‘We could no longer use their styles and materials sincerely, the modernists argued, since nobody believed in those old ideals. The modern age was an age without heroes, without glory, without public tribute to anything higher or more dignified than the common man.’
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebrification of art):
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
On that note, some previous links and quotes:
Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:
‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’
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.
‘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.’
‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):
As previously posted:
Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.
Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).
‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’
On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:
‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘
Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.
Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?
And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?
From the comments:
‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.
Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.
Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’
Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:
‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’
As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.
I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.
From my humble, small ‘c’ conservative position, Trump was better than many alternatives, although the Federal deficit is now frightening. His anti-China tendencies have been nationalistic; coming from a more pro-union, working man perspective dating to his experiences in 1980’s New York City. Whatever you think of such ideas, Trump’s pushed, and reacted against, a lot of where future political action will be, namely with the citizens who work hard, save, and play by the rules. Mostly isolationist on foreign policy and liberationist on the economy, Trump’s had his influence.
He’s also challenged much Liberal Idealism directly (humanists and universalists, progressives and global internationalists and MUCH of the mainstream-media these days). For this, Trump will not be forgiven.
I would also include in this telling many Left-Of-Center ‘Ism-ologists’ (environmentalist bureaucrats and lawyers, feminists, race-industrialists) and ‘Wokists’ beneath them (SJW’s, identitarian and New New Left ‘woke’ activists). Such folks not only disliked Trump, but have openly HATED him. Trump was the uncouth, fascistic authoritarian trashing the traditions of our fair Republic [addition: don’t worry, they’ll take great care of it]. He simultaneously played the role of old and new heel quite successfully,
Trump’s also, from a position of character, in my personal opinion, kind of a piece-of-shit (as in a Jake-The-Snake Roberts old-school WWF heel). You could maybe trust him if you went in on the USFL together as stakeholders, but, then again, maybe not. He’s taken slights personally, often sinking to the level of most opponents. He’s been a womanizer for many, many years. He seems to claim credit for successes in a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing way and often shifts the blame of failures onto others. He’s used ‘lawfare’ in the past to achieve his aims..
Nevertheless, here we are, at the perpetual glorious dawn of the (S)elf, Dear Reader.
I expect a lot of what I see as overbuilt Federal institutions to continue having, at least partial, if not complete, capture by second and third-raters willing to endorse new moral orthodoxies.
From my position, I see new moral orthodoxies as insufficiently grounded in the tragedies and comedies of human nature to produce much mid and long-term institutional success. I may trust individuals I know (love your family, trust but verify with colleagues), but I don’t, in aggregate, trust even [principled] progressives to stand-up for the pursuit of truth as explained and understood by the sciences against mobs of ignorance. The production-line of ideas from the radical activist, to high ‘-Ismologist’, to Liberal Human Universalist continues.
Imagine yourself in a waiting room with an assortment of strangers. There’s some small-talk, some smiling, and some awkward tension (depending upon the reasons for which you might be waiting). A lot of the new ‘woke’ ideology takes as fuel the awkward tension of such strangers thrust together; these motley crews of friendly and not-so-friendly strangers in need of unifying ideas.
After liberation usually comes a new set of emergent rules and orthodoxies.
It still seems vast swathes of moral sentiment and public opinion have trouble aligning with positions of leadership and institutional authority these days, all across the board.
Some new links and a past quote:
British Historian Tom Holland sees the moral roots of the Christian faith as producing most of the new radical offshoots. For the Left, The Nazis are the devil (having rejected salvation and forgiveness). It’s always 1939 or so. For the Right, the current moral crisis is a rejection of belief, tradition and faith for atheism, liberal idealism and various dangerous ideologies coming out of the postmodern soup.
As for my thinking, the Platonic model found in the Republic (one of many models I’m using), keeps me up at night: Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
English writers Ian McEwan and Martin Amis have a discussion; a bit about writing, a bit about personal habits and audience attention spans, but also about this past century’s ideological fever dreams.
You might just recognize some of these living and dead horses:
AC This idea of belief systems comes out in both of your books, doesn’t it – what people will do in the name of the beliefs that they’ve constructed or developed.
MA Yes: it’s a world in itself that – belief systems. Ian’s been talking about religion, but also ideology. Although what I discovered when I’d gone on reading about the Holocaust over the last 25 years is that in the Russian case, very pedantically following various Marxist tributaries and deviations, the ideology remained very strong.
I was shocked to learn that Gorbachev, just as the whole empire was crumbling, was up all night reading Lenin, saying, “The answer must be here.” But in Hitler’s case, in the German case, there was no ideology. There were two or three ideas: Lebensraum – extra land empire; hallucinatory anti-Semitism; and just wanting to stay in power – and that was it. People weren’t attracted to Nazism because of its ideology; it was a sort of rallying cry for sadists and that was all it was meant to be.
IM Yes, those black flags of Northern Iraq are another case – it acts as a great attractor for every available would-be torturer. Psychopathia is thinly spread through all populations and they just need their historical chance, don’t they?
AC And why are novelists drawn to it?
IM We love things going wrong.
McEwan mentions the death of the inductive novel, or novel as puzzle to reason through, perhaps requiring greater and deeper attention which is occupied elsewhere.
Are you willing to go on this type of journey with a good artist? From this Playboy interview with Vladimir Nabokov:
Nabokov: ‘On the contrary, I shudder retrospectively when I recall that there was a moment, in 1950, and again in 1951, when I was on the point of burning Humbert Humbert’s little black diary. No, I shall never regret Lolita. She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle—its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look.’
Is the artist supposed to solve a puzzle or ask you to help solve his puzzle?
On that note, serial, narrative fiction and reasoned problem-solving meet with you-know-who:
‘In this sense, Nazis and Austria’s Christian fascists were right to see the Vienna Circle as an enemy. In Edmonds’s words, the Circle was “contemptuous of superstitious thinking,” including myths about race and religion. The group included Christians and Jews, but its members’ real creed was what they called “the scientific conception of the world.”
Possibly contained within the piece: The Vienna Circle has some overlap with the New Atheists?
Our author speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party. Continuing on a recent theme around here and in society more broadly:
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’
Her powers of analysis could be useful…and I still refer to her piece from time to time.
‘Albert Speer (1905–1981) was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son and grandson of architects. Pushed by his father to study architecture, he studied first in Karlsruhe, then Munich, but he only became serious after he transferred to Berlin. There he applied to study with Hans Poelzig, the brilliant expressionist architect of Weimar Germany, who rejected Speer as an inferior draftsman. Disappointed, he turned to the man who was Poelzig’s polar opposite, Heinrich Tessenow, a reform-minded architect with a love of simple, clear volumes and neoclassical clarity—the ultimate basis of Nazi architecture. Speer, who all his life knew how to ingratiate himself, sufficiently impressed Tessenow to become his teaching assistant.’
From the looks of it, there’s some serious neo-classicism going on; deep Greco-Roman influence. The thing likely would have been built if it weren’t for WWII:
So, what about neo-classicism mixed with ‘technocratic utopianism,’ or the rather suspicious desire to centrally plan, control, and organize everyone’s lives on the way the Glorious Future?:
Robert Hughes saw echoes of this technocratic modern utopianism in Albany, New York. It really may not be that far from Mussolini to the bland bureaucratic corporatism found elsewhere in the West:
‘…classicism with a pastry-cutter,’
And as for the fascists having:
‘…a jackboot in either camp, one in the myth of ancient Rome, one in the vision of a technocratic future.‘
Dinesh D’Souza is a Christian, and while debating New Atheist and Compatibilist Daniel Dennett at Tufts University, he brings up Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead in favor of his position…not sure if that’s a winner.
Interesting debate. Argument starts at 5:30:
Terry Eagleton debates Roger Scruton below. Scruton was no doubt heavily influenced by German idealism.
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds? What should students in the humanities be reading?:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world. I suppose it’s been going on for a while. Here are some public skirmishes I’ve been able to track:
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularis responded to Wieseltier:
‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’
This quote stuck out, as such tactics have been used often to evoke sympathies and sway public sentiment in the direction some people want to see it go, without always providing reasons nor respecting rules that allow for the pursuit of truth:
‘Sophistries and ruthless political pressure tactics of the sort just described succeed only when people let them succeed – when they let themselves be intimidated, when they acquiesce in the shaming and shunning of those who express unpopular views, when they enable the delegitimization of such views by treating them as something embarrassing, something to apologize for, something “hurtful,” etc. ‘
Comments are worth a read. Outbursts can damage a lot of decent work.
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!
Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them. This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability. Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.
Some poets, even, and there’s certainly not any postmodern mysticism, anti-science rationalism and irrationalism to be found around and about:
‘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.’
Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living. That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag. Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony. The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules. Don’t you want to be good?
Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon. We must act.
Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency. Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.”
They can become heroes to some, rather pathetic ciphers to others:
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here. Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).
What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority? Isn’t that the point of free speech?
‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘
At Peace Pavilion West, breathing restrictions help keep the Collective healthy. Put the canvas bag over your head when entering the Human Pagoda. Zero-carbon. Zero-oxygen. Zero-waste. Namaste. Be safe.
From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’
It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.
In criticizing the woke, social justice true-believers trying to impose their ideas of ‘cultural appropriation’ upon fiction writers like Lionel Shriver (You can’t write black characters. We will colonize language! We will colonize the imagination!), a reader points out the following:
First, I wrote, in shared criticism of such people:
‘If you’re looking to art for moral instruction, or for canned lines to solidify group membership, political affiliation and/or ideological identification, you’re probably doing dirt on the arts and life.’
Anonymous wrote back:
‘Check out Kanye:’
Dear Reader, can you tell the dancer from the dance?
Going to church is probably as much about scents and sounds, chanted words and ritual performace as much it is about doctrine for a lot of people, a lot of the time. Here, a lot of hearts and minds can be changed.
Maybe the church and its doctrines proscribe limits which also harm the creative artist, just as do so many social justice ideologues, intersectionalists and radicals colonizing many university studies and HR departments.
Given other failures in American civic culture lately, including the more obvious ones within the entertainment and popular music industries, it’s not surprising the same channels are now used for religious conversion.
In fact, I’ve kind been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
There’s something very funny to me about the Quakers trying to stay hip with social-justice appeal:
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.
We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.
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.
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’
“‘…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.”
‘Vaping is the perfect example of a voluntary innovation derived from free enterprise that delivers better human health, at no cost to the taxpayer, and no inconvenience to society — and causes pleasure. I neither smoke nor vape and have no financial interest in either, but I wish it every success.’
What’s a little surprising may be the rush to moral judgment, condemnation and control.
Addition: Delivering stuff into your lungs with a ‘portable chemistry set’ is going to have side-effects, if we’re honest, but relative to smoking cigarettes and relative to the level of potential moral panic going around, I remain skeptical and open to data. I also remain somewhat skeptical that a movement towards ever-expanding individual freedoms, often towards anarchy, won’t have side-effects either.
Compared to modern revolutionary movements, radical activism, collectivist Romantic tribalism and the morally panicked, one could do much worse.
Get ready for some bloviating:
As this blog sees things, the posture of radical opposition to some existing rule or law, through claims of liberation from oppression, tends to yield an ever-growing list of new and/or hybrid rules and laws. Radicals, after all, are still full of thoughts, beliefs, hopes, moral and aesthetic judgments etc. No man is an island, least of all men enmeshed within liberatory, collectivist movements united against the oppressor.
It’s unsurprising that the Marxist tendency to conceive of all of life (personal and public) in economic terms, puts ever more pressure upon ‘capitalism’ and marketplaces (the freer flow of capital) to deliver meaning and purpose in people’s lives. Though to be fair, some old-school Marxists are sticks-in-the-mud against the postmodern, post-Marxist drift towards radical individualism, nihilism and existentialism, critical of the many knowledge claims within the old systems.
Modern ideological movements tend to promise the good, the true and the beautiful all in one package. (H)istory has a direction and a purpose which can be known; it can be visualized and actualized. (H)istory, for the committed ideologue, has an end, and men’s ends can be known and actualized within this vision.
(S)cience, of course, provides precise mathematical and probabilistic knowledge of the Natural world, usually the best knowledge we have, based upon observation. This knowledge can reach out and describe the material world, elements of which may actually empirically exist similar as they present themselves to our senses and the complex analyses some people perform.
What, I, personally, tend to see as a category error, however, lies in assuming the sciences can produce such knowledge transferable to (H)istory and (P)olitics without information loss; not merely what is, but what ought to be.
On that note, Theodore Dalrymple, prison psychiatrist, tries to take some claims of psychiatry down a peg or two. Aside from the application of biology, medicine and psychology to people’s interior thoughts, psychology has had some serious reproducibility problems.
Perhaps that latest Self-Help indulgence, or that Psych 101 course applied to HR problem-solving is about as reliable as the abstract metaphysics of a young Man Of God?
Just look at that Parking Lot!:
Dalrymple comes at problems of psychiatry as a psychiatrist, and from the perspective of a humanist. There’s deep suffering and deep wisdom in literature; the kind of which can cultivate humble self-reflection. All people and all problems are not necessarily going to be solved in the DSM.
Some of [psychiatry’s] knowledge claims may be slightly inflated, hopes ready to be dashed and lives harmed, especially when they deal with people in prisons and on the edges of society, the most vulnerable and/or dangerous among us.