural quantity. Instead than having rare moments of beauty, power and insight, we (or, at least, many of us) face a ceaseless barrage of the cute, the curious and the clichéd. Rather than seeking out artworks which flicker in our minds long after we have stopped looking at them, we browse past endless images that light our brains up like catherine wheels. Images are almost too accessible. We can see everything, and nothing matters. Like. Like. Like.’
As I currently see things, there are always questions of artistic sorts feeling constrained by convention, tradition, repetition and practice. Money issues never really go away. Now there’s just an arguably greater quantity of crap with which to compete for a reader’s attention.
Perhaps there’s also the condition of the isolated individual artist alone, conceiving of himself as outside all meaningful conventions, traditions and practices. This, too, has become a convention, tradition and practice, for many artists and non-artists alike. Selves speak to Selves.
Just stay on the surface of things, and move through:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.
‘Having read so many chivalric epics that his brains have “dried up,” the hero decides that he has been called to revive chivalry and restore the Golden Age in this Age of Iron. But as the book proceeded, Cervantes realized that he had hit on something much more profound than a simple parody. The story kept raising ultimate questions about faith, belief, evidence, and utopian ideals. When do we need caution and when risk? Should we seek to transform reality or the way we perceive it? Do good intentions or good results define moral actions? And what is the proper role of literature itself?’
On Nabokov’s reading of Don Quixote, via a NY Times article:
What Nabokov’s eyes kept seeing as he prepared his lectures was the accurately perceived fact that the book elicits cruel laughter. Cervantes’ old man who had read himself into insanity and his smelly squire were created to be the butt of mockery. Quite early, readers and critics began to sidestep this Spanish fun and to interpret that story as another kind of satire: one in which an essentially sane, humane soul in a crass and unromantic world can only appear as insane.
If you have any good links, or links to reviews, please pass them along…
My two cents: I’m currently thinking that the modern ‘Well of The Self’ has deep roots within Romanticism, and the idea that the artistic genius alone must make sense of the world. This lone genius will Return to Nature as cradle, delivering man or (M)an back to himself, and back to his most basic experiences, hopes and a sense of wonder (once with a Christian, now often within a modern, transmogrified metaphysic).
The Romantic genius, to some extent, must turn against the city, industry and technological change, going back to the countryside. The (M)odern Man, a la Eliot, must turn back to the city, man’s industry, and technological change and remake the world anew, so that we may carry our souls forward. The (P)ostmodern man must create entire worlds and meaning for himself, isolated and alienated from all traditions and other people, left struggling against the void.
There are options, of course, and nihilism is clearly one.
If true, one can easily extrapolate from such a vision towards how we’ve ended up not only with individualism, but radical individualism, and a constant negotiation left up to each individual between all existing institutions of authority and moral/immoral legitimacy.
I’m seeing a lot of basic individual loneliness, desperation for group membership, meaning, and search for some kind of relationship between (N)ature and the (S)elf through others and through political tribalism.
This also can lead to the clear and present unstabilizing political dangers of anarchy, radical liberation, and doctrinal certainty forming beneath the reasonableness found within the high, liberal doctrines of Enlightenment (R)eason and (M)an. The social activists and ‘wokists’ on the scene are nothing if not zealous about their ideas. The ‘-Ismologists’ keep promising some kind of ideal world, which always seems to fail in fully arriving (and this failure always seems to be someone else’s fault).
Perhaps many people are inflating politics and the study of politics, the study of people in groups (sociology), and the study of our interior lives (psychology) to idealistic and almost mythic proportions, coming to lean upon these epistemologies, and politics itself, with hopes I do not necessarily share.
It wasn’t so long ago that all sins were to be reconciled with a loving God; a confession in the booth. I’m seeing many of the same human desires, hopes and beliefs now directed at therapists, comedians, politicians and artists, sometimes able to bear significant weight, often unable to do so.
Ah well, Dear Reader.
There’s a lot of wisdom in reading Don Quixote.
Have I convinced you of any of this?
Here’s a stanza from ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird‘ by Wallace Stevens, transitioning from Romanticism to Modernism, wrestling with faith and more modern doubt, staying the course with good Dutch-German insurance-executive sobriety and also lasting late in the night with passionately abstract poetic imaginings:
VII O thin men of Haddam, Why do you imagine golden birds? Do you not see how the blackbird Walks around the feet Of the women about you?
“The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“
A move towards the rational, invites a relationship with the irrational. The move towards idealism requires authority in the real world, inviting ideology as central to a (S)elf’s life. Ideal worlds, utopias and dystopias abound in the nihilist soup, along with a lot of bureaucracy and declarations for actions to meet the ideal.
High-walls and extra surveillance are a logical consequence for much of this authority.
There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days. They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.
Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.
On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.
These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.
Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?
If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?
As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader. I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):
“‘…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.”
What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?
How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?
Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:
‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’
Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?
Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”
Useful?: On one side a generally more religious, more traditional, more patriotic cultural majority and on the other a less religious, less traditional, less patriotic cultural minority. Gradually, then suddenly, the iceberg flips.
‘Home, hearth, town, state and nation,’ becomes more like ‘home, foyer, community, democracy units and global human village’ a good deal more than before.
The data that Eric Kaufmann presents and explains about ideological prejudice, social intolerance, and “affective polarization” (“Political Discrimination as Civil-Rights Struggle,” July 12) are as disturbing as they are depressing. Progressive authoritarianism is a growing problem, particularly among young elites and thus at the commanding heights of business, culture, and education. ‘
This blog’s take: What do you think of the analogy? Useful?
What you most focus on as a threat, often reveals what you most value.
Freedom doesn’t equal liberation. Many people causing the iceberg to flip have done so by promoting illiberal thought and action, violence, ideological utopianism, and of course, through the further control of language (words=violence).
Liberalism proper hasn’t provided a sufficient-enough moral framework to prevent this state of affairs, and the force of the iceberg’s flip has scattered apart the old Liberal Guard, the ‘classicals’, the Old Left (Marxists and free-speech, pro-science Left).
There are deeper currents affecting all of us.
Meanwhile, much of the cultural production (music, T.V., acceptable discourse) continues to drift along where it does…
I know, I know. Smith and Hayek may not be enough, but they offer quite a bit:
‘Smith offers us nothing less than a critique of ‘scientific socialism’, a doctrine that was to emerge almost two centuries later. This theory asserts that a benevolent government may achieve the social good, or, at any rate, socially desirable ends, through planning and directing a society and its citizens by means of legislation, rules, regulations and administrative fiat. ‘
‘Berlin’s coinage of 1973 is not even the first minting of the expression in English, since the term ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ appears fifteen years earlier in William Barrett’s Irrantional Man, where he states, not without some justice, that ‘Existentialism is the counter-Enlightenment come at last to philosophical expression’.
Such antipodal movement between reason enthroned and some of anti-reason’s shrines is likely going to keep influencing all of our lives for some time.
Here’s a quote from Kelley Ross, highlighting some of the clear dead-ends and unworkable ideologies that have come out of the Enlightenment, and which have crushed individuals underfoot but still generate loyal sympathies and continue living on in various forms, finding some traction in the modern/postmodern malaise:
‘In addition to these legal and institutional usurpations of liberty, the attacks on individualism itself by socialism and communism have continued under the guise of “communitarianism,” and trendy thinkers now like to say that only as much freedom as “possible” should be allowed given the fundamental priority of the state, of “society as a collective unit” (they know that they will sound like Nazis if they start talking about “the state,” so they say “society” instead). It is not, indeed, that freedom must never be abridged, but it is a very different matter to see this as a choice by necessity in a moral dilemma rather than as an unproblematic pursuit of a fundamental “collective” good. If the abstract entity (the “state,” “society,” or the “collective”) has the moral priority, then the even permanent abridgment of any amount of freedom is no moral wrong. What the state giveth, the state taketh away.’
Something I like to keep in mind: Many people, in fact, most people, haven’t really thought through the consequences of what changing a particular rule and/or law will have beyond their own narrower interests. It’s rare that a particular injustice, the facts on the ground, and some moral and presumed universal claim align, thus requiring very important change.
In the public square and the marketplace, too, simple ignorance is often the rule, not the exception. Genuine truths usually come bundled with self-interest, financial interest, and groups of people often reinforcing their own pre-held beliefs, opinions, convictions and let’s not forget: A required common enemy to define themselves against. There’s a lot of preening and in-group/out-group issues constantly going on.
Via a reader: John Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:
It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.
There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.
As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’
As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.
‘But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”
Sadly, I don’t trust mainstream outlets, nor their major driver of traffic, and business partner (Google), to report the facts. Of course, I can’t trust them to report the facts without accepting constraints I simply will not accept in defense of speech and Western Civilization, having been captured by activist/radical discontents (I don’t allow my baseline to be driven by those in the West who conditionally support speech, driving American idealism towards the regime in Tehran).
This means all of us, in defense of our own speech, and criticism of authority (think long and hard about this), will presumably find conditional support from similar outlets here at home. This does not bode well.
“I was completely shocked. I was probably 60 feet away from the incident. I saw the attacker jump onto the stage and immediately run to Mr. Rushdie and he started pummeling him is the best way to describe it. Hitting him very rapidly. I could not tell he had a knife,” Davies, a Brooklyn-based urban planner, told The Post.
Rushdie has potentially suffered serious injuries (eye, liver etc.)
‘Rushdie has spent decades looking over his shoulder after Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a call for his death after the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, is said to be sympathetic to the Iranian regime.‘
‘Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 the order still stands.
The new bounty is the largest organised effort to assassinate Rushdie since the fatwa was issued.’
As previously posted. Salman Rushdie went into hiding for years for expressing his views in works of fiction (the kind which might well benefit parts of the Muslim world (and Iran) in evaluating just how it deals with the West, and the ‘modern world’:
The mullahs with their moral absolutes and thuggish political opportunism aside, there are some in the West who won’t stand-up to such thuggishness.
‘The decision by PEN American Center to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo has prompted six writers to withdraw as literary hosts at the group’s annual gala on May 5, adding a new twist to the continuing debate over the publication’s status as a martyr for free speech.
The novelists Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from the gala, at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.’
The reasons? Here are a few:
‘In an email to PEN’s leadership on Friday, Ms. Kushner said she was withdrawing out of discomfort with what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance” and promotion of “a kind of forced secular view,”’
Rushdie on such cowardice:
“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”
In their exercise of freedom, let such writers be one day judged by the truth they’ve expressed here.
No doubt, though, new levels of cosmic conscientious-objective-consciousness have been reached.
.As previously posted:
How do you marry liberal idealism with the radical roots? Shotgun-style.
Our institutions, bending to liberal ideals, will also involve a bending towards the radical base, which is not necessarily liberal.
When his captors uncinched the noose around his neck and shoved him into a wooden chair, Alex Rackley might have assumed his ordeal was over. He had already endured a flurry of kicks and punches, the repeated crack of a wooden truncheon, ritual humiliation, and a mock lynching. But it wasn’t over. It was about to get much, much worse.’
That party at Lenny’s is still pretty awkward, at least the way Tom Wolfe tells it:
‘. . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.’
‘Advocating voluntary restraint of speech (on grounds of common civility, community harmony or fear of violence) ultimately establishes a climate of silence in which any criticism of Islam can be dismissed as provocation – as racism qua Islamophobia, a label that is used to discredit critics.‘
‘Though these two brothers may have acted like regular American youth to unsuspecting neighbors, participating in sports, attending public schools, and hailing from neighborhoods in the Boston community, at some point they were taken in by the ideology of political Islam, which, like an intoxicating drug, lured them down the path of separatist Islamism and its common endpoint of militant jihadism against both non-Islamist Muslims and non-Muslim societies’