Update & Repost-From The LA Review Of Books-‘Death By Prefix? The Paradoxical Life Of Modernist Studies’

Full piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

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

From the comments:

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

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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

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

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

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

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

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

Lileks’ take:

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

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

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

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

Results vary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, reader.  Probably worth revisiting:

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

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

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

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

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

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

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

T.S. Eliot  

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bryan Magee Speaks To Isaiah Berlin On Why Philosophy Matters

Of note to this blog:

Sociological theories of history, functioning as presumed ‘scientific’ maps of Man’s place in Nature, claiming knowledge of presumed rational ends (‘final solutions’), have proven to be the sources of monstrous totalitarianism.

Isaiah Berlin spent more time with the works of Karl Marx than most; positing that even Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (Stoic aestheticism) had within it conflicts leading to unintended Hegelian-Marxist manifestations.

Philosophy, at best, can perhaps work to point out such conflicts, while creating new ones of its own, presumably, in pursuit of truth.

Perhaps popular sentiment in the Marxian direction can, somewhat, explain popular movements attempting to medicalize, categorize all human behavior, and generally ‘banish’ evil from what is being called the modern world.

It’s not that I think these fields of knowledge (e.g. psychology and sociology) aren’t valid, nor that they aren’t making imporant discoveries, nor even that the synthesis of mathematics and empirical data within them isn’t progressing.

It’s rather that such disciplines attract many people sharing in a set of common principles, beliefs and sentiments, the stuff, really of human nature; people self-selecting for pre-existing ideological commitments while pursuing ends of their own.

This has consequences for the rest of us.

***Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.

Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site:  Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly Jester

Slavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch  

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

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

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

Two AI Links And Some Thoughts On Political Philosophy

Sam Harris & Eliezer Yudkowsky-‘AI Racing Towards The Brink

Should the primary focus be on questions of alignment?  If spiders are to mice are to chimps are to humans, could independent human actors be creating general AI which is a similar order above our own thinking?  Yudkowsky argues that the time to think about such issues is now.

From Quanta Magazine: ‘New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

Not exactly reassuring, but the ‘bottleneck’ theory likely mirrors neuronal networks and something which occurs when we humans learn.

Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either).

And now for something mostly different…a note on political philosophy (because you didn’t ask 🙂):  Let’s say, for a moment, that questions of fact and questions of value are orthagonal to one another. Whether or not something is true is not necessarily connected to whether or not the thing is good.

One clear problem arising from Marxist and neo/post Marxist thought is that many of the ‘is’ claims contained therein are simply not true.  Marxism, relying upon a singular variable (let’s say L) for all types of labor, is not really describing the world as it is accurately enough to work (capable of planning economies and organizing societies led by a revolutionary ‘vanguard’).  Although Marxism isn’t an explicit moral theory, it clearly animates the moral sentiments and provides value hierarchies to which Marxists still cling and neo-Marxists still seek to produce.  Some variant of Marxism is good enough for a lot of people, frankly, and a lot of people with a religion-sized hole in their lives.  Marxist confusion regarding its own epistemological value as a ‘science’ tends to reflect within its followers, too, many of whom still seem to think what they do is ‘science.’

To my mind, J.S. Mill went a good deal deeper in trying to provide ‘is’ cases for why one should act liberally, maximizing liberty for one’s self by banding together with others also speaking against custom and taboo and the current rules (Benthamites, Puritans, heretics, various outcasts etc.) in pursuit of the truth.  Utilitarian logic doesn’t entirely scale, of course, at least not without sacrificing some individuals for the whole, but both individual autonomy and political liberty in pursuit of the truth are much better preserved.

Within my own trajectory, I do suspect that some of the current neo-Kantians, neo-Platonists (neo-classicists) and Straussians are displaced and/or current religious believers, engaged in some pursuit (confirmation bias included) of what is both true and good (and perhaps, beautiful) within one philosophical whole.

At the moment, on the issue of being pro free-speech, I reasonably align with neo-Marxist (Brendan O’Neill) and post 60’s radical Camille Paglia, but I’ve got deep doubts as to where their thinking leads.

On individual and political liberty as well as economic freedom, I tend to align with many Millians, Hayekians and various flavors of libertarians.  This tends to be, philosophically, where I’m most at home.

On upholding tradition (the wisdom in traditions of which I may be ignorant), and upholding current rules and a deeper scepticism regarding human nature in favor of anything new, I tend to be in alignment with that rather neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, Church Of England conservative Roger Scruton.  I still have my worries regarding the modern touchstone of Kant, and the religion-sized hole filled by Hegelian metaphysics and the significant problems of the German State, but the defense of both individual and family within potentially scalable political economies is welcomed.

Patriotism, the desire for limited government, the importance of citizens united under Laws as a nation, and citizens perhaps guided by Natural Law are not entirely unamenable to me, but the case for their goods must consistently, openly, and reasonably be made.

Feel free to highlight my vast and deep ignorance, fellow human (or impostor).

I’ve got a lot of ignorance.

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

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

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

This And That-Some Links On This Site

A conversation I keep hearing in Seattle, elevated somewhat:

This new society, this modern society, this secular society:  This will be more open, more tolerant, more equal, and more fair.  Look at all the progress around you!  The moral, the scientific, social and personal are being united into a single whole.  Evil and the stuff of human nature can be tamed, treated, and labeled. Much knowledge has been gained; it’s mostly a matter of design and implentation now.  Get to work; be someone and do something, politics included. Go global. Think Enlightenment.

That old society, that pre-modern society, that religious and traditional society: How quaint!  How oppressive! Have the courage to venture from its metaphysical ruins and local rituals. Don’t sleepwalk through its indefensible truth claims, mistaken honor, violence and war.  What it cannot forget it will not remember. ‘

As posted:

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

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

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

More On Nietzsche’s influence-Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic Greek (the beginning of the end).

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism and moving in a libertarian direction):

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

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

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”…Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site: Karl Popper, Milton Friedman, Austrian Economics and maybe Thomas Sowell: From Fora Via YouTube: ‘Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

In Romantic Nature Poetry, Where Are You? How Should You Live And What Should You Do? -Photo & A Poem By Mary Oliver

Flare, Part 12

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will wither or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

Mary Oliver (The Leaf And The Cloud: A Poem)

Hosta Shell 2


Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.

Thanks, reader:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’ A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…
See Also On This Site:  Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism

Thanks, reader:

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

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

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

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Fred Siegel, at The New Criterion, takes a look at the influence of German thought on American politics and populism, from Nietzsche via H.L Mencken, to the Frankfurt School, to Richard Hofstader via Paul Krugman:

Populism, IV: The German victory over American populism

He puts forth the idea that the German influence has eroded something significant about American popular thought, leading to his analysis of our current politics:

Obama was ‘post-Constitutional,’ and Trump is the post Tea-Party, post Anglo-egalitarian populist response:

‘The Germans have won: Mencken and the Frankfurt School each in their own way have displaced civic egalitarianism. Their disdain has become commonplace among upper-middle- class liberals. This might not have produced the current nausea if the pretensions of our professionals were matched by their managerial competence. It isn’t, and the German victory is moving us towards a soft civil war.’

Nein!

Related On This Site: Isaiah Berlin, as a youth fled a well-integrated family of Latvian Jews to Britain (for his life), subsequently spending more time with Marx than any man should…but also Mill, is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray is criticizing many claims to progress in ethics and politics in the Western World, with a heavy Nietzschean influence (man is still capable of great barbarism & achievement) Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Leo Strauss was a Nietzschean for a while…and put forth the idea that within waves of modern thought during the Enlightenment was also the destruction that wracked the German State and replaced it with the dog’s breakfast of Nazi thought:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’


On that note, Kelley Ross takes a look at the influence of Hegel on Roger Scruton’s thinking, and distinguishes his own project from Kant to Schopenhauer to Leonard Fries:

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attitude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.

But the project and principles of Hegel are quite alien to those of Kant; and so we must worry what Scruton seems to think they have in common. Well, we have just seen it. Removing “the ‘self’ from the beginning of knowledge” is where Scruton puts Kant, Hegel, and Wittgenstein all together. There is a sense, indeed, that we can construe Kant as having done this, but everything else is so different that it shocks the conscience to have Scruton’s affirmation of some kind of identity. Thus, the moral principle of the dignity and autonomy of the individual self, defined and established by Kant with such clarity and emphasis, is entirely missing from Hegel’s heteronomy, and, of course, it is not to be found, with any other principle of morality or ethics, in Wittgenstein, where the possibility of any such philosophical discipline is (famously, or infamously) ruled out. That Scruton seems insensible of this allows the suspicion that his “conservativism” is of the sort of Hegel himself, with Wittgenstein’s own silence on the subject defaulting to the existing moral and political order otherwise valorized by the Hegelian judicial positivism that made the Kingdom of Prussia the paradigm of ideal government.’

Any thoughts/comments are welcome.