Tom Wolfe Has Passed-R.I.P.

I’m just glad he was there for so long:

Website here.

Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair: ‘How Tom Wolfe Became….Tom Wolfe

‘New York City was—and still is—the only place on earth where a writer might set himself up as a professional tour guide and attract the interest of the entire planet. That’s mainly what Wolfe was, at least in the beginning: his job was to observe the sophisticates in their nutty bubble for the pleasure of the rubes in the hinterlands, and then, from time to time, venture out into the hinterlands and explain what is really going on out there to the sophisticates inside the bubble. He moves back and forth like a bridge player, ruffing the city and the country against each other. He occupies a place in between. He dresses exotically and is talented and intellectually powerful, like the sophisticates in the bubble. But he isn’t really one of them. To an extent that shocks the people inside the bubble, when they learn of it, he shares the values of the hinterland. He believes in God, Country, and even, up to a point, Republican Presidents. He even has his doubts about the reach of evolutionary theory.’

From ‘The Pump House Gang: Introduction

‘Hefner showed me through his chambers. The place was kept completely draped and shuttered. The only light, day or night, was electric. It would be impossible to keep track of the days in there. And presently Hefner jumped onto . . . the center of his world, the bed in his bedroom. Aimed at the bed was a TV camera he was very proud of.’

As posted:

Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The satire of the liberal intelligentsia is pretty rich, as well as the Southern Gentleman’s WASP ‘rejuvenation.’ You just know Christopher Hitchens had to get-in on that action:

From the Late Show in 1989 with Howard Jacobson:

===============

Was Tom Wolfe seeing things clearly, as they really are?

Certainly the liberal pieties and the conflicted, activist base is still ripe for the picking…for what is preventing the mocking of the Brooklyn hipster and the echoing of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ across the fruited plain?:

Peter Berkowitz review of Tom Wolfe’s Miami novel here.

What are you looking for in a novel: Ideas and the deployment of ideas? A reflection of your life/times/society? Good prose? Characters that pop into your life? Glimpses of the author? Pleasure?

The deeper divisions, as Wolfe’s novel compellingly presents them, are between those who believe that happiness consists in one form of pleasure or another — including the aesthetic pleasure of sensitively glimpsing one’s own sensitivities and the sensitivities of others — and those who, like Tom Wolfe and his heroes, believe that happiness consists in the exercise of courage, self-control, and the other qualities of mind and character that constitute human excellence.’

A New Yorker review here.

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s. I remember reading ‘A Man In Full‘ a while back.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

The Brutalist Anglosphere Blues-Sometimes It’s Not Even The Art, But The People Gathering Around The Art Which Can Be So Fun To Criticize-Ok, Sometimes It’s The Art

I eagerly await commentary pointing how good some of the art is, and how shot through with ignorance the criticism is…:

Theodore Dalrymple (a Brit visiting Australia):

Via Mick Hartley (a Brit in Britain): Photo set and link here. Eric Tabuchi homepage here.

Clearly there are many ideas in the modern world deeply idealistic and utopian, which even officialdom can take up by way of architecture and the arts: Some people who commissioned Boston’s City Hall were probably thinking they were bringing something new and wonderful into the world: Inspiring, modern, transformative.

The folks at bureaucratic levels up-top would steer this concrete ship, scanning the Horizon for The Future. The People down below, justly and benevolently guided, would feel welcome and do people-y, citizen-y things as though in a terrarium.

Maybe that’s why it’s not so popular.

Well, at least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:

As previously posted:

–Visit Lileks.com. A fine humorist with a sharp pen and a keen eye (American in America).

Here’s Australian art critic Robert Hughes (Aussie in America) discussing the Albany plaza, and almost hyperbolically criticizing the aims of modernist architecture.

***Fun fact, he pronounces the “Boogie Woogie” the “Boo-gie Woo-gie.”

Modernism goes to the movies.

Some pictures at the link.

There’s mention of the Mt. Rushmore house at the end of North By Northwest. I suspect some among us have wanted to live in a modernist lair.

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I don’t know, Picasso was pretty good, man:

See Also: They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Roger Sandall-‘A Curious Case Of Censorship’

Original piece from 1976 found here.

Mind you, this is Australia, but there’s probably a lot of overlap:

‘I don’t mean to suggest that every bright-eyed PhD candidate in anthropology today sees himself in a priestly role, or feels inspired by a religious vocation. Most are as sceptical of sorcery as of perdition. But what George Feaver has called the New Tribalism is a proud creed, and its gods are jealous gods. Syncretised with the pride and jealousy of the Old Tribalism the result is a powerful endorsement of totem and taboo…’

‘The Institute had been set up to “do science”, a secular activity. Yet in a curious way it has ended up “doing religion.” In its own eyes the Institute may have seen itself as a producer of scientific records; but in the eyes of Tribalism, both Old and New, its true role was that of a manufacturer of religious artifacts. And having become an archive of sacred objects it was hard to refuse doing priestly duty as the temple guardian as well. In this way a scientific body found itself gradually moving from the world of fact to the world of faith—and from the dull routines of research to the higher excitements of revivalism.’

We’ve got a lot of museum directors and academics I could see sinking into a kind of nebulous, humanist, institutional mysticism, quite frankly.

What many modernists and humanists can ignore are the deep impulses they have to make meaning, and to draw distinctions between the sacred and the profane, which in the West can manifest as a kind of sentimental Romanticization of Nature and Man (religious and anti-religious, truthfully).

Everyone wants to transcend and seek the timeless, the immortal, and the pure, I’m guessing.

There is a particular myth of the ‘Noble Savage,’ alive and well in the Western World, where the local tribesman or displaced native is celebrated as an exotic but worthy adversary, or some kind of anachronistic adornment.

This stuff can be true and inspiring in the arts, synthesized as part of the Romantic school:

Perhaps the native is to be included under the net of secular human idealism or given land, a casino or a museum somewhere on the Western Estate and left to many of his own devices (many further Left likely see a fellow oppressed class of victims with whom to feel solidarity on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).

But certainly with the triumphs of trade and commerce, the many benefits and successes of Western expansion (the thousand injustices and brutalities of State and privately funded imperialism), comes a lot of doubt, guilt, and shame.

What is true and right?

How should I live and what should I do?

I can say Orwell has caused me to think, reflect, and honestly take a look at myself in the mirror.

——–

Much as the sciences require intellectual rigor, empirical evidence and much skepticism, there are bands of Western anti-science postmodernists in their wake, too, who can sink into a kind of nebulous modern mysticism, building museums as temples.

Just as there are humanists there are anti-humanists.

Perhaps not too much has changed.

Those Germans and their Idealism!: Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

Update & Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’…From Roger Sandall: ‘The Slave Girl and the Professor’


As previously posted:

Full Misguided Nostagia for Our Paleo Past here.

‘The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’

There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently.  Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.

Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage,  Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe.  There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.

It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.

It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.

Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

Related On This Site: What happens when you romanticize the aboriginal? Romantic primitivism: Roger Sandall: Marveling At The Aborigines, But Not Really Helping?Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

Some Updated Links On Postmodernism

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

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

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

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Repost-From The New Atlantis: ‘Love In The Age Of Neuroscience’

Our authors took a look at Tom Wolfe’s then new novel: ‘I Am Charlotte Simmons:’

Hmmm.:

‘I Am Charlotte Simmons’ is an indictment of the primary centers of higher education in America today. These institutions do not well serve the real longings and earnest ambitions of the young people who flock to them, at great cost and with great expectations, year after year. Instead of pointing students to a world that is higher than where they came from, the university reinforces and expands the nihilism and political correctness that they are taught in public schools, imbibe from popular culture, and bring with them as routine common sense when they arrive on campus. Of course, these two ideologies are largely incompatible: nihilism celebrates strength (or apathy) without illusion; political correctness promulgates illusions in the name of sensitivity. But both ideologies are the result of collapsing and rejecting any distinction between higher and lower, between nobility and ignobility, between the higher learning and the flight from reason.’

If you don’t have enough empathy, maybe it’s time for a brain-scan, a postmodern dance routine exploring the body in space, or a peace corps mission…

Everybody’s done fightin’ over yer soul….

As previously posted:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

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

Just looking around for winds which blow against prevailing opinions…

Via Architizer-‘A Brief History Of Modern Architecture Through The Movies’ And A Few Quotations Gathered Over The Years

Full post here.

Chronologically done with choice examples of each style.

—–

Ever since I was young, I found myself wanting to live in that Mt. Rushmore house at the end of North By Northwest.  I suspect some among us have wanted to occupy a modernist lair.

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I’m always a little skeptical of such grand visions.  Utopianism runs deep.

Robert Hughes wasn’t a fan of some of what’s modern.  Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York seems pretty out-of-place, and pretty authoritarian-looking:

I think we may be seeing the mix of the corporate/bureaucratic alliance so common in post-war America coming-up for re-examination and undergoing some kind of resurgence in our current politics:


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’


Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

See Also: They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Daniel Wolfe At Aeon-‘Chomsky, Wolfe & Me’

Full piece here.

On that recursion dispute:

‘Most recently, the disagreements in the field have pulled the American author Tom Wolfe into the fray, with a new book, The Kingdom of Speech, and a cover story in Harper’s Magazine on the topic. This has changed the debate a bit, engaging many more people than ever before, but now it’s centred around Wolfe, Noam Chomsky – and me.

As background to understanding what’s at stake in this controversy, we need a grasp of Chomsky’s important theoretical proposals regarding human language acquisition.’


As previously posted:

Paul Ibbotson & Michael Tomasello at Scientific American: ‘Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory Of Language Learning:’

‘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.”

Worth a read.

As posted:  Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.‘ Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

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.

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

A Link To Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Kingdom Of Speech’ And A Further-Left Cry Against ‘The Mythos Of The Mast Brothers’

Via a reader:  Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.

Darwin and Chomsky have gotten it wrong, according to Wolfe, it’s speech that gives man his edge.

This will have its appeal, as does an apparent attack on many intellectuals in general:

‘Wolfe’s attack on Chomsky — whom he calls “Noam Charisma” — is precise, scathing and not undeserved. But what, Lord, does this have to do with the topic of language? Precious little. Thank God. But soon enough we’re back on the long march, learning about a Chomskyan principle called — ZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!! — “recursion” and how the language of a Brazilian tribe called the Pirahã presents a significant challenge to that principle.’

Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

But in fact Wolfe doesn’t even understand the theory he so despises. Evolution, he argues, isn’t a “scientific hypothesis” because nobody’s seen it happen, there’s no observation that could falsify it, it yields no predictions and it doesn’t “illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science.” Wrong — four times over.

If you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts.

Related On This Site: Where I agree with Chomsky on political matters: Down-twinkles to Stalin.

I often agree with Wolfe’s social conservatism.

“Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”


You may be familiar with the Mast Brothers, perhaps capitalizers on the desire for a return to craft over mass-production, communalism over ‘impersonal’ market forces.

Well, they were re-examined by the reporter who was previously on a mission against nail-salon social injustice, against whom Reason blogger Jim Epstein pushed-back, to which the Times eventually responded.

That is to say, a reporter, probably, who places value in lots of secular ‘-isms’:

Rick Mast said the backlash had come as a surprise. “To be boiled down to how you dress or how you wear your beard, or where you live — I think it’s a distraction,” he said. “Our chocolate is our No. 1 focus.” On a tour of the main factory next to the Brooklyn Navy Yard alongside his brother on Sunday, the Masts stressed their transparency

Behind the beards are actual men, you know, chocolate-makin’ men who have mingled their business model with the hipster yawp heard over many a rooftop garden in Brooklyn during the last few decades.

Of course, $7.50 chocolate bars may not actually be necessary, but the Mast Brothers invite customers into their process.  They’re giving you bits of their individual Selves to mix with your individual Self as you band together towards the future that awaits….

Few chocolate-makers take pains to mention Mark Twain & Ralph Waldo Emerson in their promo videos:

I’ve been thinking that upon examination, hipsterdom (not necessarily the Mast Brothers) may reveal DNA strands of previous American counter-cultural movements: Some hipsters have adopted milder forms of the bohemianism and cultural withdrawal of the Beats, others the collectivism, activism and ‘social conscience’ of the Hippies (along with many tenets of the feminist and environmentalist movements). Some others still the disposable income and professional ambition of Yuppies (see: Park Slope).

———————

As postedA similar, but different debate.

———–

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 80′s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds 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.’

Related On This Site:  Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain.  This could lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism.  There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision.  Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

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

A reader points out that I’ve put forth no real arguments…: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

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

Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”